September 3, 2012

Something Old, Something New
When we do something new, we’re attentive, on guard, and ready to deal with the unexpected. When we do something that we already know how to do, we’re often not as focused because we are confident in our abilities. But sometimes, what we think we know may have changed – simply because we are doing it in a new place.  
Let me give you an example. I learned to ski in my twenties in New Jersey – and I loved it. Then, my now-husband suggested that we go to Vermont to ski. I was excited – I knew how to ski. At Killington, two lifts and a gondola later, we stood at the top. As I stared down that huge, huge, huge mountain, I thought, Wait, I DON’T know how to ski! What I thought I understood about skiing had changed completely – because the place had changed. All of my assumptions about the activity were wrong.
I was prepared for this: 

And I encountered this:

I always think about that experience when I’m talking with new Rutgers students, because our students are good students. They’re smart, and they’ve often accomplished amazing things in high school. But, many students come to college without thinking about how the location changes the activity - and what challenges that change may create. The mountain has gotten bigger, the slopes steeper, the work more demanding. And unlike me, standing at the top of that mountain, my students may not see the difference immediately.
So, how can you prepare to meet the challenges of becoming a successful college student?
Step 1: Think about yourself as a student. Did you have to work hard and learn to study to succeed in high school? If so, you already have building blocks for success. If not, college may require skills that you have not yet developed. Your old habits (cramming before a test, taking sketchy notes, memorizing everything) may not support your new challenges.
Step 2: Focus on the differences. College work requires much more learning time outside of the classroom, so prepare to carve out study time in your schedule.  Homework may not be assigned or mandatory, so how can you motivate yourself to do supplemental work to fully master the material? Reading the assigned chapters once and attending lectures is the beginning, not the end, of the work.
Step 3: Seek expert advice on campus. See your academic adviser ( to discuss the rigor of your schedule, see your professors at office hours to review the course material, and use the Learning Centers ( for tutoring, test-taking tips, or study skills. Talk with upper-level students to learn their secrets to success at college.  
Step 4: Give yourself a break. A new transition takes time and energy. Don’t expect to adapt immediately. Many first year students get an NP (no pass) on their first Expository Writing paper. Once you recognize that grades and professor feedback help you identify where your assumptions may be wrong, you’re ready to adapt your skills to be more effective at the new challenge.