Transitions: Understand and negotiate the transition to college

There are many differences between being a high school student and being a college student. Some of these differences are academic, some have to do with living and social adjustment, and some are related to personal growth and development. In whatever way students are impacted by their adjustment, it is important that they continually reflect on their experience, and become aware of the challenges they face while changing to a new lifestyle.


  1. Reflect on what is it like to be at college for the first time
    • Have students write down their expectations of college. Collect papers and keep until mid-semester to hand back to students for review and reflection.
    • Have small groups write their expectations as a group. Ask them to share and see how these expectations are holding out so far.
    • Have students write an in-class letter to next-year's incoming first-year class. Encourage the students to be reflective and constructive.
    • Students can write an email to their future self using the website.
    • First-year student job description (PDF): a fun exercise for students to think about their responsibilities as a student at SUNY Cortland.
  2. Discuss how college is different from high school
    • Have students identify the biggest differences (and similarities) and have the class create a top ten list of the differences/similarities between high school and college.
    • Assign a journal entry or an in-class writing assignment and have students explore the differences between high school and college.
    • Utilize the COR 101 One Minute Journal Topics list for in-class writing ideas. 
    • Find out about library games, tours, instruction - SPECIFICALLY designed for your COR 101 class on Transitions.
    • Consider using clips from a college related movie such as Higher Learning, Son-In-Law, Down to You, even Animal House to examine pop culture ideas of college and how those images do (or do not) hold true in reality.
    • Have students work on the Roommate Scenario (PDF).
  3. Discuss the purpose of college in general
    • Have students write down their definitions of the purpose of college. Review the ideas of teaching, research, and service that form the mission of higher education.
    • Review and analyze the SUNY Cortland mission statement and campus priorities.
    • Have students create their own personal college mission statement: why they are here, what they will accomplish, how they will accomplish those goals.
    • Go over the Purpose of College: Class Survey (PDF)
    • Have your students read the NY Times article from a link, How to Live Wisely (or PDF).
  4. What are their hopes, fears, and concerns?
    • Give students three note cards and have them write their hopes, fears, and concerns (or whatever heading you find appropriate) and ask students to write their own thoughts down. Collect the cards and hand them out randomly. Ask students to discuss the hopes they see and the fears they may have, and discuss as a group what services and resources are available to address some concerns.
    • Have the class journal or email journal their hopes, fears, and concerns.
    • If you are having trouble getting students to talk and share their experiences, try Guided Autobiography. Instructors that have assigned this 50 minute activity have expressed how much they have (re)connected with their students. 
    • Important People (PDF): an activity to have your students reflect on the important people in their life and the values that help guide their daily routine.
  5. Reflect on how they are handling their transition: homesickness, personal responsibility, and ability to seek out help in handling problems
    • Take the Personal Wellness Quiz.
    • Give students scenarios or case studies of students having trouble adjusting (see reader for case study options).
    • Use a couple different cases among small groups then have the group present their solutions or ideas.
    • Have your students break into groups and serve as advice columnists. Present each group with a letter from a worried student with a special issue or question. Have the group write a response.
    • Have each student draw out their support system. How do they visually see their support?
    • Friends and Drug Use (PDF)Worksheet encourages students to reflect on peer influence.
  6. Encourage your students to utilize resources in the SUNY Cortland College Student Success Kit. Adapted from 101 Things to Do Before You Graduate by Patricia Hudak and Jullien Gordon, have your students complete the 4 Year Academic Plan, Goals Sheets, Fall and Spring Weekly Time Sheets, GPA Calculation or the Monthly Budget. The kit is especially helpful for students in their first year at Cortland but the resources can also help students in a sophomore slump.
  7. Consider discussing the importance of the characteristic GRIT (determination) in terms of making a successful transition to the college environment.   Former Student Facilitator, Nick Sitterly, taught a class about the concept of GRIT. He utilized articles and videos from researcher Angela Lee Duckworth and Carol Dweck's mindset theory both  found in the COR 101 reader as well as some online articles, a quote from Michael Jordan about his missed shots and a video from actor and comedian Jim Carrey (about visualization).
  8. Review the article, "5 Characteristics of Grit" to discuss leadership motivation.
  9. Five Office Mistakes Costing Millennials can be reviewed with students to discuss common office pitfalls millennials face with employers, internship supervisors, or even professors!
  10. In an article by The Balance,called Networking Tips for College Students there are tips listed which are helpful for college students on how to network themselves for future educational institutions, groups, or employers.