Georgia Lawson: Ease the transition for new freshmen from your hometown

This time last year, I had a lot on my mind.

My senior year of high school was coming to a close, and the May 1 deadline for committing to a college was fast approaching. My decision to attend GW came in the final days of April, and finalizing my choice came with a great sense of relief and excitement.

This excitement, however, was offset by plenty of nerves. I knew basic facts about GW: the average SAT score, the four-year graduation rate, the distance between campus and the White House. And yet I still felt out of the loop about campus life and what I could actually expect out of my experience.

It wasn’t until I reached out to current GW students who had attended my high school that I found some reassurance that the road ahead wouldn’t be too difficult.

There are about 2,500 new students coming to our campus this fall. I’m willing to bet they feel just like I did at this time last year – the way we all felt when we were in their place.

As incoming freshmen from our hometowns prepare to start their college careers, we should personally try to help them transition by giving advice, answering questions and offering help.

As a high school senior, I talked to numerous GW students from my hometown about their transition into college. I asked about how to deal with roommate issues and how room swap works, about different student organizations and the presence they have on campus, and which classes to take.

Their advice was helpful because they knew exactly where I was coming from: We’d had the same teachers, taken the same classes and even done the same activities in high school. They easily calmed my fears and assured me that I was fully capable of making a great transition because they had already done it.

GW has tried to put programs in place to generate these relationships, but being paired with someone randomly is too forced. It’s much more helpful to mentor someone when you know him or her or have something in common. In an ideal world, this would happen organically, but many freshmen are probably too nervous to reach out – so it’s up to us to make contact with them.

Some of us know multiple people from our high school that came to GW, and some don’t. But if you even vaguely know a prospective student, message him or her on Facebook and offer your email address or phone number. You can even take the person out for coffee if he or she visits the University and chat about the personal aspects that make GW special to you.

Let those students know you’re there to answer any questions they may have. This may be especially helpful coming from someone from the same high school – not to mention the same hometown – because you can offer detailed insight into what changes they can expect.

You can talk about whether your high school’s curriculum prepared you for GW and the ways in which the academic culture may differ. You can explain why the theater groups are different or similar to those from your high school. You can recommend professors who remind you of your favorite high school math teacher.

These are the specifics that pamphlets, websites and tour guides cannot offer. They’re specialized recommendations that incoming students from your hometown can’t get anywhere else at GW.

Even for those ready to make a smooth transition, knowing they have someone at GW who can give them honest advice is an enormous relief in a system that often feels too complex to understand. Class registration is complicated, there are tips and tricks for choosing the best housing, and financial aid is tough to sort out.

Adjusting to college can be nerve-wracking. If a new student arrives on campus already feeling stressed, finding a comfortable place within the GW community won’t be easy. Older students could give freshmen suggestions for how they can balance work and manage stress – something that studies show many freshmen fail to do.

We don’t have to offer to be new students’ emotional guides. We’re all busy, and new students will find their own supportive niches with time. But we can remind them that we’re here for them.

Current students need to show incoming freshmen that they have someone to reach out to about the little things, like the realities of different residence halls or the social scene – things that, in their position, may be a large source of concern. By offering them knowledge from our experiences, we can give them the confidence to invest time in their interests and have a successful freshman year.

Georgia Lawson, a freshman majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.