Questions to consider:

  • How will you adjust to college?
  • What are the common college experiences you will have?

Adjustments to College Are Inevitable

College not only will expand your mind, but it may also make you a little uncomfortable, challenge your identity, and at times, make you doubt your abilities. It is hard to truly learn anything without getting messy. This is what education does: it transforms us. For that to happen, however, means that we will need to be open to the transformation and allow the changes to occur. Flexibilitytransition, and change are all words that describe what you will experience. Laurie Hazard and Stephanie Carter (2018)1 use the word adjustment. Hazard and Carter (2018) believe there are six adjustment areas that first-year college students experience: academic, cultural, emotional, financial, intellectual, and social. Of course, you won’t go through these adjustments all at once or even in just the first year. Some will take time, while others may not even feel like much of a transition. Let’s look at them in brief as a way of preparing for the road ahead:

  • Academic adjustment. No surprises here. You will most likely—depending on your own academic background—be faced with the increased demands of learning in college. This could mean that you need to spend more time learning to learn and using those strategies to master the material.
  • Cultural adjustment.  You also will most likely experience a cultural adjustment just by being in college because most campuses have their own language (syllabusregistrar, and office hours, for example) and customs. You may also experience a cultural adjustment because of the diversity that you will encounter. Most likely, the people on your college campus will be different than the people at your high school—or at your workplace.
  • Emotional adjustment.  Remember the range of emotions presented at the beginning of the chapter? Those will likely be present in some form throughout your first weeks in college and at stressful times during the semester. Knowing that you may have good days and bad—and that you can bounce back from the more stressful days—will help you find healthy ways of adjusting emotionally.
  • Financial adjustment. Most students understand the investment they are making in their future by going to college. Even if you have all your expenses covered, there is still an adjustment to a new way of thinking about what college costs and how to pay for it. You may find that you think twice about spending money on entertainment or that you have improved your skills in finding discounted textbooks.
  • Intellectual adjustment. Experiencing an intellectual “a-ha!” moment is one of the most rewarding parts of college, right up there with moving across the graduation stage with a degree in hand. Prepare to be surprised when you stumble across a fascinating subject or find that a class discussion changes your life. At the very least, through your academic work, you will learn to think differently about the world around you and your place in it.
  • Social adjustment. A new place often equals new people. But in college, those new relationships can have even more meaning. Getting to know professors not only can help you learn more in your classes, but it can also help you figure out what career pathway you want to take and how to get desired internships and jobs. Learning to reduce conflicts during group work or when living with others helps build essential workplace and life skills.

The table Six Areas of Adjustment for First-Year College Students provides a succinct definition for each of the areas as well as examples of how you can demonstrate that you have adjusted. Think about what you have done so far to navigate these transitions in addition to other things you can do to make your college experience a successful one.


Academic Cultural Emotional Financial Intellectual Social
What is it? Students will take a more active role in their learning than they had to in high school and have the ability to meet the increasing demands of change students will interact with others of various cultures, religious beliefs, sexual identities and orientations, ages, and abilities. Students will need to be prepared for the stressors of college and develop habits and behaviors to cope with these changes. Students will need to demonstrate basic financial literacy, an understanding of the cost of college, and methods of paying for those costs. Students will have the opportunity to join an academic community that includes classmates, faculty, support personnel, and administrators. Students will be faced with shifts in their relationships, finding a new peer group, and handling the pressure of fitting in.
Students exhibit it when they:
  • Take an active role in learning.
  • Attain college-level learning strategies.
  • Are open to feedback and change period
  • Make adjustments to learning strategies as needed.
  • Accept and welcome differences in others.
  • Recognize their own cultural identity.
  • Seek opportunities to explore other cultures.
  • Readily handle the stressors of college life.
  • Develop emotional coping strategies.
  • Seek support from campus resources.


  • Manage money independently.
  • Recognize the costs of college.
  • Explore job and eight opportunities.


  • Engage in intellectual discussions period
  • Are open to new ideas, subject areas, and career choices.
  • Integrate new ideas into belief systems.
  • Join a club or organization.
  • Form supportive, healthy relationships.
  • Understand the impact of peer pressure.
  • Manage conflict in relationships.


Analysis Question

Which of the six areas of adjustment do you think will be the least challenging for you, and which do you think will be most challenging? What can you do now to prepare for the more challenging transitions?


What Students Say

  1. How confident are you that your high school and/or work experience have prepared you academically for college?
  2. When you experience a college-related challenge and are not really sure how to solve it, what best describes the action you’re likely to take?
  3. Rank the following in terms of how much stress you feel in these situations (First being the least amount of stress and last being the most amount of stress):
  • The amount of work required in all of my courses
  • The fact that I know hardly anyone
  • My ability to handle all of my obligations
  • Making good grades so I can continue to stay in college
  • My concern that I may not belong in college
  • All of the given situations are equally stressful

You can also take the anonymous What Students Say survey below.

Students offered their views on these questions, and the results are displayed in the graphs below.

How confident are you that your high school and/or work experience have prepared you academically for college?

Approximately 25% of students are extremely confident, 33% are confident, 37% are somewhat confident, and 5% are confident.When you experience a college-related challenge and are not really sure how to solve it, what best describes the action you’re likely to take?

About 36% will likely persevere, 19% will likely try to solve the problem before moving on, 20% will likely ask their friends, and 25% will likely seek help.

Rank the following in terms of how much stress you feel in these situations (1 being the least amount of stress and 6 being the most amount of stress). (Graph displays the percentage of students who ranked the choice highest, indicating the most amount of stress.)

From least to most stressful, majority of students ranked stressful tasks as hardly knowing anyone, not belonging in college, the amount of coursework required, ability to handle obligations, and making good grades to stay in college.


  • 1 Hazard, L., & Carter, S. (2018). A framework for helping families understand the college transition. E-Source for College Transitions, 16(1), 13-15.


Source: OpenStax College Success is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution License v4.0


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