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The academic adjustment from high school to college

Vicki Nelson


In high school, students have little control over their schedule, and teachers and parents help them stay on track. In college, students must keep track of their own work and progress. Students who are ready to advocate for themselves and take advantage of the support available are students who succeed.

Support your first-year student by talking with them about how their college academic experiences will differ from high school in three major areas. (Click here to view and print the chart below.)

Many students struggle academically not because of their ability but because they underestimate the amount of time they should spend on coursework. In addition, many college students don’t take advantage of the mentoring that faculty members can provide. You can help your student understand the importance of connecting with instructors and also give them tips for how to foster this connection. Encourage them to seek help early and often!

Important terms to know

Syllabus: A document handed out in each class at the start of the term — it includes the information covered by the course; dates and deadlines for tests, papers and projects; the instructor's contact information; required books and materials; attendance policy; and grading procedures.

Office hours: Regular times each week when faculty members are available for students to drop by their office without an appointment.

Vicki Nelson has more than thirty-five years of experience in higher education as a professor, academic advisor and administrator. She also has weathered the college parenting experience successfully with three daughters. She began her website, College Parent Central, to help college parents achieve the delicate balance of support, guidance, appropriate involvement, and knowing when to get out of the way.

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