1.2 Adjustments for College Success

“Striving for success without hard work is like trying to harvest when you haven’t planted.”
– David Bly

Questions to consider:

  • How will you adjust to college?
  • What are the common college experiences you will have?
  • What does success mean to you in college and beyond?

Adjustments to College Are Inevitable

College not only will expand your mind, but it may also make you a little uncomfortable, challenge your identity, and at times, make you doubt your abilities. It is hard to truly learn anything without getting messy. This is what education does: it transforms us. For that to happen, however, means that we will need to be open to the transformation and allow the changes to occur. Flexibility, transition, and change are all words that describe what you will experience. Laurie Hazard and Stephanie Carter (2018) believe there are six adjustment areas that first-year college students experience: academic, cultural, emotional, financial, intellectual, and social. Of course, you won’t go through these adjustments all at once or even in just the first year. Some will take time, while others may not even feel like much of a transition. Let’s look at them in brief as a way of preparing for the road ahead:

Academic adjustment. No surprises here. You will most likely—depending on your own academic background—be faced with the increased demands of learning in college. This could mean that you need to spend more time learning to learn and using those strategies to master the material.

Cultural adjustment. You also will most likely experience a cultural adjustment just by being in college because most campuses have their own language (syllabus, registrar, and office hours, for example) and customs. You may also experience a cultural adjustment because of the diversity that you will encounter. Most likely, the people on your college campus will be different than the people at your high school—or at your workplace.

International students face unique challenges as they arrive to Canada. Explore the following website for tips, resources and strategies on how to adjust in your college.

Studying in Canada

Emotional adjustment. Remember that you will experience a wide range of emotions as you enter your college journey. As you step on to the campus for the first time you will feel nervous, excited and anxious all at the same time! As you make friends and get familiar you will feel relaxed, and as assignments and tests come up, you will feel stressed, overwhelmed or eager. You may feel very happy and satisfied upon receiving the grades you expected, or upset for a low grade. These will likely be present in some form throughout your first weeks in college and at stressful times during the semester. Knowing that you may have good days and bad—and that you can bounce back from the more stressful days—will help you find healthy ways of adjusting emotionally.

Financial adjustment. Most students understand the investment they are making in their future by going to college. Even if you have all your expenses covered, there is still an adjustment to a new way of thinking about what college costs and how to pay for it. You may find that you think twice about spending money on entertainment or that you have improved your skills in finding discounted textbooks.

Check out the Financial Aid available at Centennial College

Intellectual adjustment. Experiencing an intellectual “a-ha!” moment is one of the most rewarding parts of college, right up there with moving across the graduation stage with a degree in hand. Prepare to be surprised when you stumble across a fascinating subject or find that a class discussion changes your life. At the very least, through your academic work, you will learn to think differently about the world around you and your place in it.

Social adjustment. A new place often equals new people. But in college, those new relationships can have even more meaning. Getting to know professors not only can help you learn more in your classes, but it can also help you figure out what career pathway you want to take and how to get desired internships and jobs. Learning to reduce conflicts during group work or when living with others helps build essential workplace and life skills.

Adapting to the cultural differences of Canada is important for international students. Explore the website for resources.

Adapting to cultural differences in Canada as an international student

Centennial College – A place for all students

All colleges have services that are accessible to all students. Check out the student services available at Centennial College

Centennial College Student Services for Indigenous Students

Centennial College Black Student Collective

The table Six Areas of Adjustment for First-Year College Students provides a succinct definition for each of the areas as well as examples of how you can demonstrate that you have adjusted. Think about what you have done so far to navigate these transitions in addition to other things you can do to make your college experience a successful one.

A table lists the six areas of adjustment for first-year college students as academic, cultural, emotional, financial, intellectual, and social.
View Figure 1 Long Description

Figure 1.2 Six Areas of Adjustment for First-Year College Students Based on work by Laurie Hazard, Ed.D., and Stephanie Carter, M.A.


Which of the six areas of adjustment do you think will be the least challenging for you, and which do you think will be most challenging? What can you do now to prepare for the more challenging transitions? Complete your chapter readings and then answer the above questions. Record your answers on this printable sheet.

FOS Activity Chapter 1.

Now that you are aware of the adjustments that you will require to make in college, let us look into the term College Success.

