What to know about starting college

Beau Bilinovich, Development Editor

The transition from high school to college is not an easy one. Being thrust into a new environment away from home and parents while being surrounded by people you’ve never met before can be challenging. You might ask yourself many questions: What is college life like? What should I expect? Are those movies and shows I’ve seen about college actually true?

Starting college, however, does not have to be a Herculean task. Having a few pieces of advice in your back pocket can make this new chapter of your life easier to navigate. So, if you’re worried or feel lost as you prepare for the first day of classes, take a deep breath and consider the following:

1. The college social scene can be fun and exciting.

If you’ve ever watched any form of entertainment centered on the college experience, you might see two disparate views: Either everyone is constantly attending parties late into the night, with red solo cups and loud music, or every student is locked in their rooms and huddled over their desks, looking like Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings,” as they take another sip from their tenth cup of coffee. Both perspectives are wild exaggerations of what the college social scene has to offer.

To be certain, every college and student body is different. Socialization at Case Western Reserve University won’t be the exact same as it is for students at an institution like The Ohio State University. In fact, you might have heard rumors that CWRU does not have a social scene, with many students being too busy studying to socialize. The truth is that CWRU does provide many social opportunities, but they are more reserved compared to bigger universities.

If you’re wondering how to meet new people, your orientation groups are a great way to make friends and learn about their backgrounds. Take advantage of CWRU’s many student organizations and clubs—chances are there’s at least one that will interest you. If you enjoy playing games with small groups of people, consider buying some board games or a deck of cards. Additionally, don’t be afraid to explore the campus. Strosacker Auditorium, which is located in the Case Quad—near the giant wind turbine—has movie screenings every Friday and Saturday throughout the semester, courtesy of the CWRU Film Society. Consider attending the Rocky Horror Picture Show when Halloween approaches. It’s quite the campus tradition.

As you go through your time here, you will eventually settle into a niche uniquely your own. Everything might seem foggy and overwhelming right now, but it will clear up. It just takes some time.

2. Expect a different level of effort required for college courses.

The dreaded college course load is enough to worry even the most veteran students. College courses are not only harder than high school courses—you will also spend less time in the classroom.

And while this worry is understandable—college courses do require more active studying, requiring new work habits—there are many resources available and things you can do to make the transition smoother.

Most important is to build an effective study routine. Organized note-taking is crucial for successful studying. Make sure your notes are neat and are written in a way that is easy to process. Good notes are different for everyone, but no matter what, make sure your routine works for you. 

Additionally, consider devoting more time to studying. This does not mean cramming entire weeks’ worth of information into your brain the night before an exam. If you have an exam coming up, study at least a week in advance, a little bit each day. This can include rereading notes, going over homework, attending review sessions, working with other students, trying practice problems and more. Your professors might also provide resources. Dr. Butler, one of the math professors, holds a “math gala” before big exams, where students can work on practice problems and ask questions.

Your professors, teaching assistants and supplemental instruction (SI) leaders are always willing to help. If you don’t understand a topic or need clarification, don’t be afraid to ask them questions. They want you to succeed as much as you want yourself to succeed.

Furthermore, allow yourself the freedom to take breaks. If you have a gap in your schedule, use that free time to eat a meal, take a nap or even socialize with friends. College can be stressful, so it’s integral that you stay mentally grounded. Success isn’t just about grades—it’s also about taking care of yourself.

3. Express yourself how you want to.

You might be concerned that you won’t fit in with your peers or that the way you express yourself will be out of line. Perhaps this is borne out of a high school experience. Like many concerns, this is understandable.

But the social environment is different from high school for the most part. While certain types of people may be drawn to each other, everyone does their own thing. There is no one way to look or dress as a college student. You might even see your peers walking to class in their pajamas—the rules aren’t so strict.

College is a preview of what your adult years might look like. You have more freedom to create a life that makes sense to you. So express yourself how you want, wear what you want and just be yourself. I promise your high school principal isn’t going to track you down and give you a demerit because your sleeves are a half-inch too short.

As you organize your rooms and finish orientation week, keep this advice in mind. It can make starting college much easier. Enjoy these next few years, and good luck with the first day of classes!