Adjustments to College

Questions to consider:

  • How will you adjust to college?
  • What are the common college experiences you will have?

Adjustments to College Are Inevitable

Flexibility, transition, and change are all words that describe what you will experience. Laurie Hazard and Stephanie Carter (2018) use the word adjustment. Hazard and Carter (2018) believe there are six adjustment areas that first-year college students experience: academic, cultural, emotional, financial, intellectual, and social. Of course, you won’t go through these adjustments all at once or even in just the first year. Some will take time, while others may not even feel like much of a transition. Let’s look at them in brief as a way of preparing for the road ahead.

  • Academic adjustment: No surprises here. You will most likely, depending on your own academic background, be faced with the different demands of learning in college. Often you will be asked to apply what you are learning to projects and assignments rather than just repeating information on a test. This could mean that you need to spend more time learning and using strategies to master the material.
  • Cultural adjustment: You also will most likely experience a cultural adjustment just by being in college because college has its own language (syllabus and registrar, for example) and customs.
  • Emotional adjustment: A range of emotions will likely be present in some form throughout your first weeks in college and at stressful times during the semester. Knowing that you may have good days and bad—and that you can bounce back from the more stressful days—will help you find healthy ways of adjusting emotionally.
  • Financial adjustment: Most students understand the investment they are making in their future by going to college. Even if you have all your expenses covered, there is still an adjustment to a new way of thinking about what college costs and how to pay for it. You may find that you think twice about spending money on entertainment or that you have improved your skills in finding discounted textbooks.
  • Intellectual adjustment: Experiencing an “a-ha!” moment is one of the most rewarding parts of college, right up there with moving across the graduation stage with a diploma in hand. Prepare to be surprised when you stumble across a fascinating subject or find that a class discussion changes your life. At the very least, through your academic work, you will learn to think differently about the world around you and your place in it.
  • Social adjustment: A new place often means new people. But in college, those new relationships can have even more meaning. Getting to know instructors can not only help you learn more in your classes, but it can also help you figure out what career pathway you want to take and how to get desired internships and jobs. Learning to reduce conflicts during group work or when living with others helps build essential workplace and life skills.

College Culture and Expectations

Differences Between High School and College

High School
Why You Need to Know the Difference
Grades are made up of frequent tests and homework and you may be able to bring up a low initial grade by completing smaller assignments and bonuses.
Grades are often made up of fewer assignments, and initial low grades may keep you from earning high course grades at the end of the semester.
You will need to be prepared to earn high grades on all assignments because you may not have the opportunity to make up for lost ground.
Learning is often done in class with the teacher guiding the process, offering multiple ways to learn material and frequent quizzes to ensure that learning is occurring.
Learning happens mostly outside of class and on your own. Instructors are responsible for assigning material and covering the most essential ideas; you are responsible for tracking and monitoring your learning progress.
You will need to practice effective learning strategies on your own to ensure that you are mastering material at the appropriate pace. This course will provide you with some strategies that you can apply to help you learn independently.
Getting Help
Your teachers, parents, and a counsellor are responsible for identifying your need for help and for creating a plan for you to get help with coursework if you need it. Extra assistance is usually reserved for students who have an official need.
As an adult leaner, you will be responsible for identifying that you need help, accessing the resources, and using them.  ACC has resources to support you, but it is up to you to access them as you need.
Because the responsibility is on you to get the help you need, you will want to be aware of when you may be struggling to learn material. You then will need to now where the support can be accessed on campus or online.
Assessments (Tests, Exams, and Projects)
Tests cover small amounts of material and study days or study guides are common to help you focus on what you need to study. If you paid attention in class, you should be able to answer all the questions.
Tests are fewer and cover more material than in high school. Some courses do not have tests at all and instead you are asked to demonstrate your learning through projects and assignments that mimic the work you will do in the real world.
This change in how much material and the depth of which you need to know is a shock for some students. This may mean you need to change your strategies dramatically to get the same results. The change to project- or assignment-based learning may also impact your learning process; you must learn to apply rather than simply remember, which can be a change for some.


