This year my wife and I are leaving our comfort zones in Kalamazoo. We are moving to a small Christian college known as Cornerstone University, where we are going to finish the work we started years ago on our teacher certificates. My college in the town where I am now has refused to give me any more financial aid dollars. I came at them with a scholarship back in 2004. The university would not even approve it. They wanted cash.
Mind you, I had completed my classes–all of them. I had maxed out my student loans, and I was not trying to secure more money that way. I was trying to get a scholarship, thinking that the university would honour it. They said, “No.”
As a consequence, I have been stuck with substitute teaching and paraproing. Being a substitute teacher and parapro, or teacher’s aide–barely pays the rent, and the bills. We break even every week, if that. The money’s just enough to meet our most basic needs–laundry, phone bill, light bill, rent. After that, we are shot. It is a paycheck to paycheck existence that we find frustrating.
So I decided that I would try to get into my wife’s school, Cornerstone University, which has a branch here in Kalamazoo known as a satellite campus. She likes it so much. The classes are centred around God, which she likes. She is in a graduate-professional program. I came to find out that they do offer the teaching program I need–but that I would also have to move to their main campus, in Grand Rapids, about an hour away.
This is going to be a very difficult move. We are going to have to come up with the money for a moving van, the security deposit on a place to stay, a non-refundable tuition deposit, and so on. We are going to have to get used to a new reality, a new town, and look for a new pastor, a new church home.
But switching colleges is nothing new to me. Back in 1991–I had to do it. I had to transition from my undergrad years at U of M to my graduate experience at Western Michigan University. I remember what that was like. I felt like I was in a strange town. I had to meet brand new friends, get used to reduced library hours, and their grading system. I went into it cold. There was no orientation for me as such.
Thus I am writing this paper to recommend some things to do to acclimate yourself to your new college environment, whether you are a first-time college student getting ready to graduate high school, or a student returning to school who would like to try a different college or university. As you read this please really take to heart the fact that each school is different, pretty much like the people who attend them.
The first thing to do once you get that acceptance letter in hand is to schedule a time to go up to the university to spend a weekend up at the school. This will determine whether they are a good fit for you, and vice-versa. It is your opportunity to get the lay of the land, and eat some of their food. When we visited Cornerstone back on Nov. 14-16 at their Golden Eagle day, we were given the royal treatment. One of the students, part of the welcoming staff, picked my wife and me up from the Grand Rapids bus station, drove us right to the campus, where a room in Married Housing was waiting for us–a furnished room complete with a TV, an alarm clock, a fridge. And get this, free food for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. From that experience, I got to see that they are very friendly, caring people who live up to the Christian values taught there.
The second thing you do is to learn about how to get financial aid to the school. Money is the key. As much as they may like you–the university is not going to let you enroll for classes without a way to pay for them. So finding out what financial aid avenues exist for you, and getting right in the game as far as achieving it is concerned is key. In Michigan, for example, you are required to fill out a form known as a FAFSA–or free application for federal student aid. Be sure and do it before the deadline first. Then find out how much money your program requires, then start to work on it. As I said in a prior paper, scholarships and grants–if you’re eligible, are the best way to go since you don’t have to pay those back, as you would have to do with loans.
The third item on the list is looking for a place to stay. That holds true whether you are staying in a dorm, an apartment off campus, or in married or adult housing. Most housing programs have waiting lists. Get your deposits and applications in as soon as possible, for most universities offer places to live on a first-come, first served basis.
Also, have you considered off-campus housing? Most large management companies require credit checks. So if you don’t have the best credit–you ain’t gettin’ in–that’s all there is to it. So for off campus living, maybe a private landlord would be a place to start, if you have less than perfect credit. Private landlords are more reasonable about their prices for rent, too.
But I would venture to say that staying on campus might be better. You have to abide by the campus’s rules and regulations, but consider this: It is quite possible that if the rent is not paid on time, the worse thing you will get is what is called a hold credit, which will keep you from registering until you’re paid up. A landlord, whether you are a student or not, will not take pity on you. He would be like, “Produce–or get off the pot.” Pay up or get out, basically. And you are dealing with profs who are expecting that work in on time, too? That is a double whammy. Talk about pressure!
You asked about academics? Well let’s talk a little bit about that very topic. Moving from one school to another, you have exchanged one set of rules for another, and sometimes even one grading scale for another. When I left University of Michigan for Western, I had to learn a whole new method of writing papers for my English major. Whereas my professors at Michigan required me to learn the Cleanth Brooks New Criticism style of writing papers–to restrict my discussion based on the material in the text–when I came to Western, I learned that it was OK to deviate from that somewhat–depending on the professor, of course. For instance, instead of doing a close reading, I could use tidbits from an author’s life to interpret what he is trying to say.
Additionally, I had to learn a different way of dealing with my professors. Your old school’s professors may be cold and distant and reluctant to hold office hours, and at your new school, your teachers may really want you to do well, and be ready to reach out to you. Or vice-versa. The idea here is that you must adjust to their way of looking at learning, their way of viewing their students as students. And indeed, an excellent way of getting a feel for their classroom style is to ask to sit in on a class during your orientation. I am sure they’d be glad to let you do it.
Next thing–walk around campus. Get a feel for the student population, and how they interact with each other. That will tell you a lot. Try to say “Hi” to some people as you walk by. If they are walking around with their noses in the air–that would hint at a colder, more individualistic campus on the whole. Additionally, get a feel for how the races interact. Do Blacks eat with Whites, or vice-versa, in the cafeteria? Know the unwritten rules, and be ready to live with them, if you wish to attend that school and do well there socially, as well as academically. At one school, for example, I knew there were certain racial lines I just didn’t cross, as a student of colour. The majority population would be friendly with me to a certain degree, but made it very clear that we would not be friends. I went to another school and easily made friends with people, some of which were of my race, and others that I am still friends with today–from other races.
The idea here is to get used to the prevailing climate on your particular campus. If you can’t blend in there, it would behoove you to consider going somewhere else. For instance, if I were not a Christian, I certainly would not try to go to Cornerstone University.