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Transition that carries aspirations and anxieties

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DAY ONE: College life has a lot to offer, say students and faculty. A scene on the first day of classes on the Ethiraj College campus.
DAY ONE: College life has a lot to offer, say students and faculty. A scene on the first day of classes on the Ethiraj College campus.

Meera Srinivasan and Priscilla Jebaraj

“The level of competitiveness in colleges is much higher than in schools”

CHENNAI: Three months ago, they were still schoolchildren. This week, thousands of young men and women across the city took the next step to become college students.

There is more to the transition than discarding their uniforms for colourful wardrobes. “We’ve moved from ruling the school to becoming plain freshies,” says Susanna Selwin, as she trailed across the Women’s Christian College campus on Tuesday, following the campus tour that is part of the college orientation programme for first-year students. “When you are from places out of town as well, you can really feel like fish out of water,” adds her friend Sharon Paul.

Their college president Amy Chandy, guiding the campus tour, is now a veteran final-year student, but she remembers what it felt like to be a humble ‘freshie’. “You expect people to pick up after you, you want to be spoon-fed, but college makes you more responsible, gives you the space to develop, to grow into your own person,” she says.

This process of growth and transition, both academically and otherwise, ideally needs its preparatory steps to begin in school. “These days, children start taking decisions about their higher studies while in class IX and X. They know what they want and work towards that,” says Ajeeth Prasad Jain, Principal of Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram.

However, while many students entering college know exactly what they want to study, they are often unprepared for the way they are expected to study it. Faculty members point out that unlike the textbooks, homework, revision and exams of school, the college study routine often includes taking notes at lectures, looking up references in the library, assignments involving more than memorising and continuous assessment and project work that are often more demanding than final examinations.

Roshini Ponchont, who recently graduated from Stella Maris College, adds that first-year students will have to be prepared for stricter evaluation and marking systems. “Some of my friends could not handle the fall in percentages. It doesn’t mean one is not doing well. It is the nature of evaluation and that’s when you really learn your subjects and enjoy chosen area of specialisation,” she says. Many students, who would have taken up projects purely for the sake of marks in school, tend to come up with innovative ideas when they actually become involved with their chosen subjects at college.

Madras University Vice-Chancellor S. Ramachandran says that the university’s orientation programme offers a platform for faculty to motivate students toward new learning styles in a new atmosphere. Most college campus tours also include a special library orientation programme to acquaint new students with the reference books they will find essential in the next few years.

Apart from academics, the transition to college offers a cultural extravaganza for school students who have been cooped up with study during their high-pressure Class 12 year. “When compared to the programmes in school, the scale of cultural events in college and the level of competitiveness is much higher. We learn a lot,” says Roshini. Most orientation programmes offer a glimpse into the cultural, sports and social welfare activities in store for freshers.

The experience of living and working with a diverse community of students also expands horizons, although it can also be a daunting challenge. While ragging is banned, freshers may still be faced with the intimidating experience of “interaction”. Opinion is divided on the value of the exercise as an ice-breaking tool. “It helps you get to know your seniors better and adapt to the college set-up,” argues a WCC fresher, who is game for any teasing, but does not want to be named. Having gone through the system herself two years ago, Amy feels that a friendly face, and support for the homesick, will do more to make her juniors feel comfortable in the college that will be their home for the next three years. For the freshers, a new journey has begun.

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