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The Biggest Adjustment for College Freshmen

By Robert LeVine

The college experience is evolutionary, but the adjustment to college can be difficult. We asked our students about their surprises during the first year of college. Whether from public school or private school, advanced or traditional curricula, they all noted the same problem: Time management.

Kathy, an IB student now attending Northwestern University, gave this evaluation of her first year: “As for my experiences so far, I will be frank and say it is hard. There was just such a big adjustment from high school to college, and even now I'm still struggling to find the right balance of academics, extracurriculars and social life.”

Jeff, a public school student, agreed: “It's not at all what I thought it'd be like. College is nothing like high school. You really do have to be accountable for yourself, get homework done and find sufficient study time. You get so many more freedoms than you do in high school, but exercise some caution and use good judgment, otherwise you will definitely get swallowed up by everything around you.”

We heard this from Connor, a private school student now at New York University: “Things get a little rough, in the sense of getting used to balancing your brand new life and workload.” Madison, a freshman at College of William and Mary, said “It just took an entire semester for everyone to finish abusing their freedom and settle down.” Sara, who studies at Duke University, reiterated the problem. “It is hard trying to learn how to balance all of your time between extracurricular activities, school, and social life.”

Chance, a former IB student at Duke, said this: “The best way to describe freshman year is as a transition. Out of the blue, we have been thrust into a higher level of autonomy, freedom and responsibility. Many of my peers are crumbling. It's been hard for them to maintain themselves, balance their lives and make responsible decisions. Overall, it is something of a rude awakening.”

We heard the same thing from Jake, a public school student studying at University of Virginia. “The biggest adjustment that I have had to make is how much time and effort I have to put into my schoolwork. Along those lines, I have had to constantly time manage my schoolwork as well as my social life.”

Konner, studying at Stanford University, explained it well: “The biggest problem I've faced is time management. It was something I thought I had down-pat, so it was a big surprise getting to college and realizing that time management is the same game, but played by different rules. Managing time in high school was a breeze; it was mechanical. Every day was the same routine, and you get used to the pattern, but in college, the regular routine is blown to shreds. Different classes on different days, waking up at different times, even remembering to eat. Managing time has become more of an adventure, constantly morphing and surprising you.”

Brad also acknowledged how life’s routine changed at Dartmouth College. “Yes, it is true that I have more time in college. It is also true that I am faced with far more distractions than I would have thought possible. A constant barrage of emails for clubs and speakers, a new sports team, my new friend groups and hall mates, that pile of homework and readings for class … the list goes on. There were plenty of distractions in high school, but I was never completely responsible for budgeting my time. I thought I had self-discipline and time management, but even though my high school was supposed to be the best at preparing me for college, it did not measure up. My friends’ schedules and mine don’t line up anymore. I was used to hitting the gym or going to practice right after class with all my buddies. Not so much anymore: some friends are done with class by noon on one day and are in class until 5 p.m. other days. It makes developing and sticking to a routine that much harder.”

No high school can adequately prepare students for the dramatic differences of college. However, the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging the problem.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email or visit

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