Ancient Rome

First-Year Seminar Readings

Lesson 3: Being a college student

Being an undergraduate means building some new skills

Online Orientation Module #1

Transition to Lehman: In this first module we will introduce you to foundational areas that you will need to know about to be able to gain access to the campus, get your college ID, and navigate services associated with your academic record. It is a great starting place to get to know the Lehman campus.

Complete the following:

·     Complete Module #1: Transition to Lehman


Then read these pages from College Success from OpenStax:

Part A: Being a student

Student Profile

“As students transitioning to college, responsibility is an inherent component of self-advocacy. As someone accepted on full funding to a 4-year university, but whose life’s circumstances disallowed attending college until years later, I used to dream of a stress-free college life. The reality is, college can be a meaningful place, but it can also be challenging and unpredictable. The key is to be your own best advocate, because no one else is obliged to advocate on your behalf.

“When I began my community college studies, I knew what I wanted to do. Cybersecurity was my passion, but I had no understanding of how credits transfer over to a 4-year university. This came to haunt me later, after I navigated the complex processes of transferring between two different colleges. Not everyone involved volunteers information. It is up to you, the student, to be the squeaky wheel so you can get the grease. Visit office hours, make appointments, and schedule meetings with stakeholders so that you are not just buried under the sheaf of papers on someone’s desk.”

—Mohammed Khalid, University of Maryland

About this Chapter

In this chapter, you will learn about what you can do to get ready for college. By the time you complete this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

·     Recognize the purpose and value of college.

·     Describe the transitional experience of the first year of college.

·     Discuss how to handle college culture and expectations.

·     Identify resources in this text and on your campus for supporting your college success.




Reginald has, after much thought and with a high level of family support, decided to enroll in college. It has been a dream in the making, as he was unable to attend immediately after high school graduation. Instead, he worked several years in his family’s business, got married, had a son, and then decided that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life regretting that he didn’t get a chance to follow his dreams of becoming a teacher. Because it has been almost a decade since he sat in a classroom, he is worried about how he will fit in as an adult learner returning to college. Will his classmates think he is too old? Will his professors think he is not ready for the challenges of college work? Will his family get tired of his long nights at the library and his new priorities? There is so much Reginald is unsure of, yet he knows it’s a step in the right direction.

It has been only three months since Madison graduated from high school. She graduated in the top 10 percent of her class, and she earned college credit while in high school. She feels academically prepared, and she has a good sense of what degree she wants to earn. Since Madison was 5 years old, she’s wanted to be an engineer because she loved building things in the backyard with her father’s tools. He always encouraged her to follow her dreams, and her whole family has been supportive of her hobbies and interests. However, Madison is concerned that her choice of major will keep her from dance, creative writing, and other passions. Furthermore, Madison is heading to a distant college with no other people she knows. Will she be able to find new friends quickly? Will her engineering classes crush her or motivate her to complete college? Will she be able to explore other interests? Madison has a lot on her mind, but she aims to face these challenges head-on.

While Reginald and Madison have had different experiences before and certainly have different motivations for enrolling in college, they have quite a bit in common. They are both committed to this new chapter in their lives, and they are both connected to their families in ways that can influence their commitment to this pursuit. What they don’t know just yet—because they haven’t started their classes—is that they will have even more in common as they move through each term, focus on a major, and plan for life after graduation. And they have a lot in common with you as well because you are in a similar position—starting the next chapter of the rest of your life.

In this chapter, you will first learn more about identifying the reason you are in college. This is an important first step because knowing your why will keep you motivated. Next, the chapter will cover the transitions that you may experience as a new college student. Then, the chapter will focus on how you can acclimate to the culture and meeting the expectations—all of which will make the transition to a full-fledged college student easier. Finally, the chapter will provide you with strategies for overcoming the challenges that you may face by providing information about how to find and access resources.

Part B: Why college?

Questions to consider:

·     Why are you in college?

