College Life

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How freshmen fit in

Programs give students many opportunities to bond

By Linda Kulman

Scott Collins couldn't wait to go to college. That is, until his high school graduation in June, when he began to "get really, really scared" that he wouldn't make any friends at the University of Missouri-Columbia in the fall. "I thought I was going to spend all my time alone E-mailing my friends back home," Collins says.

Now the Raytown, Mo., sophomore concedes he need not have worried. Collins enrolled in a relatively new program at MU with 17 other freshmen, who took three to four classes together and lived in the same residence hall. Far from spending all his time alone, Collins and his fellow students sought one another out in their gargantuan lecture halls and pushed together tables in the cafeteria so they could sit 15 to 20 strong. "We called it traveling in packs," he says. "You really do connect because you have common interests."

The University of Missouri-Columbia is not the only school these days trying to allay the freshman jitters. Within the past decade, a majority of colleges and universities have designed programs to help first-year students take root. While the specifics vary, most of them–starting with orientation–help students make fast friends and connect quickly with upperclassmen and adults they can turn to for help or advice. At large institutions, where it can be easy for kids to get lost in the shuffle, many programs are intended to shrink the schools psychologically. Some institutions are coming up with new educational models, like the residential learning community Collins took part in, in the hope of making learning a 24-7 experience. And a growing number teach nuts-and-bolts skills, from time management to what to underline in a textbook. "The goal is not to wait until [students] are in trouble," says Karen Levin Coburn, assistant vice chancellor for students at Washington University in St. Louis and coauthor of Letting Go: A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years (HarperCollins, 1997, $13). "It's to try to take a more proactive, preventive approach. [Freshmen] need to be independent, but they are 18 years old, and they need safety nets."

Some institutions have always done a good job making freshmen feel at home. At the University of Notre Dame in Indiana,for instance, first-year students have long been greeted within minutes of pulling up to their new dorm by a swarm of upperclassmen who take the newcomer in hand and make quick work of the luggage. And for some 40 years, each of the eight residence halls at Rice University in Houston has had live-in faculty so that caring adults are integral to the everyday lives of students.

But now a number of forces are converging to inspire similar efforts at other schools. For one thing, boomer parents tend to be savvy consumers, and as tuition costs rise, so do expectations that the institution won't let Junior slip through the cracks. Also, interest in student attrition has picked up among university administrators. Only about 60 percent of students who start at four-year institutions earn a degree, and more than half of those who drop out don't make it to their sophomore year. Even if they leave later, says Vincent Tinto, author of Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition (University of Chicago Press, 1993, $25), their reasons typically have roots in their freshman year. As recruiting has grown more costly, it has become a financial imperative to hang on to the students who enroll. According to Noel-Levitz, a higher-education consulting firm specializing in student recruitment and retention, private institutions spent an average of $1,624 per student on recruitment in 1997, and four-year public institutions spent an average of $433.

Administrators also believe freshmen need a helping hand because college is more complicated to navigate than in past decades. In the 1950s and early '60s, for instance, the curriculum was not sliced into so many subdisciplines, and your peers were pretty much like the people you went to high school with. Schools acted in loco parentis, employing dorm mothers and curfews to keep behavior in check, and faculty tended to be more involved in their students' lives. Recent concern over binge drinking has given schools yet another impetus to provide students with alternative ways of socializing. "The student who feels connected is probably not the one who gets drunk every weekend," says Coburn. "We're not going back to in loco parentis, but, on the other hand, we do have to take more responsibility for student safety."

Breaking the ice. While falling in with a group of pals used to be largely a haphazard affair, now schools are more likely to barrage freshmen with opportunities to bond. Even before Michio Brunner, now 20, started orientation at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., the Manhattanite got a jump-start, meeting other freshmen on a canoe trip down the Colorado River. "You're nervous that everyone is going to be smarter than you," says Brunner. But somewhere between floating down the river and jumping off rocks, he realized, "Wow. You guys are just like me." When he returned to school, Brunner says he felt "almost like a sophomore looking at freshmen because I wasn't nervous at all."

Like Pomona, a growing number of schools are finding that camping trips help break the ice. Brian Kunz, assistant director of the outdoor programs office at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., which has been sponsoring pre-frosh trips since 1935, suggests that what helps students connect is the concentrated amount of time they spend together away from the distractions of phones, TVs, and other people. Also, he says, "The outdoors is unpredictable, so people are a little off balance and more open to the situation and each other." Ditto for the daylong community service projects more schools are offering as part of orientation. In these settings, starting a conversation with a fellow student "doesn't take a lot of social capital," says Gay Victoria, director of the Colorado College Center for Community Service in Colorado Springs.

Duke University in Durham, N.C., is trying another tactic to help freshmen feel that they belong. Five years ago, the school began housing its 1,600 first-year students on a separate part of the campus from upperclassmen. While skeptics argue that segregating the new kids only reinforces the "dazed and confused" aspect of being a freshman, sophomore Heather Oh doesn't see it that way. Coming from a high school class of 35, she says she felt "protected." Even going the 1½ miles on the bus to and from the main campus had its upside for her. "You would meet people," Oh says. At night, "that five-minute bus ride gave you the sense that you were going home."

Other schools are making architectural adjustments to foster a sense of community. At Bentley College outside Boston, senior Celeste Hopkins recalls that when she was a freshman, what is now the coffee shop filled with comfy chairs was just a parking lot. Hopkins studies in the coffee shop or arranges to meet friends there late at night. "It's homey," she says. "It brings students together."

Schools also are bolstering the role of academic advisers. At Washington University, for instance, students are offered not just one person to turn to but a whole web of support. Freshmen in the arts and sciences are assigned to an adviser they stay with for four years. Those advisees meet once a week during the first semester to discuss potential pitfalls like not getting enough sleep. The group also has an upperclassman, or "peer," adviser who plans social activities like pumpkin-carving in the country and functions as "a low-threshold person to approach," says Joel Anderson, an assistant dean and assistant philosophy professor who has been an adviser for the past three years. Sophomore Gilles Bissonnette, a varsity soccer player who is pre-med and a history major, found the multilayered system there eased his transition to college. "I played soccer and I worked hard in high school, and then when I got here I played more soccer and had to work harder," Bissonnette says. "It takes figuring out how to manage your time. There was no shortage of advice." Hoping to share with others what he's learned, Bissonnette has become a peer adviser this year.

University 101. At some schools, learning the ropes is a for-credit course. One of the most popular, called University 101, was founded at the University of South Carolina in the 1970s and has been adopted by colleges and universities around the country. The class teaches students a range of survival skills, from the educational, such as how to do research in the library–to broader life lessons, including how to practice safe sex. Julie Johnson, a sophomore at USC from Palestine, Texas, found some of the instruction useful–but not all. Although after the class she was more confident in the library, she felt that the alcohol-awareness part of the course already had been drilled into her in high school.

Even as schools extend a hand to freshmen socially and emotionally, they are working to help them connect academically. Washington University's Anderson asks his students to share one thing they've learned in a class each week with the group. "It's to establish that academics and intellectual life [are] part of the everyday experience," he says. "Very often, the dorm is [considered to be] an intellectual-free zone."

Learning communities like the one Scott Collins enrolled in at MU have gained in popularity over the past 15 years. At its most basic, a learning community is a cluster of courses, often linked by an interdisciplinary theme, that brings together a common group of students. But many schools are adding a residential component, too.

Students who participate in the program do better academically and are more involved in campus activities, say administrators. As a result, more are making it to their sophomore year. For the 30 percent of freshmen who participate in one of MU's learning communities the retention rate is about 90 percent, compared with 82 percent for students who aren't involved.

