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The following tips may be useful for students who have been out of school for a few years and who are eager to carve out a successful learning niche at a college or university campus:

1. Take the orientation route. This introductory segment may be offered in the form of a campus tour, an all-day training and awareness event, or even a credit course that stretches over an academic term. Find out what your campus offers and enroll in at least one of the available options. Not only will you learn something about the institution and auxiliary services, but you also will meet other returning students who also may feel a bit out of place. Forming new partnerships can strengthen your sense of belonging and allow several students to share skills and knowledge that will empower each member of the group.

2. Enroll in a study skills class. If your writing is rusty, for example, sign up for a basic writing course. Even if it does not offer course credit, brushing up on those all-important basic learning skills like reading, writing, or study habits will provide you with greater confidence and lead to acquaintances with peers who share your anxieties and your drive for success. Class members often form a cohort that draws them into additional or later classes. They often arrange to meet for study sessions or provide moral support to one another in the Learning Center, library, or student center, or even by taking turns hosting the group at members’ homes. Sometimes they go out for coffee and just vent over the latest chemistry quiz or the pending final exam.

3. Join a support group. Look for posted fliers advertising student organizations. These need not be for older students only, since joining an all-student group will bring you in contact with students of all ages. Look for an interest group instead. There may be a group for single parents, retirees, veterans, or another special group where you can feel at home and perhaps exchange suggestions or ideas. Sharing success stories and survival skills will help you adjust to classes and learn to master challenges as you become acclimated to campus life and schedule changes that might include a shift in job hours or childcare needs.

4. Find a study group. Several students can form a core group in a classroom where the subject matter is intimidating, such as “Anatomy and Physiology” for students pursuing medical careers or those in a German language class where correct pronunciation remains stubbornly elusive. If you are invited to join a study group, don’t hesitate—just do it! Small groups sometimes reserve a study room in the library or a dorm, or they may decide to meet at a local bookstore or coffee shop to practice exam questions for a test. You will feel more in control of the course material when you study with others at the same level outside the classroom rather than relying exclusively on your individual ability to master the material.

5. Start a group. If you can’t find the group you want or feel comfortable in, start your own! Post handwritten fliers in the students’ study areas on campus or in the dorms. Ask peers sitting near you in difficult classes if they would like to meet and go over the assignments. (Be sure to take adequate precautions against giving out personal information to strangers, however.) Look for students who appear to share your circumstances in the cafeteria who are studying alone and ask a question a b out homework; you may be invited to sit down for lengthier discussion. You could even approach the instructor or a guidance counselor for suggestions about how to find or start a study group.

Taking the initiative may be challenging, but you can step up to a leadership role that others will respect and turn to for assistance when you summon your courage by remembering that others may be looking for the same kind of help that you desire. In the process of getting the support you need, not only will you be addressing your personal concerns, but you may be able to help others who are feeling stranded in college life. You can even ask about a study or support group before classes begin , so don’t wait—find yours now and let the learning begin!


Debra Johanyak, Ph.D., is Professor of English at The University of Akron Wayne College where she teaches writing and literature. She has published numerous articles in publications such as Community College Week and Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education. Debra is also the author of Shakespeare’s World (Prentice Hall, 2004).

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