Striking the Right Balance Between Work and Play

Let’s face it, transitioning from high school to college can be difficult.  It doesn’t matter who you are or where your strengths lie. Living in a new community with a new set of social norms, while adapting to more rigorous curriculum is no easy task. This, combined with the fact that students are forming new social connections and managing their own schedules, and the pressure can be enough to send even the most highly organized, socially adept young adults packing their bags. 

U.S. News & World Report says that as many as 1 in 3 first-year college students won't make it back for their sophomore year. For some, the freedom to self-prioritize results in too much time spent on social endeavors and not enough time hitting the books.

But for students with diagnosed learning or social challenges, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, the balance between work and social activities often tips in the opposite direction. For many of these students, the prospect of cultivating new social connections in college can feel intimidating. The sights and sounds of the campus environment can be overwhelming for people whose challenges include sensory disorders. In these cases there can be a tendency to turn away from the social interaction of campus life.   

Yet social and extracurricular involvement in college is shown to be a key element of student overall success and happiness. There are numerous evidence-based studies showing human interaction is key to a person’s mental and physical health - both of which can be tested during times of big life transitions - like transitioning from high school to college.  

That is why a pillar of College Steps’ mission is to provide the social supports needed to help students more fully integrate into campus life. Both through our network of on-campus peer mentors and the encouragement and help of our on-campus program coordinators, students are given opportunities to form connections and participate in group activities.

Photo by Brigitta Gough. 

Photo by Brigitta Gough. 

One successful example of these supports is Brandon Farrell, a second year student at Castleton University in Vermont who started his own campus bowling league. Brandon’s story was recently featured in the campus newspaper the Castleton Spartan:

“...He started competing at the age of six or seven years old and once his attempt to make a bowling club in high school did not succeed, he made it his mission to start one in college.

Patricia Moore, coordinator of College Steps that provides college experience for those with developmental disabilities, asked Farrell what he liked to do in his free time and what clubs he wanted to join at Castleton when he came to the school in the fall of 2016. His immediate reply was he wanted to have a bowling club...

In their first meeting they had fewer than 10 students, but now the club has expanded to over ten. Last year when the club began they just bowled for fun. Now they are competing in tournaments in the USBC Collegiate League.

The members of the club are supportive of each other. They high five each other after each person goes and they cheer each other on. For Farrell, this has helped him.

‘From my perspective, this has been a truly amazing experience. I’ve seen so much growth in Farrell; in his self-esteem, being able to independently communicate with people about rides, getting together and stuff,’ Moore said…

One of the greatest parts of the club for Farrell is that it has allowed him to get out of his comfort zone and make friends.”

Activities like this are more than just a way to pass time. They are opportunities for students to form and maintain critical social connections - connections that ultimately allow us to stay healthy and relieve stress, making the academic part of the college experience more manageable.

When it comes to not striking out at college, the key can be striking the right balance.