As successful as these innovative academic programs may be, plugging into school traditions also is key to helping students feel they belong. Notre Dame sophomore Katie Ostrowski believes that the spirit surrounding the "Fighting Irish" football team and the school's Catholic foundation help knit together the student body. Ostrowski, a nonfan when she enrolled, says now she wouldn't dream of missing a game. She enjoyed one of the theology classes all students are required to take because it helped her understand the history behind her faith. She feels at home with the school's Catholic mission. "I like that they are trying to instill morality in the students," she says.

Even at tradition-steeped Notre Dame, administrators have sought to fine-tune what works. One program they added recently is a series of retreats for freshmen to give first-year students an opportunity to reflect on their spirituality, goals, and relationships.

More schools are introducing rituals in the hope of instilling in students a stronger sense of loyalty to the institution and their class. Washington University, for instance, has begun a new ceremony that takes place following the opening-night convocation during orientation. Faculty decked out in academic robes and parents line the pathway to the main quad, each adult holding a glow stick. Freshmen walk the path–the only time the students and their parents come together until commencement, which is held in the same spot. The experience made a lasting impression on Liz Wetterhahn. Says the sophomore, "It pointed out to me that I was a college student, and no longer in high school."
Sharing a dorm room with a total stranger

Saying farewell to the single life

By Katherine T. Beddingfield

Getting along with a college roommate has never been easy–and it has become even harder. To understand why, it's necessary to know just one fact. Some 90 percent of freshmen now arrive on campus having never shared a bedroom, says Gary Schwarzmueller, executive director of the Association of College and University Housing Officers International. Twenty years ago, by contrast, only about 5 percent of freshmen had known such luxury. On this count, ''new freshmen are the most pampered and privileged ever,'' says Idaho State University's director of housing, Ronald Peterson.

These children of affluence are used to having their own phones, televisions, and even computers, and are unaccustomed to sharing their possessions. Yet when they get to college, they think nothing of using the cosmetics or clothing of roommates without asking permission. ''We're surprised by the common-sense things we have to tell them,'' says Ann Young, director of resident life at Centre College in Danville, Ky.

Brownie battle. Many of these freshmen have never had to master the art of compromise, so disputes that once would have been settled quietly in a dorm room are more likely to escalate into crises. Housing administrators find themselves grappling with spats over trivia, like one roommate eating the other's last home-baked brownie. ''They seem less prepared to deal with the everyday struggles,'' says Linda Franke, director of Housing and Residence Life at Santa Clara University in California. Many are quick to seek parental intervention when they encounter a balky roommate. ''Too often parents try to save their children,'' Franke says. She cites several recent incidents of parents calling the housing office–while their sons or daughters could be overheard in the background coaching them–and demanding that a roommate be moved for such offenses as staying up too late or being ''disrespectful'' toward their child. ''Not long ago, students would have been embarrassed to get their parents involved,'' Franke reports.

To settle conflicts, some campuses such as the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Pittsburgh have turned to mediation programs, which bring adversaries face to face with each other and an administrator. At Duquesne University, residence hall staff members have begun using a CD-ROM developed by a Carnegie Mellon University researcher to learn how to help students keep their tempers under control. The interactive software presents disputes between roommates over matters like noise and romance. Listeners suggest solutions and learn whether their ideas will soothe or increase hostilities. But the technology can only do so much. Ultimately, students must learn how to cope with each other. ''Listening, talking, and having patience with one another are the keys to surviving the first year away from home,'' says Christine Hollow, associate director of residential programs at the University of Dayton.

In an effort to avoid roommate conflicts and enjoy the kind of living situation they left behind, growing numbers of freshmen pay as much as 50 percent extra for a single room. Schools from Cornell University in New York to Texas A&M report that demand for singles is surging. Vanderbilt University recently reconfigured several residence halls to accommodate 45 percent of its freshmen in single rooms.

Isolation. But Vanderbilt is an exception. On many campuses, swollen enrollments have created a space squeeze, and building new dorms or renovating old ones costs too much. Even where singles are available for freshmen, housing experts are concerned about first-year students living by themselves. At the University of Nebraska-Kearney, the price of single rooms has risen 48 percent over the past five years, not to take advantage of demand but as a disincentive for freshmen to choose that option. The strategy has paid off; each time the campus edges the price up, freshman demand levels off. ''We've found that putting freshmen in a single room is ill advised; such students disproportionately have troubles adjusting to college,'' says Dean Bresciani, director of residential and Greek life.

Not all students who end up in singles have adjustment problems. Although she did not ask to live by herself, Stanford University sophomore Dana Gunders found herself in a single when she arrived on campus as a freshman last year. The 19-year-old Cos Cob, Conn., resident was disappointed ''for about a day.'' An extrovert by nature, she quickly turned her corner dormitory room into ''party central,'' a place where others in her residence hall enjoy hanging out.

Gunders ended up in a single in part because she had indicated in a questionnaire sent to incoming freshmen that she would be having lots of guests. She wanted to make sure that she didn't get stuck with a roommate who would be bothered when she had friends over. By giving her a single room, the university avoided any potential squabbles.

But unlike Gunders, freshmen are more likely to find themselves in a double or a triple. Most schools try to match roommates based on their answers to questions about personal behavior such as their sleeping patterns, neatness, and smoking habits. Eastern College in Philadelphia has boiled its survey down to three simple questions: Are you a day or a night person? Is it important for you to keep your room very neat? What do you plan to do with your spare time?

Mismatch. Compatible answers on a survey do not guarantee personal compatibility, however. After the first phone call with his soon-to-be freshman roommate at California's Santa Clara University, Aaron Weast wondered how they could have been matched up. Weast liked to play tennis; his roommate preferred to sit around. Weast is a bug about neatness; his roommate was always messy. Before long, the 20-year-old junior from West Linn, Ore., was spending only a few hours a day in his room and sleeping elsewhere when hallmates had an empty bed for a night. ''We were just very different people,'' says Weast, who eventually moved out.

Some matches are undermined by students who answer the housing survey dishonestly. For example, smokers have sometimes checked the nonsmoking box because, even though they might light up occasionally, they don't want to live with a smoker. Nonsmokers complaining of smoke on their roommate's clothes became such a volatile issue at Santa Clara that the housing questionnaire was revised to include a new option: I am a smoker but want to live in a nonsmoking room.

Misguided parental advice on how to fill out a survey can also contribute to mismatches. Santa Clara's Franke recalls a particularly protracted battle over tidiness. The housing office consulted the original questionnaire and realized that a sloppy student had checked ''neat and clean'' for his room preference. When questioned about that, he confessed that his parents had suggested the idea. What he hadn't learned at home, they felt, he would absorb if placed with a tidy roommate.

Freshmen expecting to find a best friend for life in a new roommate are likely to be disappointed. More often than not, freshman roommates, including those who have had to learn to share a room for the first time, muddle through: a few fights, a few fond memories, and then they go their separate ways.

But some pairings work out. Angie Sanfilippo and Amy Locatelli, recent graduates of Santa Clara, were freshman roommates and remain best friends. Sanfilippo, 21, and Locatelli, 22, both came from large families, where they had to cope with conflicts and learned to overcome the minor ones that arose between them. The housing questionnaire probably helped in placing the two together, but they also credit serendipity. ''We shared so many of the same fears and anxieties in the beginning,'' says Sanfilippo, ''we just clicked.'
Living in the lap of luxury

You might get a suite with a dishwasher and a fireplace

By David L. Marcus

The old, the new, and the not-so-new coexist at the University of Florida. The old, Buckman Hall, is a dorm built in 1906 with red-tile roofs and gargoyles and no air conditioning. Graham Hall, the not-so-new, is a cinder-block hall from the 1960s where every room has two beds, two desks, two small closets, and windows that crank open. Residence Hall 2000, when it is completed next year, will feature suites with private bedrooms, kitchenettes, living rooms, ceiling fans, cable TV connections, Ethernet ports, electronic key cards–and central air conditioning. The plans also call for a swimming pool out back.

