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The Transition to College

So, you got accepted, now what?
Saying Goodbye
Personal Responsibility [5]
Choosing Classes/Major
Academic Stuff - Fears and Concerns
Competition and Pressure
A Few Words on Multiculturalism and Diversity
What to Bring/Buy
Roommate Situations
College Terminology [6]


Going to college for the first time is an exhilarating experience. Your feelings may range from immense excitement to sadness. You will meet new people, and at the same time, say goodbye for a time to some of your closest friends and family. The average first-year student at college is flooded with emotions and feelings, and very often we do not talk about these feelings. It is important to open up dialogue with fellow first year students and with trusted adults so that the transition is less stressful for you.

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So, you got accepted, now what?

You received the "big envelope." You know where you are going to school, whether that is 3000 miles away or miles away. You, and most of your high school friends can talk about nothing else other than college, but you are scared of what lies ahead. Suddenly, you are in charge of your life.

You will be allowed to make decisions that will affect your future. You may not be living with your parents anymore. Or, perhaps you are still living with them, but the rules are much more relaxed and your curfew has been extended or diminished completely. But before you can even leave for school, there are some people you need to say goodbye to.

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Saying Goodbye

It is true that when you leave your high school friends, some things will never be the same. Many of you will grow apart; although some may grow closer together. Suddenly, the aspects of your friendships that held you together in high school no longer exist in college. Once you go to college, with some of your friends, while you talk very rarely, there will always be a special bond that even 3,000 miles cannot break apart, but this may not be the case with other friends. The most important thing about saying goodbye is to recognize that it is a transition. You are leaving some part of yourselves with each other and moving on to new roles in the world.

Saying goodbye to parents for a while is also an emotional ride. Realizing that they no longer will enforce rules to the same degree can be both exciting and scary. Letting go, from both the parent's viewpoint and the student's, is extremely difficult. As with saying goodbye to friends, it is important to acknowledge the difficulty in the situation, as well as the feelings that accompany the farewell. While it may seem as though your mother is being annoying when she sets up your room, or that your father is driving you crazy with the computer, or that your grandmother cannot stop telling you about when she was in college, it is important to remember that they love you and want the best for you. Also, remember that they too are experiencing feelings of loss as you depart for school and their role in parenting no longer remains a daily responsibility. Each student's experience is different, whether she is living at home, living at school, has both parents or has older or younger siblings. Whatever your situation may be, keep in mind that the transition is difficult for everyone and always keep communication lines open between all parties involved.

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Personal Responsibility [5]

So what is the new first-year to do? Before you leave home, have a plan to implement and a promise or "contract" with yourself to take care of your health.

  • Eat Right and Exercise.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Get Plenty of Sleep.
  • Don't take drugs unless they are prescribed to you by a doctor.
  • Don't abuse alcohol.
  • Take Time to Relax.
  • Be open to making new friends.
  • Reach out to others
  • Learn to Manage Your Time. Make and follow a daily schedule that includes priority time for classes, reading and writing assignments, exam preparation, meals, exercise, a job, and social activities.
  • Assert Yourself. Clearly communicate what you do and don't want out of dates, party situations, and a roommate.
  • Create a Budget. Your income must equal or exceed your expenses.
  • Get Involved. Participate in clubs and organizations, campus events, intramural, and religious groups.
  • Learn and Practice Good Study Habits. such as setting goals; learning effective reading, note taking, and test taking strategies; attending classes, completing assignments on time; and organizing your study area.
  • Learn About and Use Campus Resources That Can Help You. College counselors and advisors, health services, faculty, study skills assistance programs, tutors, local clergy, and other campus professionals.

No one can promise that the transition from home to the end of the first year will be easy. Relax and take college one step at a time. And when you arrive on campus look around. First-years do survive - notice the large number of sophomores!