Defining Success in College

How do you define college success? The definition really depends on you. You might be thinking of measures of college success with grades. For instance, you might be unhappy with anything less than an A in a course or just happy to receive a C grade!  You may link success to your grades and if you fail a course, you may think that college is not for you! Considerable research into college success reveals that having difficulty in or failing in college courses usually has nothing to do with intellect. More often success depends on how fully a student embraces and masters the following skills:

  1. Learn how to listen actively in class and take effective notes.
  2. Review the text and your reading notes prior to class.
  3. Participate in class discussion and maybe even join a study group.
  4. Go to office hours and ask your instructor questions.
  5. Give yourself enough time to research, write, and edit your assignments in manageable stages.
  6. Take advantage of online or on-campus academic support resources.
  7. Spend sufficient time studying.

So if you feel you are not smart enough for college, ask yourself if you can implement some of these skills. Overall, students struggle in college, not because of natural intellect or smarts, but because of time management, organization, and lack of quality study time. The good news is that there are ways to combat this, and this course and textbook will help you do just that.

Now it is time to create your personal definition of Success using the reflection questions provided in the activity below.


Source: Set Yourself Up for Success. Authored by: Heather Syrett. Provided by: Austin Community College. LicenseLicenseCC BY-NC-SA 4.0


  • Write a journal entry defining what success means to you in college and beyond. Consider the following questions as a guide to help you with your journal entry.
    • Find a quote (or make one up) that best summarizes your definition of success (be sure to cite the author and the source, such as the URL).
    • Why does this quote best represent your personal definition success?
    • What people do you consider to be successful and why?
    • What is your definition of success?
    • What will you do to achieve success?
    • What is the biggest change you need to make in order to be successful in college?
    • How will you know you’ve achieved success?

Key Takeaways

  • All first year college students go through adjustments in several areas.
  • Flexibility, transition, and change are all words that describe what all students experience, in some way or the other.
  • You determine your success and everyone’s definition of success is personal.


Image Long Descriptions

Figure 1: The table lists the six areas of adjustment for first-year college students as academic, cultural, emotional, financial, intellectual, and social. Each of these areas are defined in the “What is it?” row. Each area has a list of examples of how a student may demonstrate adjustment in these areas.

Area of Adjustment: Academic

What is it? Students will take a more active role in their learning than they had to in high-school and have the ability to meet the increasing demands of change.

Students exhibit it when they:

  • Take an active role in learning.
  • Attain college-level learning strategies.
  • Are open to feedback and change.
  • Make adjustments to learning strategies as needed.

Area of Adjustment: Cultural

What is it? Students will interact with others of various cultures, religious beliefs, sexual identities and orientations, ages, and abilities.

Students exhibit it when they:

  • Accept and welcome differences in others.
  • Recognize the include of their own cultural identity.
  • Seek opportunities to explore other cultures.

Area of Adjustment: Emotional

What is it? Students will need to be prepared for the stressors of college and develop habits and behaviors to cope with these changes.

Students exhibit it when they:

  • Readily handle the stressors of college life.
  • Develop emotional coping strategies.
  • Seek support from campus resources.

Area of Adjustment: Financial

What is it? Students will need to demonstrate basic financial literacy, an understanding of the cost of college, and methods of paying for those costs.

Students exhibit it when they:

  • Manage money independently.
  • Recognize the costs of college.
  • Explore job and aid opportunities.

Area of Adjustment: Intellectual

What is it? Students will have the opportunity to join an academic community that includes classmates, faculty, support personnel, and administrators.

Students exhibit it when they:

  • Engage in intellectual discussions.
  • Are open to new ideas, subject areas, and career choices.
  • Integrate new ideas into belief systems.

Area of Adjustment: Social

What is it? Students will be faced with shifts in their relationships, finding a new peer group, and handling the pressure of fitting in.

Students exhibit it when they:

  • Join a club or organization.
  • Form supportive healthy relationships.
  • Understand the impact of peer pressure.
  • Manage conflict in relationships.

Attributions and References

Adapted from

Baldwin, A. (2020). College Success. Provided by: Open Stax.
Book URL: Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/college-success/pages/1-introduction
Section URL: https://openstax.org/books/college-success/pages/1-2-the-first-year-of-college-will-be-an-experience
License: CC BY: Attribution

Syrett, H., et al. Learning Framework: Strategies for College Success. Provided by: Austin Community College.
Book URL: https://www.oercommons.org/courseware/8434.
Section URL: https://www.oercommons.org/courseware/lesson/25858/overview?section=2
License: CC BY : Attribution


Defining Success . Authored by: Linda Bruce. Provided by: Lumen Learning. Located athttps://courses.lumenlearning.com/sanjacinto-learningframework/chapter/defining-success/ LicenseCC BY 4.0

International student resources accessible at https://arrivein.com/


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Fundamentals for Success in College Copyright © 2022 by Priti Parikh, Centennial College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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