From UCLA to Northeastern in Boston, colleges are in the midst of a building boom–and the residence halls they're putting up will probably surprise your parents. The spartan "big box'' complexes with cookie-cutter rooms that sprouted during the 1950s, '60s, and '70s just do not meet the demands of the baby boomers' children, who grew up in smaller families and with more stuff. "Students come with a different set of needs and expectations than ever before,'' says economist Thomas Hier of Biddison Hier Ltd., a consulting firm in Washington, D.C., that redesigns campuses. "They want to feel at home." Partly inspired by intense competition for qualified applicants and partly by the need to accommodate a student population that will grow by 10 percent in the next decade, the race is on to open housing packed with the expected amenities.

Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., has spent more than $6 million on its new residence hall for upperclassmen, Rooms with a view.opening this fall, where every suite is equipped with the conveniences of Mom and Dad's place, from ice makers to dishwashers. Balconies look out over Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico; the school's marina is just 300 feet away. Colorado College's Western Ridge complex, scheduled to open in 2001, will feature studio and loft apartments, an outdoor cafe, and views of Pikes Peak. At Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., a $10.4 million housing complex includes "stress-free zones'' stocked with Lincoln Logs and finger paints for relief during exams.

Feeling "at home" generally means having a private bedroom, where all the necessary electronic gear fits comfortably. Sharon Blansett, assistant director of housing at the University of Florida, grew up with four siblings and always doubled up; her own two children–and the vast majority of UF students she places–have entirely different experiences. "I used to ask the question: 'How many of you have shared a room?' but I don't bother asking anymore," says Susan Kitchen, vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of North Carolina, which is planning to add several all-suite residence halls. And space is no longer a luxury. Even many full-scholarship students bring along their own CD and DVD players, desktop computers, color printers, scanners, televisions, and VCRs, not to mention the bikes and the skis. At Boston University, the average double room built 30 years ago had 90 square feet of living space for each student; contractors are finishing a residence hall with an average of 260 square feet per student. When common space for computer labs, study groups, and receptions is counted, the total comes to 320 square feet per student. Most rooms now are wired for multiple phone lines, direct Internet connections, and cable TV.

Even as the new designs honor students' desire for privacy, they're intended to foster a sense of community, both intellectual and social. "We all want our own space, but we want to feel part of something bigger as well," says Steven Hoffner, assistant vice chancellor at Washington University in St. Louis, which is tearing down two 12-story residential towers and replacing them with four-story brick-and-wood structures with doubles for freshmen and suites for older students. In the age of the Internet and of "distance learning,'' traditional colleges are looking for ways to replicate the 24-hour-a-day discussions, debates, and friendships that often spring up online, while adding the richness of human contact that computers can't provide. Thus, the new dorms are "living and learning" centers; many adjoin classrooms, faculty apartments, and quarters for visiting scholars. Allyson Carter, who just finished her freshman year at Merrimack College, was dazzled by the math tutorials, meditation classes, and nighttime aerobics sessions available in her brand-new dorm. "You never felt left out," she says. "It's not like high school, with all those cliques.'' Besides promoting learning, college officials hope the facilities will entice upperclassmen to live on campus; one aim is to cut down on off-campus carousing.

Many schools have decided that out-of-the-classroom education can be enhanced by grouping students with the same interests. After talks with students revealed a strong desire to continue classroom discussions into the night, administrators at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., seven years ago began creating small, inviting, "theme cottages'' and remodeling 30-year-old residences to place Spanish-language majors together, for example. In the fall of 2000, the school will open an art students' dorm with a theater and studios.

"We want to help students grow their social life out of their work life, to spend more time collaborating with each other and learning from each other and less time in traditional partying and drinking,'' says SLU President Daniel Sullivan. Other schools want students with different interests to learn from each other. At Bates College in Maine, for example, architect William Rawn ringed three residence halls around an adjoining conical-shaped building that is used for lectures during the day. At night, it comes alive with theater and poetry readings that attract students from a wide variety of disciplines.

Costly beds. The luxurious housing is an enormous investment, but administrators claim they've been able to avoid big increases in student housing fees because of ultralow interest rates and generous donations from alumni. At Washington University in St. Louis, where the suites feature full kitchens and fireplaces, the construction cost is $36,000 per bed; housing fees are increasing 5 percent a year. Bowdoin College is spending $57,000 per bed on its new dorm, while holding room and board increases to 2 percent. Both schools say they are subsidizing the housing in order to attract top students and will continue to do so. Eckerd College expects to cover much of its costs by renting its bay-view suites to sports camps and corporate clients in the summer. A growing number of colleges also avoid headaches and hold down costs by having private developers build and manage residence halls.

How good are your chances of ending up in a 21st-century dorm? In most cases, freshmen get the older rooms at the heart of campus, while lotteries determine which upperclassmen will live in the luxurious projects. When Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., opened a dorm with views of Lake Michigan and a private beach last year, the campus paper reported that the woman with the first pick was offered $3,000 for her lottery number. She turned it down.
What it means to go Greek

The Greek system gets a makeover

By Lewis Lord

When he arrived at Ohio State in 1995 as one of nearly 5,800 freshmen, Dave Diffendal felt lost. ''I didn't have any friends,'' he recalls. ''I was having a heck of a time meeting people.'' But the Pittsburgh native soon became a pledge of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and now, as a 19-year-old junior, he is chapter president. These days, when he crosses the mammoth campus, he greets a long string of acquaintances by name. Every evening when he joins a dozen or so fraternity members for dinner at the Sig Ep house, he feels ''a real sense of brotherhood.'' For Diffendal, Greek life has made a big university seem ''a lot smaller.''

Jenny Nelson's experience as an Ohio State freshman was totally different. A self-styled Army brat who had attended three high schools, she felt at home on the Columbus campus the moment she arrived. At orientation, she listened skeptically as young women praised sorority life: ''They said, 'It's a great social scene. You get T-shirts for being at parties.' I decided I could do without that.'' Instead, she made friends in her dormitory and immersed herself in its dorm council, which sets rules and organizes programs for the residence hall. A year later, she ran successfully for vice president of the student body. Now, the 22-year-old senior spends several hours a week in a volunteer program revitalizing neighborhoods near the campus, works part time at a local Gap, and excels as an honors student majoring in English and nutrition. Greek life ''is good for some people,'' she says, ''but I never felt that I missed out.''

Increasingly, college students are coming to the same conclusion Nelson reached. After rising sharply for two decades, membership in Greek organizations has leveled off, even though total college enrollment keeps rising. In the 1996-97 academic year, barely 6 percent of the 12.5 million undergraduates at four-year colleges and universities were part of the Greek system: 400,000 men and just over 300,000 women.

Fraternities in particular have suffered. The University of Texas, Austin, for example, has experienced a ''rush recession''–a 29 percent drop in fraternity recruits since 1990. Nationally, the average undergraduate fraternity chapter shrank from 51 to 38 members between 1989 and 1996.

''Toga! Toga!'' A major reason for the slump is that the reckless-drinking culture glorified in the movie National Lampoon's Animal House has fallen out of favor with career-minded students bent on making good grades and campus administrators determined to restore order. An assessment of Greek life from the vice president for student affairs at the University of Maryland–College Park sums up the problem: ''Behavior that ranges from disruptive and antisocial to, at times, violent and destructive inhibits the positive aspects of chapter membership.'' In the past 20 years, hazing incidents have killed more than a score of fraternity members. Many more have been hurt. ''People think we are drinking clubs,'' says Jonathan Brant, executive vice president of the National Interfraternity Conference, which includes 64 national fraternities. ''We don't want to be perceived that way. The only way we will accomplish that is to substantively change our behavior.''

Grudging change began 10 years ago, when nearly every state lifted its legal drinking age to 21. Later, in the wake of deaths caused by hazing and heavy drinking, most national fraternities created guidelines for behavior in hopes of curbing the soaring cost of liability insurance. In addition, colleges are starting to demand that Greeks become better students and better citizens or risk losing their party privileges or even their charters.