Some of What You Will Learn Is “Hidden”

Many of the college expectations that have been outlined so far may not be considered common knowledge, which is one reason that so many colleges and universities have classes that help students learn what they need to know to succeed. The term hidden curriculum, which was coined by sociologists, describes unspoken, unwritten, or unacknowledged rules that students are expected to follow that can affect their learning. The expectations before, during, and after class, as well as what you should do if you miss class, are often unspoken because many instructors assume you already know and do these things or because they feel you should figure them out on your own. Nonetheless, some students struggle at first because they don’t know about these habits, behaviours, and strategies. But once they learn them, they are able to meet them with ease.

Learning Is Your Responsibility

As you may now realize by reviewing the differences between high school and college, learning in college is your responsibility. Taking responsibility for your learning will take some time if you are not used to leading your own educational process.

Don’t Do It Alone

Here is a secret about college success that not many people know: successful students seek help. They use resources. And they do that as often as necessary to get what they need. Your instructors and advisors will expect the same from you, and your college will have all kinds of offices, staff, and programs that are designed to help. You need to use those resources! These are called “help-seeking behaviours,” and along with self-advocacy, which is speaking up for your needs, they are essential to your success. As you get more comfortable adjusting to life in college, you will find that asking for help is easier. In fact, you may become really good at it by the time you graduate, just in time for you to ask for help finding a job!

Truth and Reconciliation

“The road we travel is equal in importance to the destination we seek. There are no shortcuts. When it comes to truth and reconciliation, we are forced to go the distance.”— Dr. Murray SinclairCommon Challenges in College 

If you experience any or even all of the challenges listed below, know that you are not alone and that you can overcome them by using your resources. Many college students have felt like this before, and they have survived—even thrived—despite them, because they were able to identify a strategy or resource that they could use to help themselves. At some point in your college experience, you may experience one or more of the following:

  • Feeling like an imposter: You may have heard the phrase imposter syndrome. People who feel like an imposter are worried that they don’t belong, or that someone will “expose them for being a fake.” This feeling is pretty common for anyone who finds themselves in a new environment and is not sure if they have what it takes to succeed. Trust the professionals who work with first-year college students; you do have what it takes, and you will succeed. Just give yourself time to get adjusted.
  • Worrying about making a mistake: This concern often goes hand-in-hand with imposter syndrome. Students who worry about making a mistake don’t like to answer questions in class, volunteer for a challenging assignment, and even ask for help from others. Instead of avoiding situations where you may fail, embrace the process of learning, which includes—and is even dependent on—making mistakes. The more you practice courage in these situations and focus on what you are going to learn from failing, the more confident you become about your abilities.
  • Trying to manage everything yourself: Even superheroes need help from sidekicks and mere mortals. Trying to handle everything on your own every time an issue arises is a recipe for getting stressed out. There will be times when you are overwhelmed by all you have to do. This is when you will need to ask for and allow others to help you.
  • Ignoring your mental and physical health needs: If you feel you are on an emotional rollercoaster and you cannot find time to take care of yourself, then you have most likely ignored some part of your mental and physical well-being. What you need to do to stay healthy should be non-negotiable. In other words, your sleep, eating habits, exercise, and stress-reducing activities should be your highest priorities.
  • Forgetting to enjoy the experience: Whether you are 18 years old and living on campus or 48 years old starting back to college after taking a break to work and raise a family, be sure to take the time to remind yourself of the joy that learning can bring.

Wellness Break: Standing or Sitting Body Scan

Stand with your feet flat on the ground, feeling them relax and loosen. Then, work your way up and focus on relaxing and loosening isolated parts of your body. Start with your shins and calves, move to your thighs, then to your butt, your belly, and your chest. Continue and focus on relaxing your shoulders, your arms and hands, your neck. Finally, focus on your face and relax and loosen your lips, nose, eyelids, and forehead. Take one sweeping breath throughout your entire body, and visualize the energy going from your nostrils all the way to through your body to your toes. In total, this should take you about a minute (or longer if you need more time focusing on each body part) and will instantly re-energize you.




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