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AUS expert identifies ways to help new students overcome university challenges
The first semester can pose a number of challenges for new students beginning their university journey at higher education institutions. From taking challenging university courses to navigating personal responsibility, many incoming students struggle with these and other issues as they settle into university life. As some students are now joining university in the spring semester, Dr. Mehvash Ali, Director of the Academic Support Center and First Year Experience Program at American University of Sharjah (AUS), provides valuable advice to new students.
Speaking about the main challenges facing students when they first join university, she said: “Challenging university courses, time management, and personal freedom and the responsibility that comes with it are the three main challenges faced by first-year students all over the world. Even students who performed well in school may struggle in college. Students should address any gaps in their understanding of high school level science, mathematics and English writing before starting university by utilizing the many online resources available.”
Dr. Ali added: “Typically, students in their first semester may spend only 12-15 hours per week in class. Students often make the mistake of thinking that this is the only time they need to dedicate to their studies. Professors expect students to engage in independent inquiry and self-facilitated learning outside the class. Staff expect students to seek out assistance when needed and respond to challenges by developing their skills utilizing the many resources that are available to them. Students are also expected to be actively engaged in extracurricular activities. New students can struggle with balancing these conflicting demands on their time.”
She noted that while it is the responsibility of students who are struggling to seek out the resources available at their university and to implement the recommendations of their instructors and advisors, they do not need to navigate this transition alone.
“At AUS, we do our best to understand and cater to the needs of our students during orientation in the Spring and Fall semesters. That is why we established the First Year Experience Program to support new students, as well as offer other services including tutoring, counseling, workshops, peer support and advising,” she added.
The AUS First Year Experience Program was established as a university-wide collaborative effort aiming to teach first-year students the study and self-care skills they need, educate them on how to balance their studies with other responsibilities, and help them make meaningful connections with the university community. From informative podcasts to online workshops, the program gives new students easy access to valuable resources that ease their transition from high school to university.
Dr. Ali said that the first week of university is a great time to explore all the services available before students get busy with assignments and course work. “We always encourage students to make use of the wonderful Week of Welcome (WoW) events held at the beginning of each semester which are designed to ease the transition from high school to university. By attending these WoW events, students meet other new students, learn about the university, and have a chance to interact with staff,” she said.
For students who will start in the spring term, the size of the cohort is typically much smaller than the fall semester so it can take more of an effort to build connections with other first-years. However, if students attend social events at orientation and through the first week, they will find many opportunities to mingle with fellow first-years.
Parents can also play an important role in supporting their children at university.
“Parents can support students by becoming familiar with university resources to guide them correctly when needed. They need to communicate openly and regularly with their sons and daughters about the struggles and joys of the first semester in university. If students have a strong, healthy and open relationship with their parents, they are more likely to approach the parents for help. Finally, cultivating an adult-adult aspect of the parent-child relationship can lead to a more balanced relationship that is better suited for young adults,” said Dr. Ali.
For more information about the AUS First Year Experience Program, please visit www.aus.edu/fye.