He no longer heard the sound of country music playing down the street, no longer saw tractors parked outside in the school’s parking lot and no longer recognized nearly every face that passed him by on the street.
University of Wisconsin student Dave Berndt, now looking forward to his sophomore year, lived in Shawano, Wis. — a town of about 10,000 — for his entire life and coming to Madison meant more people, more studying and, well, just more of everything.
Berndt came from a graduating class of 240 to an entering freshman class of approximately 5,000. He was both excited and anxious when he arrived on campus. Not sure of what to expect exactly, he knew the change would definitely require a few adjustments.
“[Madison] is different. You walk to and from classes with a lot more people around than you’re used to,” Berndt said. “You see so many people you don’t recognize. If you walk around Shawano you recognize about 80 percent of the people. Living in Madison you might not see any people you know.”
Berndt added there were many other things that were different about moving to the university, including class sizes and difficulty, social life and even something as simple as biking.
He said while he did not put too much effort into homework at his high school in Shawano, coming to Madison was a completely different story.?
“High school classes were easy. But the transition to the amount of work per class (in college) is kind of ridiculous because there’s just so much more,” Berndt said.
Berndt was not alone
Director for the UW Center for First-Year Experience Wren Singer said cases like Berndt’s are all too common, with nearly 65 percent of students, coming from Wisconsin, many of whom hail from small towns.
She added getting used to the workload at UW, whether a student comes from a small town or not, can be a daunting task.
“Most students who come here did really well in their high school and are used to being the best, but when they get here everyone is one of the best students,” Singer said. “It takes first-year students a little bit to realize that and adjust their study habits accordingly.”
Singer added there are two other huge transition problems she often sees students bumping into: getting used to their newfound freedom and reaching out to those outside of their high school social circle.
“I think that the strategies they need to use more than anyone else is to find smaller communities within this big community, to really try to meet people in their discussion sections and join student groups,” Singer said.?
According to Bob McGrath, University Health Services coordinator of Mind, Body and Wellness Services, being ready to respond to both positive and negative stresses is crucial.
“Stress is any new demand on you — even the positive,” he said. “All of those factors of a transition can add up. It’s important for people to be aware of that and ready to respond to it.”?
Singer echoed McGrath’s advice, citing the No. 1 thing every student should do is recognize and be aware of their individual transition.?
“If it’s different than what they were expecting, it doesn’t mean they made the wrong choice. It’s just inherently a very challenging time in people’s lives,” she said.
McGrath added UHS offers various counseling services for those students who are having extra trouble coping with the transitory stresses, included relaxation and stress management classes.?
And, as for Berndt…?
While still not sure where the next three years of his college career will take him, Berndt said he is certain of one thing: The main reason to come to college is to graduate; not to drink, not to socialize and not to play games.
He said the first couple of weeks of his freshman year were tough, with everyone going out to parties — making it very hard to focus on schoolwork. But he said if he were to do it over again he would work hard to remember just why he came to UW in the first place.?
“You have to realize the main reason is to do well on your grades,” Berndt said. “Before you know it your freshmen year is over, and then you say, ‘OK, I need to get serious sophomore year.’ If you’d start off better freshman year, it’d just be so much better.”