Staff Writer Kaitlin Benz hopes to one pursue a career in television journalism.
By: Kaitlin Benz
The transition from high school to college is unknown and scary for both the parent and the student. Everything about college is new, and although there are lists all over the Internet about how to find scholarships and what to pack and not to pack for a college dorm room, there is still a dichotomy between what resources exist for students to assist in making the transition and what students actually wish they had known.
I recently conducted a random survey of 55 current and former college students asking them one question, “what is the one thing you wish you had known about college prior to starting and during your first year?” The results varied, yet several common themes existed: time management, financial literacy, and building social skills. This got me thinking about the resources that were available to first year college students and why, across the board, so many students felt ill prepared in such major areas. I turned to the Auraria Campus, home of three public universities, the University of Colorado at Denver, Metropolitan State University, and the Community College of Denver, with a total of approximately 42 thousand students that attend classes.
Fostering the first year experience for students on Auraria Campus is Advising and Retention Coordinator for the First Year Success Program, Camelia Naranjo. The First Year Success team created and manages various programs for first year freshmen to aid in the high school to college transition.
“Our programs include proactive advising, financial literacy, campus involvement, finding a sense of belonging, and developing a positive mindset,” Naranjo stated.
The First Year Success team’s motto is “connect, empower, and grow,” which is exactly what their programs are designed to help students do. They have implemented a peer ambassador program to facilitate relationships between incoming freshmen and upperclassmen students. Each peer ambassador has a caseload of students who they reach out to, provide support for, and reminds them of important dates and campus events. The peer advisor program is full of students who have a wealth of knowledge about what it takes to be successful in college. Naranjo said that the data from previous school years has shown that students who participated in this program were proven to have higher GPAs and completion rates than their peers who did not participate.
Programs like First Year Success are completely optional to first year students, which is why so many students are feeling left in the dark about how to choose majors and classes and manage their time more effectively in school. Other than a daylong freshman orientation, incoming freshmen often do not have the means to get necessary advice on all things college. First Year Success provides these services, but students are often left unaware that they exist.
Out of the 55 students surveyed, approximately one out of every five students said that they wish they had learned better time management skills. This is a critical skill that college students need and many college students lack. Balancing newfound freedom with a load of courses, discovering clubs and organizations, jobs, internships, and a social life is harder than it was in high school under the guidance of helpful parents. Even the students who feel they are the most prepared, or those who have been the most successful in high school, will still find themselves in times of confusion, exhaustion, and stress from just how much there is to take in. I myself am a fourth year college student who has transferred schools four times because I lacked the advising that I needed as a freshman.
Universities across the country offer resources for freshmen that teach vital time management skills. Workshops are common, especially for new freshmen living in dorms. There are also tutoring centers and writing centers that are free resources to tuition-paying students. The writing center can help students develop story ideas, outline papers, and even edit and revise papers with students. This is a huge time saver and educational resource that students can and should take advantage of! They usually offer writing clinics as well, where students can network with their peers and brush up on the skills learned in high school that they may have forgotten about. These skills include but are not limited to formatting on Microsoft programs, finding reputable sources for stories, and properly citing sources in MLA, APA, and Chicago Style formats.
College tutoring centers helps both students who are struggling academically and students who are looking to excel in their work. They also provide resources for students looking to overcome test anxiety, learn time management skills, and even stress management. These resources are free and available at universities all over the country to assist students with organization, time management, and learning course material at a more efficient and productive level.
Students responded to my survey often by saying they wish they were better versed in financial literacy and independence. This comes from having to pay for bills, rent, and groceries for what is likely the first time in their adult lives. Luckily, there are campus resources to assist students with their newfound financial freedom. Almost always, a university will be affiliated with a specific bank, and that bank will actively attempt to get students to sign up for checking and savings accounts through their branch. The thing that is different about university banks, however, is that they want to give students the knowledge that they need to understand their finances. The Auraria Campus banks with the Credit Union of Colorado, which has several articles explaining financial literacy on their website and in their on campus branch location available to students.
An additional resource for college students making the transition learning to understand financial freedom is courses geared toward specifically that, such as Personal Finance or Economics courses. They are typically available through the business school and are available at the introductory level for all students to take, regardless of their year in school or their major. The courses are tailored to teaching students how to manage their personal finances.
Students often have the book smarts to power through their first few semesters of general education courses in college. What is lacking, however, that is not taught in high school are social skills. These skills are critical for many reasons, such as learning how to type a professional email to professors, advisers, and peers or making a presentation in front of a freshman English class of 200 students. Social skills groups provide the necessary education and resources to students who are making the transition from high school to college in order to put their best foot forward taking on the future. For Valerie Calvillo, counselor at Iolite Counseling, LLC. in Castle Rock, CO., on a day-to-day basis she sees clients and provides them with this much needed mentoring.
“Communication development is the biggest lack with students, and with people in general,” said Calvillo. For this reason she and her business partner have set up social skills groups for elementary school students and high school students to provide them with those skills. The skills groups provide information on self-esteem and self-care, how to tackle bullying, building friendships, and forming meaningful relationships with people in their lives. These skills translate to relevant and useful skills to be used in a college setting, as students are navigating building professional relationships with peers and professors alike.
Calvillo stated that a lot of teenagers just don’t know what they want to do with their lives when they are in the transition period at the end of their high school years. This is where she steps in to provide career mentoring and counseling, to let them take control and discover where their passion lies. She prepares students for college, the armed forces, or starting a career immediately after college. The key is to develop the social skills to be able to determine what the student wants to do, and then get them on the right track to reach their goals.
There is a lack of education from university to student about what resources exist in their schools for their students. My survey proved that students were often all on board about the same things, and felt like they did not learn enough about some of the most important things that make a college student successful. The problem isn’t that universities don’t have the programs implemented to make students succeed, because they do, and they are free! There is just a communication gap that is making it so students simply do not know about the resources that are available to them at their school and in their community. It is up to everybody to bridge that communication gap: university to teacher, teacher to student, and peer to peer. The most important thing to know as your students start college this fall is that if they have a problem, there is a place that can help them right on campus. Reaching out and utilizing those resources will take a student far in both their college career as well as in their life.