As a result, the frat slogan of the '80s–''Party hearty!''–is giving way to a '90s lament: ''Party hardly.'' Banished from sight are the kegs of beer that fueled an era of fraternity-row blowouts. What's common at frat parties today is a security team at the front door checking IDs and dispensing OK-to-drink wristbands to partygoers 21 and over. Members and guests typically bring their own beer, in cans, and register it at a bar, where a record is kept of each person's consumption.

Going dry. Two national fraternities are moving toward a rule that sororities have always had: no alcohol in the chapter house. Phi Delta Theta and Sigma Nu have banned chapter-house drinking effective July 1, 2000, even among men 21 or over. Other fraternities are likely to follow their lead. But, as the NIC's Brant notes, ''guys like doing things with women, and women say they go to fraternity houses because there is alcohol. The men are scared to death that removing alcohol from their houses will eliminate the opportunity to meet with women.'' It will take the help of sorority women, Brant says, ''to convince the men that it is OK to move to substance-free housing.''

Fraternity and sorority members are quick to note that non-Greeks drink a lot, too. Some non-Greek men at Ohio State say they prefer to remain independent because fraternities now have too many drinking rules. But one study faults the Greeks. A 1995 Harvard School of Public Health survey of 17,000 students at 140 colleges found that 86 percent of fraternity-house residents engaged in binge drinking–defined as five or more drinks in a row, one or more times in a two-week period–compared with 45 percent of non-Greek men. Similarly, 80 percent of sorority-house residents reported going on drinking binges–defined for women as four or more drinks–compared with only 35 percent of non-Greek women.

Turning loose. The Greek system's woes date from the early '70s when the student-rights movement of the Vietnam era made passé the notion that college was a substitute for parents. At about the same time, the legal drinking age was lowered from 21 to 18 in a number of states. Campus rules governing students' personal lives virtually vanished. Fraternities set up bars and fired the housemothers who had insisted on a modicum of propriety (sororities kept theirs). ''After the 1970s,'' notes Brant, ''we attracted more and more people who were casually interested in scholarship and more interested in partying.''

Now, national Greek leaders, striving to refurbish the image of their institutions, are putting new emphasis not just on turning away from alcohol but on the ideal of academic excellence. The National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), the umbrella group for 26 national sororities, proclaimed 1997 the ''Year of the Scholar.'' During their rushes, many sororities are being urged to talk as much about grades as about social events. ''There is a lot more interest now in attracting women who are in college to compete with the male, to get a job, to go to graduate school,'' says Jean Scott, NPC's chairwoman.

Academically, fraternities are in worse shape than sororities. On most campuses, sorority members' grade-point average exceeds that of all women. At two thirds of colleges with fraternities, by contrast, the average GPA of frat members is lower than the average for all male undergraduates.

A commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education argues that Greek membership ''has a negative influence on intellectual development.'' One of the authors, Ernest Pascarella, a professor of higher education at the University of Illinois, Chicago, tested Greek and non-Greek students at 18 colleges at the beginning and end of a school year to see how much they had learned. He found that fraternity members' cognitive skills such as reading comprehension improved 7.7 percent less than did those of non-Greek men. The lag was worse in critical thinking: 10.6 percent. The intellectual development of sorority members also was less than that of non-Greek women, but the differences were not as pronounced.

Peer impact. Yet the fraternity or sorority a student joins can help, as well as hurt, the student's grades. Ron Binder, dean of Greek affairs at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, whose doctoral dissertation examined the factors that shape the first-year GPA of fraternity members, found that the three significant variables were the student's SAT score, the chapter's GPA, and the academic degree to which the student aspired. ''If the chapter has high grades, the student's grade will go up,'' Binder says. ''But if he joins a group where people don't give a flip about scholarship, his grades go down.'' At UNC–Chapel Hill, Greek GPAs top those of non-Greeks.

At Ohio Wesleyan, another campus where Greeks make the better grades, president Thomas Courtice proudly displays the Beta Theta Pi shaving mug passed down by his grandfather, the president of the class of 1905. Fraternity members long ago had a ''seriousness of purpose,'' Courtice says, and it's returning. He cites the service activities of Ohio Wesleyan's Greeks–from tutoring grade-school kids to building houses for Habitat for Humanity.

Nationwide, Greek groups make a habit of helping others–and nearly every college administration urges that they help even more. One way that Dave Diffendal made friends at Ohio State was to lead Greek Week's campuswide blood drive. And the sorority talks at Ohio State orientation today, unlike the one Jenny Nelson heard as a freshman, are likely to deal less with party T-shirts and more with gathering canned goods for the poor and funding shelters for battered women.

Some educators believe fraternities and sororities will exist as long as young people feel an urge to bond together in small groups. But the organizations with the best chances of thriving, says Ohio Wesleyan's Courtice, are those that change the most to meet the needs of ''the more successful student.'' That's the student who comes to college to get an education.
The cheating game

'Everyone's doing it,' from grade school to graduate school

By Carolyn Kleiner and Mary Lord

Umpteen pages to plow through for honors English, anatomy, and U.S. history. . . . Geometry problems galore . . . . It was a typical weeknight for high school sophomore Leah Solowsky. Before tackling her first assignment–a Spanish essay on healthy eating–the honor-roll student logged on to her computer to chat with pals. Suddenly, it hit her: Perhaps she could download some of her workload.

Solowsky cruised to the AltaVista search engine, clicked on "Spanish," and typed in "la dieta." Fifteen minutes later, she had everything she needed to know about fruits, vegetables, and grains–all in flawless español. She quickly retyped the information and handed in her paper the next day. "I had a ton of homework, I wasn't doing that well in the class, and I felt, hey, this is one way to boost my grade," explains Solowsky, now a junior with a B-plus average at the highly competitive Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami. "I didn't think it was cheating because I didn't even stop to think about it."

Every day across America, millions of students from middle school to medical school face similar ethical quandaries–and research indicates that most choose to cheat. In a recent survey conducted by Who's Who Among American High School Students, 80 percent of high-achieving high schoolers admitted to having cheated at least once; half said they did not believe cheating was necessarily wrong–and 95 percent of the cheaters said they have never been caught. According to the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University, three quarters of college students confess to cheating at least once. And a new U.S. News poll found 90 percent of college kids believe cheaters never pay the price.*

Crib sheets and copying answers are nothing new, of course. What's changed, experts maintain, is the scope of the problem: the technology that opens new avenues to cheat, students' boldness in using it, and the erosion of conscience at every level of education. "I'm scared to death," says Emporia State University psychology Prof. Stephen Davis, who recently expanded his study of cheating to graduate students–including those in medical school. "I hope I never get a brain disease."

Cheating arts. Academic fraud has never been easier. Students can tamper electronically with grade records, transmit quiz answers via pager or cell phone, and lift term papers from hundreds of Web sites. At the same time, an overload of homework combined with intense pressure to excel in school, from hard-driving peers and parents, makes cheating easy to justify–and hard to resist. Valedictorians are as likely to cheat as laggards, and girls have closed the gap with boys. In fact, the only thing that makes Leah Solowsky's case unusual is that she got caught–earning a zero on her Spanish paper and getting barred from the National Honor Society.

Sissela Bok, author of Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, suspects part of the problem may be that "people are very confused [about] what is meant by cheating." When does taking information off the Internet constitute research, and when is it plagiarism? Where does collaboration end and collusion begin? The rules just aren't that clear, particularly given the growing number of schools that stress teamwork. The result: widespread homework copying among students and a proliferation of sophisticated sixth-grade science projects and exquisitely crafted college applications that bear the distinct stamp of parental "involvement."

