Moving On: Three New Jersey College Students
Make the Transition
by Anne M. Disdier
Plans were well underway for the upcoming conference at The College of New Jersey called Moving On: Promoting a Successful Transition to College or Community (see page 7). As our staff began putting the program together, the keys to ensuring a successful college experience weighed heavily on my mind. What constitutes a successful college experience? Is it connecting with the “right” college? Is it student-driven, college-driven, a combination of both? These, and many more questions, were running through my mind.
I was able to get some answers and gain some valuable insight when I recently had the opportunity to talk to three college students who have documented learning disabilities. They live in my town, Montgomery Township, New Jersey, and I have known them since they were in elementary school. All three had received supports in high school at varying levels. I was pleased to hear from their parents that they were doing well in college, and I was curious to see how they made the transition from high school to college.
Mickey Hover is a sophomore at Southern New Hampshire State University (SNHU) in Manchester, New Hampshire, majoring in Sport Management. Brian Colombero is a sophomore majoring in Business Administration at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts, and Brendan Welch, also a Business Administration major at Dean College, is a freshman. They agreed to join me for lunch and share their experiences.
Influences in Choosing to Go to College
My first question to them was, “Why?” Knowing that they had struggled with academics in a highly competitive high school, I was curious about their decision to continue their formal education. What influenced their decision to attend college? Mickey’s response was that it was always expected within his family, he thought it would be more fun than high school, and he wanted to continue playing lacrosse. Brendan was quick to add that he too was looking for a fun, social environment, but he was also seeking more earning potential than a high school diploma would offer. Brian, who is continuing his baseball career at Dean, concurred with the lifestyle decision. He added that he has aspirations to take over his family’s landscaping business someday and wanted to be prepared with a solid foundation in business administration.
First Impressions of College Life
I thought that a good way to get the conversation flowing was to ask what their favorite thing was when they first got to college. To my surprise Brian responded that he hated his first semester. He was so worried about doing well that he never went out and spent all his time studying. He eventually learned to manage his time and assignments better, and by spring semester he loved college life. Mickey said he loved his first semester, but troubles began in earnest during the second semester when schoolwork, combined with his lacrosse commitment, began to overwhelm him. With support from staff at his college, he muddled through and now loves college life.
Brendan commented that he loves the flexibility of the college class schedule. He had had a hard time with the six hour-a-day, five days a week scheduling in high school, and he is enjoying the freedom of breaks between classes and shorter days in the classroom. He is doing much better academically than he did in high school. He attributes getting A’s in his classes to this more relaxed learning environment and being able to take classes that interest him.
Agreeing that having grown up in a small town could be limiting, they are all enjoying meeting students from around the country. It was the right time to spread their wings.
Meeting the Challenge
I then asked them what their biggest challenge has been in college. The three were unanimous in that time management and organization were the most daunting. The boys were each able to overcome these problems by taking advantage of the support services offered on their campuses. Their colleges provide assistance to freshmen by requiring a course in academic and personal management strategies. All freshmen at Dean College take a First-Year Seminar (FYS) during their first semester. Students enroll jointly in the seminar and a liberal arts course. The instructor from FYS, who is a learning specialist, attends the liberal arts class with the students and models learning strategies for successful completion of that course. Another part of FYS is a series of lectures that address critical issues faced by college students.
In addition to FYS, Brian participated in the Dean Arch Program. This program provides academic skill development for students with learning disabilities. It is offered for one or two semesters and combines the regular liberal arts coursework with additional instruction in reading, writing, mathematics, technology, study strategies and personal development. Brian feels that this program was instrumental in helping him manage his transition.
Brendan and Brian also utilize the Personalized Learning Services at Dean College. This is a one-to-one tutoring service with professional academic tutors. It builds fundamental learning, writing and math skills specific to students’ current coursework. In addition to these supports, Brendan and Brian have been granted the accommodation of extra time on tests (when needed), and Brian occasionally takes tests in a distraction-free room.
Southern New Hampshire University offers a similar freshman program through its First Year Experience. This course helps freshmen develop and refine critical, creative and analytical thinking skills. Students learn research tools and methods and how to communicate research in their writing. Mickey found this course to be very helpful.
One of Mickey’s first stops after arriving at Southern New Hampshire Universtiy was the Disability Services Office. He had met his support contact during an admissions visit, so he felt comfortable knowing someone in advance. The services provided to Mickey through this office included weekly meetings to go over class assignments and helping him schedule and manage his time. The disability support staff worked with him to identify reasonable accommodations for his classes. It was up to him, though, to request these modifications from each professor. For the most part, he found the faculty to be cooperative. Some of the accommodations that he has used are taking tests in a distraction-free room, use of a computer for answering essay questions, extended time on tests, and getting copies of notes from another student in his classes.
One modification that Mickey requested was to not have to take multiple choice tests. This request was denied, so Mickey is working on strategies to help him do better with this testing format. Since he takes his tests in a separate room, he has found that reading the questions and choices out loud to himself has been helpful. In one instance, a faculty member was reluctant to allow Mickey to receive copies of notes, so the Disability Support Office intervened on his behalf, and it was agreed that the notes were an appropriate accommodation for the class. In addition to the support he receives from the Disability Support Office, Mickey utilizes the Walk-in Tutoring services offered by the Learning Center.
Future Plans and Parting Advice
Before we parted ways, I asked each of the boys about their future aspirations. Since Dean College is primarily a two-year institution, both Brendan and Brian plan to continue their education beyond the associates degree they will earn at Dean. Brian hopes to transfer to Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire to complete a bachelors degree in Business Administration and continue to play baseball. Brendan, who has more time to think about his options, is considering transferring to Bentley College in Massachusetts to get his bachelors degree in Business Administration. Mickey hopes to finish his B.S. in Sport Management at Southern New Hampshire University. Beyond that he would like to go to graduate school and pursue a degree in special education.
When I asked them for some advice for students who are beginning to consider their options after graduation from high school, they had lots of encouraging thoughts. Mickey advised, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help or ask questions.” Brian recommended that students “See the big picture. Don’t get bogged down and discouraged by the day-to-day challenges.” Brendan, who had not been accepted to the four-year colleges of his choice and opted to enroll at Dean College, offered this, “It’s not where you start, it’s where you end.” All three would encourage those who follow in their footsteps to keep reminding themselves of their goal. It is achievable with hard work and determination.
Anne Disdier is the Project Coordinator of the Adaptive Technology Center for New Jersey Colleges at The College of New Jersey.