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August 16, 2004

Leaving high school behind? How to cope at college

By Sarah Jordan

From beyond the swirling drifts of college propaganda and admissions essays rings out a voice:” Hear me, for I have crossed this river of confusion and been delivered to the land beyond.”

Yeah, right. I am just trying to pass on some of the experience of my first few months as a college student at the University of Connecticut. With any luck it might be general enough to help you out if you are about to apply, and maybe it will dispel any holy grail delusion of college you might be operating under.

As a high school student, you are probably used to getting up at the same ungodly hour every day of the week and taking some form of transport to your school. There are a lot of differences between a day at high school and a day at college.

Firstly, you’re on your own to wake up at that potentially ungodly hour. I say potentially ungodly hour because the time you have to get up on a given day isn’t set in stone like it is in high school. I get up early on some days and sleep in when I don’t have early classes. Don’t be surprised if you get to college and find that your roommate, neighbor or whatever doesn’t get up early. They are the lucky ones who have no morning classes.

If ever your mode of transportation changes, you are probably used to considering how to get to school. In college, you consider how to get to class. For me in the first few weeks this involved always carrying a campus map and my schedule--where I had to be and when I had to be there. Colleges aren’t simple neat buildings like most high schools. Buildings are scattered over the campus, with extension and renovations and new ones all jumbled together in organic fashion. Trust me: it may have been organized once, but it isn’t now.

Inside a given building you have to navigate through the often maze like corridors to find your room. Hope and pray that your classes don’t get moved around. I was late to one class because had moved before the first meeting. Apparently the room it was supposed to be in had no seats…

Don’t picture a little square classroom like you’re used to when you think of college classes. Your classes will predominantly take place in lecture halls. Tiers of seats with fold out writing surfaces just big enough to support a single notebook all facing a desk and blackboard. There are times when you will be in a “classroom” like you’re used to, but they are rare. If you take certain courses you may also find yourself in a computer lab. Those are what you think--room, computer, chairs.

When you’re in class there’s little attention paid to you individually. You’re on your own to take notes and study them. Most of your homework will not be collected. Much of it will be readings from various textbooks. You shell out for these, so there is little limit on the number of books for a given course. Homework assignments may well be written out and attached to your class syllabus. You know those useless lists of competencies you receive each year courtesy the Board of Education? In college they are vital resources containing your homework and ways to contact professors and their assistants if you should need help. I didn’t know one of my professors names for a week because he hadn’t handed out the syllabus yet…

Are you hungry from all that brain work and the workout from running around campus? Just to bum you out let me tell you there is no lunch time and no main cafeteria. Various residence halls have built in eateries, mostly buffet style, where you can go to eat. Every so often they will have something which you can have prepared fresh the way you want it, omelets or other single serving things.

There are also the various pseudo commercial vendors and restaurants. I say pseudo commercial because they must have some relationship with the college. Either they have permission to be there or they are renting facilities. You eat when you can and what you can. If you can’t stomach the cafeteria food you find something else somewhere else. It’s the same as it was in high school, cafeteria food isn’t always edible: After three months I still have no idea why my residence hall chefs think they can cook Chinese…

So it’s noon and you’re finished with classes for the day. Yes I said noon, I might also have said eight p.m., you can finish up any time in between or earlier. What do you do now? Whatever you want. You can study--there are plenty of places to do that, it is a school after all--or you can relax and have fun. You might even what to nap, especially if you’re not quite used to not having a curfew yet. I can tell you that whatever you do, someone else is probably doing the same thing someplace else on campus. There is never a shortage of people to do things with around campus.

If you want to have fun but avoid the keggers there are still plenty of options, even at UConn. There are rec centers and some are even housed in the dorms. I am lucky to have a rec room  in my dorm, I don’t ever need to brave the weather to go play pool or darts. Every so often you may want to venture out to forage for supplies. For some reason, possibly because college kids are a captive audience, there are always stores and sales persons around campus. If nothing else, there’s the bookstore, where eventually you will have to go to get your textbooks…

You can party or study all night if you want to, but if you decide not to, you have a place to crash. The bed may not be made, but it’s your fault if it isn’t. Anyway, it’s a place to sleep. Unless your roommate snores…

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