Reflecting On The First Year After High School

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Thousands of Wisconsin students are nearing the one-year mark since they graduated from high school. Our first guest leads a program that helps freshman students feel grounded at college and develop a plan for the future. Our second guest is a Wisconsin woman who opted for a gap year in Senegal instead of classes; hear about her experiences and what she plans to do next.

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    The first year after high school is often the first time teenagers live on their own, set their own schedules and make their own rules.

    That transition can be liberating, but it also comes with a new set of challenges.

    Karen McLeer, the program coordinator for First Year Experience at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, sees those challenges play out every day, that’s why their program includes a class that aims to ease the transition into college.

    The class is grounded in research not only about how adolescents learn, but about how people react to major changes in their lives.

    “We want to make sure that students are aware that the university has their best interests in mind,” McLeer said. “If they have a question, if they’re feeling stuck or if they’re just having a terrific day, we want them to know that they can tell someone about that, and that increases their sense of belonging and feeling that the university is their community.”

    McLeer said students enter their first year with varying levels of information about college.

    Some students’ parents and siblings all went to college. Those students have a base level of information about what it’s like to be a college students, most importantly what resources are available and where they can go for help. When they call home, the person on the other end of the line is more likely able to point them in the right direction.

    But first generation college students often have a more difficult time figuring out where they can go on campus for help — whether it’s help picking out a major, getting help with a difficult class, or something more personal. McLeer said the First Year Experience class aims to help those students navigate campus and connect them with resources and other students who are going through the same thing.

    Increasingly though, students are taking a different path directly out of high school.

    Sarah Candee is from Kenosha, but after she graduated high school, she decided she didn’t want to go to college straight away.

    “Just about a year ago I was looking at the college options I had in front of me … I didn’t like any of them, I didn’t feel prepared to go into that environment,” Candee said.

    So Candee applied for a gap year in Senegal with a California-based company Global Citizen Year. There, she took classes and trainings with the program, taught English and lived with a host family.

    Candee said her parents were mostly supportive of her decision to take a year off of traditional schooling before college, but had concerns. Since the family is very college-oriented, it took a while for them to come around to the idea of not going to college immediately after graduating high school, she said.

    But Candee said her time in Senegal helped her not only get into UW-Madison, but also opened her eyes to different subjects she might want to study. Before her time in Senegal, she wanted to study computer science. Now, she’s thinking she might explore different majors and maybe study something with a more international focus.

    “I have personally witnessed myself and others in my cohort grow so much,” Candee said.

    Plus, she’s going into college knowing certain UW faculty after they helped her conduct research while she was in Senegal. That’s the type of thing McLeer said can be a big help to new students.

    McLeer said for most students, it’s just a matter of time and support until they adjust to a new way of life.

    “We can push them over that temporary hump, and then watch them flourish,” McLeer said.

Episode Credits

  • Kate Archer Kent Host
  • Kealey Bultena Producer
  • Karen McLeer Guest
  • Sarah Candee Guest