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Choosing Classes/Major

When you first find out, usually in the summer before you enter college, that you have to register for classes, it can be very scary. What classes do you take? What is your major? How do you understand what requirements you have to fulfill? Many universities have specific requirements for first-year students and those requirements are explained in the catalog, student handbook, or can be found out by calling the school and asking an academic advisor. Remember that whatever classes you choose for your first semester at college are not set in stone and will not determine the rest of your life. Often times, you can change classes throughout the first week or two of the semester, and you usually do not have to declare your major until the second year. Guidance counselors say that 75% of students change their majors after they enter college. College is not just about careers and money - it's a place for learning about yourself and the world.[1]

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Academic Stuff - Fears and Concerns

Whether you were top of the class or at the bottom, almost every college student enters college feeling inadequate academically. If not, they enter into college with the idea that it will be "as easy as high school," and are suddenly stunned into reality when finals arrive and they haven't yet started the reading for the course. Chances are that the institution you choose to attend is full of people who were academically similar to you in high school, as well as with people who you feel are much smarter and perhaps even those few people that you wonder how they manage to get by in life. It is always important to remember that many people are coming in with the similar fears, and that as long as you learn a good way to manage your time and academics, you will succeed (easier said than done...).

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Competition and Pressure

From grade school to grad school and beyond, our world is becoming increasingly competitive. The pressure is on students to excel in every subject, in addition to in athletics and clubs, and full or part time jobs. Today's college woman has a lot on her plate. People respond to pressure and competition differently, and different schools have vastly different climates. Some schools carry reputations for being extremely demanding and competitive. Some students are better able to handle competition and pressure than others. For some, college is their first experience with such pressure, others have come form extremely competitive secondary schools and are more accustomed to the pressure. Even outstanding students who stood out in high school may find themselves to be average students at college. This can be a very difficult and stressful situation, and hard to come to terms with. Some students will let pressure build until it is too much for them to handle. Pressure affects students of every major, from the arts to the sciences and pre-medical studies.

Realizing that your work in college does not define who you are and that your worth as an individual is not defined by your grades at school is an essential fact. After all, you came to college to live and learn, not get A's at any cost. Set reasonable goals for yourself. Find stimulating and relaxing activities, and think about who you are as a person-not just who you are as a student, what you want in life, and what things other than academics make you feel happy and fulfilled.

Some students respond to pressure by cheating. Even at universities with strict honor codes, cheating has become rampant. In the world of grading curves, cheating does not only hurt the cheater, but the legitimate learner as well as campus morale.

Other students will respond to the pressure to achieve very differently. These students instead become stressed and anxious, depressed or completely overwhelmed. Unable to cope, every year, some college students commit suicide in response to academic pressure, depression, substance abuse, and other factors.

To cope with pressure and competition, it is important to realize that your performance in college does not define your worth as a person. Wherever the source of your pressure is, whether yourself, or parents, in the grand scheme of things, it is essential to find other important things in your life--doing things you enjoy, and realizing that your personal happiness is more important than achieving someone else's vision of success.

If you or a friend seems unable to cope with the pressures of college, there are several things you can do. (The following suggestions come from )

It is helpful to:

  • Let the student discuss his/her feelings and thoughts. Often this alone relieves some of the pressure
  • Provide reassurance
  • Remain calm and talk slowly
  • Be clear and direct

It is not helpful to:

  • Minimize the perceived threat to which the student is reacting
  • Take responsibility for his/her emotional state
  • Overwhelm him/her with information or ideas to "fix" their condition
  • Become anxious or overwhelmed

If a more serious response is warranted, it may be appropriate to advise your friend or go with him or her to your school's counseling service, as well as making the other people who care deeply about your friend aware, so that they can provide a support network.

How to find help: Many schools provide counseling as well as maintain 24-hour hotlines to support students experiencing the pressures and demands for college life.

A national toll free telephone line for graduate students in crisis may be reached at 1-877-GRAD-HLP.

Other Resources:

Some excellent and interesting resources and articles include the following:

The Anxious Student

Got Stress?

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A Few Words on Multiculturalism and Diversity

A fascinating aspect of college life is the fact that many people attending college are not from the same town, stage, region, or even country that you are. Living and studying with students from various backgrounds offers different perspectives and gives a well-rounded outlook on the world.

