Unit 1: Launch

Chapter 4: Evolution To College: Becoming A College Student

Alise Lamoreaux

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

-Flora Whittemore


This chapter contains questions that are designed for you to think critically about your experience in college.  It introduces terminology and concepts that will be helpful for you to understand. The questions are meant to be answered as a process of learning about how to become a successful college student – what that might look like and feel like. It may feel as though you are expected to know policies and procedures in college from the beginning. But you are not alone, if you do not know what some concepts mean, where to find what you need, or who to ask for support. In fact, many college students learn about what they need to know AFTER they start college. It is OK if you do not know the answers to these questions.

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

What will your daily life in college be like?

Video: Gaming Can Make A Better World, Jane McGonigal at TED 2010

After watching the Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk, think about the following questions:

  • What are gamers good at?
  • What is the importance of “10,000” hours?
  • Are gamers goal oriented?
  • How do gamers feel about tests and being measured?
  • What happens when a gamer makes a mistake?
  • How do gamers handle frustration?
  • How do gamers feel about change?
  • Can the skills of a gamer be applicable to the skills a college student will need?

College is a place of constant change. Not just in terms of studying and learning new material, but also in terms of how it is structured. A student’s classes, instructors, and the hours a student needs to be on campus change each term. Many students and instructors felt a lot of change during the pandemic with greater online offerings and less in person presence. Quarters, trimesters, and semesters divide an academic year into thirds or halves and may have short intensive sessions, or minimesters, short and intensive classes between semesters. Some students will take classes in the summer . People sometimes use the words quarters and semesters as if they are synonyms because both divide up a school year, but they represent different units of time.

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 instructors, 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 drastically 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 smartphones 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.

Students can make informed choices about college with better information. For marginalized students, the knowledge gap may limit choices. Initially, the choice is where to go to school. The student has to find a college that fits their own preferences 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). While part-time tuition is lower, the student fees will be the same as a full-time student. Certain financial aid only applies to first-time college students who are enrolled full time. Government grants require at least half-time enrollment, however many grants are only awarded for a certain number of years.

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. For example, 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. Additionally, many colleges are using hybrid, remote, flipped, or “hy-flex” classes that include online components where a student might be watching pre-recorded lectures on the learning management system, like Canvas, Moodle, or Blackboard. That time is included in this ‘seat-time” calculation.

What does this mean in terms of your life?

Table 4.1. Budgeting your time

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 without being knowing about the unspoken expectations and unwritten rules, the hidden curriculum. 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 have unrealistic 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?

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 academic 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 whereas entry-level college courses may stress expository reading and writing skills.

An alternative of a U.S. high school diploma is a graduate equivalency degree or general educational diploma (GED) which may be attained by passing four subject tests. All governmental bodies, many employers, and most institutions of higher education accept the GED. Many entry level jobs and eligibility for college often require a high school diploma or a GED.

Scoring for the four general education development subject tests in math, literacy, science, and social studies is shown below.

100 – 144 GED Below Passing Score
145 – 164 GED High School Equivalency Score
165 – 174: GED College-Ready Score
175 – 200: GED College-Ready Plus College Credit Score

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 actively participating in classroom activities?

Another measure of college readiness has been standardized test scores. However, standardized tests like the SAT and ACT have been proven to be poor indicators of college readiness, while also maintaining classist barriers to college access for diverse student populations. These tests have been scrutinized for being biased against low-income students, students with disabilities, and Black and Latinx students.  Many colleges and universities have stopped requiring the SAT and ACT for admission during Covid.

One 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 creativity, leadership or problem-solving.

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.

Video: Strengthening Soft Skills, Andy Wible at TEDx

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. Also important is emotional readiness to handle the stress and anxiety of adjusting to college life.

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.

Wible, Andy. “Strengthening Soft Skills.” YouTube, uploaded by TEDxMuskegon, 16 Dec. 2015
Located at: https://youtu.be/gkLsn4ddmTs

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

Version History: Minor edits and updates for more currency, cohesiveness, inclusiveness, alignment, and cultural responsiveness, July, 2021.


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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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