·     What are the rewards and value of a college degree?

This chapter started with the profiles of two students, Reginald and Madison, but now we turn to who you are and why you are in college. Starting this chapter with you, the student, seems to make perfect sense. Like Reginald and Madison, you are probably full of emotions as you begin this journey toward a degree and the fulfillment of a dream. Are you excited about meeting new people and finally getting to take classes that interest you? Are you nervous about how you are going to handle your courses and all the other activities that come along with being a college student? Are you thrilled to be making important decisions about your future? Are you worried about making the right choice when deciding on a major or a career? All these thoughts, even if contradictory at times, are normal. And you may be experiencing several of them at the same time.

Decision-making about college and our future can be challenging, but with self-analysis and support, you can feel more confident and make the best choices.

Why Are You in College?

We know that college is not mandatory—like kindergarten through 12th grade is—and it is not free. You have made a choice to commit several years of hard work to earn a degree or credential. In some cases, you may have had to work really hard to get here by getting good grades and test scores in high school and earning money to pay for tuition and fees and other expenses. Now you have more at stake and a clearer path to achieving your goals, but you still need to be able to answer the question.

To help answer this question, consider the following questioning technique called “The Five Whys” that was originally created by Sakichi Toyoda, a Japanese inventor, whose strategy was used by the Toyota Motor Company to find the underlying cause of a problem. While your decision to go to college is not a problem, the exercise is helpful to uncover your underlying purpose for enrolling in college.

The process starts with a “Why” question that you want to know the answer to. Then, the next four “Why” questions use a portion of the previous answer to help you dig further into the answer to the original question. Here is an example of “The Five Whys,” with the first question as “Why are you in college?” The answers and their connection to the next “Why” question have been underlined so you can see how the process works.

While the example is one from a student who knows what she wants to major in, this process does not require that you have a specific degree or career in mind. In fact, if you are undecided, then you can explore the “why” of your indecision. Is it because you have lots of choices, or is it because you are not sure what you really want out of college?

The Five Whys in Action

Why are you in college?

I am in college to earn a degree in speech pathology.

Why do you want to earn a degree in speech pathology?

I want to be able to help people who have trouble speaking.

Why do you want to help people who have trouble speaking?

I believe that people who have trouble speaking deserve a life they want.

Why do you feel it is important that people who have trouble speaking deserve a life they want?

I feel they often have needs that are overlooked and do not get treated equally.

Why do you want to use your voice to help these people live a life they deserve?

I feel it is my purpose to help others achieve their full potential despite having physical challenges.

Do you see how this student went beyond a standard answer about the degree that she wants to earn to connecting her degree to an overall purpose that she has to help others in a specific way? Had she not been instructed to delve a little deeper with each answer, it is likely that she would not have so quickly articulated that deeper purpose. And that understanding of “why” you are in college—beyond the degree you want or the job you envision after graduation—is key to staying motivated through what will most likely be some challenging times.

How else does knowing your “why,” or your deeper reason for being in college, help you? According to Angela Duckworth (2016), a researcher on grit—what it takes for us to dig in deep when faced with adversity and continue to work toward our goal—knowing your purpose can be the booster to grit that can help you succeed. Other research has found that people who have a strong sense of purpose are less likely to experience stress and anxiety (Burrown, 2013) and more likely to be satisfied in their jobs (Weir, 2013). Therefore, being able to answer the question “Why are you in college?” not only satisfies the person asking, but it also has direct benefits to your overall well-being.

Part C: Why earn a college degree?

What Are the Rewards and Value of a College Degree?

Once you have explored your “why” for enrolling in college, it may be worth reviewing what we know about the value of a college degree. There is no doubt you know people who have succeeded in a career without going to college. Famous examples of college dropouts include Bill Gates (the cofounder and CEO of Microsoft) and Ellen DeGeneres (comedian, actor, and television producer, among her many other roles). These are two well-known, smart, talented people who have had tremendous success on a global scale. They are also not the typical profile of a student who doesn’t finish a degree. For many students, especially those who are first-generation college students, a college degree helps them follow a career pathway and create a life that would not have been possible without the credential. Even in this time of rapid change in all kinds of fields, including technology and education, a college degree is still worth it for many people.