Class An individual's economic ranking based on access to, and possession and control of, wealth and the sources of wealth.
Culture The collective behavior patterns, communication patterns, beliefs, concepts, values, institutions, standards, and other factors unique to a community that are socially transmitted to individuals and to which individuals are expected to conform.
Gender The psychological make-up of an individual based on cultural perceptions of femaleness and maleness (i.e., femininity, masculinity, androgyny).
Power The ability to influence and enforce decisions in a community; access to and control of valued resources.
Prejudice Implies a preconceived idea, judgment, or opinion, usually an unfavorable one marked by suspicion, fear, intolerance, or hatred, and is directed toward a racial, religious, cultural, or ethnic group.
Race/Ethnicity Of or relating to people grouped according to a common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin.
Sex The biological make-up of an individual based on sexual organs (i.e., female, male)
Status The esteem, respect, or prestige that an individual is able to command in a community.
Ableism An assumption that there is inherent purity and superiority of people who are able-bodied, have full cognitive functioning, and are considered attractive by cultural norms and the inferiority of others. It denotes attitudes, behaviors, and institutional structures that subordinate persons or groups because of their physical and mental qualities and abilities. Such practices can be intentional or unintentional.
Ageism An assumption that there is inherent purity and superiority of certain ages and inferiority of others. It denotes attitudes, behaviors, and institutional structures that subordinate persons or groups because of their age. Such practices can be intentional or unintentional.
Heterosexism An assumption that there is inherent purity and superiority in heterosexuality and inferiority of others. It denotes attitudes, behaviors, and institutional structures that subordinate persons or groups because of their sexuality. Such practices can be intentional or unintentional.
Racism An assumption that there is inherent purity and superiority of certain races, classes, and groups, and inferiority of others. It denotes attitudes, behaviors, and institutional structures that subordinate persons or groups because of their ethnic culture or heritage. Such practices can be intentional or unintentional.
Sexism An assumption that there is inherent purity and superiority of the male sex and inferiority of the female sex. It denotes attitudes, behaviors, and institutional structures that subordinate persons or groups because of their sex. Such practices can be intentional or unintentional.
Institutional Racism A variety of systems operating within an organization that have attitudes, behaviors, and practices that subordinate persons or groups because of culture.[3]
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What to Bring/Buy

While looking around your room at home at all the little mementos that you think you ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE at college, remember that dorm rooms are small. Dorm rooms traditionally are the size of a small bathroom, but two people live in that space, sometimes three, four or five. Ok, slight exaggeration, but keep in mind that the space you will be living in at college is small and you are probably going to be sharing it with one other person (at least).

After you have eliminated from your baggage the twelve trophies you won in sixth grade and the collection of sea shells from preschool, you should begin to make a checklist of items that you need to bring. Also, if you have a roommate that you know of ahead of time, it is always a good idea to coordinate items with them to cut down on costs, as well as prevent a situation where you have multiple microwaves, but no fridge. Here is a checklist of items to consider (not all are necessary) but these are ones that my college students often find to be useful.

This is a general list of helpful items. Different schools have different rules about items allowed in dorm rooms, so check with your school before packing any major electrical appliance (like a refrigerator or microwave).

  • Computer: Most schools have computer clusters available for you to use to check email, write papers and do other things, but if you can afford to have your own, it is a great luxury. You should consider your own needs in deciding what kind of computer you would bring. Additionally, if you are buying a new computer, many schools offer discounts if you buy it from them. Check with technology services at your college or university to see what they have to offer.
  • Refrigerator: There are many different size refrigerators that people use in their dorm rooms. Some have freezers and some do not. Others come with a microwave attached. Talk with your roommate(s) in deciding what type you would want. Also, many schools offer services from which you can rent or purchase refrigerators.
  • Microwave
  • Television: having a television has its plusses and minuses- weigh the options before deciding what you want.
  • VCR: To record the shows you missed on those nights you can't watch TV because you are studying.
  • Stereo: with headphones - so that your roommates will not be bothered
  • Power strip/surge protector
  • Sports equipmen: field hockey stick, soccer ball, basketball, etc.
  • Desk Lamp
  • Alarm Clock
  • Laundry bag (or basket)
  • Laundry soap
  • Needles and thread or safety pins
  • Eating utensils
  • Bedding: Bring a good blanket because it may get cold in some residence halls.
  • Decorations for your room (photos/posters)
  • Iron and small ironing board
  • Organizer or planner (calendar)
  • Bike and bike lock
  • Fan
  • Bath towels, soaps, robe, toiletries, etc.
  • Can-opener
  • First aid kit
  • Band aids
  • Pain reliever
  • Shower shoes
  • Umbrella

More importantly, here are some items that you should leave at home:

  • Pets (Fish are usually okay): Check with your college or university on their policies regarding pets. Most institutions will not allow them.
  • Full size refrigerator: The rooms are only this big.
  • Extension cord: Generally not allowed because they can be a fire hazard. Bring extra power strips WITH surge protectors instead.
  • Firearms
  • Expensive clothing and jewelry: Unfortunately theft does occur at college, so try not to bring unnecessary expensive items [4].

