What to Expect Your First Semester of Community College

What to Expect Your First Semester of Community College
Learn what to expect in terms of classes and student life in your first semester of community college.

Congratulations! Enrolling in your first semester of community college marks an important milestone in your professional career. Building your academic accomplishments and technical skills creates the springboard for your future working endeavors.

However, for many students, the first semester of community college is not met with flying colors. In fact, according to 2007 research by the Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), approximately six out of 10 community college freshmen with high school diplomas drop out after the first semester! Therefore, it is important to understand what to expect in your first semester of community college; this will help with supporting your transition and long-term academic success.

This video illustrates one student's experiences during her first semester at community college.

Choose the appropriate classes

Although you will most likely be asked to take placement tests, you will also have great freedom in choosing the classes to take at community college. It is important that you carefully evaluate your academic abilities – as well as your long-term interests – to determine what your first-semester course load should be.

Are you looking to transfer to a four-year institution from your community college? If so, your first-semester curriculum will be different than the student who is planning to enter into the workforce with an Associate’s degree. If your ultimate goal is to transfer to a four-year college, then it is important to begin planning within the first semester. You generally only want to take classes that will afford you transfer credit, while still meeting all of the general education requirements. Typically, most four-year institutions will require the following classes to transfer:

  • 2 English composition courses
  • 1 Speech course
  • 1 Critical thinking course
  • 1 Physical science class
  • 1 Biological science class
  • 1 Health class
  • 2 Physical education courses
  • Completion of college algebra
  • 1 or 2 U.S. history classes
  • 2 Foreign language courses
  • 2 or 3 courses in social and behavioral sciences
  • 2 or 3 classes in humanities

Students who begin planning their transfer from the first semester of community college have higher rates of transfer success than those who do not. On the other hand, if you are not planning to transfer to a four-year institution, it is important that you still plan to fulfill the pre-requisites for your major, ensuring that you can graduate and enter the workforce on time.

Do not overestimate your level of academic preparation

According to PACE, many students become discouraged in the first semester because they overestimated their level of preparation – and thus, did not perform as academically well as they anticipated.

Despite the contrary misperception, community college is not the 13th grade, and the classes are not easy. You must be willing to commit to your education to succeed – which means attending all your classes, reading the course literature, participating in discussions, and studying for your exams. There is a large difference between high school and community college, and thus, you must prepare differently in order to succeed academically.

Here is another look at the first semester in community college.

Whereas your high school grades depended upon a large variety of factors, including homework, participation, group projects, weekly quizzes, and several tests, community college is much different. In fact, some of the courses you take may base your grade on only two elements: the mid-term and the final. The only judges of your performance are your midterm and final grades, and needless to say, these judges are not forgiving.

Whether or not you attend class or complete the recommended reading is strictly up to you; no one will monitor if you are on track with your studying and assignments in community college. Therefore, developing self-discipline and the ability to set your studying schedule are the two keys to succeeding in community college.

Generally, if you attend every class, complete the reading rubric set forth by the professor, and begin studying for your midterms and finals well in advance, you can smoothly sail through your classes. However, unlike high school, beginning your studies the night before the test will not yield favorable results–and if you are planning to transfer, your suffered grades can significantly impact your acceptance into a four-year institution.

Balance your work schedule and school commitments

The growing cost-of-living expenses has prompted many students to simultaneously work and attend community college. Although you may have worked during high school, balancing your job and college classes is a different feat altogether. If you work, adjusting to your first semester of community college requires you to carefully plan your schedule – both formally and informally. Create a calendar that maps out your specific time commitments, including work and class schedules. Then, you should allocate time slots for all of your academic tasks, such as reading course literature, attending a study group, or preparing for your mid-term.

In addition, you may be living on your own during your first semester of community college. Whereas mom and dad previously provided you with meals, washed your clothes, and paid the household bills, living on your own requires that you spend time managing your home. Therefore, you are not only balancing work and school, but also the responsibility of caring for your household. This makes planning your schedule precisely even more important – ensuring that you have sufficient time to accomplish all of your academic and professional responsibilities.

Planning for social commitments

An exciting element of community college is the social interaction; with the plethora of clubs and organizations, you can easily find friends who share your interests. Many freshmen in their first semester become overwhelmed with the social activities – especially considering that this is the first time parents cannot dictate curfews or schedules.

When you treat your social events like your work and academic responsibilities – meaning that you carefully plan your time based upon these commitments – you can thoroughly enjoy a well-rounded college experience. College is meant to be both fun and engaging, and when you plan your time, you can enjoy the social, academic, and professional rewards.

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