Myth Bustin' In the FYE

The CLA First-Year Experience (FYE) is designed to welcome students to the University and provide them with the resources necessary to thrive here. To meet this objective, CLA FYE staff constantly self evaluate and modify the program to better address student needs. While every individual student experience is different, we had a programmatic interest in the general expectations and goals of first-year students coming into college. At the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, we asked first-year students to set goals aligned with academic achievement, health and wellness, and life after college, along with broader questions related to their adjustment to college. We found some things we expected and some we never saw coming. There was only one thing we could do: myth-bust the first-year student experience.

Myth #1: First-year students only care about their GPA

The first myth we investigated dealt with student academic goals. The easy answer here is getting good grades, but first-year students demonstrated greater complexity in the ways they described their academic goals.

For example, 1 in 4 students also said they wanted to learn strong study skills. Students were especially interested in finding ways to finesse the transition between high school and college, recognizing that college level work would be considerably harder than what they had produced in high school.

The fact that 25% of the incoming class wants help with study skills allows the CLA FYE program to focus on presenting resources and tips through student mentoring. This myth is officially busted.

Myth #2: First-year students are very worried about finding majors, internships, and eventual careers

Another common perception on campus is that first-year students are eager to hit the ground running in choosing a major, seeking out an internship, and advancing toward finding a career. After evaluating the goals of thousands of first-year students this myth is confirmed.

To be more specific about this myth, when we break down the first year students by different groups, they act a bit differently. Here are two figures that compare students' responses for PSEO versus non-PSEO students, and international versus non-international students.

By interpreting these two figures, it is clear that a large portion of both PSEO and international students are more confident about this question, while for the rest of first year students, there exist a certain amount of them who feel less confident.

Myth #3: When students make health goals, they consider physical activity, mental health, healthy eating choices, sleep, and stress

Most students set goals about healthy eating and physical activity, particularly taking advantage of selection in dining halls and university recreation services. Fewer students discussed stress or mental health. Almost zero students discussed sleep. The myth that students are equipped to make all encompassing health goals is busted. To combat this, the U of M has resources already in place for students to combat stress and places for students to go for mental health services. We even have a class in the public health department to help students balance eating, sleeping, and exercising.

Myth #4: All students are optimistic when they start college

Everyone says that college is the best time of your life, but does that mean all first-year students are optimistic about starting school? It turns out that this optimistic myth is somewhat confirmed. About 2% of students told us they weren't optimistic about starting college, however, they had a lot to say about feeling isolated on a huge campus and anxiety about academic rigor.

When you're walking around the quad at Welcome Week, several dozen students are already worried about their college success, before classes have even started. It's so important to take the time to talk to first-year students and offer a helping hand or listening ear.

Myth #5: First-year students are obsessed with social media

The millennial generation has a reputation for spending more time on Instagram than in real-life, but we wanted to know if that was really true of first-year students. It turns out this myth is plausible, but there are more nuanced uses of social media than one might think. Some students did say they use a little too much Twitter, but other students wanted to start using social media or start using for a specific reason such as networking for future career possibilities. 

The digital age is upon us and social media is closely tied with social processes at any University, but showing students how to use social media to stay connected with friends and family from afar or to build career opportunities through LinkedIn, GoldPass and other online media resources is a big part of the goals of the CLA First-Year Experiences Program.

Myth #6: First-year students are just trying to get a degree

With such a strong push to find successful employment upon graduation, students just want to go to college and get a degree, right? This myth was completely busted by the goals of first-year students. Students articulated their goals as building confidence, personal growth and independence, finding new experiences and perspectives and discovering their purposes in life. First-year students are looking to grow as holistic people and see college as a venue for self discovery as well as intellectual stimulation.

In conclusion, from their very first days on campus students view the University of Minnesota as more than just a place to earn a degree. The University is also viewed as a place to learn study skills, to find an internship and a career path, to become healthier, to overcome challenges and to grow as an academic and as an individual. 

Written by Kat Albrecht and Rebecca Xiao
Kat and Rebecca are FYE Team Leaders collecting and analyzing data for FYE program improvement throughout the year. Kat is a Sociology of Law, Criminology, and Deviance major with a minor in Cinema and Media Culture. Rebecca is a Math and Statistics major.