March 7, 2018

Getting Ready for College? Here are a Few Things to Expect

By Jessica Mendoza

From the beginning of orientation, I knew college was going to be very different from high school. Once classes started, I noticed even more differences. Going into college, I felt confident, but also a bit unsure of what to expect. I was eager to get involved on campus and embrace the challenges my new classes would hold. Still, actually doing that has been hard at times. In the short time I have been in college, I have learned a few things that I hope will help college-bound high school students prepare for the road ahead. Overall, the most important lesson I have learned is that it’s up to the individual to make the most out of one’s circumstances.

COLLEGE IS INTENSE

Right off the bat, college orientation was more intensive than anything I’d experienced before: From 6 a.m.-9 p.m. every day, for a week straight, I was attending workshops and presentations, and participating in group discussions, all with people I did not know. Then, once classes started, I noticed the biggest difference between a high school teacher and a college professor: no more hand-holding. Granted, I had taken AP classes in high school and was used to doing assignments on my own, but to other students, this difference alone could have been overwhelming.

It’s important for high school students to be aware of how intense college will be, even in comparison to AP classes. Ask for help when you need it. And if you’re early on in your high school career, seek out PSEO and other dual-enrollment classes now to help you get prepared.

YOUR COLLEGE MIGHT BE PRETTY WHITE

Another change has been the lack of diversity. The U.S. has long seen racial and ethnic disparities in both higher education enrollment and attainment, gaps which sadly appear to be growing, not closing. Wide disparities also remain when it comes to higher education faculty. Even though I knew this going into college, I was still shocked to find that I was one of the few people of color in my classes. I had previously attended Roseville Area High School and was used to seeing many people of color around the school, as students, educators, and support staff. Where I go to college, Augsburg University, is more diverse than many other institutions. Yet, the reality is that even a “more diverse” college still does not reflect our communities.

One thing that has helped me is connecting with other people on campus who feel the pressures of attending a predominantly white school. In particular, getting involved with the student group, Augsburg Latin American Students, has given me a space to share aspects of my culture and meet other dedicated latinx students.

For high school students of color who are preparing for college, I recommend seeking out groups and activities to help you connect with students who share your background. For white students, pay attention to diversity, or the lack thereof, on your campus. How can you be an advocate for students and staff of color, and push your institution to be more inclusive?

YOU’LL NEED A SUPPORT SYSTEM

Adjusting to a new social and academic setting was hard at first. Ultimately, college has reaffirmed my belief in the importance of having a support system. New classmates, new professors, and a new roommate made focusing on just the class aspect of school impossible. By taking advantage of the resources my school offers, I was able to talk things through whenever I felt overwhelmed. After visiting the campus Wellness Center, meeting with my mentor, the Augsburg Latinx Director, and talking with my academic advisor, I started to find a balance. As a first-generation college student, this has been especially important. I am grateful to have people who care about my well-being, as well as opportunities to grow as an individual.

No two support systems will look the same: What you need will probably be very different from what has helped me. But the fact remains that you will need people and resources to help you settle into college, so don’t be afraid to seek them out.

Overall, my biggest lesson is that my success so far in college has depended on my willingness to step out of my comfort zone and take advantage of every opportunity available to me. I encourage others to do the same: Use the challenges and changes you discover in college as fuel, not a deterrent, to seek out the mentors and resources you need to make the most out of your college experience. It’s not an experience that everyone gets, so don’t take it for granted.