Consider the following chart that shows an average of lifetime earnings per level of education. As you can see, the more education you receive, the greater the increase in your average lifetime earnings. Even though a degree costs a considerable amount of money on the front end, if you think about it as an investment in your future, you can see that college graduates receive a substantial return on their investment. To put it into more concrete terms, let’s say you spend $100,000 for a four-year degree (Don’t faint! That is the average sticker cost of a four-year degree at a public university if you include tuition, fees, room, and board). The return on investment (ROI) over a lifetime, according to the information in the figure below, is 1,500%! You don’t have to be a financial wizard to recognize that 1,500% return is fantastic.

A graph showing the amount of earnings

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Every education level brings with it potential for greater lifetime earnings. These are simply averages and may not apply to all career types and individuals. For clarity, the “professional degree,” attaining the highest earnings, refers to degrees such as those given to doctors or lawyers. Monetary values are in 2008 dollars. (Credit: based on data provided by Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce)

Making more money over time is not the only benefit you can earn from completing a college degree. College graduates are also more likely to experience the following:

·     Greater job satisfaction. That’s right! College graduates are more likely to get a job that they like or to find that their job is more enjoyable than not.

·     Better job stability. Employees with college degrees are more likely to find and keep a job, which is comforting news in times of economic uncertainty.

·     Improved health and wellness. College graduates are less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise and maintain a healthy weight.

·     Better outcomes for the next generation. One of the best benefits of a college degree is that it can have positive influences for the graduate’s immediate family and the next generations.

One last thing: There is some debate as to whether a college degree is needed to land a job, and there are certainly jobs that you can get without a college degree. However, there are many reasons that a college degree can give you an edge in the job market. Here are just a few reasons that graduating with a degree is still valuable:

More and more entry-level jobs will require a college degree. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, in 2020, 35% of jobs will require a college degree.

Part D: Adjusting to college

Questions to consider:

·     How will you adjust to college?

·     What are the common college experiences you will have?

Adjustments to College Are Inevitable

College not only will expand your mind, but it may also make you a little uncomfortable, challenge your identity, and at times, make you doubt your abilities. It is hard to truly learn anything without getting messy. This is what education does: it transforms us. For that to happen, however, means that we will need to be open to the transformation and allow the changes to occur. Flexibility, transition, and change are all words that describe what you will experience. Laurie Hazard and Stephanie Carter (2018)6 use the word adjustment. Hazard and Carter (2018) believe there are six adjustment areas that first-year college students experience: academic, cultural, emotional, financial, intellectual, and social. Of course, you won’t go through these adjustments all at once or even in just the first year. Some will take time, while others may not even feel like much of a transition. Let’s look at them in brief as a way of preparing for the road ahead:

·     Academic adjustment. No surprises here. You will most likely—depending on your own academic background—be faced with the increased demands of learning in college. This could mean that you need to spend more time learning to learn and using those strategies to master the material.

·     Cultural adjustment. You also will most likely experience a cultural adjustment just by being in college because most campuses have their own language (syllabus, registrar, and office hours, for example) and customs. You may also experience a cultural adjustment because of the diversity that you will encounter. Most likely, the people on your college campus will be different than the people at your high school—or at your workplace.

·     Emotional adjustment. Remember the range of emotions presented at the beginning of the chapter? Those will likely be present in some form throughout your first weeks in college and at stressful times during the semester. Knowing that you may have good days and bad—and that you can bounce back from the more stressful days—will help you find healthy ways of adjusting emotionally.

