Transitioning to College: What to Expect: Part 3 of 3 (Ian Fuller)

Transitioning to college can be a tricky time in life for students. There is so much unknown. How hard will my classes be? What do I do if I don’t like my roommate? What kind of extracurricular activities are available?

This is the third part of a three part interview with two college students, Janelle Scala and Ian Fuller.  You can read Part 1 for both Ian and Janelle as well as Part 2 for Ian and Janelle.  Both are juniors at their respective schools, Janelle at the University of Virginia and Ian at James Madison University. They have agreed to offer some insight and answer some questions regarding their transitional experience from high school to college. 

Ian1)  This question actually comes from a parent…Now that you are halfway through your college experience, looking back on high school, what would you have done differently to prepare for college?

I think the best thing prospective college students can do is establish good study habits early on in high school, and continue to practice them throughout college. I’ve found that the work load in high school is significantly lower than it is in college, but the transition becomes a lot easier if you’ve already established a routine or system for studying and doing homework. In high school, I always got by doing the bare minimum. I never really studied that much for tests, and was always an A or B student. In my first semester of college though, I actually never got an A on a single test and had an average of about a C. I think this is because I didn’t have the foundation I needed to study effectively. My second semester I took studying more seriously, developed a routine, and consequently performed better on tests.

2) You have two years left. How do you envision these two years being different than your first two years?

My first two years I really tried to attend and participate in all of the events, programs and clubs that JMU has to offer. It was nice because it gave me the opportunity to explore a lot of my different interests. Now that two years have passed, I think I’ve found the clubs and activities that I enjoy the most, and that I want to continue participating in. That being said, I would like to get more involved within the JMU community, and perhaps provide those same opportunities and experiences to underclassmen. I think the JMU community as a whole does a phenomenal job of making everyone feel welcome and included, and I would really like to be a part of that.

3) What are some important intangible skills that you must possess as a student in order to be successful in the college classroom?

I think being self-motivated is probably the most important intangible skill to have. I’ve had classes where teachers will assign a lot of readings and assignments to be completed outside of class. The materials from these assignments and readings would then reappear on quizzes and tests. I realized very quickly that if I wanted to do well on assessments in these types of classes, I would need to put in the time and effort outside of class. It can be hard to stay on top of school work in college, mainly because no one is really around to make you do it and a lot of distractions can arise. I think if students are self-motivated, and are willing to set time aside to fulfill academic obligations, then they will be successful academically. I struggled my first semester because I never wanted to invest time outside of class into studying. These past three semesters I’ve tried to spend more time completing assignments and homework, and as a result, I’ve done better on major tests and quizzes.

4) How much different is the college classroom experience compared to the high school classroom experience? Does a lot of the learning fall on you? Are college professors that much different than high school teachers? How?

In my experience, a lot of the leJMUarning generally falls on the student. Because class times are so short, all of the classes I’ve taken have been very fast paced, and so my teachers generally haven’t spent additional amounts of time making sure everyone in the class understands what’s going on. Because of this, I usually have to spend time outside of class making sure that I learn and understand everything.  It’s important to stay on top of what’s being taught in each class. Another aspect of college classes that’s different is that a lot of teachers expect students to come to class having already learned some of the information.

To give an example, in a class I took this past semester, my teacher would assign homework that covered material we hadn’t learned yet. The homework would only touch on basic concepts, but then in class we would spend little to no time going over it. My teacher expected us to have already mastered basic concepts, so that he could teach us the more difficult ones in the limited amount of time he had.  As class would go on, there would be certain aspects of a lesson I wouldn’t comprehend; and so I would have to spend additional time outside of class making sure that I had it mastered for the test.

As mentioned in question 3, I struggled my freshman year because I continually fell behind. My sophomore year I did a lot better because I spent time both before and after class studying and doing homework.

In terms of college teachers, I’ve found that it is generally hit or miss. I’ve had professors who were always willing to help and wanted students to succeed. I’ve had professors who make their classes incredibly challenging to prepare students for future classes. I’ve also had professors who came into class, lectured the entire time, and then left. In my opinion though, a student’s professor doesn’t dictate the grade they will receive. At the end of the day, the material taught is what will be on major assessments, regardless of who your professor is; and as such, it is the student’s responsibility to master this material. Some professors just make it a little easier than others. As said earlier, if students are willing to put the time and effort in outside of class, they will do well. When I began to realize this after my first semester, I began to perform much better.

5) Any parting wisdom that you wish to pass on to high school students today that you feel like you haven’t answered yet?

Get involved as soon as you can. In high school I was involved in a lot of extracurricular activities, and I think I sort of “burned out”. Because of this, I didn’t look to join any clubs or teams my first year. It’s something I really regret, because my second year I became a lot more involved, and because of it, I’ve had great experiences and made good friends. One of the great things about JMU is that they host a student organization night at the beginning of every semester. This allows students to see and get more information on clubs and organizations that JMU has to offer. Most universities and colleges offer something similar, so I would definitely recommend trying to attend a student org night, or at least reaching out to a club or team that you think you would enjoy.

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