Making transition from High School to Technical College

Maria Watts, liberal arts transfer student at Nicolet College, shares her insights on and experiences with going from high school to technical college along her career pathway.



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Interview with Maria Watts
Liberal Arts Transfer Student
Nicolet College (8:33)


Announcer: This is Making Futures; helping individuals discover their passion and fulfill their potential.


Interviewer: Today I'll be speaking with Maria Watts, a Liberal Arts Transfer student, entering her second year at Nicolet College. We'll be talking about making the transition to technical college, what to expect, and how to prepare yourself. Maria, tell us where you went to high school and when you graduated.

Maria: I went to high school at Elcho High School and I graduated in May of 2011.

Interviewer: So what were your expectations of technical college before you attended there?.

Maria: I expected to have small class sizes where I would get the chance to meet with my professors and get to know me as a student instead of a number; if I went right away to a university where class sizes would be like 300 or more.

Interviewer: And, how did you prepare yourself for college?

Maria: Well, I chose classes that I knew I would need to take that would be transferable to UW-La Crosse. And I went to orientation day, where I get to go around to all my classrooms and kind of get familiarized with the college and then get to meet people before school actually started, so I wouldn't feel like I didn't know anybody.

Interviewer: It sounds like you knew ahead of time what your plan was. At what point in your high school experience did you decide to attend the technical college?

Maria: Well, I was planning to go to a four-year university right away, but then I decided my senior year that I wanted to go to a technical college because I thought I'd be better off to stay at home my first two years, save a little bit of money, and get my education where I'd be able to be more one-on-one with the professor. And they'd know me - rather than going right to a university where it's a lot bigger and my class sizes in high school were very small, like 25 kids, and I think I would have been really overwhelmed going to a big university right away.

Interviewer: Did you feel prepared when you started taking classes?

Maria: Yes.

Interviewer: Good. How would you say technical college is different than high school? Some people have the impression that 'Oh, technical college is just the same as high school.' How would you address that?

Maria: Well, technical college is much different for me because you get to choose the classes and the times you want to take it. You're not set into 'I have to be there at eight o'clock until 3:18 like in high school. You're also treated as more of an adult, it's your responsibility to come to class, and they'll know at a technical college if you don't come because it's such small class sizes. And a similarity that I liked from high school was that the classes are small and you get to know your other classmates on a first name basis.

Interviewer: Was there anyone in particular that helped you during the transition, were there some difficult things that you had to deal with at all or was it a really easy transition for you?

Maria: Well, my parents helped me, because I wanted to make sure I was taking classes that were transferable. So I printed off sheets from UW-La Crosse, where I'll be transferring in the fall of 2013, and Nicolet, so I knew I'd be taking classes that would transfer. I didn't want to take classes that wouldn't transfer and I would be taking classes that I wouldn't need. And they helped me a lot too, because it's easy because they've been to college - I know quite a few years ago - but it's easy to bounce off questions because I was a little bit nervous about going to college.

Interviewer: What made you nervous about it? What were you anticipating?

Maria: I think I was nervous because I wouldn't know everybody. When I went to high school, it was 26 in my class, and I knew everybody from kindergarten on, and in like college, I don't really know anybody, so I was kind of nervous going in as like that first day of school. Which it was my first day of college, but getting to go to orientation day really made me more comfortable.

Interviewer: What other things did the college do to help you?

Maria: Well, they made it easier when you would go to classes. Because we did..we introduced each others; we played different games. Not like little kid games, but games to introduce your self. They had breakfasts that you could go to, you could sign up for different activities, join clubs, and it was just kind of nice, the first day of my classes, we all just kind of got to know each other so that made it a little bit easier. And the professors were always willing, they always said, 'Feel comfortable to come into our office at anytime, even if it's not office hours.' Because they said sometimes they'll just be in there and they're fine with you just popping in and asking for a question.

Interviewer: That sounds really helpful. Did you join a club, or more than one club?

Maria: I actually didn't get a chance to join a club this is my first year, but next year I would like to join a few. I've been looking online. There's quite a few different clubs at Nicolet and I'm hoping to maybe do a little more research and join a club next year. I'll be going to some meetings for the Board of Trustees as ambassador just to kind of give the students input at the meetings, which will be once a month, so I'm looking forward to that a lot.

Interviewer: Well that should be a good experience for you. So what advice would you give to these current high school students on how to prepare for the transition to technical college?

Maria: Time management, because you have a lot more down time because you set your own classes. So, it's different times. Like you might have like a three-hour break between classes or you might just have your classes in the morning and then the whole afternoon off. And it's not just free time and you don't have to worry about anything. You have to set times to study, to finish your homework, and then if you have a job to work, and then you can set time to relax. But you just don't want to not have anything scheduled out because you'll be overwhelmed. So time management, I would say, is the key.

Interviewer: Anything else as far as things to do while you are anticipating, or like, if you're a senior in high school and you're thinking 'Okay, next year I'm going to be in the technical college.' Anything to do while you're in high school to prepare?

Maria: Well, if you are just going for a two-year degree at technical college, just look into their programs. Otherwise if you're going to be a university transfer student, or liberal arts like me, just make sure that you're credits transfer over. Like print off, like you can do online, what are your classes you'll need for wherever you're transferring to and then your technical college. That's always helpful. And then maybe talking to somebody at that technical college that you're planning on going to, and they can kind of give you a little bit more background on what to expect; class sizes, people, professors.

Interviewer: What are your plans for the future Maria?

Maria: I plan on going to UW-La Crosse in the fall of 2013 to finish my degree to become a recreational therapist. And then I would like to work at a residential facility helping young kids, or even adults, or high school students come in a recovery state, become a better...kind of getting their life back on the right track, because I could work with people, children with behavioral issues, adults with drug and alcohol issues or OCD, or eating disorders, or just any other kind of problem they might have; mental disability. I kind of like helping people get on the right track. I mean, everybody goes through their own challenges in life, and I've gone through challenges myself, and I think that helping other people is going to help me grow as a person and help them also.

Interviewer: One last question. Do you feel like your experience at the technical college is preparing you well for that, the next transition to the four-year college?

Maria: Yes, I do. I've gotten better at studying and I'm also feeling more comfortable talking out loud with teachers and asking questions. Instead, I think if I was in a big lecture hall, I think I'd be afraid to ask questions. But I think I'm getting more confidence in myself in asking, and I know I'm going to miss - I was just walking about this with my family - I said 'I'm going to miss Nicolet when I go to La Crosse, for sure!'

Interviewer:That's good to hear. I'm sure your instructors and staff members who have met you will also miss you, and they'll appreciate hearing you say that. I have been talking with Maria Watts, a Liberal Arts transfer student at Nicolet Area Technical College. Thanks for your insights.

Maria: You're welcome!

Announcer: Making Futures is a presentation of Wisconsin's 16 Technical Colleges. Thanks for listening.