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Roommate Situations

So perhaps you have never shared a room before, or maybe you have shared a room with a sibling. Whatever the case may be, living with a roommate that you have probably never met before can be scary. Whatever living situation you are in, a double in a dorm room, a suite, a sorority house or whatever, you are likely to have a roommate at some point. At first it may seem like a wonderful ideal world with double the amount of clothes and constant sleepovers, but it is important to set rules from the beginning to protect both you and your roommate(s) from getting too hurt, too stressed out or too angry.

Here are some ideas to help prevent future arguments:

  • Lay down the rules in the beginning, i.e. how late people can call, when you like to go to bed, when you like to get up, borrowing stuff from each other, etc. It is a good idea to do this within the first week of school so that you both know the rules of the game.

  • If your roommate has done something that upsets you, talk to her about it before it gets too out of hand. For example, if she has borrowed your favorite sweater and you did not give her permission to, let her know how it makes you feel and that it is not acceptable.

  • As with any relationship, when there is an argument, fight fairly. Use "I" statements, as in, "I feel upset when you ...." Nobody can argue with the way you feel. Don't be accusatory because it will only put her on the defensive side and you will not get anywhere with the discussion.

  • Remember that this is her space as well as your space. Perhaps she is not as big a Star Trek fan as you are and the life-size Yoda poster is freaking her out a little bit.

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College Terminology [6]

When you first start looking at colleges, remember how many acronyms and phrases that were thrown at you that you may not have ever heard of. Here is a list of some general terms that most colleges and universities use.

