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First-year files: being involved matters

March 12th, 2024

The first year of college is a big transition. You’re entering a new environment with students from all over the world, so where do you start? You’ll want to make the most of academic resources, of course. Yet getting involved in clubs, sports, Greek life, volunteer groups and student organizations can drastically improve your adjustment to college, as well as help you connect with like-minded people. Engagement in both academic and extracurricular dimensions of campus life will lead to success in both spheres.

In today’s edition of First-year files, we feature writing from one student enrolled at an Ivy League university in the northeast and another enrolled at a public research university in the south. These students, living completely different lives, have at least one major theme in common: they both believe in the power of being engaged on campus to make the most of your college experience.

Yale University – Elizabeth W.

My first semester went relatively smoothly. I am overall enjoying Yale and am happy that I am here. Signing up for clubs and becoming engaged in student-run extracurriculars has been very easy and natural to me. However, reaching out to professors to become involved in faculty-led research projects has not come as easily to me. Since research projects aren’t as advertised as student clubs and organizations, finding one has proved to be a daunting task for me. Professors are eager to engage with students once you reach out, but taking that first step can be intimidating. 

High school prepared me well for the language curriculum here at Yale. I am confident that I was placed in the correct level, so Chinese has felt like an appropriate challenge for me. Biology is definitely very different here than it was in high school and has proved to be particularly challenging at some times, but the study skills I developed in high school have carried me through. Math has felt the same as Chinese to me – I was very prepared for what was asked of me.

I was surprised that pretty much as soon as I arrived on campus I decided that I wanted to join a sorority. It seems like a necessary step for me in order to make more friends and have a reliable social life on the weekends. The rush process is not nearly as intimidating as it is at most schools, so it doesn’t scare me all too much. I’m very excited to finally join a sorority in the upcoming weeks. About 1/8 of students rush a sorority or frat.

Younger students should know that Yale is beautiful but New Haven is not! And that there are a lot less weird nerds at Yale than some may think. Every single person I’ve met is not just smart but also very very motivated, which is definitely different than high school. In some ways that’s intimidating, but it’s mostly beneficial and makes the environment here much more engaging. People generally work and play hard and seem to live properly balanced lives.

Clemson University – Bailey C.

Overall, my 1st semester went great! (My high school) made me well-prepared for college, which I am grateful for. I was able to achieve all As this semester by focusing on time management. I have emphasized getting involved in my community and considering possible leadership options in the future. As of right now, I am a member of the “Tigers for Babies” club, the “Pre-Occupational Therapist and Speech-Language Pathology” club, the “Special Olympics” club, and “Delta, Delta, Delta.” I am also a part of a Clemson Honors College mentor program and plan on playing intramural soccer. Next year, I am planning to apply for a leadership position in my sorority and to be a Clemson tour guide.

I also switched my major this semester from Communication to Health Science. I had to apply and be accepted to switch my major to Health Science, which at Clemson is a highly competitive process, but I know for some majors you can switch without any application process. I found some of my class’s grading systems to be difficult because I went from getting a grade put into the grade book in English class every day to only writing two essays a semester that completely determined my final grade. This has been an overall theme that has taken some getting used to; essays and tests carry more weight in college. One thing that I have found surprising is how personable my professors have been. They genuinely care about their students and want to help them. I have felt that almost all my professors that semester went above and beyond to get to know me better and recognize my hard work. I have also found that professors are extremely receptive to being proactive and taking it into account. Something else that surprised me was that for a majority of my classes, my attendance affected my final grade. This was surprising to me because everyone always said “In college, no one is forcing you to go to class,” but at least at Clemson for some classes going to class is extremely important. Most of my classes allowed a certain amount of absences (usually 4) and then after that, your grade would be reduced by 5 points for every absence.

