Wiggins: College freshmen take their first steps into the unknown at orientation

07/29/2013 12:04 PM

07/29/2013 1:03 PM

Three months ago today, we journeyed into the academic oasis of our Midtown backyard in exploration of college tourists, high school students from near and farther on the hunt for a roost of higher education.

Two were high school seniors with early admissions to universities we call neighbors. Laura Barkley, now a graduate of Broughton High School, had been accepted to – and chosen – N.C. State University. Shamonique Young, now an alumna of Central High School in Newark, N.J., hoped to answer her acceptance to Shaw University but hadn’t yet decided.

Then, their thoughts were universally focused on how well the schools and school environment matched their academic and social needs and personalities, whether they’d fit in, succeed and actually begin to live their dreams.

Think back to your own experience. You’ll remember, in what seems like no time flat, thoughts leap from weighing choices and sealing decisions to choosing classes and shopping sprees for all things fit for dorm life, higher learning and first-time independence.

Next month, college campuses everywhere will open a new world to an influx of college freshmen. Although nationwide projections suggest fewer will enroll this year than last, the experience is no less life-changing.

Let’s check in on Laura and Shamonique as they prepare for the plunge:

‘In the spirit’

Laura, an avid equestrian planning to become an equine veterinarian, finished a two-day freshman orientation at N.C. State last week.

“It was kind of stressful,” said Laura, 18. There was the ping-pong of class scheduling, trying to figure out “what to take at what time and fitting that into which slots were open,” and second-guessing her decision to take 17 credit hours, a fuller load than many.

Laura, who moves onto campus Aug. 17, had other things to think about, too. “I had to figure out now how to get game tickets through the lottery because our first football game is August 31.

“And I’m also rushing,” she said of the first steps of pledging to join a Greek sorority on campus. “I’ve been working on getting recommendation letters. It’s been really busy.”

The biggest news of all, perhaps: “I found my roommate,” Laura said.

It’s been tricky coordinating bedding for their dorm room off Hillsborough Street because her roommate lives in Greensboro, “but at least we have the same colors,” Laura said.

What has worked well, Laura said, is who’s bringing what to make dorm life simulate the comforts of home.

“She got a TV, and she got a coffee maker; I’m getting a futon,” Laura began.

Between shopping and some vacationing, Laura said, she’s still got on her touring cap.

“I’ve been trying to walk around and locate all the buildings for my classes,” she said. “I’m real excited.

“I’ve gotten in the spirit, the Wolfpack spirit!”

‘Not giving up on Shaw’

As the first among her parents and siblings to go to college, Shamonique was thrilled about the prospect of attending Shaw University, an HBCU that breeds character and success. It’s where her cousin, Tyreese McAllister, graduated from and where she toured in April.

Then, Shamonique was hoping to get enough financial aid to afford the out-of-state costs to become a Shaw Bear.

“I chose Ramapo College of New Jersey,” she told me last week. “I didn’t have any help financially, so it wasn’t in my best interest right now to go to college out of state.

“Ramapo is a top school in New Jersey, and it also gives me the best of both worlds: affordable in-state tuition and aid, and small class sizes, too,” she said. “It’s still a small college, like Shaw. I just won’t get the HBCU experience I wanted.”

To get ready, she enrolled in the Educational Opportunity Fund program offered in her home state to prepare inner-city students for college through academic and financial support.

For the past four weeks, with two more to go, Shamonique has lived on campus with about 100 other students.

She’s taking two classes. One improves math skills; the other, Critical Reading and Writing, counts as college credit.

“I had questions and I had doubts because I’m a first-generation college student,” she said. “EOF opened my eyes to see I am able and capable to do whatever someone who doesn’t look like me can do.

“I got a ‘B’ on my first paper, so, yes, I’ll do it,” she added confidently. “I’ll be OK.”

Shaw isn’t out of her sights, though.

“If I study and work hard and save up money, I will be able to get myself down to Shaw,” she said. “I’m not giving up on Shaw.”

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