Do I go out even though I have an essay due tomorrow? Do I have my
first taste of beer tonight? Should I take a hit of this joint because
my friends are doing it? Am I making the right decisions? How do I know
when I’ve had too much? These are questions the average college student
The first semester at college is just as, if not more, crucial than
the rest because as a student you must learn to deal with these daily
pressures right away. It can make or break your college career because
this newly found freedom comes with temptation.
Ted Winkworth, SUNY Oswego Alcohol and Other Drug Program
Coordinator, says the first semester—especially the first six weeks—is a
very sensitive time for a student. “If you have 40 to 50 percent of an
incoming class that does not do drugs that number will drop by the sixth
week,” says Winkworth. “Something is happening in the first six weeks
where students are completely changing how they behave.”
Like other colleges and universities, SUNY Oswego tries to hone in on
these sensitive first six weeks to encourage students to follow a
“healthier” lifestyle, says Winkworth. Colleges have implemented various
programs, ranging from mandatory classes to alcohol-free weekend
activities in order to do this.
Greg Victory, director of First-Year and Transfer Programs at
Syracuse University, says helping the students transition to college
begins before they arrive on campus. According to Victory, SU follows a
rigorous checklist to help with the move away from home. First, in May,
they receive step-by-step orientation guides for entering college. These
packets arrive every two weeks with different checklists and reminders
such as orientation dates, deadlines and event invitations. But
technology has altered the way this information travels.
“We used to send them out by mail and hoped they read it. But this
year we did everything by e-mail,” says Victory. “We have regular
Facebook and Twitter updates, too.”
Once on campus, freshmen are introduced to “Cuse Welcome,” during
which they begin to get acquainted with each other, receive their
schedules, and learn about the university and the city. Current students
from all different backgrounds share their personal experiences at
“Students have many opportunities to engage in different ways and
learn about Syracuse, the community and themselves and how they fit in
that big picture,” says Victory. These programs provide entry points
into a support system and puts names to faces for students. It helps
them begin to make connections.
Susan Ames, director of First-Year and Transition Programs at Le
Moyne College, says having a support system makes a student more
confident; they are also more likely to join a club or organization. Le
Moyne realizes the first few weeks are critical to academic success,
says Ames, so the college on the East Side of Syracuse set up a program
aimed at helping students achieve academic success based on both
challenge and support.
“It is key that the students know everyone is welcome,” says Ames.
“They will have challenges but they will get support here.” That support
is both social and academic. The students can opt to be in a learning
community, based on a shared interest or hobby or course of study, which
allows students to have an instant connection with a small group.
According to Victory, living in a learning community breaks down the
first wall. It helps answer the question, “what are you interested in?”
SU provides learning communities that are academically focused as well
Students can also make connections with their academic advisers,
which all freshman should do as soon as possible. To ensure academic
success students must learn time management, how to engage with a
professor or other students and rules of academic integrity, says Ames.
“We know students come in August and still have the pre-college notions
in their head,” she adds. “They need to transition.”
Immediate academic success is an integral part to overall success
because students need to develop good studying and time management
habits early on, says Victory. At SU, each college conducts its own
first year seminar hoping for the same result: helping freshmen
transition into healthy academic habits.
Le Moyne has a similar program, says Ames, but it’s more general,
dealing with teaching college skills. At the end of the course, the
students must take a test and pass with 100 percent.
Freshmen at Le Moyne and SU must also read a common book. The book
invokes questions and allows for longterm academic inquiry, says Ames,
since it is discussed throughout the first year. A recent selection at
Le Moyne include Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich, while this year’s tome is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.
High school students grow accustomed to being told when homework is
being collected and knowing what is happening at all times. College
provides a much different experience. “In the 21st century, it is not
all about what academic skills you have when you leave,” says Ames. “You
need to be articulate, be able to problem solve and deal with different
types of people. That is what real academic inquiry is.”
It is also important to know there is more to success than just
academics; you need to navigate the social scene. With new freedoms,
especially being away from parents for substantial lengths of time, one
needs to get acclimated with how to handle drugs, alcohol and peer
Discouraging alcohol use among underage students is at the top of
most college’s lists. Oswego provides late night programs for those who
want a sober alternative. These programs include bingo, open mike
nights, concerts, hypnotists and coffee with friends.
“People will always drink on a college campus, but we provide that
alternative,” says Winkworth. “We continue to strive to do things that
students will respond to. If they are being influenced that much by
their peers at that time, we feel we can also influence them in a
healthier manner. And that is what we do.”