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The college transition: easy for some, not so much for others

By Santiago Montoya

Section: Opinions

August 19, 2016

August can lead to the beginning of something great, a long anticipated dream becoming a reality: attending the university of your dreams. It could also be the polar opposite: the inception of a dreadful nightmare. Some may think they are capable of recreating the incubus survival plague to which many of them, now transitioning as college students, belonged during their four years in high school.

Although, is college even about surviving? Or is it about having, as many would phrase it, the “best four years of your life”?

As I can recall, in the beginning of my first year of college, there was a significant amount of changes, and anybody knows that change is not always easy. Yes, your loved ones are not physically here with you. Academics will undoubtedly be challenging, as will be scouting out the right social niche. Figuring out the right balance among academics, extracurriculars and friends may be difficult, perhaps daunting. It all can be mentally, and even physically, exhausting, but it is not impossible.

As a matter of fact, virtually every college student has to go through a phase of readapting. Consider it a useful skill—one that you most likely will have to employ once you go out into the job market, a.k.a. “the real world.” You may need to change your location according to your job, family, opportunities, you name it. The fact is that adjusting to new things is something that will be quite common throughout each stage of our lives, from moving to another country, state or house; to getting a new pair of shoes, a phone or a pet; to getting married, having a baby and then letting that “baby” go away for college.

When asked about their transition from high school to college, some Brandeisians gave polarizing responses. Some were great, others OK and others less than OK. Each mentioned one particular aspect that represented a challenge for them to adapt into their new environment, known as Brandeis.

“As a NYC high school student, I was acclimated into a community where diversity wasn’t a goal that needed to be met to be considered a safe place for me to attend school,” Mohammad Hossain ’19 said. “Attending Brandeis, I realize the type of diversity I experienced in NYC is completely different from the diversity people create the image of at Brandeis.”

Diversity has been a controversial issue, not only at Brandeis, but nationally. It is an issue that higher education institutions are addressing, though it is rather a gradual process—one that cannot be completely accomplished from one day to the next.

When we come to Brandeis we find out that the student body is a complete amalgamation of many ethnic backgrounds, social classes, nationalities and genders, and as a result, some are more prepared than others simply because everyone has gone through their own distinct education systems. Some have attended rigorous schools that have prepared them to tackle Brandeis’ challenging academics. Others, not so much, and have expressed feeling disadvantaged. Angela Mendez ’18 claims that her transition was the opposite of smooth, describing it as “extremely difficult.” She claims that one of the main reasons for that was because “Brandeis demands much more from their students than from a regular public city high school.”

Mendez set an example of the difference between high school work and college work: “I remember I could write an essay the night before it was due and still managed to get an A. At Brandeis, not exactly … I did not feel academically prepared at all. The coursework at Brandeis is so rigorous.”

Notwithstanding, not everything is about academics. Mendez said that she also felt homesick during her first year, “Brandeis was very different from home … simple things that made home feel like home was missing.”

Hossain, a Posse scholar, described the resources available for students adjusting to the transition. “I was fortunate enough to have my Posse as an emotional and academic support group to help me transition into the rigors of college.”

Mendez, also a Posse scholar, said she used the Students Support Services Program (SSSP). They serve as a pillar for low-income and first-generation students to navigate Brandeis and all it has to offer, assisting students with textbooks, free tutoring, free printing and counseling. This is not to mention that every first-year who is a member of the SSSP is assigned a peer mentor who guides them throughout their first year and are there to bring support as they test the waters.

Brandeis provides different programs and resources that are there to make the transition as smooth as possible. In fact, a very successful one that has been “Changing lives since 1968” is the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program (MKTYP). According to the Brandeis website, the program targets the “intelligent” and “talented students” who “have not had access to A.P. and honors courses in their previous schooling experiences.” It adds that MKTYP students are given “small classes and strong support systems in the first year [in order to] help [them] apply the focus, energy, perseverance and maturity developed through leadership practiced in their life experiences to rigorous studies at the postsecondary level.”

Richard Kisack ’20 just finished his transitional year and he is about to embark on his first official year of college. “TYP helped to feel like college is not on my on own. I learned how to find resources on campus and ask people [what] places to go to if I don’t know,” he said.

Brandeis seems to be invested in bringing equity to its student body rather than equality—equality only works if everyone starts from the same place. Equity, on the other hand, is giving people access to the same opportunities. Our differences can create barriers to participation. Therefore, Brandeis wants to first ensure equity before enjoying equality among all of us—does that include making college some of the “best four years of your life”?

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