by Rose Rothmeier, Dean of Student Services
You’re nearly midway through your first semester of college. You have been hearing and thinking about, then planning for college longer than you can remember. All through high school people told you to think about taking this course or adding some activity to your schedule so that when the time came to apply, you would have the kind of background that would make you an attractive candidate for college. You took the tests, filled out the forms, and after making choices ended up packing your stuff for the next phase of your life.
The first couple days are SO overwhelming. So many new faces, names, and things that need to be done! You wonder if you are really ready for all of this. For the first time in a long time, you may need to consider what courses to take. In high school, since you wanted to go to college, it was pretty well mapped out for you, and it was so much easier to gripe about what you HAD to take and the work you needed to do. Now things are different. You have to begin mapping out an academic path over the next four years. Faculty members ask you what you are interested in learning. Staff members in Student Life encourage you to get involved in negotiating guidelines for living with your roommate and others in your residence hall. There is no immediate consequence for mismanaging your time, no one to oversee what you eat, if you sleep or exercise, and definitely no bells to signal when to start and stop sections of your day. You want to handle all of these issues without seeming too stressed, but EVERYTHING is changing! A few short weeks ago, life seemed pretty predictable, maybe even boring at times—and now you wonder if you will be able to catch up with the crowd or if anything will be the same again.
The stresses of the first semester of college are formidable. Many of the attitudes, behaviors, and thinking that accompanied high school will be challenged, and most students will be called upon to expand their comfort zone to become a new type of student, a collaborator in education—both in and out of the classroom. Losing the daily structure of home and family, some dive into the pool of autonomy and self-direction with little hesitation, while most hesitantly wade in, hoping there is no unexpected drop off that might send them in over their heads! Touching base with family and friends can be reassuring, though there seems to be some urgency to establish a place at the College, a schedule, a new “normal,” some sense of belonging in this place that will at some point become home.
In almost the same nine months it took to deliver each child into the arms of hopeful parents, students complete a similar transformation, emerging as an Austin College students ready to face the sophomore year. Models abound that suggest what must be done when and where to end this process on a high note; however, we all know that one size rarely fits all. A few will emerge like butterflies, having managed the anxiety and challenges of the past year, flying off to soar to greater heights of accomplishment in the coming academic years. Others require more time, needing first-year experiences to realize that change and growth cannot be avoided, ignored, or achieved without some loss. There always are tradeoffs to move toward full adulthood. Time has passed, regardless of how a student chose to use it. Grasping that it is possible to hold on to what is essential from our past, while continuing to strive toward what can be today and tomorrow, allows all students to close their first year with satisfaction and anticipation for the journey ahead.