Academic Connections: A Pre-College Experience?

July 25, 2008
Brittany Armellino

Two hundred fifty-five high school students arrive at Muir Resident Halls at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) on a Sunday afternoon. Their suitcases are stuffed with clothes. Anticipation and fear can be vividly seen in their faces. After taking a quick photograph, the students receive their name badges. This is the identification they are required to wear for the next three weeks. After standing in line to take a most likely hideous photograph for their badge, the students ride the elevator to their new home, a college dorm room. Their parents help them unpack their clothes and make their beds, half of which are top bunks. At 5 p.m., some tearful goodbyes can be witnessed as the parents depart from their
students. The students must now meet new individuals, eat dinner and return to the residence halls where they will reside.

This is the beginning of Academic Connections (AC), a program that claims to provide students with a “pre-college summer academic and residential experience”. AC also promises students “genuine residential life experience on a college campus” and “college academic, residential and extracurricular activities”. The question, however, is to what extent AC mirrors a true college experience.

Although the program cannot provide high school students with an exact college experience, it does provide them with the opportunity to cultivate their understanding of what college life is like. Aside from the rigid time schedule for meals and lights out, the program allows students to discover what college has to offer.

Academic Connections: The Basics

AC is a three-week program that takes place in July. The program began in 2001 with 136 individuals who traveled to San Diego from both across the United States and internationally. High school students entering grades 10-12 with a cumulative high school GPA of 3.3 or higher are encouraged to attend the program. The students are both male and female and are of various ethnicities. Each student chooses one course and spends five hours a day in class.

Students live with a roommate in a suite-style dormitory. Social activities such as trips to the beach, sports and crafts, are planned throughout the three weeks. The students are urged to partake in the activities and to make a variety of new friends.

Academic Connections: Not Quite Like College

Overall, students feel as though AC is much stricter than they expect college will be. The idea of too much supervision is a consensus shared by all student interviewees. AC students are: forbidden from taking the stairs, unless there is an emergency; required to attend a suite meeting at 10:00 p.m. every night; have lights-out by 11:00 p.m.; and can only eat at the dining hall at specific times. Students remark that these rules make AC vary greatly from college.

Students also highlight that classes at the program are unrealistic. Classes are held for five hours a day, and students take only one class throughout the program. Arielle Beauvoir claims, “I am quite possibly sure I will have to balance more than one class in college.” Despite these differences, students do note some ways AC has prepared them for college.

Lifestyle and Responsibility at AC Prepare Students for College

Students in AC agree that the most valuable attribute the program has to offer is the dormitory living. Student Michelle Chang says, “Where you live is very similar to college.” For many students this is their first time away from their parents, giving the students a taste of what college will be like.

Paige Hasama, also a student in the program, believes, “Academic Connections teaches me how to balance my life.” Whether it is spent studying, socializing or washing clothes, students at the program must manage their time wisely. There are no parents to persuade students to do (or not do) something. Students must decide on their own what works best for them. Overall, AC participants feel as though the setting and the amount of responsibility they have at the program prepares them the most for college.

Staff Members Compare and Contrast AC With College

In an interview, Erin Malone, an AC instructor, and Lily Alba, a residential assistant (RA) compare and contrast the AC program with their college experience. Both staff members believe that AC is more restrictive than college. Lily Alba notes, “The largest difference is the lunch.” According to Lily, most college students do not eat lunch at the time allotted for the AC students.

Both members of the staff agree that the role of the RAs is very similar to college in that each student has an RA to talk with and to help them plan and schedule activities.

Malone thinks, “The most valuable experience students get out of AC is exposure”. Alba agrees. “Academic Connections opens a big door.” According to these AC staff members, the program’s best contribution to students is the exposure it creates. This exposure gives students their first taste of autonomy, thus easing their transition into college life.

Although AC is a bit restrictive, it offers students a basic understanding and feeling of college. AC introduces students to many aspects of college, especially the social networking and the lifestyle changes college encompasses. The program fulfills its mission statement, ensuring high school students a summer filled with college preparatory experiences.

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