160810_hpt_Freshman-23

Dan Ngo, a freshman computer science major from Duluth, plans his route and looks for the main buildings at a campus map. Freshman preparing routes for classes the next day, catching buses around town for Rush, and those simply walking about hanging with friends storm the University of Georgia the day before classes in Athens, Georgia, on August 10, 2016. (File/Staff)

Each year the fall semester begins with tidal waves of new students striding confidently in one direction, pausing directly in front of oncoming passersby, and then striding just as confidently in the other direction. Hasty searches on map apps followed by an unfamiliarity with college culture – questions like, ‘can I go to the bathroom?’ – may leave upperclassmen frustrated and inconvenienced, but in times of distress one must have patience and be kind to create a better college experience for everyone involved.

“The student’s peer group is the single most potent source of influence on growth and development” wrote Alexander Astin in What Matters in College? Four Critical Years Revisited.

Astin notes that every aspect of the student’s development – cognitive, psychological and behavioral—is affected in some way by peer group characteristics. Moreover, the values, beliefs, and aspirations of individual students generally tend to change in the direction of the dominant values, beliefs, and aspirations of the peer group,” wrote Kenneth A Feldman in his review of Astin’s aforementioned work.

The ways first-years experience college peers in their introduction to college determine the ways they grow into a new environment. The shift from one social support network to another jars anyone undergoing such a transition. If older college students deny first-years a support system, their experience as a first-year will affect them throughout their college career.

“Identity at the beginning of a student’s freshman year in college has a direct influence on his or her intellectual development approximately two years later at the end of the sophomore year. Those students with a more developed overall sense of self appear to be gaining more intellectually from the college environment,” wrote Patricia Buczynski in Research in Higher Education.

Everyone on campus had a first-year experience where they wandered, lost and confused, until they learned the particulars of UGA’s campus environment. Perhaps they asked an upperclassmen for directions, or whether a certain professor graded strictly; they sought guidance from their elders. Remember your first-year days, and be the upperclassman you would have wanted to meet.  

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