I think one important thing students should understand about Clemson and college, in general, is that it is what you make of it. You can be as involved or not involved as you choose. No one is forcing you to join clubs, demonstrate school spirit, or make connections with the facility. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the opportunities available to you and to take advantage of them. I enjoyed my 1st semester at Clemson …

Elizabeth and Bailey, we’re grateful for your willingness to reflect on first-year experiences for younger students’ benefit. We know you’ll find continued success as you move through your college years!

Postscript: this is our final post on the Shrop Ed blog , as Jane Shropshire is “graduating” with the Class of ’24. We celebrate retirement with the knowledge that our guidance has played a small role in helping hundreds and hundreds of students find their path to fulfilling and productive lives over the years. We’re excited about what lies in store and appreciate the wonderful relationships developed with students and parents over the years. Here’s to bright futures!

First year files: finding the right fit and making the most of it

February 6th, 2024

College is a huge transition and a time where your independence grows substantially. You’re now responsible for your own schedule, laundry, study habits and so much more. This is such an exciting time in your life, and choosing a college that’s the right fit for your individual needs encourages success.

One of the most important pieces to the college application process is formulating a balanced college list. Sometimes strong opinions can limit this, leaving excellent options unexplored. Often students surprise themselves when they change their mindset and start researching schools originally left off the table. Of course, having preferences is important but don’t let those preferences overwhelm common sense.

In today’s blog post, Sasha G., a previous Shrop Ed advisee, chose a college she didn’t want to consider seriously at first, and now laughs about the fact that she was so closed off initially. The community she describes at Baylor University is wonderfully fitting for her and is supporting her growth and independence. She gives great pointers about taking advantage of all the resources that are at your fingertips and truly enjoys all that this college has to offer. We appreciate Sasha’s generous sharing and wish her continued success and happiness.

Baylor was amazing for my first semester. A lot of schools put a ton of emphasis on traditions, welcome week, and things like that. Baylor is definitely one of them. While I appreciated a lot of their traditions, I found my favorite moments in the quiet and in-between. Sure, I went to the football games and participated in university-wide events. However, what sticks out to me as my favorite memories are roommate dining hall runs, running into friends in the library, and conversations with unlikely friends late at night. My absolute favorite memories are going to be the spontaneous adventures you decide to take on a random Tuesday night (given: I already had my homework and studying done). I found time management was easier when I could do it on my schedule, which was admittedly a strange one. I used up every second between classes and in the evenings to get my work done (including my laundry and errands), and then I’d go and hang out with my friends around 8PM. 

Academically, I was surprised by how simple everything is. That’s not to say it was easy. I definitely had some 10-minute crying breaks in the library over hard economics homework. I definitely received surprising grades I wasn’t proud of. However, your professors give you various resources to help you study. Each small assignment, each textbook, and each in-class activity helped me guide where to study. I had professors post practice tests, practice quizzes, practice problems, study guides, and even had one who had a test review where he’d go over exactly what was on the test. Always, always, go to the optional test review. Even if you already know everything, you won’t regret it. In High School, I’d have to look up YouTube videos to teach me what I hadn’t learned in lectures. Now, I can use those resources, read the textbook in-depth, or go to Office Hours. I had basic rules and rhythms I committed to. I went to service every Sunday and I always turned in every assignment. I think if I’d placed any more boundaries I would never have followed them, so I kept it simple. I ended my semester with a 4.0 in a difficult, accelerated program. 

If I had any general advice I’d say: 8AMs are not the worst thing invented to punish them. However, I’d avoid them if you’re not someone who has ever had to get up early. I’ll admit I slept through my 8AM Calculus class at least twice, but I had it three times a week the entire semester. It was a pretty good hit rate. While it was grueling, the first class of the day is always going to be grueling. I had trouble making it to my 2PM Accounting class because I just didn’t want to leave my comfy dorm sometimes. I’d also say that nothing is as bad in the sunlight. Anytime I was having a homesick, stressed, or lonely day, I’d go outside and sit there for a while. I’m lucky enough to have a particularly beautiful campus, but any campus will have some place to do that. 