Most alarming to researchers is the pervasiveness of cheating among adolescents. What begins as penny-ante dishonesty in elementary school–stealing Pokémon cards or glancing at a neighbor's spelling test–snowballs into more serious cheating in middle and high school, as enrollments swell and students start moving from class to class, teacher to teacher. Professor Davis, who has gathered data on more than 17,000 students, notes that 50 years ago, only about 1 in 5 college students admitted to having cheated in high school. Today, a range of studies shows that figure has exploded, to anywhere from three quarters of students to an astonishing 98 percent.

Sam, a junior at the University of Alabama, can barely recall the first time he cheated. He thinks it must have started back in middle school, copying the occasional math assignment or printing a key formula on his forearm. (Like other current cheaters quoted in this article, Sam asked that his real name be withheld.) A decade later he is still at it, most recently lifting a paper on post-Civil War racism off the Internet. "I realize that it's wrong, but I don't feel bad about it, either, partly because I know everyone else is doing it," says Sam in a deep Southern drawl. "If I ever stole a test or something to that degree, I'd feel guilty. But just getting a couple of answers here and there doesn't bother me."

Competition for admission to elite colleges has transformed the high school years into a high-stakes race where top students compete for a spot on the sweet end of the curve. It has also spawned a new breed of perpetrator: the smart cheater. In the Who's Who survey, the country's top juniors and seniors talked about copying homework, plagiarizing, or otherwise cheating their way to the head of the class. "Grades are so important to these kids," sighs RevaBeth Russell, an advanced-placement biology teacher at Lehi High School in Utah, who has seen copying incidents skyrocket as collegebound students from prosperous families settle in the rural area.

What's going on. The notion that schools are awash with cheaters doesn't always square with what administrators say goes on in their classrooms and corridors. "My goodness, the students are 12-, 13-, 14-year-old kids, and sometimes they make a bad decision," says Gary McGuigan, principal of the H. E. Huntington Middle School in San Marino, Calif. "But [cheating] isn't rampant." Sunny Hills High School in nearby Fullerton weathered two major cheating scandals in two years involving more than a dozen honor-roll students, yet principal Loring Davies insists these are "isolated" incidents.

But in scores of interviews in a cross section of communities nationwide, students gave U.S. News a strikingly different reading of the situation. "We all know that cheating is cheating, and we shouldn't do it," says Melissa, a student at Duke University. "But there are times that you cheat because there aren't enough hours in the day." Case in point: last month, Melissa found herself with a computer programming assignment due in a few hours–and several hours of driving to do at the same time. So she had a friend copy his program and turn it in for her. "It's not a big deal because it's just a mindless assignment," rationalizes Melissa. "It's not a final or a midterm. I mean, I understood how to do it; I just didn't have the time."

Most distressing to teachers is the way plagiarism, copying, and similar deceits devalue learning. "We're somehow not able to convince them of the importance of the process," laments Connie Eberly, an English teacher at J. I. Case High School in Racine, Wis. "It's the product that counts." For too many students and their parents, getting that diploma–that scholarship, that grant–is more important than acquiring knowledge. "I'm just trying to do everything I can do to get through this school," acknowledges Brad, a junior at an exclusive Northeastern boarding school and a veritable encyclopedia of cheating tips. (Feign illness on test days and get the questions from classmates before taking a makeup exam. Answer multiple-choice questions with 'c'–a letter that can easily be altered and submitted for a regrade.) "If this is the only way to do it, so be it," he says.

The pressure to succeed, particularly on high-stakes tests, can drive students to consider extreme measures. Two months ago, nothing mattered more to Manuel than doing well on the SAT. "If your score is high, then you get into [a good school] and scholarships come to you," explains the high school senior from Houston, who is going to have to cover half of his college expenses himself. "If not, then you go to some community college, make little money, and end up doing nothing important the rest of your life." Desperate for a competitive edge, he started poking around the Net and soon stumbled upon an out-of-the-way message board where students bragged about snagging copies of the test. Manuel posted his own note, begging for help; he says he got a reply offering a faxed copy of the exam for $150 but ultimately chickened out.

While crib notes and other time-honored techniques have yet to go out of style, advanced technology is giving slackers a new edge. The Internet provides seemingly endless opportunities for cheating, from online term-paper mills to chat rooms where students can swap science projects and math solutions. They also share test questions via E-mail between classes and hack into school mainframes to alter transcripts; they use cell phones to dial multiple-choice answers into alphanumeric pagers (1C2A3D) and store everything from algebra formulas to notes on Jane Eyre in cutting-edge calculators. Some devices even have infrared capabilities, allowing students to zap information across a classroom. "I get the sense there's a thrill to it, that 'my teachers are too dumb to catch me,' " says English teacher Eberly.

Cram artists. As the stakes rise–from acing spelling tests, say, to slam-dunking the SAT–so does the complexity of the scam. "It's a constant race to keep up with what people are doing," says Gregg Colton, a Florida private investigator who serves as a security consultant for a dozen licensure and testing organizations. His biggest concern is "cram schools" that charge test takers hundreds to thousands of dollars for the chance to study a dubiously obtained copy of an exam in advance. In one notorious case, a California man sold answer-encoded pencils to hundreds of students taking graduate school entrance exams for up to $9,000 a pop; ringers had sat for the test in New York, then phoned the results across the country, aided by a three-hour time difference.

Reasonably priced surveillance equipment, including hidden cameras and tape recorders, is taking cheating to a whole new level. Colton cites numerous cases in which video cameras roughly the size of a quarter were hidden in a test taker's tie (or watch or jacket) and used to send information to an outside expert, who quickly compiled answers and called them back into a silent pager. "If [students] spent as much time on their studies as they do on cheating, we'd be graduating rocket scientists all over the place," says Larry McCandless, a science teacher at Hardee Junior High in Wauchula, Fla., who recently caught his students using sign language to signal test answers to each other.

If students do spend homeroom copying assignments from one another, it may be because schools send such mixed messages about what, exactly, constitutes crossing the line. Mark, a senior at a Northeastern boarding school, doesn't believe that doing homework with a friend–or a family member–is ever dishonest and blames the people at the head of the classroom for any confusion over collaboration. "I mean, some of my teachers say you can't do it, some say two minds are greater than one," he explains, breaking into a laugh. "I obviously agree with the latter."

He isn't the only one. In a new study of 500 middle and high school students, Rutgers University management Prof. Donald McCabe, a leading authority on academic dishonesty, found that only one third said doing work with classmates was cheating, and just half thought it was wrong for parents to do their homework. So where, exactly, does teamwork end and cheating begin? It's not always that clear, even for grown-ups. According to the U.S. News poll, 20 percent of adults thought that doing homework for a child was fair. It's no wonder that teachers see students of every age handing in essays that contain words they can't pronounce, much less define.

Sue Bigg, a college consultant outside Chicago, often sees the hand of pushy parents. "I am beginning to think of myself in the role of 'integrity police'," she says, relating countless stories of college application essays that have been "edited" by Mom or Dad–and often for the worse, as big words replace any shred of youthful personality. "I'm afraid a lot of this cheating comes from home, where the parents' modus operandi is success at any cost." Edit-happy adults are part of the reason why schools across the country are having students do much of their writing in class nowadays. (It also prevents them from pulling papers off the Web.)

Parents who complete the bulk of their children's work often frustrate those with a more hands-off approach. "It all begins with the Pinewood Derby," grumbles Christopher Hardwick, a father of four from Philadelphia, who confesses to doing his "fair share of putting toothpicks into Styrofoam" for soap-box derbies and science projects. But Margaret Sagarese understands why parents are tempted to meddle. "You do feel caught between a rock and a hard place," says Sagarese, who lives in Islip, N.Y. "You're trying to do the right thing, and yet you know your child is going to lose, because [other classmates'] parents are doing the work."

