Making new connections: surviving freshman year

Adapting to college life during the first year of college can be a taxing and difficult experience for some students. For many people, the first year of college is the first time that they have lived outside of their family's home, or are finding themselves without the community safety net that they have enjoyed during their primary and secondary education. While freedom and independence can give students what they need to excel, it also comes with many perils that they will be individually responsible for.

One of the many important factors to consider while selecting a college or university to attend is that institution's freshman retention rate. This is a numerical representation of how many college freshmen return to that institution for their sophomore year, on average. While researching schools, a low freshman retention rate should be a cause for concern. Schools that have high retention rates have shown that they are aware of the problems that many freshmen may have in adapting to college life and many operate special programs to assist students with the transition.

If a school operates such a program, it is important to take advantage of that support network. These first year initiatives usually seek to help students to adapt, emotionally and socially to college life, as well as academically. Even if the school has not formalized a support network exclusively for first year students, it is still possible to seek one out, and creating it will enhance one's college experience. Professors and other faculty and staff are normally very interested in the progress of their students, and most faculty have open office hours for students to come and speak with them. Besides seeking out assistance with coursework, issues with college life can be discussed, as well as future projects and life goals. For academic adaptation, many colleges and universities offer free tutoring programs and academic support for students.

Statistics have shown that students who are involved in students, clubs, organizations, and extra-curricular activities are more likely to perform well academically and to complete their degrees. Near the beginning of every year, most colleges will hold a fair or event that allows students clubs and organizations to showcase their groups and to open themselves up for prospective members to join. For anyone's interest, there is probably a campus organization to match it. If there is not one for a particular interest, one can always look into founding a new one.

Another much talked about factor in student retention and adapting to college life is how often first year students leave campus or their new environment to return to their home environment. While it may seem helpful to return to one's home on the weekends, if it is close enough to be viable, doing so may prevent first year students from fully adapting to their new environment. Accordingly, it is important for first year students to spend their weekends on campus in order to have the opportunity to make new connections.

One of the most important factors for a first year student is how integrated they become with the campus community. By taking advantage of first year initiatives, creating a personal support network, joining campus clubs, participating in campus events, and fully integrating themselves into their new environment. While colleges and universities can provide numerous programs and initiatives in order to aid students in adapting to their new environment, it is important for the first year college student to be pro-active in finding and making new connections. Doing so, a college freshman is more likely to have a reliable community of support that can help them as they adapt to college life.

By Niquella S. Hardwick,

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