Academic Advisor/Counselor This is someone who helps you figure out which courses to take as well as what kinds of requirements you will need to fulfill. Additionally, an academic advisor should be available to assist you with any academic issues that you may have. Some colleges or universities assign students to faculty members who act as advisors while other institutions hire non-teaching staff to do the job.
Academic Probation All colleges require students to maintain a minimum cumulative grade point average (GPA) to remain in school. Students who fail to achieve a GPA at or above the specified value may be placed on academic probation. Consult your individual university or college to find out what your minimum GPA will be. Additionally, it is important to note that some the financial aid and scholarships you receive may also require a minimum GPA.
Academic Suspension This occurs under circumstances when students fail to maintain the minimum GPA. Consequences may include suspension for a semester and conditions that must be met in order for re-enrollment to occur.
Advanced Placement Credit This is course credit that some students may enter college with after taking and scoring well on such subject exams as the Advanced Placement exams. This credit can often be applied to a major and towards graduation requirements.
Alumni people who have graduated from the institution (usually the ones who donate big bucks to keep your university running).
ACT and SAT These letters are acronyms for the American College Test and the Scholastic Aptitude Test, two exams that assess your abilities in specific subjects, as well as in math and verbal areas. Colleges usually require that students take one of these tests in order to be admitted.
Associate Degree The Associate Degree is given to students who have completed a program of at least two, but less than four years of college work. Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees are conferred upon students who successfully complete programs designed for transfer to a senior college. In order to obtain this type of degree you must complete a minimum of 60 credit hours, exclusive of physical education activity courses or military science courses, with a cumulative GPA of 2.0 (a "C" average).
Audit A student who does not want to receive credit in a course may, with approval of the instructor, audit the course as a "visitor." This usually means that the student who audits does not have to pay for sitting in on the course, however he or she cannot later ask the school for credit.
Bachelor's Degree This is the undergraduate degree offered by four-year colleges and universities. The Bachelor of Arts degree requires that a portion of the student's studies be dedicated to the arts - literature, language, music, etc. The Bachelor of Science degree requires that a portion of the studies be in the sciences - chemistry, biology, math, etc. Students must enroll for at least 120 credit hours in order to obtain a Bachelor's Degree.
Bookstore The place on campus where you will be able to purchase all of your class needs, including academic books and school supplies, as well as clothing, often emblazoned with the University's name on it. Oh, and yes, it will be overpriced because you cannot find the books and clothing elsewhere.
Catalog College catalogs (also called handbooks) provide all types of information parents and students need to know about a school. It lists, for example: the institution's history and philosophy, policies and procedures, its accreditation status, courses of study, degrees and certificates offered, physical facilities, admission and enrollment procedures, financial aid, student life activities, etc.
CLEP The College Level Examination Program may be offered to students so that they can demonstrate proficiency in a course in order to receive credit without having to take the course. There is a charge for each test taken. Information concerning an individual institution's policies toward CLEP Tests can be found in the institution's catalog.
Commuter A commuter is a student who lives off-campus and drives to class, or commutes.
Concurrent Enrollment A student can enroll and attend two educational institutions at the same time under certain circumstances. For example: In some places, a high school senior can concurrently enroll in high school and in college provided she meets established criteria. A college student can concurrently enroll at two higher education institutions provided that certain criteria are met. Permission for concurrent enrollments is generally made in advance.
Course Numbers All courses are identified by numbers usually containing 3 to 6 digits. Sometimes letters are used to indicate the semester that the course was taken or the department in which it was offered.
Credit Hours Courses taken in college are measured in terms of credit hours. To earn one credit hour, a student must attend a class for one classroom hour (usually 50 minutes) per week for the whole semester (usually 16 weeks). Classes are offered in 1 - 5 credit hour increments, and sometimes larger amounts.
Curriculum A curriculum is the set of courses outlined by the institution required to complete a certain program or major.
Degree Requirements Anything the university requires the student to complete in order to receive a degree in the chosen field of study. Often times the requirements include completion of a certain number of courses, the maintenance of a specific GPA, etc.
Degrees Degrees are rewards for the successful completion of a chosen field of study. You can get an: Associate Degree (see above) - obtainable at a two-year community or junior college, Baccalaureate or Bachelor's - offered by four-year colleges and universities, and Graduate - Obtained after the bachelor's degree, i.e., Masters or Doctorate.
Department A department is the unit within the college or university that usually is responsible for the administrative as well as academic functions of a specific subject. Faculty members who teach biology, for example, are usually employed through the biology department.
Drop and Add Students are generally allowed to change which courses they take through a period often referred to as "add/drop" period. This usually occurs in the first part of the semester for a week or two. Additionally, permission from a professor or dean is usually required in order to add into a course.
Enrollment This is the procedure by which students choose classes each semester. It also includes the assessment and collection of fees. Pre-enrollment, or otherwise called pre-registration is when students choose the courses they want to take the following term.
Extra- or Co- Curricular Activities These are non-classroom activities that can contribute to a well-rounded education. They can include such activities as athletics, clubs, student government, recreational and social organizations and events.
Faculty The faculty is composed of all persons who teach classes for colleges.
FAFSA Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The almost universal application for financial aid, including loans, grants, college work-study and other federal and state programs. Many colleges require that students submit a FASFA form when applying for financial aid
