College Fears: What Scares Incoming Freshmen about College
How do you study in college? How do I decide which classes to take? What is it like to live in a dorm?
These are some of the questions asked by about 40 high school seniors I taught as part of a concurrent enrollment program. This program, sponsored by my local community college, allows high school students to take courses and receive both high school and college credit.
One goal of concurrent enrollment programs is to ease students’ transition to college. Exposing students to college professors and college work is supposed to help them adjust more quickly once they get to campus. But the transition to college involves a lot more than academics. So, I decided to ask my students their thoughts.
The first week of class I did an informal and anonymous survey. I simply asked students to describe their fears or worries about college. I also told them to list any questions they had about college. The responses were insightful and showed some clear patterns, which you can see in this word cloud.
A recent survey found that student loan debt is the primary college worry among students. That doesn't seem to hold true for my students. Granted, the sample size is small, but I think my survey reveals some college worries that often get overlooked by the intense focus on college cost and debt.
In this post, we’ll look at some common college fears, as expressed by a group of college bound high schoolers. The students I worked with were hopeful, but also nervous about college. If you’re nervous about college, keep reading. It may help to know how other students in your shoes are feeling.
Common College Fears of Incoming Freshmen
Fear of College Work
A lot of my students expressed concern about college level work, especially studying. Eight of the 40 students asked some variation of “how to study in college?” I think these students sensed that the study skills that got them through high school may not be enough in college.
Other students asked about workload and how much time they’d need to spend studying in college. Four students asked something to the effect of “how much homework is there in college?” Others asked specifically about the amount of reading they’d need to do in college.
Another common college fear was note taking. Six of the 40 students asked “how do you take notes in college?” Clearly, these students are worried their note taking skills aren’t good enough for college lectures.
My students are right to be concerned about their study skills and note taking abilities. I see a lot of freshmen struggle every year because the techniques they relied on in high school aren’t as helpful in college. For example, excessive highlighting and recopying notes are two common study techniques that just don’t work. Learn some other popular but unproductive study methods in my post on how to study smarter.
Fear of College Classes
Another common college fear among my students was college classes. Aside from workload issues, students were concerned, confused or curious about college courses.
Students had many questions about what college classes are like, such as how often classes meet and for how long. Other students wondered about class size and whether they’d be stuck in huge classes with hundreds of students.
Some high schoolers were unsure about how to choose college classes and how many classes college freshmen should take. And several students asked about class policies, like whether all professors take attendance and if food is allowed in class.
I think the fear of being in a huge lecture class is more common than students let on. Big freshman level lecture classes are common at large universities. I’ve personally taught classes with over 100 students and took classes with around 300 students. It’s possible you’ll be in a big class.
However, this depends a lot on the size of the college. Smaller colleges will have smaller classes. You can find colleges where the typical freshman class has less than 50 people. Just something to keep in mind when you’re researching the different types of colleges.
Fear of College Professors
Quite a few of my students expressed some fear or anxiety about dealing with college professors. Students asked about how to communicate with their professors and several wondered if it’s okay to ask your professors questions.
A number of students expressed concern about making their professors angry, such as “how do you deal with an angry professor?” Others asked about dealing with strict or harsh professors and one asked what can happen if a professor doesn’t like you.
Honestly, I was surprised that dealing with professors was a significant concern of my high school students. I’m not sure why they think their professors won’t like them or that their professors may be angry with them. If this is one of the reasons you’re nervous about college, then please don’t worry. It’s perfectly okay to ask your professors questions, so don’t fear approaching them.
There are some things students can do that will make professors angry, such as cheating and being openly disrespectful in class. If you’re not planning on doing those things, I don’t think you need to worry.
College Grade Fears
Students also asked several different questions about college grades. Many were confused about how college GPAs are calculated. Some students wondered what happens if you fail a test in college and if that means you should drop the class.
Other students asked about whether attendance counts for a grade in college and if they would be allowed to redo assignments on which they received a poor grade. And two students asked about college exams, specifically whether or not professors typically do reviews prior to exam day.
Whether attendance counts for a grade in your college class often depends on the professor. Some classes will have an attendance grade and some won’t. Freshman and sophomore courses are more likely to have an attendance grade than junior and senior courses.
As for redoing assignments, that isn’t likely to happen in most classes. Most professors won’t do a formal review before an exam,either.. Professors may give you an exam study guide, but you shouldn’t plan on it for most classes.
Time Management Fears
Several of the students completing the survey expressed concerns about time management, with three asking “how do I manage my time in college?” A few other responses related to time management, including “how do we balance life and school?” And one student wondered how much free time they’ll have in college.
Poor time management is probably the #1 issue I see among my students, with poor organization a very close second. A lot of college students really struggle to balance their time between school, studying, work and social life. If you’re worried about your time management skills, be sure to read my posts on causes of poor time management among college students and how to handle some common time management problems.
General College Fears
There were clear patterns among some survey answers, but after that, students’ college fears fell into more general categories. Some did ask about applying for scholarships and about college financial aid, but money didn’t seem to be a big worry among my students. Instead they were wondered about college dorm life, how to choose a college major, and whether they should go to a community college first.
I was dismayed that more of my students didn’t mention money-related issues in the survey. Given that most college graduates carry student loan debt, students are justified in worrying about this. If you’re concerned about paying for college and want to learn more about financial aid, I have an entire Financial Aid Fundamentals series. You can learn some financial aid basics and about how financial aid works. If you plan to use student loans to pay for college, be sure to read my post on the different types of student loans.
I think the college fears expressed by my high school students are typical. If you’re nervous about college and share some of these fears, know that they’re completely normal. College is a major life transition and it would be strange if you didn’t have some anxiety about it.
There’s a lot you can do prior to college to work on reducing your fears. For instance, if you’re really worried about your study skills, find out what tutoring resources are available on campus. Most campuses have multiple tutoring and academic success centers. If you do start to struggle during your first semester of college, it’s important to know where you can go to for help.
You can also start working on your time management skills, if that’s a concern for you. You can research and buy a good planner and then learn how to use your planner effectively. Every semester I see students carry around expensive planners with almost nothing written in them. Learning how to use your planner before you get to campus will put you way ahead of the curve.
The most important thing is to not let your college fears get the best of you. Acknowledge them, realize that every incoming freshman shares them, but don’t let them dampen your enthusiasm about college.