Orienting to College – Part 1: Structure of a College and Living on Campus

This turned out to be a lengthy outline, so please see Part 2 of “Orienting to College” for the free download that accompanies this information.

August is right around the corner and with it comes the first day of classes at many universities and colleges across the country.  While exciting, the prospect of adjusting to new environments, classmates, and schedules can also be daunting.  Colleges have different structures and resources than most high schools so this post is intended to help familiarize incoming students with some of the lingo and departments found on most college campuses.

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Structure of a University

A university is defined as an institution of higher education that offers degrees from different “colleges” or “schools” under the university’s umbrella.  Each college or school has at least one major that a student can select, which will ultimately be reflected on their degree.  Smaller schools, like liberal arts colleges, may only have one college.  In this case, the school would not technically be a university.  

The people that teach in a college are all considered “faculty”.  Faculty members can include professors who are typically permanent employees of the university, as well as instructors and lecturers who may be graduate students, research fellows, or other temporary employees.  Of the faculty members, there is usually a Dean of a college, who is usually the most executive role within an academic department.  Deans oversee things like the development of the department’s curriculum, hiring of new faculty members, and managing disputes with students or other parties.

Those who work at a university but do not teach classes are usually considered “staff”.  Staff members include the people who work in offices like Campus Housing and Dining, medical professionals at your school’s health center, the postal worker in the mailroom, and many others.  The executives of the school such as the president and chancellors may be considered staff, or may have a separate title specific to administration.  

Living on Campus

Many schools require first–year students to live in their campus housing. Some schools have traditional dormitories in which two students share a single room, and a floor of rooms shares a common bathroom.  Another possibility is apartment-style residences in which students have shared or private bedrooms and a shared kitchen and bathroom within their unit.  Some schools have a combination of these features.  The office that manages campus housing is probably called Residence Life, Campus Housing, or Housing and Dining, or something similar.

If you require a specific living feature due to a disability or medical condition (this could include an attached bathroom, a bedroom with air conditioning, or a residence that is close to a dining facility to name just a few) then you should connect with your school prior to move-in and request this feature as a housing accommodation.  Sometimes it is the Campus Housing (or similarly titled) office that handles disability accommodations, and sometimes it is the same office that handles academic accommodations (discussed below in “Campus Resources” section).  If schools are unable to accommodate student’s residential needs, then they often waive on-campus housing requirements and assist students in locating appropriate off-campus housing.

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For those living on campus, residence halls often have a point-person for residents in or near the building.  Most often these individuals are called Resident Advisors or Resident Assistants (RA).  Residents are encouraged to reach out to their RA if they need information about the campus, or if they need assistance with issues related to their building, roommates, or neighbors.  

The variety of dining options on campus will vary based on the size and resources of your school.  Schools often have meal plans that students can opt into, which allow students to buy meals with pre-purchased credits instead of money.  Some dining halls only allow individuals to dine with such credits but many campus dining halls increasingly allow flexible payment options.  If your diet is restricted by medical necessity, you may be entitled to dining accommodations such as a waived meal plan requirement if the campus dining options do not meet your disability-related need.

Continued in Part 2: Social Life, Campus Resources, and FREE download.

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