Going from being a senior at school to a junior at public and private higher education institutions requires an important and very necessary mindset change, in order to ensure a successful start to a young person’s study career, an education expert has warned.
“After 12 years at school, where students now headed for further education got used to being the kings of the heap as seniors, the first year out of school and enrolled in Higher Education can be a very challenging time and often overwhelming,” says Peter Kriel, Head of the Business Faculty at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest and most accredited private higher education provider.
“Starting again as a ‘junior’ with new responsibilities and expectations will be daunting,” he says.
“It is also most likely that your schooling was far more structured than what your student life will be, while you are now expected to apply critical thinking and decision making skills. No more spoon feeding, and no more checking that your homework is done. Your success has now become your personal responsibility.”
Kriel says it is no secret that the first few months as a first year student often lead to anxiety, stress, depression and, in too many cases, failure, dropping out and not obtaining the desired diploma or degree.
“If one understands why this happens and what can be done as a first year student, you are much more likely to achieve success not only as you enter higher education, but also every year of your studies until you obtain your qualification,” he says.
Kriel notes that Vincent Tinto, a Professor at Syracuse University of Sociology and one of the leading theorists in the field of higher education, particularly concerning student retention, has identified three stages that students move through during the period between leaving school and becoming a successful first year student. These are:
- Separation – Students are leaving behind almost a whole life of familiarity, often also leaving home to pursue their studies in another city, which can be very traumatic.
- Transition – During this stage students are torn between their familiar past and the new life on campus. A feeling of not belonging will pre-occupy one’s mind, often resulting in the real purpose of entering higher education not receiving the attention it should.
- Incorporation – Overcoming the first two stages, students will become fully integrated participants in their new life. The good news is that this stage can be achieved through proactive, deliberate actions.
“Being aware of these stages in advance will certainly support you to understand what is happening in your life as a first year student and allow you to deal with this in a productive manner,” says Kriel.
He says the 5 P’s for Performance will go a long way in assisting new students:
Prepare: Throw yourself into the orientation programmes offered by your institution. Regardless of the activities and topics covered during this period, it is essential that you attend and participate as far as possible. Even participating in something that you may label as boring can lay the foundation for your survival throughout your studies.
Positive Attitude: Students with positive attitudes possess the ability and willingness to learn new subjects even if some of them appear irrelevant. If you make yourself understand the importance of the subject in achieving overall success, you will not give up easily.
Planning: As a new first year student it is likely that you have big goals and high expectations. But you must think about a realistic plan about how you will align your educational and career goals. Your plan should include your goals, supported by aspects such as time management and discipline.
Participation: One of the key success ingredients is class attendance – some you will enjoy and others not so much, but attendance cannot be overemphasised. And attendance does not merely imply physically being in class, but active involvement in class.
Profile building: Think about how you would like to be perceived in ten years’ time and put deliberate actions in place to achieve those right from the start. Displaying for example leadership skills during your studies, will build your profile so that people around you will perceive you as a leader. A short term practical advantage of this may be the reference you will receive from the institution when you apply for your first job.