The U.S. News poll found that 1 in 4 adults believes he has to lie and cheat to get ahead, and it seems this mentality is communicated to children. "Students see adults–parents, businessmen, lawyers–violating ethical standards and receiving a slap on the wrist, if anything, and quickly conclude that if that's acceptable behavior in the larger society, what's wrong with a little cheating in high school or college?" says Rutgers Professor McCabe. "Too often the messages from parents and teachers come off as, 'You need to do everything you can, at all costs, to get to the top.' You never see any gratification for being a good person anymore," says Audrey James, a senior at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham. "Once you get to high school, it's all about who has the grades and who's going to get the most scholarships."

Teaching cheating? Some blame schools, not parents or students, for the cheating epidemic. "We should look at the way we run our institutions and the way those institutions tolerate, or at the very least, make cheating easy," says Theodore Sizer, a longtime educator and coauthor of The Students Are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract, citing teachers with too large classes and too little time to get to know students or to create new assignments that cannot be pulled off the Internet.

Sometimes the schools are directly responsible. In the midst of March Madness last spring, a former tutor for the University of Minnesota revealed that she had written 400 papers for 20 basketball players between 1993 and 1998; four athletes were suspended, and the team was upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament. "You can talk to any academic adviser [for a sports program], and they will tell you that there have been times when coaches have put pressure on them to do anything it takes to keep an athlete eligible," says Richard Lapchick, director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University. He claims that in the past year alone, he has counseled tutors and former players at six different schools to report cheating, only to have every athletic director–and one college president–investigate and deny there was a problem.

It's clear that when students really care about learning, they're much less likely to cheat. Take Bob Corbett, for example. Though he details his years of making cheat sheets and paying people to take his AP exams in The Cheater's Handbook: The Naughty Student's Bible, Corbett insists that he never cheated in any subject he really cared about or in classes with inspiring instructors. In fact, he dedicated his book to the 11th-grade teacher who "did such a wonderfully engaging job that he destroyed any shred of desire I may ever have had to cheat in English thereafter. . . ."

Still, the temptation is great. Prof. Gregory Cizek was inspired to write Cheating on Tests: How to Do It, Detect It, and Prevent It, after he caught three of his education graduate students in a clear-cut case of academic fraud a few years back; the would-be teachers apparently broke into his office, stole a copy of a final exam, collaborated, and then subbed pages of prewritten work into their tests.

The same standardized exams that drive students to do whatever it takes to gain an edge also push teachers–whose job security or salary can be linked to student performance–to do the unthinkable. This summer, for example, the Houston Independent School District demanded the resignations of a principal and three teachers after a nine-month probe turned up evidence of instructors giving oral prompting during the state achievement test and then using answer keys to correct students' responses, among other offenses.

Most cheaters don't get caught. In fact, perhaps the major reason students cheat is that they get away with it, time and time again. Numerous studies say that students almost never squeal on a classmate who cheats. And most instructors just don't want to play cop. "I'm not here to prevent students from cheating," says Robert Corless, an applied mathematics professor at the University of Western Ontario who eliminated take-home exams a few years ago after he caught students collaborating on them. "I'm here to help the genuine learners catch fire." He'll close off the easy routes, but that's about it. "Spending my time listening to appeals or accusations of cheating is not my idea of spending it well."

Procedures are the least of the hassles encountered by those who pursue cheating cases. It can be complicated, time consuming, futile, and–in the worst-case scenario–litigious. Science teacher McCand- less says he feared a lawsuit when one mother berated him for damaging her daughter's self-esteem; she felt he should have waited until after a test to chastise the girl for cheating. And although legal action is rare, teachers at both the K-12 and higher-education levels say it makes them wary about pursuing cheaters. John Hill, a professor of law at St. Thomas University in Florida, actually landed in court. His house was egged and his students hissed at him. And all because he charged a student whose brilliant report for a course on legal ethics was practically identical to a Stanford Law Review article. (She contends she mistakenly turned in an early draft.) The university honor society narrowly convicted her and meted out a token punishment. Now graduated, she is suing Hill and the university for "loss of ability to obtain a job as an attorney," among other complaints.

It's early on November 6, SAT day, and Ray Nicosia is on the prowl. The director of test security for the Educational Testing Service, Nicosia is making the rounds at a high school test center that has had a string of recent security problems, to guarantee things go smoothly this time–or take steps to shut the site down. He cruises the corridors, a vision of calm amid the throngs of edgy students, and runs through a mental checklist: He verifies that test booklets are kept in a secure storage area, far away from the probing eyes–and fingers–of students, until the very last minute. He glances in classrooms, making sure that proctors follow the rules, checking and double-checking valid forms of identification, randomly assigning students to desks at least 4 feet apart, filling out a seating chart (a permanent record of who sat next to whom), and then strolling about the room during the exam, searching out wandering eyes and other suspicious activity.

To combat a scourge some deem as pernicious as underage drinking, educators are implementing such countermeasures as character education programs, honor codes, and strict academic integrity policies. "I'm not saying it's impossible to cheat, but we're taking a lot of steps to secure our tests," says Nicosia. In recent years, ETS, which administers some 11 million standardized tests a year and questions less than 1 percent of scores, has boosted prevention efforts, aiming to thwart impersonators, thieves, and copycats either before or during the act. Even the simplest precautions, from better training for proctors to a free hotline for reporting shady activity, can make a huge difference. In 1996, for example, ETS began shrink-wrapping the essay section of Advanced Placement exams, to stop students from sneaking a look during the first part of the test; peeking is now virtually nonexistent.

Fighting back. Low-tech tactics work in the classroom, too. In a 1998 study conducted at two public colleges, Oregon State University economics Prof. Joe Kerkvliet found that students were 31 percent more likely to cheat in courses taught by teaching assistants–graduate students or adjunct professors–than those taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty. (Typically, 1 in 8 students will cheat on at least one exam in any given class.) By offering multiple versions of the same test, so students can't share answers with friends in different sections, adding extra proctors, and giving verbal warnings that cheaters will be punished, Kerkvliet has reduced cheating in his classes to practically zero.

Just talking about the problem can be enough to stop it. Sohair Ahmadi used to regularly cut corners back in the ninth and 10th grades–trading test answers in biology, copying homework like mad–and no one seemed to care. In her junior year, she switched schools, to the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, where teachers discuss academic integrity from the outset, outlining why it's important and detailing a laundry list of unacceptable behaviors. "They make it clear that cheating will not be tolerated," says Ahmadi, 18, who not only shed her habit but now heads a committee dedicated to starting a school honor code.

High-tech countermeasures are also on the rise. From the moment a student walks into ETS's computer-based testing center at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., for example, it's clear that Big Brother is watching. A digital camera stands in one corner, ready to snap a test-day photo for posterity; five video cameras record each student's every move; the 15 computers run customized exams, with the order and type of questions determined by a test taker's previous answers. At the moment, ETS is working toward adding a biometric scan (using, say, thumbprints to identify students) to the check-in process.

Make 'em pay. The biggest stumbling block, however, may be that when cheaters do get busted the penalties are rarely harsh. Last year, for instance, the valedictorian at Brea Olinda High School in Southern California was caught electronically altering a course grade. His punishment: being banned from the graduation ceremony. Cheat on the SAT and your score will be canceled; but you can take a retest. It's often true that getting caught cheating "doesn't have the terrifically terrible college ramifications you might think," says Don Firke, academic dean at Choate Rosemary Hall, a boarding school in Wallingford, Conn. "If a college really wants a kid, they're going to find a way to take him." Once on campus, a cheater is apt to find similarly lax discipline. With the exception of a handful of schools like the University of Virginia, which have one-strike-and-you're-out honor-code policies, the vast majority simply dole out zeros for an assignment or course in which a student has been found cheating.

Still, a growing number of institutions are trying to turn discipline into a teachable moment. At the University of Maryland-College Park, for example, students caught cheating must attend a seven-week ethics seminar. "We're not trying to mar someone's life, but we are saying, 'You're going to have to think about this behavior and what danger it poses to you and the larger society,' " says Gary Pavela, director of judicial programs and–a recent addendum–student ethical development.

