Freshman roundup: Hitting the books

Photo by Alexis Marshall / Assistant News Editor

For many freshmen, making the transition from high school to college is a difficult task. It involves coping with separation, changes in schedule and for many, a new-found freedom.

Academically, many students struggle when they come to college. According to, MTSU has a 71 percent freshman retention rate, which means that over a quarter of incoming freshman do not continue their education after the first year. While plenty of factors contribute to a student’s decision to leave school, one of the most common reasons is problems in the classroom.

University Seminar 1010 professor Carla Hatfield said that many students struggle because college requires a different approach than high school.

“It’s a mindset, I think, for freshman, and it’s not their fault because they don’t have anything to go on,” Hatfiled said. “That’s why University 1010 is so important to change that mindset.”

Hatfield said that students often have the realizations, ‘oh, my professor doesn’t give extra credit,’ or ‘oh, it’s not okay to just turn everything in last minute.’

Hatfield said her class can help set a foundation for the rest of students’ collegiate careers by guiding them through their transition and giving them tools to succeed. Hatfield said that in her class students learn how to take good notes, prioritize projects, manage time and use resources on campus.

Hatfield also said that part of her class was teaching students about themselves through a career project.

“It’s kind of a holistic reflection of who they are and where they’re going to fit in the world of work,” Hatfield said

Hatfield said that the project makes students research two careers, assessing salary, further education, work environment and how compatible those factors are with each student’s personality.  Hatfield said that this process of getting to know oneself is fundamental in students’ collegiate success.

Professor Keri Carter teaches English 1010, 1020 and 2030. She said that because her classes are generally made up of freshman, they also pursue a lot of reflective writing, exploring interests and personal goals. Carter said she enjoyed this work, but she also sees students struggling with their transitions to college.

“Sometimes students think that having other obligations is a unique thing to themselves…. and that’s actually most of our students these days,” Carter said. “A lot of students really struggle at first with that balance.”

Carter said that when responsibilities become overwhelming, students tend to put work above school, which leads to problems in class.

Each professor had some tips for this year’s freshman to help them start the school year. Carter recommended investing in relationships with teachers and projecting enthusiasm for every class, even if it’s not part of a student’s major.

“You never know where a great mentor might emerge,” Carter said.

Carter also advised organizing and dedicating time for school. Carter said getting to know oneself is another important step to take to be successful in college. She said that for the first time students are asking themselves, “When do I work best? When do I sleep best? What am I genuinely interested in?” Carter said students should start exploring these questions before the semester starts because college moves so quickly.

Hatfield advised connecting with somebody on campus. Hatfield said it could be “faculty, an adviser, a friend in class, the tutoring center, an organization or a sports club, but connect to something and somebody.

Hatfield said that if students get connected on campus within the first three weeks, they are much more likely to stay enrolled at MTSU and graduate.

Hatfield suggested establishing a routine. She noted that in high school, routines are largely made on students’ behalf by schools and parents. She said that in college, students have the freedom to choose how they will organize their time, but it must be organized.

“Do you use a calendar? Do you use your phone? Do you use a to-do list? Do you use a prioritization schedule? Everybody has something different, but you’ve got to have something,” Hatfield said.

Both professors pointed out the most important and basic tip to succeed in college: coming to class.

Hatfield said that students tend to skip general education courses like English, history and math because they took those courses in high school.

“What happens is you start treating your courses like it’s not relevant, like it doesn’t matter,” Hatfield said.

She said this becomes especially problematic for students on financial aid who need to maintain specific grade point averages in order to remain eligible for scholarships.

Carter noted attendance as an issue as well.

“A lot of times people just disappear, and I will send them emails, contact them through their progress report… the next thing you know, they might even come back at the end of the semester, and it’s just too late,” Carter said.

Carter and Hatfield said that in order to succeed, a student must want to be in school and must be determined to succeed.

“It’s not about having a high score on the ACT… What I found to be the determining factor if you’re going to make it in college is grit,” Hatfield said.

This is part one of a three-part series to help freshman prepare for a successful first semester on a college campus.

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email

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