Transition Talk

Posted by Alicia Smith on 1/16/2019 1:45:00 PM

Alumni discuss the change from high school to college

Be sure to buy a pair of flip-flops for the showers.

Don’t apply the day of the deadline.

Use your student discount freely.

This was just some of the practical advice offered by members of a panel of Alexander Hamilton High School alumni. The group was visiting their former school on January 8, to talk to juniors and seniors about transitioning from high school to college. They shared their thoughts on their new social life, being away from home and the expectations for their classes.

Several alumni offered encouragement about the upcoming transition, letting the audience know when they become college freshman they may feel overwhelmed with the changes. However, they will not the only ones who will feel that way as it is a common phenomenon among first-year students.

“People are also going through the same things you are,” Stephen Semidey, a sophomore at Fordham University, said. “Don’t be afraid to talk to people about how bad it is.”

As freshman they may be away from home for the first time, and are tossed together with people they don’t know. Alumni panel They will have a new course load, a totally different schedule from what they are used to and may second-guess their decision to attend this particular college.

All is not lost, the college students assured.

Majors can be changed, transferring to another school is an option, and it is fine to not know right now what you want to be when you grow up.

Several on the panel have changed their major.

Neasha Shuler, a junior at Howard University, planned on studying sports medicine and is now a film student.

“After I changed my major I started to feel better and so much more comfortable at my school,” she said.

Mr. Semidey changed his major twice. He planned to study psychology, then decided international studies might suit him better, until he decided political science was a better fit.

“You have until the end of your sophomore year to declare a major,” he said.

“It can be overwhelming,” Cassandra Praino, a political science major at American University, said. “Don’t worry if you change your major. It’s not a big deal if you don’t know what you want to do.”

Frank Zambrano, a sophomore music major at Mercy College, is in the process of transferring to Westchester Community College. He assured students there is nothing wrong with finding the best place for them. A different school might be a better geographic fit or have more to offer for their major.

Ultimately, the students said, college is about making decisions for yourself and balancing the opportunities offered.

For Jaylaniece Colbert, a sophomore at SUNY Cobleskill, college meant developing a personal sense of time management, which was a big adjustment, but an important part of succeeding in college.

“The biggest difference, I’d say, between high school and college is time,” Ms. Colbert said. “You have to be mindful of time management.”

Emily Baca, a freshman at Cornell University, explained how assignments are given out months in advance and it is up to the student to get the work done. There are far fewer weekly assignments like there had been in high school.

Stopping in to talk with your professor during their office hours can only be helpful alumni said. With such large class sizes, it is good to have face time with your teacher, Ms. Praino said. In addition, professors may not be as lenient about when assignments are turned in than high school teachers had been.

Other differences the college students shared included how scheduling is different. Classes are held morning, noon and night. They are larger, often with hundreds of people in them, and despite the workload and the number of classes you may take, you can have a lot of free time too.

College offers a host of positive benefits, including being a time of personal growth.

“I’m two hours away from home, I can do whatever I want,” Jen Vargas, a student at the University of Connecticut, said.

There is also the opportunity to meet new people and be introduced to new ideas.

“It opens up your world a lot, you meet so many people,” Ms. Shuler said.

Ms. Vargas said she had never been away from her family before heading off to college and she surprised herself by how easy it was for her to feel comfortable being away.

As the juniors ease into the college application process, suggestions from the panel included do not be afraid to apply to many schools, pay attention to deadlines and keep copies all the paper work involved.

Mr. Semidey said he wished he had applied to more schools.

“I applied to five and expected to get into two or three,” he said.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Ms. Shuler said. “Whatever works for you, works for you. Don’t be discouraged by not getting into a school.”

Mr. Zambrano said he was planning on attending the University of New Haven but was encouraged to apply to other schools. He ended up at Mercy College.

“Leave your options wide open,” he suggested.

Options can be attending a CUNY or SUNY school or opting to commute rather than live on campus.

Many suggested too that students go on college tours. While they can glean much from an open house, a tour offers more insight into campus life and the vibe at the school.

“I looked at the University of Vermont, and I didn’t fit in with the people,” Ms. Vargas said after attending an open house.

Ms. Nair had a similar experience. She was considering SUNY Oneonta, but when she visited the campus, she said she felt awkward. When she toured CUNY Hunter College, she appreciated that school’s “energy and vibe.”

Mr. Semiday said he was excited about Harvard University until he took a tour there and realized it was not a good fit for him.

“It did help me to see Fordham was the school I wanted to go to,” he said.

“They helped narrow the schools I did not want to go to,” Ms. Praino said of college tours. “I think it’s worth it” to take the time to visit.

The panel consisted of students who live on campus and others who commute, two options the juniors and seniors will have to consider.

Ms. Nair, a commuter, said she is barely ever home in Elmsford nowadays. She takes the train into New York City and from there her school is two subway stops away.

Speaking with students The panel shared too the plethora of options for students to join clubs, choirs, bands and even pledge to a fraternity or sorority. There is also the option to travel abroad.

Ms. Nair took a summer course in Spain to brush up on her Spanish.

“It was the best experience I’ve ever had,” she said. During her month long adventure, she went to her classes and visited sites too.

The panel also answered questions from audience members who were interested in knowing what it was like attending college in New York City, what the rigor of being in the honors program was like, how a work-study program worked, and the all-important is the food good?

AHHS Guidance Counselor Monica Ahern said she keeps in touch with graduates and invites them in during their break between semesters.

She tries to have a diverse panel of students who attend different types of schools and are in different grade levels.

The program is helpful to both juniors and seniors. The younger students, Ms. Ahern said, learn about the application process while seniors get a sense of the changes they can expect in their education.

“It’s a good point in the year to ease the minds of seniors,” Ms. Ahern said. “And it can spark the interest for juniors.”