The Rapidian

Navigating campus for the first time

Diving into the college world without the resources and advice of family who attended can be tricky to navigate but with some advice and storytelling we can help bridge the gap for incoming first-generation students. This is the second story in our series.

/Lisa McNeilley

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The transition from high school to college involves significant changes. You may move into a dorm or you may be navigating the commute from home to school, including the always-daunting parking arrangements and costs. Instead of the at-least familiar, if not friendly, faces of people you have known for four years, your classes will be filled with dozens, even hundreds, of strangers. Picking where to sit in class is like being the new kid trying to find a table at lunchtime. And that’s after a trek around campus and through buildings trying to find your classrooms in the first place. You’ll learn about the syllabus and the conduct of the class, and many of the expectations will seem different from what you experienced in high school. 

It might seem like a trivial matter, but feeling confident and comfortable getting around campus makes a big difference in your experience. Arriving to classes on time and relaxed versus late and flustered can impact your performance. Students who can’t get the hang of getting to classes on time often end up deciding not to attend instead of making a late entrance and calling attention to themselves, which mean their grades suffer. Mastering the little things can give you the foundation to attack bigger issues.

Getting around campus, whether from your dorm or by car will be easier if you are familiar with the area. Most new college students will attend an orientation, but that might be months before classes start, and while it will help you become familiar with campus, it might not show you the routes you need to take.

A dry run is the best way to figure things out—on a day before classes start when you don’t have the pressure of time. If you are commuting, figure out how long it will take you to get to campus—including regular traffic—and find parking. Scope out parking structures, metered parking (the times are never long enough for attending classes), and free parking (which will inevitably involve a lot of walking). Find out costs and contact the parking office (usually in Campus Police) to get a parking pass (you’ll need to do this if you live on campus and want to have a car). Time how long it takes to walk to your classrooms. Add your commute time, parking time, walking time, plus ten minutes. This is how long before your first class you should leave for classes each day.

If you are living off campus, you might also want to take note of places you can study between classes, where you can get a decent lunch or dinner and where you can just relax. In the winter, you might find it worthwhile to change your routes so you can cut through buildings to stay warm on your way to class. Find out where students hang out and schedule study groups. You will want to be part of campus life, so join some clubs, too. You’ll be moving from building to building during the course of a day, so figuring out how to get around most efficiently will help you save time, leaving more for relaxing and enjoying.

Living in a dorm also involves some logistics, particularly if you have a community shower room. You’ll need to figure out how long it takes you to get ready and what are the best times to have access to facilities—that also goes if you are sharing a bathroom with one to three other roommates. You’ll want to know if your meal plan includes breakfast, what times it is available, and where it is most convenient for you to get on the way to class. Some meal plans include a set number of meals and you can choose whether to eat lunch and dinner or breakfast and dinner, etc. If that is the case, it could be a good idea to keep some fruit and light breakfast snacks in your room, which will save money and time. You’ll be tempted to skip breakfast, so make a commitment to yourself before the school year starts to maintain healthy habits—they will make a huge difference in your energy level, finances, and that oft-feared freshman fifteen. Set your alarm to account for the time it takes you to wake up, get ready, eat lunch and walk to class, plus ten minutes. Remember, the other people in the dorm room will be hearing your alarm, too, so discuss your wake-up times and preferences. They won’t want you hitting snooze for an hour, especially if they managed to schedule afternoon classes to sleep in.

Before your classes start, have a dry run to figure out how long it will take you to get to classes and from one class to the next. If you have long breaks between classes, you will want to decide if you will have time to go back to your dorm or if you need places to relax, eat, and study on campus. It’s a good idea to find those in advance, too. If you are planning to ride a bike or skateboard between classes, you’ll want to find out where you can lock up or store them during class. If you need to take campus buses, you’ll want to figure out the timing to make sure you can make it to your classes on time, including walking to bus stops, waiting, travel time, and walking to class.

Whether you commute or live on campus, you’ll want to schedule your classes so there is enough time between classes to arrive on time. Usually at orientation, you will get information about the average travel time between classes in different buildings—if not, you should ask. It’s not a bad idea to schedule longer blocks of time between classes, so you can review notes, relax, and prepare for a new subject—if you don’t have other commitments to work around. If you have your schedule set and you realize that you cannot make it to class on time (maybe your earlier class always ends up running late or you just cannot walk fast enough), let your professor know. You can say that you didn’t realize how long it would take to get to class and you will do everything in your power to be there on time, but you might be a couple minutes late if there are unavoidable delays. Reassure your professor that you will keep up with the notes and work, and that you won’t disrupt class when you arrive. This is always better than skipping classes because you are running behind or showing up late and having the professor assume you just don’t care enough to be on time.

Small decisions form the groundwork of your college experience. Experienced students from families and high schools with strong college preparation often seem to acclimate to the new world of college effortlessly. Knowing in advance what to expect and how to navigate the transition from high school to college will help you set the same foundation for success.

To read the first story in the series: click this link.

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