Do the cheaters actually mend their ways? Leah Solowsky isn't glad she was caught plagiarizing last year, but she acknowledges that the experience did teach her a thing or two. "I learned that teachers aren't as stupid as some people think they are," she says with just a hint of humor. Pausing to think for a moment, she adds: "I mean, cheating should affect your conscience, because you are doing something wrong." Solowsky vows she's sworn off cheating for good–no matter how much loathsome Spanish homework piles up every night. Buena suerte.
How to ace your freshman year


How to boost your odds of surviving–and thriving

It just didn't make sense. Kaity Colon had trudged to all the review sessions and taken notes worthy of a biblical scribe. But she still got a C–her first ever–in a tough first-year biology course at Tufts University in Boston. For the Bronx native with dreams of becoming an infectious disease researcher, that freshman year experience was a vexing introduction to the rigors of university-level academics. "There will be classes where you work your behind off and you will get a C," says Colon, now a senior, who has since honed her study habits and earns her share of A's and B's. "A day in college is like a week in high school."

As you head into the home stretch of high school and trip through the college application maze, it's easy to view that coveted acceptance letter as the end of the process. But once you actually set off for college, the transition can be quite a challenge. Many undergrads stumble when they arrive on campus and find themselves suddenly responsible for everything from setting their own curfew and passing hard classes to deciding whether a kegger and two frat parties are too much for one night. About one quarter of U.S. freshmen don't return for sophomore year, for reasons ranging from depression to failing grades. Students who manage to get connected to their campuses early on, however, have a fighting chance of not only surviving freshman year but acing it. Here's a primer to get you started.

First, don't blow off the rush of orientation activities that can consume your first few days on campus. The ice-breaker games, campus tours, and tips on tutoring are orchestrated by administrators who've seen all the mistakes freshmen can make, and they can teach you more than you may realize. Avoiding orientation is like "not reading the owner's manual," says Beth Triplett, vice president for enrollment management at Maryville University of St. Louis. Nineteen-year-old Megan Murphy, a sophomore at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, says the 51,000-student campus "seemed less intimidating" during orientation because she and the other newbies were all in the same boat.

Dorm do's and don'ts. The next place you'll mingle with your fellow frosh is your new home: the dorm. This is where students attempt to turn a no-frills room into a refuge and strangers into friends, tasks that can be stressful. Mary Rowden, 20, a junior at the University of Kansas-Lawrence who went to a small Roman Catholic high school in Wichita, was initially shocked by what she saw in the four-story KU dorm where she spent freshman year, from body piercings and purple hair to "girls not wearing much of anything," she says. "I called my mom every night for the first semester." (The scene still makes her look twice, but she's getting used to it.)

Nevertheless, experts on undergraduate life say planting yourself on campus is the best way to cultivate kinship with your peers and the school. If you venture to an off-campus pad, you may find yourself miserably isolated from activities and fellow students. And the quirks of dorm life can even be a bonding experience. "The shower stalls are cramped [and] the water fluctuates from 105 degrees to 32 at the drop of a hat," wrote Oberlin College sophomore Ben Pred in a column for the Ohio school's Web site about his first-year dorm, Dascomb Hall. "Maybe that's why we're the tightest dorm on campus."

Don't worry if you love Mozart and your roommate favors Mos Def. This person doesn't have to become your best friend, but he or she will be your first close contact on campus. Roommates can avoid major brouhahas by agreeing to a "contract" that covers study needs, sleep habits, and neatness. If things go awry, resident advisers suggest taking action. San Diego native Melinda Levine, 19, a sophomore at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, realized her roommate "didn't respect my space, my things, or my sleep," so she got a new roommate, "and that worked out really well."

Now that you've propped your battered teddy bear on your extra long twin bed, it's time to think about classes. Choosing courses should be an exercise combining pragmatism and whimsy. Freshmen need to start fulfilling university requirements, from composition to foreign languages–what KU English Prof. James Carothers calls the "green, leafy vegetables of the academic diet." But they shouldn't neglect less conventional options from that vast menu known as the course catalog, says Richard Light, an education professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and author of Making the Most of College. Avoiding weird or challenging classes may offer you a safe course schedule, but it will rob you of exhilarating mental workouts–it's like "paying to go to Disney World and not going on any of the rides," Light says. Cornell University sophomore Hannah Seidel supplemented her science-heavy course load with small writing seminars, including one on vampire literature. "We read Anne Rice novels," says the 19-year-old from St. Louis. "You can actually look forward to doing your homework."

Freshmen should also consider class size. Although large survey courses are standard fare for many first- and second-year students, trying out a small seminar can sharpen your academic confidence. Kallie Donahoe found an 18-student philosophy class to round out the 200-person lectures dominating her freshman year at the University of Washington- Seattle, which has 37,412 students. "We just talked and debated for two hours straight," says the 18-year-old sophomore from Walnut Creek, Calif. "We were never uncomfortable because we were all freshmen–there were no older students who could make us feel timid."

Major worries.
Academic deans say freshmen shouldn't fret too much about picking a major and a future career when they're selecting first-year classes. Although some majors have prerequisites, students generally have until the end of sophomore year to finalize their choices. As for careers, says Brad Williams, dean of student affairs at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., "Name me one 18-year-old who can say, 'For the rest of my life, I want to do this.' " KU senior Andrew Dies, for instance, was sure he'd be a high school social studies teacher and plunged into an education major in his first year. But his on-campus job as a resident assistant convinced Dies that social work was his true calling. As a freshman, says the 21-year-old from Lehigh, Kan., "I had never sat down and even looked at all the majors KU had."

Once you've registered, register this: College classes are vastly different from even advanced high school studies, as Colon learned the hard way. The work won't be fed to you in bite-size pieces, and it's easy to fall behind. Lesson No. 1: Go to class. It may seem harmless to skip a lecture here and there, but those missed days can be deadly, considering that one test can make up half your entire grade–and that many profs don't take kindly to absenteeism. When religion and philosophy professor Charles Zimmerman of Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, sees a sea of empty chairs, he gives a for-credit pop quiz with two questions. One is "What's your name?" The idea is to reward students who didn't skip on those sunny Fridays, he says. Don't ignore the syllabus, either. University of Michigan sophomore Paul Crawford recalls one that listed a deadline for a long paper, "and the professor didn't say a single thing about it the rest of the semester." Without further warning, he says, "it was suddenly due."

Some experts say students can make all the work more manageable if they treat college a bit like a 9-to-5 job. Attend your classes, take an hour for lunch, and work during all the downtime. Count on spending at least two hours studying for each hour of class time. That way, you'll only need a couple of hours to study in the evening, and you won't be swamped on weekends.

This strategy will only work, however, if you can avoid the common freshman temptation of letting your social life get out of hand. Respect your new freedom by treading carefully when it comes to drinking, sex, and other weighty decisions. "It's your responsibility to choose a safe lifestyle and friends who don't put you at risk," says Paul LePore, director of undergraduate program development at the University of Washington-Seattle. If you recognize the consequences of your actions, you're less likely to wind up in trouble. "Some kids get blitzed every weekend," Oberlin sophomore Pred says. "But most know when it's time to get their work done." For students who run into academic difficulties, deans suggest seeking help from your adviser or the campus tutoring center. When school and emotional problems are intertwined, don't hesitate to check out the university's counseling services.

Hanging with profs. After classes begin, freshmen shouldn't wait long before getting to know the people behind the lecterns. Building a personal connection with a professor gives students someone to foster their intellectual development and supply references. "The faculty are the walls you bounce off of to keep you on course," says Josh Look, a sophomore in the character animation department at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. An astute freshman can develop a close relationship with a professor even at a large school, says Peter White, dean of University College at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, which has about 15,000 undergrads. The university offers one-on-one mentoring as well as a special program in which 22 students take two small classes together and work closely with faculty. "The myth of large schools is that they are anonymous and only have large lecture classes," he says. For students who make savvy choices, "it's not true at all."

