Who better to share wise words about the college experience than the undergraduates themselves? What kinds of things should our students be thinking about as they prepare to make this transition or make their decision about which school to attend in the spring?
We invited the Class of 2012 back to campus to speak with the seniors about the transition from Randolph to college. This is the second year the School has done this. Director of College Counseling Rusty Allen believes this is a good experience for both the seniors and the returning alumni. This year's panelists were William Alexander, Ellen Jones, Grant Della Silva, Paul Naumann and Noelle Honeycutt. Mr. Allen chaired the discussion before opening up the floor for questions.
"I think it's important for our students to hear about a variety of experiences," said Mr. Allen. As it happened, these students represented a fairly broad spectrum schools and choices. William is studying computer science in the Honors College at the University of Alabama. He had applied to SMU, Clemson, Auburn and Georgia Tech and chose Alabama "for the money" (a Presidential Scholarship that includes full tuition) and the combination of strong department in his field of study "and great football."
Also studying computer science, Grant Della Silva is at Carnegie Mellon University. "Of all the schools I got into it has the best computer science department." Grant has been offered a paid internship this summer with Intel in Portland, Oregon. Ellen Jones and Paul Naumann chose small liberal arts colleges. Ellen applied to 11 and chose Vassar, 75 miles north of New York City, as the best fit. Paul opted for Sewanee over Auburn and Alabama. Noelle Honeycutt was offered her college place junior year. After she and her family visited the school they believed that it would offer the best match for Noelle to get a great engineering education while continuing to play soccer at the highest level. She is studying engineering and playing Division I soccer at West Virginia University.
The panel offered the following observations and advice.
1. The first few months may not feel like college at all. Pre-orientation activities, a period of adjustment where you are making friends and the possibility that work may not be graded until the second month all ease the transition. Use this time to find your niche.
2. You will miss your friends from home, but you won't necessarily feel homesick. Our panel reported that one of the big adjustments in going to college was suddenly not being surrounded by a group of people who knew them really well, possibly people they had been with since as long ago as Kindergarten, and you will miss them. "Take advantage of this time with your Randolph friends during this last semester," Paul advised, "before you get transported to a place with people from all over the world.”
"It's strange not knowing everyone," said William, "including the people who work in the cafeteria."
3. College may be easier than you expect. "My classes aren't any harder than anything I had here," Noelle said. She is taking biology, English 101 and English 199, calculus I and communications. "But I have less time to do my work, because of training. I thought I was good at time management, but with up to five hours of training a day, I'm better."
"Calculus II, my hardest class, was like Randolph math," said Paul.
4. College may be harder than you expect.
"The academics are rigorous, humanities less so -- conversations were a step down from 11th and 12th grade classes here -- but computer science is a step up. We have 3-hour midterms, but that's why I'm there," said Grant.
"We have a lot of reading and writing. Read 100 pages and write a paper. It's not enough just to go to class and take midterms," Ellen said.
"Don't be afraid to drop a class if you're taking too many. But know when the drop date is!"
5. You will have to make an effort to get to know your teachers, and you should. "Take the opportunity to approach your professors after class," said William. "Know that professors won't all be in during office hours."
Use ratemyprofessor.com, added Ellen. This website will let you see how other students have graded professors on how hard, good or accessible they are.
6. Culture shock is not a bad thing. Ellen came to Randolph from Guntersville. "Everytime I wanted to come into Huntsville or see my friends it was a 45-minute drive. Now my best friends are my roommate and a hallmate. Classes are a five- or 10-minute walk. It's nice not needing a car."
7. Take AP Chemistry so you don't have to take it in college. This was a unanimous opinion.
8. Buyer beware. Course names can be deceptive. "My engineering seminar is like a math study hall," said William. Others chimed in: make sure you understand what courses count for certain requirements and what the prerequisites are for others. Figure this out during drop/add. For the most part, avoid classes taught by graduate students.
9. Get involved. Paul is serving on the advisory council for the dining hall.
10. Don't blow your dining hall budget on Chick-fil-A like William did. He spent $300 on breakfasts and ended up searching the couch for quarters to do laundry. Grant ran out of dining hall money during finals. "You get tired of pizza pretty quickly." It is important to eat breakfast. Get a box of cereal and some milk for your dorm.
11. Learn to cook. No matter how good the food is, at some point you'll get sick of it.
12. Learn the secrets. Every dining hall has its secrets. You have to combine foods. "The secret is the bisque," said William. "I tweet about it all the time."
13. Roommates can be weird. But it's all part of the experience.
What advice would you give?