If I had any thoughts for students considering Baylor I’d say this: I can’t imagine a more supportive community. College is extremely hard, whether it’s academics, being away from home for the first time, or just being a young person. The Baylor community is one where people walk with their heads high to class, where you can run into anyone and give them a hug, and where your professors might invite you out to coffee just to chat. I can’t go to the dining hall without running into anywhere between 2 and 30 people I know well. My academic advisor asks about my family, we chat about churches in the area, and sometimes mid-meeting his daughter walks into the office to give him updates on her life as a student. I was terrified to leave my parent’s home, but the community I’ve found at school has made me itch to go back all break. 

One more thing about Baylor: the crickets. An early week in September, there are going to be about 20,000 crickets all over campus. That first week they will be everywhere. For about two weeks after that, they’ll be mostly gone but areas of the campus will smell like them. It will be awful. There’s nothing you can do about it, if you live on the first floor I’d go to hang out with people who don’t. That is quite literally the only negative thing I can say about my school, but my goodness was it an awful surprise on one of my 6AM runs. 

I can’t say it’s all my best writing, but I can say it’s very honest … and that 16-year-old who was so opposed to Baylor was kind of an idiot. 

The real meaning of Thanksgiving for college applicants

November 14th, 2023

Thanksgiving is a day inspired by gratitude, to give thanks and gather with loved ones. What better way to express gratitude than checking off a major task on your senior to-do list? Trust me on this one, your whole family will be grateful as well. This short break in November gives seniors who haven’t yet submitted all applications time for serious work on what is remaining. Set your goal to complete this phase of the process by the end of Thanksgiving break so you can truly enjoy your longer winter break.

Image via Shutterstock/Lena Pan

The article linked below from The Oakland Press has some great ideas to keep you focused over the upcoming break so you can feel grateful for productivity, time with family and your future. Although written two years ago, it continues to resonate.

Article referenced below from The Oakland Press, written by Barbara Connolly, published November 15, 2021

The real meaning of Thanksgiving for college applicants

The start of the holiday season carries so many meanings — food, family and giving gifts. But for high school students applying to college, Thanksgiving break also represents an important window of time, between the early application deadlines and the homestretch of their admissions journeys.

At this point, some students may have already submitted several college applications, while others are just getting started. Deadlines, decisions and comparisons can loom large, causing stress and anxiety.

So, what should students be doing right now to move ahead in the college application process?

Read more at The Oakland Press>>

How the FAFSA delay might impact you

October 17th, 2023

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as FAFSA, is undergoing some major changes, causing a delay in the roll-out date by at least two months. This is the first major redesign in over 40 years and will create a more streamlined process for applicants.

Some of the changes include:

  • A new student aid index, which replaces the Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
  • Expansion of federal Pell grant eligibility
  • Simplifying questions that determine a learner’s independent student status
  • Removing questions about Selective Service and drug convictions
  • Automatic population of federal income tax data from the IRS
  • More details about the school’s cost of attendance (COA)

While these upgrades will be beneficial for students over time, the delayed rollout presents challenges for colleges and applicants alike. The article to which we link today, from Inside Higher Ed, is an excellent resource for families trying to navigate the need-based financial aid process in this application cycle.

Article referenced below from Inside Higher Ed, published October 6, 2023, written by Katherine Knott and Liam Knox

Waiting for FAFSA

Helen Faith, the financial aid director at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is usually busy this time of year with a familiar agenda: hosting informational sessions on financial aid applications for families, reviewing prospective students’ forms and generally revving up her office’s well-oiled machinery to start crunching numbers and spitting out student aid packages.

But with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid launch delayed by at least two months, Faith’s fall calendar is up in the air. And she’s not the only one.

The FAFSA is at the center of the college financial aid system, unlocking billions in federal, state and institutional aid for more than 18 million students annually. The federal government is overhauling the form as part of a project known as FAFSA Simplification, delaying this year’s opening from Oct. 1 to sometime in December.

Read more at Inside Higher Ed>>