One of the best ways to meet professors is to go to their office hours; plan on visiting each prof at least once. If you can't make it at the appointed time, take advantage of technology. "E-mail is the new office hours," Levine says. "I write out a whole list of questions and just send them, and they answer all of them." Many universities offer other ways to meet the faculty as well. Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville sponsor "take a professor to lunch" programs. Roman Catholic institutions, such as College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and Loyola College in Baltimore, offer student-faculty retreats several times during the academic year.

As you start getting your classes under control, an extracurricular activity can provide an ideal way to find a small peer group and get connected to campus. You'll hear about a multitude of organizations, but it's a good idea to get involved in just one or two at first. When Kate Elder of Philadelphia got to Tufts, she focused on the Leonard Carmichael Society, which does community service work like feeding the homeless and running blood drives. "It was like an instant group of friends," says the 21-year-old senior, who's now president of the society. "It made the transition [from high school] so easy."

Activities can complement your classwork or take your mind off of it. An accounting major looking for hands-on experience could be the treasurer of a student organization, for instance. Others might follow Murphy's example–she joined an Irish dance group and volunteered with at-risk teenagers in Detroit. "There are other things [besides school-related activities] that are important–doing service, talking care of yourself, and meeting people," she says. "It was a good way to relax." An on-campus job also can make you feel like you're part of the scene. If you work less than 15 hours per week, experts say, the job will also help you structure your time rather than drain it away from your studies.

No matter what, most students encounter a few snags during freshman year–loneliness, academic struggles, a doomed relationship. If you find the resources to overcome them and complete your first year, studies say, your chances are good of happily finishing the following three.
The new hot jobs on campus


Students move beyond stamping library books, hashing in the dining hall, and answering phones

Gabe Stix spent his first few years at the University of Maryland-College Park waiting tables at an off-campus steakhouse. It was good money, he says–$10 an hour, which went to tuition–but the work was uninspiring. So when his girlfriend told him there was a brand-new climbing wall on campus that needed instructors, Stix, 23, jumped at the chance. "I was just looking to get experience in a field other than the food industry," he says. But the first time he instructed a fellow student in climbing, he was hooked. Stix quit his restaurant job, and today he not only supervises the school's climbing gym but also leads weekend backpacking and climbing trips. He's even changed his major from engineering to outdoor education. "I made a little more money waiting tables," says Stix, who earns $8 an hour, "but now I get to do the things I love and get paid for them–you can't go wrong with that."

Sure, plenty of people find work in a "typical" college job–stamping library books, hashing in the dining hall, or answering phones. But, "if they're gung-ho about it," says Jerry de Leon, career development coordinator at California State University-Monterey Bay, students can do much more.

Those with Web skills, for instance, are being bombarded by offers from departments eager to get online. Brandon Schmittling, a 20-year-old junior at the University of Florida in Gainesville, works with another student maintaining the career center's Web site, which received 4 million hits last spring. "This is by far the coolest job I've ever had," he says.

Nice work. Students with an eye for business are doing well on campus, too. "There are just a huge amount of opportunities for micro-businesses: book exchanges, ticket sales–even bottled water," says Gerald Hills, chair of the Chicago-based Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Organization.

Some undergrads are even finding a niche in campus security. Joseph Russell, 21, a senior at Vassar College, directs a student-run patrol that escorts undergrads to their dorms late at night and also reports any suspicious activity. He says it's "the highest-paying job on campus that lets you keep your clothes on" (nude art models at Vassar make $10 an hour; Russell earns $8.50). More important, Russell says, "you serve a really important function."
Những bài viết trên mình lấy từ nguồn USNEWS - WORLD REPORT, nó được viết chủ yếu dành cho người Mĩ nên không thể áp dụng 100% cho intl students được. Rất mong các bạn và anh chị ở đây bỏ chút thời gian truyền đạt kinh nghiệm cho đàn em đi sau để cho ... đỡ bỡ ngỡ khi bước vào cuộc sống đại học :mrgreen: Đó là những vấn đề về khóa học (cách sắp xếp, đối phó, ...) , dorm, hoạt động ngoại khóa, quan hệ với các giáo sư và vô số những điều cần thiết khác (mà bọn em không thể lường trước được :) ). Xin cám ơn mọi người rất nhiều ;)
The Roommate Issue: Eight Tips for Success
Information provided by The Princeton Review

It's a student's nightmare. You come home from the library armed with enough caffeinated beverages to keep you going through the night so you can pound out that political science paper that's due by 10 am. You round the corner of the dorm hallway to find your room full of smoke, people you don't know, and loud music. "Dude," your roommate greets you, "Glad you made it back! We're having a listening party for the new Dave Matthews CD. Hey, did you know that your speakers sound really bad when the volume is turned all the way up?" You turn around to head back to the library, silently vowing to take a course on voodoo next semester so you can get revenge on your roommate for the hell you've been put through.

Fortunately, like most nightmares, the above scenario isn't likely to occur. However, roommate relations are a very real concern for incoming freshmen. Many justifiably worry about whether they'll get along with the person arbitrarily selected to live in close quarters with them for a year. We can't guarantee that you'll be best friends with your roommate, but we can offer some tips for getting along and being a good roommate.

Tip 1: To thine own self be true.
Sometimes the housing office gives incoming freshmen questionnaires about their living and studying habits in order to help match them with compatible roommates. Fill these out honestly! If you're a messy person who likes listening to music at all hours, don't be ashamed to admit it. Of course, roommate assignments often bear no relation to the completed questionnaires, but at least give the housing computers a chance to pair you with somebody suitable.

Tip 2: Speak up.
Get to know your roommate. Even if you're not great friends, you'll be able to get along better if you understand each other. Discuss what you expect from each other. Don't be afraid to tell your roommate if his/her actions bother you. Let each other know when important events (tests, papers, competitions, etc.) are coming up.

Tip 3: Silence is golden.
Yeah, we just told you that you shouldn't be afraid to discuss things with your roommate, but you'll probably be better off if you don't tell your roommate about all of her little annoying habits. Think long term. You're going to have to live with your roommate for an entire school year, so don't nit-pick or judge her on how she acts the first week of school. It takes people a while to adjust to college life and living with a stranger, so give your roommate the benefit of the doubt before criticizing his/her actions.

Tip 4: Plan ahead.
Decide how you're going to handle financial obligations (e.g. phone bill, groceries) ahead of time so there won't be any misunderstandings when it's time to pay. You should also discuss whether borrowing or using each other's property (e.g. stereo, clothes, toiletries, etc.) is cool. Establishing boundaries is fine as long as both roommates are aware of them.

Tip 5: Establish company policy.
Decide whether it's acceptable to bring a boyfriend/girlfriend back to the room. Figure out how the roommate entertaining a guest will let the other roommate know when he has company.

Tip 6: Do unto others...
Whether you like your roommate or not, treat him with the consideration that you'd like to be treated with. Set an example and with any luck your roommate will catch on.

Tip 7: Give a little.
You don't have to subvert your personality to get along with another person, but be prepared to compromise. If you're naturally a slob, you should learn to be neat to the extent that you don't encroach on your roommate's space. If you're a neat freak, remember that your roommate may not be as offended by mess as you are.

Tip 8: Don't stress.
Most roommates naturally figure out how to get along even if they don't become best friends. In the unlikely event that you find yourself in a living situation that's unbearable, you'll probably be able to switch to another room.
Chỉnh sửa lần cuối:
Cám ơn bạn Hưng đã post. Thực ra những vấn đề được đề cập trong này rất có ích và nó cũng đúng cho học sinh quốc tế.
Còn tip của chị là " Break all rules". Thế thôi ;)
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