Unit 1: Launch

Alise Lamoreaux

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.”

-Flora Whittemore

When you envision yourself as a college student, what do you see?

What will your daily life be like?

College is constant change. Not just in terms of studying and learning new material, but also in terms of how it is structured. If the college is on the quarter system, a student’s classes, teachers, and the hours a student needs to be on campus will change every 11-12 weeks, or 4 times a year.

Dividing up the academic year provides an opportunity for varied learning and developing specialties, but it also means new faces in classes, unknown expectations from new teachers, and juggling a new schedule. It means you may have new routes to travel on campus as you make your way to a different building if your college has a large campus. If a student is working along with going to college, it may mean negotiating new work hours with a boss and coworkers. All of these changes can feel like chaos that comes in like a tidal wave. Every term can feel like starting over, especially for students who are not in a specific program yet. The beginning of a college experience can seem blurry to a new student trying to navigate the system.

“There’s no blinking light to say, hey, look over here, this changed!”

Amber McCoy, Lane Community College Student

Many students come to college with at least some high school experience and expect college to be similar. After all, many classes have similar names: Biology, Algebra, Writing, Chemistry, and so on. However, the expectations that accompany those titles may be very different. College classes tend to cover course material at a faster pace and expect students to carry more of the burden of learning the material on their own outside of classroom activities.

Compared to college, high school has a straightforward curriculum. High school is segmented and chronological. Students generally go to school at the same time each morning and finish at a similar time in the afternoon. Students are assigned counselors to guide them. High school students usually don’t have to buy textbooks for their classes. There are clear deadlines and the teacher monitors progress and potentially shares progress with parents. The academic benchmarks of quizzes, tests, and projects are concrete indicators of progress. Teachers may monitor students’ use of smart phones in class and help students maintain focus on classroom materials. The high school a student attends is picked for him or her, either by geographic location or their parents choice.

College is about choice. Initially, the choice is where to go to school. The student has to find the right “fit” on his or her own and figure out the process of college admission. There are forms to fill out, submit, and process. Students may have to learn the steps for admission and enrollment for more than one college, and the process can vary from school to school. Students are expected to be able to complete the application process on their own. Students must determine if college placement tests are required and if so, when they must be taken.

The next choice for the student as part of the enrollment process is what to study in terms of declaring a major. The major a student declares may impact financial aid awards. If a student is unsure of what to study and doesn’t choose a major, financial aid may not be given to the student.

A student can choose to attend classes part-time or full-time. College class times try to accommodate a variety of student needs and may occur during the day, evening, online, or a combination of classroom and online (hybrid). Monitoring of time and its use will be student driven. Understanding the workload associated with a college schedule can be a surprise to the new college student. The first year of college can have a steep learning curve of time management and self-responsibility. For the first-time college student, starting college can feel like pushing a big rock up a steep hill all alone.

How much time do you have in your life for school?

What is Considered Half-time or Full-time Status?

The answer to these questions may vary from person to person and from college to college. Lane Community College’s website uses the following definitions:

  • Full-Time Status: 12 or more credits per term (limit of 18 per term)
  • 3/4 Time Status: 9-11 credits per term
  • Half-Time Status: 6-8 credits per term

An average student full-time credit load is between 15-18 credits. This means that a student will be in the classroom 1 hour per credit. Based on the 15-credit schedule, a student would be in the classroom 15 hours/week. Students mistakenly think that is all there is to it. A schedule requiring a student to be in class 15 hours/week sounds much easier than high school where students typically attend 6-7 hours a day or 30-35 hours/week. College has hidden expectations for students in terms of outside of class “homework.” What does that mean?  College classes expect 2-3 hours of homework, and sometimes more, per credit. That means for 1 hour in class, a student can expect to spend 2-3 hours on homework or more. A 15-credit load expects a student to put in 30-45 hours outside of class each week on homework.

What does this mean in terms of your life?

Activity Hours Required/Week 168 hours in a week
Full-time attendance 15 in class -15
Homework 30 plus hours -30 (minimum)
Sleeping 6hrs/ day x 7 days -42
Eating 1.5hrs /day x 7 -10.5
Work 20hrs/week -20



117.5 hrs


168-117.5 = 50.5hrs

Fill in the blanks with what else you would need to do each week  

How many hours will each item take to complete?


Add the hours into the spaces below

Total hours 50.5- _______=_______

Many students enter college with uninformed expectations. First-generation college students are at a disadvantage and may not have family members who can help them understand the context of college, what to expect as a college student, and what college life is like. As a result, first-generation college students may be less prepared to handle the challenges they encounter. Students tend to be idealistic in their expectations of college. Pre-college characteristics and experiences play a role in shaping expectations.

Video: Going Back To School As An Adult Student (Non Traditional), Tee Jay

Things to think about:

  • How prepared are you to go back to school?
  • How much time can you devote to college?
  • How would you rate your time management skills?
  • How do you feel about reading/homework?
  • How are your technology skills?
  • What kind of support do you have for going to college?
  • Who is your support system?
  • Make of a list of the resources you have to support your college lifestyle.
  • What strengths do you bring with you that will help you succeed in college?
  • What skills will you need to improve?
  • What tips did you gain from watching the video?

