Transitioning from a High School Student to a College Freshman

Consider the Scope of Factors and Meaning of Transition

I was totally unprepared for a four-year college program and instead pre-empted the transition with two years in a community college transfer program. However, when I did end up on a college campus the successes and failures of the freshmen around me underscored the first year stumbling blocks that seem inherent in the migration from high school to college life.

The operative term here is “life.” College is one of those rites of passage that is up there with marriage and having kids. Students that catch on early to the latent lessons transition much more smoothly. Other contributing factors though are already determined: choice of institution and maturity level.

Free At Last!

Most high school graduates have never been on their own, so freshman year is a double-edged sword. It’s a chance to taste life without parents and it’s a big wake-up call to adulthood. The idea of sleeping late, staying up all night, eating what you want, when you want, drinking, smoking and partying are all very attractive. Those freedoms wear thin.

Here Are the Keys—Get In!

Congratulations, you’re the proud owner of a glossy black, convertible Mercedes SL Roadster. Are you going out to race it around and trash it? Chances are you’ll be meticulous with it, park it at the back of the Wal-Mart parking lot, keep it covered when it rains, call it “Baby” and spit-polish it every week. You’ll ask friends to take their shoes off before getting in and generally treat it with the utmost respect.

If your college education costs just as much when all is said and done, why would you treat it any differently?

You’re Not In Kansas Anymore

When you leave home you also leave behind a government and taxpayer subsidized high school and a free ride at home; free food, free digs, maybe an allowance, money to buy clothes, and a car to use. You will leave free living. You’re now living a luxury lifestyle, believe it or not. The economics of a college education are in the cost of the intangibles.

Balance Your Bottom Line

But who wants the performance sports car if you’re not going to DRIVE it? Part of getting the car is the experience of the drive, the engine, and the wheels on the open road. Driving it and maintaining it are all part of the mix. It’s the balance lesson. There is a best of both worlds if you know how to strike it.

The best value then is the college experience that is maybe an 80/20 balance of studies and social life. For serious division I scholarship athletes it might be a bit skewed, but you get the idea.

Advance Preparation for Independent Management

I can tell you that the best students come already prepared to manage themselves like adults. They have already established good study habits, keep to a bedtime, participate in a sport, go to class and make efforts to earn friends most like them, with similar interests and good habits as well. This is not to say that they don’t take a good swig of college life now and then, but one of those muddied latent lessons is founded on self-discipline and independent management.

Critical Thinking

Since college’s primary purpose is to earn a degree, of course studies are important, it almost seems ridiculous to have to mention it. So I’ll approach it from the blind side. Critical thinking is not a course you see on registration day. It’s not a textbook. The ability to critically think will prove valuable in classes, during exams, and when your parents are otherwise not there to offer guidance and discipline.


Unless you’re a whiz kid the best advice is to go to class. No one will automatically wake you up in the morning and your professor will likely not care if you’re there or not. On a small campus you might be missed, but on a large university forget it. Your commitment to show up is all you. Commit to it. Yes, today most lectures and resources may be accessed online, but many critics argue the loss of a lecture or classroom experience. You interact with classmates, make acquaintances and get more information than what can be gleaned online. Heck, you could live much more cheaply at home and take a distance learning program if you wanted to earn a degree online.

Become Involved

Participation in an extracurricular activity—club, band, study group, or sport—may help you manage your time more effectively. Students with a full schedule have little down time and tend to think more along the lines of a calendar and schedule. Club and social involvements also build relationships that are a big factor in college life. Most reports are that your best college buddies stay with you for life.

Part of your transition to college should be pre-planned by you. You have already chosen a college—size, type and location. Those elements should be considered very carefully during your initial planning stages. Small colleges have more time to guide students; professors can spot trouble in its early stages and they are more approachable if you have a problem.

Last Word About Transition

My transition from high school to college included a realization that I was not prepared for an away-from-home costly campus experience at that point. My transition was to community college. I gave myself space and time to explore my career interests and to hone study habits and beef up my academics. So don’t forget that “transition to” can encompass a wide range of choices, the best of which are made beforehand..