Fees These are any additional charges the university may incur to cover extra expenses, such as lab materials, university sponsored events, and other programs.
Final Exams (Finals) These exams are usually given during the last week of classes each semester. Course instructors are allowed to design the final themselves covering the material discussed during the semester. Final exam schedules are issued usually by the registrar (see below) and do not necessarily occur during the time or day you met for class.
Financial Aid This is money given or loaned to students in order to meet tuition and sometimes living requirements. It may be awarded by federal or state governments, obtained from banks, given by the college you are attending, or come from private companies or institutions. How much financial aid is given depends on your family's financial state as well as other factors.
Fraternities/Sororities (also called the Greek System) - Fraternities (for men) and sororities (for women) are social organizations that participate in various activities. A process of selection occurs, called Rush (which takes place during a specified period of time), offering some students the opportunity to "pledge" a certain fraternity of sorority. Not all colleges have these organizations.
Full-Time Enrollment/Part-Time Enrollment A full-time student is enrolled in 12 or more credit hours in a semester (full-time status for a summer term is usually 6 credit hours). A part-time student is enrolled in less than 12 credit hours in a semester (less than 6 in a summer term).
Honor Roll (also called Dean's List) Students are placed on honor rolls for GPAs above certain specified levels. Criteria vary at different institutions. In most cases, students must be enrolled full-time to be eligible.
Humanities Courses Humanities courses are classes covering subjects such as literature, philosophy, and the fine arts. Most undergraduate degrees require a certain number of humanities credit hours in order to graduate. These required courses may be part of a core curriculum in which case you may have to take humanities courses specified by the Dean's office.
Junior/Community College A Junior/Community College offers two-year programs for high-school graduates. Course offerings generally include a transfer curriculum with credits that you can use to transfer to a four-year college. Other times Junior/Community colleges aim to prepare students to enter the job market after two years with specialized training in a chosen field.
Lecture/Laboratory/Discussion Classes In lecture classes, students attend class on a regular basis and the instructor lectures on class material. Laboratory classes require students to carry out specified tasks during a specific time that enable students to support the concepts they learn in lecture. Discussion classes offer students the opportunity to talk about material being taught, ask questions, and discuss material with their classmates and a professor or teaching assistant.
Major/Minor A major is a student's chosen field of study. It usually requires the successful completion of a specified number of credit hours. A minor is similar to a major, however less credit hours are required to complete a minor and the area of study must not be the same as the major.
Mid-Term Exams (Midterms) During the middle of each semester, instructors may give mid-term exams that test students on the material covered during the first half of the semester. Some classes have only two tests, a midterm and a final.
Non-Credit Courses These are classes or courses that do not meet the requirements for a certificate of a degree at a given institution.
Pass/Fail Courses Completion of a pass/fail course gives students credit for taking that course, but no letter grade is given. Therefore, the course's outcome does not appear in the student's GPA.
Prerequisite Courses A prerequisite course is a course taken in preparation for another course. For example, Accounting 1 is a prerequisite for Accounting 2.
Private/Public Institutions Private and public institutions differ primarily in terms of their source of financial support. Public institutions get funding from the government and are administered by public boards. Private institutions rely on income from private donations, or from religious or other organizations and student tuition. Private institutions are governed by a board of trustees.
Registrar The registrar of an institution is responsible for the maintenance of all academic records and may include such duties as: keeping track of class enrollments, publishing the list of exam schedules, issuing transcripts, certifying athletic eligibility, and monitoring student eligibility for honor roll.
Schedule of Classes Colleges publish and distribute a Class Schedule book for each semester, during the previous semester. With the help of academic advisors and/or faculty members, students make up their own individual class schedules for each semester they are enrolled. Courses are designated in the Class Schedule by course department, course number, time and days the course meets, the room number and building name, and the instructor's name. A class schedule is also simply a list of classes a student is taking, which includes course name and number, time and location of the class, and possibly the instructor.
Student Identification Card (I.D.) This is a card issued to students by the university that identifies the student as well as allows access to buildings. Some colleges apply other functions to the card like adding a picture of the student for security reasons, or allowing for students to add money to be used for doing laundry. Whatever you do DON'T lose your student ID, it is an essential part of campus life!
Syllabus This is provided by the professor and consists of an outline of the class, including the required textbooks, assignments, and important dates to remember (like what day the final is).
Transcript The transcript is a permanent academic record of a student's performance at college. It may show courses taken, grades received, academic status and honors received.
Transfer of Credits Some students attend more than one institution during their college career. When they move or transfer from one college to another, they petition the college to accept credits earned at the previous institution. If the request is granted, course credits earned will be applied towards graduation from the new school so students won't have to repeat courses already taken.
Tuition Tuition varies from school to school and is the amount paid for each credit hour of enrollment. Tuition does not include the cost of books, fees, or room and board.
Undergraduate An undergraduate is a student who is pursuing either a one-, two-, or four-year degree.
University A university is composed of undergraduate, graduate, and professional colleges and offers degrees in each.
Withdrawal Students who decide that they do not want to continue in the course they are currently enrolled in and have missed the add/drop period. Permission is usually needed in order to withdraw and the result will show up on a permanent transcript.
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We thank Oklahoma State University for their excellent College Prep 101 site, from which this factsheet has been adapted.







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