Please refer to Part 1 of “Orienting to College” for information on the structure of colleges and campus life.
One major factor that predicts a person’s satisfaction with their school is the degree of engagement they have with their campus community. Colleges are increasingly interested in supporting student involvement because it supports both student mental health and student retention.
Some students find their community within their residence hall or living community. There are on-campus housing communities, often titled something like a “Living and Learning Community”, developed with a specific student major or interest in mind. You may consider joining one of these if you would like to be surrounded by students with similar academic interests. Some RAs are helpful in facilitating interactions between residents regardless of student academic interest. However, not all students find that they “click” with their residential neighbors and find their community elsewhere.
A very productive way to get involved with your school outside of residence life and academics is to join student clubs or organizations. Many schools maintain directories of the organizations that exist on campus. The office that manages this directory could be the Student Government on campus, an office called something like the Center for Student Engagement or Involvement, or something simple like Student Organizations. At the beginning of each school year, it is common for there to be events like club fairs in which you can explore student organizations in one place and meet some students who are already involved in those groups.
Not all schools have “Greek life” like fraternities and sororities on campus, but they are a major attractor for some individuals seeking a social college experience. Those who wish to join a Greek club such as a fraternity or sorority are usually expected to “rush”, which one could compare to applying for admission, for the group of their choice early into the academic year. Though it is not usually open to first-year students, many Greek life groups have their own buildings in which upperclassmen members can reside.
So now you have the basics about living on campus and a few ideas for facilitating social interactions once you arrive, but what if you need help with something more specific? Campuses have a wide variety of resources available to students ranging from academic help to mental health support to future planning – you just need to know where to find them.
A great person to keep as a point-of-contact to ask such questions is your Academic Advisor. You may not be assigned a specific academic advisor right away, but some schools may pair you with one before you arrive on campus. Your Advisor’s main role is to guide you through your degree program and ensure you’ve taken all the necessary classes to graduate. They also tend to know a lot about the supports offered in your specific college, so they would be a great person to reach out to if you are unsure who to contact about a need.
Tutoring options are typically available in some form at most universities, but whether they are free and/or included in the cost of tuition varies. Your college or school might have its own tutoring offerings which your Academic Advisor and instructors should be able to tell you about. For essay composition, your school may have a Writing Center that can provide feedback on all of your written work or assist you in the essay-writing process.
I often say that “students are people first, then students” and people do get sick. Whether you come down with the flu or encounter a mental health crisis, your school probably has someone available to assist you. Campus health offices can often provide basic medical care for a reduced rate (though many schools still require students to carry health insurance in order to access this care – make sure you are up-to-date with your schools insurance requirements prior to arriving on campus). Mental health services like counseling centers are also common fixtures on college campuses and again may offer free or reduced-rate services to students.
As mentioned before, students with disabilities might have specific needs for living on campus, accessing their academic work, or both. Schools are required by law to provide disability accommodations to students who need them. The office that provides these types of accommodations might be called Disability Services, Student Access Services, or the ADA Office. Each school has their own process of approving accommodations but this usually includes the submission of medical documentation that confirms the presence and impact of a person’s disability.
This list of campus resources could go on for pages if I wanted to list each resource that could possibly exist at a school, but I’ll spare you. One final resource that I wanted to highlight is called an Ombuds office. These usually only exist at larger institutions, but the Ombuds office is a place where you can consult with a campus expert (usually confidentially) about any issues you are experiencing. They can then provide ideas for next steps based on their expert knowledge of the school’s offices and resources.
The free download available below is called the “College Prep Scavenger Hunt”, and is your opportunity to gather information about your specific school all in one place. Fill this document out before you arrive on campus and you will have a helpful one-stop guide for many of the questions you’ll encounter during your first semesters at school. This document can be saved and used as reference throughout your first year, and beyond.
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