Starting college is always an exciting challenge, but we know that you need even more support during these unprecedented times. These resources will help visualize your life on campus and prepare for a memorable and informed transition to college.
By Andrea Malkin Brenner, PhD and Lara Hope Schwartz, JD
Professionalism in College
The most successful college students approach college academics like a job. That means showing up on time, being respectful, and taking responsibility for your own performance. Check out this video to learn Lara's best tips for being a college pro! For more info, see Chapter 5 in How to College
Life Beyond the Classroom
Most first-year students report that they feel significantly more connected to their campuses and student community if they enmesh themselves in clubs and organizations as soon as possible. Andrea discusses how you can do this as an incoming student even if your first semesters end up delayed or online. For more info, see Chapter 8 in How to College.
Discuss Before You Go
Families and students often have differing expectations about matters such as finances, safety, and communication. In this video, Lara and Andrea offer helpful discussion prompts so that you and your families can have frank, productive discussions before college in order to make sure everyone is on the same page.
College isn’t only about what is taught in your classrooms. On campus, learning takes place absolutely everywhere—and this includes your involvement in clubs and organizations. College students don’t join clubs, activities, and teams to improve their transcripts; they join because of a sincere interest or passion in a particular area. Every campus boasts a large number of student-run clubs and organizations, and unlike in high school, you’ll have quite a bit of free time to get involved and choose how committed you want to be in each club or organization you join.
Even if your first semester of college ends up with a delayed start time or moves online, you can still get a jump on learning about clubs and organizations at your new school this summer and begin to get involved as an incoming student. You’ll be surprised how connecting to an existing group of students who share some of your passions will leave you excited about your life outside of the classroom once you do arrive on campus. During this pandemic, many almost-college students feel that the fall semester ahead is so tentative. Yet beginning to get connected, even from your home, can make you feel much more a part of your new campus.
How Do I Choose?
Many new students participate in two or even three clubs, organizations, or groups during their first semester of college. This can remain the same, even if your first semester of college takes place online. There are two different ways to choose clubs and organizations in college:
You can drop some or all of your high school identities (as a soccer player, singer, debater) and try a brand new activity on for size. College is a time to try some completely new activities you’ve never had a chance to join before, or even return to some of the activities you liked as a child.
Alternatively, you can really hone one of your current passions and develop skills to excel in it at the college level. Now that your resume isn’t focused on gathering various activities, as it likely was in high school, you can focus on one or more areas that you care about.
What Types of Clubs Exist?
There are many different types of college clubs and organizations available to students, although the language used to describe them may differ by campus. Here is a list of the most common categories with examples of each:
Academic Organizations: undergraduate history club or a film students’ association
Cultural Diversity Groups: Black Student Alliance or a Korean student association
Faith/Spirituality Organizations: Hillel or a gospel choir
Professional Clubs: International Sociology Honors Society or business students association
Sports/Fitness Groups: intramural volleyball team or a hiking club
Political Groups: College Student Republicans or Students for Justice in Palestine
Publication Teams: campus newspaper or a photography journal
Honors/Achievement Clubs: a business club or Future Teachers of America
Public Service/Civic Organizations: Get Out the Vote or local elementary school tutoring
Fraternal Organizations: social, professional, or community service sorority/fraternity
Performance Groups: Shakespeare theater group or an improv comedy troupe
Social Clubs: gamers group or a Harry Potter club
College Representation: campus tour guide or student representative to the Board of Trustees
Andrea Malkin Brenner, PhD is a sociologist who works with high school and college students, parents, faculty, and staff on all things related to college transitions. She is the creator of the nationally-recognized AUx Program, the mandatory full year first-year transition course at American University. Dr. Brenner served as a faculty member in the Department of Sociology at American University for 20 years and directed AU's University College program, the university's oldest and largest living-learning community for first-year students. Learn more about Andrea here.
Lara Hope Schwartz, JD teaches in the Department of Government at American University School of Public Affairs (SPA) and is the Director of the Project on Civil Discourse. In teaching law and government, she draws on her experience as a legislative lawyer, lobbyist, and communications strategist in leading civil rights organizations. Learn more about Lara here.
How to College
For more help on preparing for your first semester of college, see Andrea & Lara's book, How to College, the first practical guide of its kind that helps students transition smoothly from high school to college.