Three months ago, the 2003-04 semester began and thousands of CEGEP graduates from different backgrounds and of different ages began their university career.
Now, the day before final exams begin, some students may still be trying to make sense of the heavier course load, the amount of reading, the pressure of meeting term-paper deadlines and fitting in. Some are contemplating dropping out, or have already done so.
How do students cope with the pressures that face them in this new environment? What makes one student stay and another drop out?
Goretti Lage graduated last Spring with a B.A. in English literature at Concordia and is now in her first semester of teaching English as a second language. Although it has been four years since she started at Concordia she remembers it vividly.
“It was very strange. I felt as if I was back in elementary school because it was a new beginning, a new stage in life. I realized I had to be prepared for my future now.”
Lage’s experience is not unlike that of many new students. For those who are feeling squeezed, it may be a comfort to know that they are not alone, because there is a difference between college and university.
“University is much more demanding…in school work and grade levels. Students take less courses than in college, but more work has to be done,” Lage states.
For some new students, the amount of stress has no bearing. Students attend university, usually, of their own accord. It is a goal that most want to accomplish. “It was very important to me because I wanted to have a good career … and the only way that would occur would be with a diploma from university,” Lage remarks.
For others, university is a place to start again and fix past mistakes. James Derick graduated in Spring of 2002 at Concordia with a B.Sc. in environmental geography. He sees his return as turning over a new leaf. “It was the next step for me in my education and a chance to start over after the disaster of my college experience,” Derick says.
Depending on one’s college experience and how seriously it was taken, it can have an affect on what happens in university. Lage confesses that in college, assignments could have been written the night before and given back with a fairly good grade. “With my first assignment in university, I found it difficult but thought I could do it last minute. I got a bad grade and realized that in university, there has to be more preparation.”
Mireille De La Sablonniere-Griffin has just started her first semester and always did well in her college assignments, so she was prepared for the assignments in university. “My first mid-term went really well. It seems to me that I did well enough in my other classes and I feel like I’m handling the material without difficulty.”
Some of the stresses concerning students include being accepted into the program of your first choice. When applying to university, students learn quickly how their performance in college can be a factor of whether they will be accepted or not.
Derick learned that his college grades were not good enough to get him into his first choice. “I applied to engineering programs but was declined due to low marks. I was accepted into my second choice…and really enjoyed it.”
He believes that new students might be fooled into thinking that applying to university is almost the same as applying to colleges.
“In CEGEP, it doesn’t matter what you did in high school, they will take you into any program, whereas in university, your acceptance is determined by your performance in college.”
Lage knows how a rejection can make one feel more scared or stressed. “You think you will get in easily…and then you don’t get accepted. You get a little frustrated and you don’t know what’s wrong with you,” she states.
Her first choice was to enter the communications program and become a journalist. Now her eyes are set on becoming a teacher.
De La Sablonniere-Griffin has had a taste of university life and thinks she has found her niche. So far, she believes she can cope on her own without breaking down. “I really feel I am where I want to be. Going to university is how I can realize what I really want to do in life,” she says.
Lage, however, needed a bit more motivation during her first semester. She felt like giving up when she got warnings from the school.
“I felt like leaving when I got my second notice saying that I would be kicked out of school if I would not improve my grades.”
She did not search for help but resorted to push herself harder. “I was not going to stop, I wanted my degree,” she says.
The co-ordinator for The New Student Program in Counselling and Development, Marlene Gross, says there is a huge support system for the students who feel stressed. “We have many options available to help anyone who needs it.
There is The Bridge magazine, targeted at new students, which comes out three times a year and is available at the Counselling and Development office.”
There is also the Mentor Program, in which new students get grouped with upper students who have a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
“The mentors know where the resources are and are wonderful role models for the new students,” Gross says. The Career Resource Centre (part of Counselling and Development) is also a place where one can find information in books that offer help with issues like learning, stress, financial problems, personal concerns, family, and career goals.
There is also the Student Success Centre, which is located in H-481 at Sir George Williams Campus (SGW) and in AD-103 at Loyola Campus, a drop-in and resource centre staffed by the Student Success Mentors. Tools, such as the Student Success Check-up, can help students to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
“We have excellent programs and services that help tremendously in students’ achievements,” Gross comments.
Many of these services help newcomers who are having difficulty, but Gross emphasizes that all students can benefit from them.
“I strongly recommend for students not to wait until they have a problem. We want students to know what is available so they can avoid unnecessary stress,” she advises.
For some, finding people who have the same goals and are taking the same courses often alleviates stress.
As Derick puts it, “I think by having friends you’ll get through stuff in university because if you keep to yourself, you’ll never get through it. I found I did better in classes where I had friends.”
University is definitely a change that new students must get used to if they want to graduate.
“You just have to find the place where you belong or create a place for yourself,” De La Sablonniere-Griffin says.
She is still managing to get familiar with her surroundings because of how vast the university campus is compared to college.
Her advice for new students is to relax instead of stressing out, because then you can concentrate more.
Derick suggests to have fun with the new experience and laugh at little misfortunes.
“I was excited…I was surprised at the crowds trying to negotiate the broken escalators.”
Now that he has experienced university and has a degree, he feels he would have no problems the second time around.
“I was very pleased with the results, I had no trouble surviving. I did it once, I can do it again,” he says.
Lage survived, and perhaps even likes the challenge, because she is back getting another degree.
To her, this first semester is almost like d