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College: ‘Quite the challenge’ –But also a worthwhile experience

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Sit at the front of the class. It seems like a simple thing, but it may mean the difference between academic success and failure in your first year of college abroad.

This was one of the recommendations, when

The Royal Gazette recently asked a group of Bermudian college students about how they survived their first year of college. The first year can be a daunting time. Suddenly, you are responsible for paying the phone bill on time, washing your own clothes, and getting to class on time.

“My first year of university was a blur,” said Bermudian

Winston Godwin, 21, a student at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. “It went by really fast. Academically, it was quite the challenge.”

For Mr Godwin college was a time for self discovery. He was initially in marine and freshwater biology, but switched to a major in geography and environmental studies with a minor in geographic information systems (GIS). At many colleges and universities you can change your major without going home and reapplying to college. If you aren’t sure what you want to do with your life when you start college or university, you might be able to declare yourself as an “undecided” major or a “general studies” major. You might want to ask your admissions counsellor about this during the admissions process.

Roger Moniz, 23, a student in the law conversion course at The City Law School, London, said: “The biggest piece of advice I would give a student just entering university is to study what you are naturally drawn to. There are so many students who have a career prescribed to them by their parents or by inaccurate stereotypes of achievable lifestyles in a certain profession that they will often forgo an interesting and enjoyable university experience. I say study what you enjoy studying because your grades are often more important to a company than what you studied. I would also highly recommend speaking to people who work in your desired industry to get an idea of what the work is like.”

When choosing a university, you might want to consider average class size. Some small colleges and universities might average as little as 15 students to a class, while large universities may have hundreds of students per class.

“At my university, the classes were quite large, some had 600 students,” said Mr Godwin, “so at first it was a little daunting, but you got used to it fast. Also, I found people from StartOnline in my classes so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. StartOnline is an online forum at the University of Guelph that allows new students to meet their roommates, floor mates and other people in their programme as well as other people simply going to the university. I took advantage of this programme, and it paid off.”

A lot of class life involves taking notes and then later regurgitating them for quizzes, essays and examinations. Sometimes colleges allow you to take to class a recording device, while others strictly prohibit this. Mr Godwin’s university allowed laptops, but he chose to write notes the old fashioned way with pen and paper.

“I found the laptop distracting,” he said. “Needless to say my handwriting greatly improved over the course of the year. I also sat towards the front of the lecture halls. This was a conscious decision, I felt as though professors were more compelled to help the familiar faces and it also forces you to pay attention.”

Mr Godwin said that university is definitely what you make of it.

“Don’t be afraid to push yourself outside of your comfort zone,” he said.

The first year he joined the marine and freshwater biology society. The second year he joined the geography society. Next year he will be the president of it.

“There are times where you will get stressed,” said Mr Godwin. “The workload piles up and sometimes the professors don’t care. Just take it one assignment at a time. Those time management skills seriously come in handy. Don’t procrastinate, just get it done.”

Sarita Ebbin, 25, is no stranger to university. She has two undergraduate degrees; an honours Bachelor of Arts in political science from York University in Toronto, Canada and a LLB Law degree from Brunel University in London, England. She will be returning to London at the end of the month to complete the legal practice course at the College of Law London (Moorgate).

“My advice to anyone entering university is firstly, make sure that whatever school you enrol in is a school that you fit into,” said Miss Ebbin. “While rankings are important, if you’re not enjoying the experience it will be reflected in your output. Secondly, work hard, don’t coast, and don’t settle. If you can get a B by coasting work hard and get an A. Lastly, have fun, university is a chance to spread your wings, to learn and develop as a person, get involved in extra-curricular activities and make friends in your classes and residence, some of the friends you make in university will become some of your lifelong best friends.”

Many students flunk out their first year of college, because they fall into the party trap. They forget why they are in university to get an education. Some universities don’t give second chances. The first year is seen as a weeding out year, and if you don’t make the grade you are out. Other universities take a more lenient policy and will give second chances or warnings to students who don’t make the grade.

“For me it was extremely easy to balance partying and studying because I’m not one to go out partying a lot,” said Miss Ebbin. “On the other hand, it has been difficult to balance my extra-curricular activities and studying. At York I competed in Model United Nations competitions and at Brunel I played basketball for the women’s basketball team and I am also actively involved in my church in London, all of which take up a lot of time. At the end of both of my degrees I have been happy with my final results. I believe it is a testament to the fact that hard work and dedication pay off.”

Joliza Vanderpool, 18, is going into her second year at Niagara College in the Culinary Management Co-op Programme.

“For the most part my first year of college was great, the only downside was that I didn’t have the best living arrangement because of the person I was rooming with,” said Miss Vanderpool.

It is common to not get on with a roommate. In some colleges they try to arrange freshmen with roommates in similar programmes, but it still doesn’t always work out. Sometimes you are both writers, artists or scientists but find yourselves competing, and sometimes your roommate leaves cigarette ashes all over your bed, or blasts his music while you are trying to study. Some colleges ask roommates to fill out a contract detailing rules regarding bedtimes, when the room should be quiet for studying, overnight guests (especially romantic ones), and food-sharing arrangements. Be clear from the beginning about your expectations. And be sure to follow through on your end of the agreement. Please don’t write on the form ‘non-smoker’ because your mom is watching, knowing full well that you smoke like a chimney. (Parents, please, please let students fill these room preference forms out on their own.)

“I would tell young Bermudians just entering university to have fun while staying focused on your goals,” said Miss Vanderpool. “Put your best foot forward and always do your best in whatever it is that you’re doing, because you can do and accomplish anything you want if you put your mind to it.”


Tips to survive your first year

Pay close attention to how far the nearest town or settlement is to your university before you accept a place there.

Show up for class. Professors love students who show up, and pass in assignments on time. When given the choice between pass and failure, some professors have been known to pass a student, just because the student showed up to every class.

Try to research your classes and professors before signing up for the classes. Different professors have different requirements, approaches and attitudes. Better to know what you are in for, before you sign up.

All the stuff you need to buy for college is going to plummet in price come October when the back to school rush is over. See if you can wait that long to buy non-essentials.

Your stuff is going to be virtually worthless at the end of university. You will not be able to GIVE away your microwave and you might be able to sell your expensive brand new mattress for $10. Text books on the other hand can sometimes be sold to incoming students, or local second hand bookstores.

Be safe. Practice responsible drinking if you are of drinking age. Walk in groups. Lock your door. Don’t accept drinks from strangers. Pay attention to your surroundings. Programme emergency numbers into your cellphone.

Bermudian Guelph University student Winston Godwin. He started out in a marine biology programme but has now switched to a geography and environment programme.
Bermudian Guelph University student Winston Godwin. He started out in a marine biology programme but has now switched to a geography and environment programme.
Law student Sarita Ebbin.
Oxford University

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Published August 19, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 19, 2011 at 10:15 am)

College: ‘Quite the challenge’ –But also a worthwhile experience

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