College Culture:

Research has shown that students who get involved in career-planning activities stay in college longer, graduate on time, improve their academic performance, tend to be more goal focused and motivated, and have a more satisfying and fulfilling college experience. This is why an important first step in college is examining your personal identity and values. By examining your values first, you begin the process of defining your educational goals and ultimately planning your career.
Secondary to the critical nature of assessing your values is the importance of committing to your responsibilities as a student. What are your new student responsibilities? Are they financial? Course specific? Social? Health related? Ethical? What exactly is expected of you?
Expectations for student behavior vary from campus to campus. An internet search for “college student responsibilities” reveals the breadth of expectations deemed important at any given institution. Broadly, though, students are expected to at least act consistently with the values of the institution and to obey local, state, and federal laws. It may also be expected that you actively participate in your career decision-making process, respond to advising, and plan to graduate.

Consult your college handbook or website for details about your rights and responsibilities as a student. Overall, you demonstrate that you are a responsible student when you do the following:
● Uphold the values of honesty and academic integrity.
● Arrive on time and prepared for all classes, meetings, academic activities, and special events.
● Give attention to quality and excellence in completing assignments.
● Allot sufficient time to fulfill responsibilities outside of class.
● Observe etiquette in all communications, giving respect to instructors, fellow students, staff and the larger college community.
● Take full advantage of college resources available to you.
● Respect diversity in people, ideas, and opinions.
● Achieve educational goals in an organized, committed, and proactive manner.
● Take full responsibility for personal behavior.
● Comply with all college policies.
By allowing these overarching principles to guide you, you embrace responsibility and make choices that lead to college success.


If you know others who attend or have attended college, then you have a head start on knowing what to expect during this odyssey. Still, the transition from high school to college is striking. College life differs in many ways. The following video clip is a brief, informal student discussion about the challenges you may face as a student and provides examples of issues students face in transitioning from high school to college. Click on the “cc” box underneath the video to activate the closed captioning.
The two main problems identified in the video are time management and working in groups. Multiple strategies and solutions are shared by the students which will be important skills to utilize in college.

For more information about high school vs. college, refer to this detailed set of comparisons from Southern Methodist University: “How Is College Different from High School.” The site provides an extensive list of contrasts, such as the following:
● Following the rules in high school vs. choosing responsibly in college
● Going to high school classes vs. succeeding in college classes
● Understanding high school teachers vs. college professors
● Preparing for tests in high school vs. tests in college
● Interpreting grades in high school vs. grades in college
The site also provides recommendations for successfully transitioning from high school to college.

How do you know if you are academically ready for college? If you are accepted into college, does that mean you are ready?

College readiness is not clearly defined. Traditionally, completing high school was viewed as preparation for college, but course completion in high school does not guarantee college readiness. For example, English classes in high school may focus more on Literature where as entry-level college courses may stress expository reading and writing skills. If you have gone the route of getting your GED, did you work to dig deeper into the subjects and develop your skills, or just try to pass the tests as soon as possible? How did you handle attending classes and participating in classroom activities?

Another measure of college readiness has been standardized test scores. The problem with using a standardized test to determine readiness is its inability to measure the soft skills college courses require. A soft skill is a personal skill that is usually interpersonal, non-specialized, and difficult to quantify, such as leadership or responsibility. Typically, individuals are born with soft skills.

Expertise commonly known as transferable skill or sometimes functional skill, (and sometimes mistakenly called soft skill) include qualities like accepting feedback, adaptability, dealing with difficult situations, critical thinking, effective communication, meeting deadlines, patience, persistence, self-direction, and trouble-shooting. Meeting deadlines, for example, is a key to college success. The skills and behaviors needed to thrive in college may be different from those it takes to be admitted. Being accepted into college does not necessarily mean you are ready to face the challenges and frustrations that might lie between you and your goal.

Answering the question about being academically prepared for college is tough. Test scores and grades are indicators of readiness, but don’t guarantee success in college courses. Functional skills are important to college success, but without basic academic skills, functional skills alone won’t be enough. Most colleges use some type of placement test to try to place students into courses that will be appropriate for their skill levels. Usually, colleges have minimum placement test scores in Reading, Math, and Writing, requiring students to demonstrate they are able to handle the minimal expectations of college courses in terms of basic content areas. The degree or certificate associated with the student’s goal also influences the academic readiness required for success. Recognizing the importance of balancing the academic and soft skills, and how that relates to student goals is essential for college success and beyond.

License and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Previously shared:

Lamoreaux, Alise. A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students. Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2018. Located at: https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/collegetransition/chapter/chapter-3/  License: CC BY: Attribution.
Adaptions: Reformatted, some content edited for goal of reaching broader audience.

McGonigal, Jane. Gaming Can Make A Better World. TED. 2010.

Located at: https://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world

License: CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International.

All rights reserved content:

Johnson, Travis. “Going Back To School As An Adult Student (Non Traditional).” YouTube.Com, Travis Johnson, 26 June 2013.
Located at: https://youtu.be/UhifZr21qxY

License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.



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Blueprint for Success in College and Career Copyright © 2019 by Alise Lamoreaux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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