·     Financial adjustment. Most students understand the investment they are making in their future by going to college. Even if you have all your expenses covered, there is still an adjustment to a new way of thinking about what college costs and how to pay for it. You may find that you think twice about spending money on entertainment or that you have improved your skills in finding discounted textbooks.

·     Intellectual adjustment. Experiencing an intellectual “a-ha!” moment is one of the most rewarding parts of college, right up there with moving across the graduation stage with a degree in hand. Prepare to be surprised when you stumble across a fascinating subject or find that a class discussion changes your life. At the very least, through your academic work, you will learn to think differently about the world around you and your place in it.

·     Social adjustment. A new place often equals new people. But in college, those new relationships can have even more meaning. Getting to know professors not only can help you learn more in your classes, but it can also help you figure out what career pathway you want to take and how to get desired internships and jobs. Learning to reduce conflicts during group work or when living with others helps build essential workplace and life skills.

The table Six Areas of Adjustment for First-Year College Students provides a succinct definition for each of the areas as well as examples of how you can demonstrate that you have adjusted. Think about what you have done so far to navigate these transitions in addition to other things you can do to make your college experience a successful one.

A screenshot of a computer screen

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Figure 1.4 Six Areas of Adjustment for First-Year College Students Based on work by Laurie Hazard, Ed.D., and Stephanie Carter, M.A.

"Experiencing an intellectual ‘a-ha!’ moment is one of the most rewarding parts of college,
right up there with moving across the graduation stage with a degree in hand."

Part E: College culture and vocabulary

College Has Its Own Language and Customs

Going to college—even if you are not far from home—is a cultural experience. It comes with its own language and customs, some of which can be confusing or confounding at first. Just like traveling to a foreign country, it is best if you prepare by learning what words mean and what you are expected to say and do in certain situations.

Let’s first start with the language you may encounter. In most cases, there will be words that you have heard before, but they may have different meanings in a college setting. Take, for instance, “office hours.” If you are not in college, you would think that it means the hours of a day that an office is open. If it is your dentist’s office, it may mean Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. In college, “office hours” can refer to the specific hours a professor is in her office to meet with students, and those hours may be only a few each day: for example, Mondays and Wednesdays from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m.

“Syllabus” is another word that you may not have encountered, but it is one you will soon know very well. A syllabus is often called the “contract of the course” because it contains information about what to expect—from the professor and the student. It is meant to be a roadmap for succeeding in the class. Understanding that office hours are for you to ask your professor questions and the syllabus is the guide for what you will be doing in the class can make a big difference in your transition to college. The table on Common College Terms, has a brief list of other words that you will want to know when you hear them on campus.

Common College Terms, What They Mean, and Why You Need to Know


What It Means

Why You Need to Know

Attendance policy

A policy that describes the attendance and absence expectations for a class

Professors will have different attendance expectations. Read your syllabus to determine which ones penalize you if you miss too many classes.

Final exam

A comprehensive assessment that is given at the end of a term

If your class has a final exam, you will want to prepare for it well in advance by reading assigned material, taking good notes, reviewing previous tests and assignments, and studying.

Midterm exam

An assessment (test) given during the semester, usually at around the halfway point.

If your class has one or more midterm exams you


The process of acquiring knowledge

In college, most learning happens outside the classroom. Your professor will only cover the main ideas or the most challenging material in class. The rest of the learning will happen on your own.

Office hours

Specific hours professor is in the office to meet with students

Visiting your professor during office hours is a good way to get questions answered and to build rapport.


Using someone’s words, images, or ideas as your own, without proper attribution

Plagiarism carries much more serious consequences in college, so it is best to speak to your professor about how to avoid it and review your student handbook’s policy.


The process of using learning strategies to understand and recall information

Studying in college may look different than studying in high school in that it may take more effort and more time to learn more complex material.


The contract of a course that provides information about course expectations and policies

The syllabus will provide valuable information that your professor will assume you have read and understood. Refer to it first when you have a question about the course.