Transitioning to College

Transitioning to College


G. Emerson Dickman, J.D.

I once read a post apocalyptic novel where the survivors relied on technologies they could no longer reproduce for their survival, e.g., guns, refined fuels, canned foods. The hero of our story realized that the decline of civilization would be rapid and catastrophic unless it was arrested at a point where progress could be experienced. If I recall correctly, he started by introducing the making and shooting of bows and arrows as a game (such a skill was not yet necessary for survival). When society had declined to the point where such a skill was necessary, the decline was halted and progress was possible. This recollection got me thinking about the dilemma of the new college student with a learning disability. In high school people follow the student with a learning disability around introducing and making them use metacognitive skills that help them study, take notes, manage their time, and otherwise use the opportunities they have to learn productively and efficiently.

The problem occurs when they go to college and there is no one to “follow them around” and the skills that they were introduced to in high school have not become automatic. The decline is rapid and catastrophic. To be inevitably successful, the decline has to be arrested at a point before the opportunity for the college experience is lost and progress can be experienced.

The following is my version of the “bow and arrow” game in the form of a letter to the new college student:

Dear Jonathan;

For centuries parents have been trying to figure out what to say to their children when they leave home to face the world on their own. Shakespeare in Hamlet had a father say to his son when he was leaving for college; “This above all: to thine ownself be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

In the bible a son says when it is time for him to go out on his own; “When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.”

Rudyard Kipling said:

If you can dream–and not make dreams your master,
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

You are no longer a child, you are an adult, and we have always known that you had the strength to be true to yourself. Right now you are not as sure of the strengths you possess as we are. Trust in yourself and your instincts. The trick is not to turn your back on what you know to be the correct path. When you have that good idea or positive instinct (“I know I should, but..”) just do it, don’t wait until the “unforgiving minute” passes and your opportunities pass with it. Give yourself a chance to be happy, trust yourself and you won’t have any regrets – mistakes are inevitable, regrets are avoidable.

The enclosed paper contains the simple rules you need to follow to experience success in college.

You are about to start on a wonderful journey of discovery about yourself and the world around you, enjoy the trip and always know that we love you more than you will be able to imagine until the day that you have the privilege of having a wonderful child like you.

Love always;

Mom and Dad


During Class

  • Get to class early, never late.
  • Sit in front.
  • Take notes.
  • Get eye contact with the professor at least twice per class.
  • Dress to reflect the image to which the professor appears to relate.After Class
  • Review and rewrite notes (summarize in your own words). This is very very important!!
  • It is better to teach than to be taught (help someone else to study).
  • Take at least a half hour break before any test.

Always (Partially from Tessler, 1999)

  • Break each task down into smaller, manageable tasks.
  • Recognize the fact that only extra effort will get you the success
    that others achieve with less work.
  • Establish timetables that leave room for error and redoing, if necessary.
  • Anticipate and prepare for problems.

Keys to success

  • Initiative, don’t be afraid to try.
  • Persistence, don’t give up.
  • Resilience, if things don’t go as you would like, move on and don’t be afraid to try again. Failure is a teacher; if you are right all the time, you never learn anything.