Support From Our Academic Colleagues by Thomas Hyland

Thomas Hyland
Lakeland Community College
Associate Professor, Librarian and Library Instruction Coordinator 
The High School to College Transition: Supporting Our Students

The transition from high school to college compels first-year students to face numerous social, emotional, financial, and intellectual challenges.  That transition can be both exhilarating and intimidating for them.  

Each fall college campuses become whirlwinds of activity.  Tours, orientations, convocations, social gatherings, and club meetings are among the many events students have an opportunity to participate in.  Somewhere between the ice cream social and the first day of classes, students might even wander into the library as part of a campus tour.  The tour guides, in their breezy style, sum up the library’s resources and services in 5 minutes flat.  Then, they move on to the next attraction: the fitness center has a new rock wall, the student union has a Chipotle. 

First-year students get overwhelmed with all kinds of information before they ever set foot in a college classroom.  Between pondering the salutary advantages of rock climbing (are crampons required) and deciding what to order for lunch (burrito or bowl), they forget what little they heard in that succinct, if not entirely accurate, tour guide’s summary of how the library works and what the librarians do.  

When, finally, first-year students get an assignment that has a substantial research requirement, many do not even know how to begin the process.  Even if they recall that librarians are available to assist with the research process, they might forego seeking help simply because they do not want to appear less prepared or knowledgeable than their peers. 

​In Project Information Literacy’s research report “Learning the Ropes: How Freshmen Conduct Course Research Once They Enter College,” Alison J. Head identified four factors that make conducting research in college different than high school:
1. The academic library collection increases in size and digital resources proliferate.
2. The research approach involves combining and using new and different sources.
3. Research calls for selecting quality research sources, evaluated for their credibility.
4. Assignments require independent choices and encourage intellectual exploration.
She also noted that “many freshmen felt at a disadvantage from the start because of the limited research skills they brought with them.”  The first-year students Head interviewed said they needed to learn:
She writes that the findings from the study “lead us to conclude that even though today’s freshmen may have grown up with the Internet, most may know little about how to best leverage formal channels of information that are available through high schools or college.”

According to Head, “A third of the freshmen that began US colleges and universities this fall will not return to campus next year.”  The National Information Center for Higher Education Policymaking and Analysis reports, “Students are more likely to drop out of postsecondary education during the first year than any other time.”  To support our student learners, librarians at elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions must continue to forge collaborative relationships with each other and with educators at their own institutions.  By working together, we can better support our students’ needs while promoting information literacy as an iterative process central to intellectual growth and the development of critical thinking skills.