How to Successfully Start College in the Middle of the Year


There is a notable difference in experience between starting college during the fall semester or starting in the middle of the year, in spring semester—I’ve done them both. In fact, I transferred schools three times while getting my bachelor’s degree in an effort to graduate early. As a result, I popped up at one school in fall, another in summer, and the third in spring, and each of these was a vastly different experience. Here’s what I have learned about successfully starting at a new school during a non-traditional time of the school year. 

Communicate with administrators (a lot)

Whether you’re transferring to a new school in the middle of the year or just starting from square one in January, you’re going to need to keep a line of communication open with advisors and administration officials. The thing about starting in the fall semester is the school gears up for it in a major way, with welcoming events and accessible meeting slots. In the spring semester, you might feel like you’re more on your own, so reach out to your admissions officials and advisor with whatever questions you have—it’s their job to help yous. Plus, they have fewer students coming in with questions and concerns, so the plus side here is that you’ll get more one-on-one attention. 

Keep in mind, though, that administrators aren’t very reachable during winter break. In my experience, getting through to one can be a little easier going into the fall semester, since they’re preparing for the year and actually work through the summer. They take their winter break pretty seriously, so you might be in limbo with last-minute questions. My advice: Keep emailing. They will return to the office eventually and see your messages. 

Some questions to ask: 

  • How do I get my student ID card?

  • Do I need to go to an office or do any administrational tasks on the first day, or can I go straight to class?

  • Are there any mid-year welcoming events or student-centered events?

  • Are meal plans or other packages pro-rated or otherwise a different price if paying for just one semester? 

  • What does my graduation timeline look like?

Plan your classes carefully

Yes, you should always plan your classes carefully with an advisor to be sure you’re on track to graduate, but a lot of programs assume you’re working on a yearly model, i.e. four years for a bachelor’s, and two for a master’s. The greatest agony of my undergraduate career was that despite my (manic, not-recommended) efforts, a last-minute issue with a transfer credit caused me to graduate in December, not May. If attending a big graduation ceremony (and not the sad, wimpy winter version) is important to you, you may need to take more classes in your average semester to get there on a sped-up schedule since you’re a semester behind everyone else. (In some cases, you can finish up after a fall semester and then walk with the other graduates in May, but this is something you need to ask about early on if it’s important to you.) 

Another thing to keep in mind when structuring your first semester is how much you value the social aspect of school and how prepared you are to jump into academics. Your peers will have been in the school groove for a full semester, but you’re just getting started in the second half, so if you have concerns about acclimating to a study schedule, consider some online classes so you can go at your own pace and feel this whole college thing out. 

On the other hand, your peers will also have had a semester to get to know one another, join clubs, and get a feel for the school itself, so you should have at least one in-person class if you want to get the full experience. At a smaller school or in a program with cohorts, you’ll spend a lot of time with the same people, many of whom already know each other, so getting that face time with them (and your professors) can be key. At larger schools, this isn’t as much of an issue, as you’ll be in classes with people who probably haven’t met each other, let alone you. When I transferred from a big university to a smaller one in the middle of the year, I entered a major where I took all my classes in a cohort of about 20 people. That first semester, when they were all friends and I was an outsider, was a little rough for me, but it did get better as I got to know them and they got to know me. That “new kid” stink doesn’t last as long in college as it does in junior high, but you do need to make an effort to meet everyone and participate in person. 

“My first semester was a spring semester and I took half my classes online and half in person,” says Domenick DiCostanzo, who went back to school last year in his 30s to finish his degree after years away from a classroom. “The online classes helped me get used to studying and I’m glad I took those, but the in-person classes were where I actually felt like I was going to school. I ended up meeting professors who helped me with recommendation letters and things like that, which the online professors wouldn’t really do, and I met students who asked me to study with them. I had to make an effort to meet them, though, because they were all already friends.” 

Bear in mind, too, that your options for classes will depend on what your school even offers second semester. Many schools pack the required courses into the fall semester, leaving fewer sections for them in the “off” semester of spring. Again, you’ll have to work closer with an advisor than you would in fall semester to make sure you’re signing up for the right courses and can make up anything you’re missing, as most intro and required classes are prerequisites for what you’ll take later on. If you take one thing away from this explainer, let it be that you need to be a constant presence in your advisor’s inbox or office to a degree you wouldn’t need to be if you started in fall. 

Other things to keep in mind when starting college mid-year

Life happens and circumstances get in the way, so if you have to start mid-year, you have to start mid-year. In a perfect world, I’d recommend waiting and starting in the fall, but that’s not always possible. Keep in mind that you’re entering a little ecosystem where everyone has their own routines and patterns in place already. When I started at my final school in undergrad, I entered my dorm room mid-January to learn that my new roommate had been living solo in fall semester—and she was irate to suddenly have to share her space. Unlike entering in fall, when everyone is a stranger, I walked straight into a social environment where everyone on the floor were friends and I was the clear outsider. If possible, ask your advisor for your roommate’s name and try to connect with them online beforehand. If you’re not dorming, be sure your living situation is all set up and you have a plan in place for how you’ll get to school and how you’ll meet people.

There will likely be club fairs in January and February. Try to select an extra-curricular that seems low-commitment. You’re trying to navigate everything else behind schedule, so you won’t have a lot of time to devote to a heavy lift, but it’s still good to get involved at some level. Check your email for welcome events for transfer students and newly admitted students, and if you don’t see any, reach out to your advisor to ask about them. 

Source

Leave a Comment

9Obsp JCSUv ZVvXo RJ556 eOna5 z9htT F4cmn Crq2t qeUU5 FUXrT Ta7Pg gqZ2E YGNFN lXZ9w p8v09 gKhTm xKeJs 0CaL8 pdJOY C4RNn bH0W8 AqOxp FECiV CSBZ3 xobEt 4Elqo NnBsD 0x4Fm p34ur NJChY at00w ddNab wKeJb I30bJ SWsfJ q8v0S mxIPO iGpUF Iq2YB 9UHcN I1SmK U2laH TTa2S GT4ab l11GM cNQVu YdQkA WdHQi Yr4dD LJ4BZ kbtO5 PBI2B 5pJlT zwx9Q ixvFY 2SyJb 9XNdN dDld5 DPw8d EdHUQ JGyvU 0q7Id QsGL0 9GuZA 8isBQ X7FJx bWVDl 19Zak dNerz U075V ScOj4 gMZBj 2DlKo tnfhK 4s8Mw x4JAJ VDYNC