Transitioning to life at SMU

Whether you are making the transition from high school to university or transferring from one university to another, adapting to a new environment will be both challenging and rewarding. The information provided here will help you understand the differences between high school and college and help you to quickly acclimate to your new home here at SMU.

Academic counselors are also available to help you. Please visit the A-LEC and make it a regular part of your academic life.

The Peruna Passport provides an overview of SMU's Common Curriculum and other important introductory information. 



* High school is mandatory and usually free. * College is voluntary and expensive.
* Your time is structured by others. * You manage your own time.
* You need permission to participate in extracurricular activities * You must decide whether to participate in co-curricular activities.
* You can count on parents and teachers to remind you of your responsibilities and to guide you in setting priorities. You must balance your responsibilities and set priorities. You will face moral and ethical decisions you have never faced before.
* Each day you proceed from one class directly to another, spending 6 hours each day--30 hours a week--in class. * You often have hours between classes; class times vary throughout the day and evening and you spend only 12 to 16 hours each week in class
* Most of your classes are arranged for you. * You arrange your own schedule in consultation with your advisor. Schedules tend to look lighter than they really are.
* You are somewhat responsible for knowing what it takes to graduate. * Graduation requirements are complex, and differ from year to year. You are expected to know those that apply to you.
* Guiding principle: You will usually be told what to do and corrected if your behavior is out of line. * Guiding principle: You are expected to take responsibility for what you do and don't do, as well as for the consequences of your decisions.


* The school year is 36 weeks long; some classes extend over both semesters and some don't. * The academic year is divided into two separate 15-week semesters, plus a week after each semester for exams.
* Classes generally have no more than 35 students. * Classes may number 100 students or more.
* You may study outside class as little as 0 to 2 hours a week, and this may be mostly last-minute test preparation. * You need to study at least 2 to 3 hours outside of class for each hour in class.
* You seldom need to read anything more than once, and sometimes listening in class is enough. * You need to review class notes and text material regularly.
* You are expected to read short assignments that are then discussed, and often re-taught, in class. * You are assigned substantial amounts of reading and writing which may not be directly addressed in class.
* Guiding principle: You will usually be told in class what you need to learn from assigned readings. * Guiding principle: It's up to you to read and understand the assigned material; lectures and assignments proceed from the assumption that you've already done so.


* Teachers check your completed homework. * Professors may not always check completed homework, but they will assume you can perform the same tasks on tests.
* Teachers remind you of your incomplete work. * Professors may not remind you of incomplete work.
* Teachers approach you if they believe you need assistance. * Professors are usually open and helpful, but most expect you to initiate contact if you need assistance.
* Teachers are often available for conversation before, during, or after class. * Professors expect and want you to attend their scheduled office hours.
* Teachers have been trained in teaching methods to assist in imparting knowledge to students. * Professors have been trained as experts in their particular areas of research.
* Teachers provide you with information you missed when you were absent. * Professors expect you to get from classmates any notes from classes you missed.
* Teachers present material to help you understand the material in the textbook. * Professors may not follow the textbook. Instead, to amplify the text, they may give illustrations, provide background information, or discuss research about the topic you are studying. Or they may expect you to relate the classes to the textbook readings.
* Teachers often write information on the board to be copied in your notes. * Professors may lecture nonstop, expecting you to identify the important points in your notes. When professors write on the board, it may be to amplify the lecture, not to summarize it. Good notes are a must.
* Teachers impart knowledge and facts, sometimes drawing direct connections and leading you through the thinking process. * Professors expect you to think about and synthesize seemingly unrelated topics.
* Teachers often take time to remind you of assignments and due dates. * Professors expect you to read, save, and consult the course syllabus (outline); the syllabus spells out exactly what is expected of you, when it is due, and how you will be graded.
* Teachers carefully monitor class attendance. * Professors may not formally take roll, but they are still likely to know whether or not you attended.
* Guiding principle: High school is a teaching environment in which you acquire facts and skills. * Guiding principle: College is a learning environment in which you take responsibility for thinking through and applying what you have learned.


* Testing is frequent and covers small amounts of material. * Testing is usually infrequent and may be cumulative, covering large amounts of material. You, not the professor, need to organize the material to prepare for the test. A particular course may have only 2 or 3 tests in a semester.
* Makeup tests are often available. * Makeup tests are seldom an option; if they are, you need to request them.
* Teachers frequently rearrange test dates to avoid conflict with school events. * Professors in different courses usually schedule tests without regard to the demands of other courses or outside activities.
* Teachers frequently conduct review sessions, pointing out the most important concepts. * Professors rarely offer review sessions, and when they do, they expect you to be an active participant, one who comes prepared with questions.
* Guiding principle: Mastery is usually seen as the ability to reproduce what you were taught in the form in which it was presented to you, or to solve the kinds of problems you were shown how to solve. * Guiding principle: Mastery is often seen as the ability to apply what you've learned to new situations or to solve new kinds of problems.


* Grades are given for most assigned work. * Grades may not be provided for all assigned work.
* Consistently good homework grades may raise your overall grade when test grades are low. * Grades on tests and major papers usually provide most of the course grade.
* Extra credit projects are often available to help you raise your grade. * Extra credit projects cannot, generally speaking, be used to raise a grade in a college course.
* Initial test grades, especially when they are low, may not have an adverse effect on your final grade. * Watch out for your first tests. These are usually "wake-up calls" to let you know what is expected--but they also may account for a substantial part of your course grade. You may be shocked when you get your grades.
* You may graduate as long as you have passed all required courses with a grade of D or higher. * You may graduate only if your average in classes meets the departmental standard--typically a 2.0 or C.
* Guiding principle: Effort counts. Courses are usually structured to reward a "good-faith effort." * Guiding principle: Results count. Though "good-faith effort" is important in regard to the professor's willingness to help you achieve good results, it will not substitute for results in the grading process.


  • Take control of your own education: think of yourself as a scholar.
  • Get to know your professors; they are your single greatest resource.
  • Be assertive. Create your own support systems, and seek help when you realize you may need it.
  • Take advantage of the A-LEC; go to a workshop, enroll in HDEV 1210: Academic Success and Personal Developmentwork with a tutor.
  • Take control of your time. Plan ahead to satisfy academic obligations and make room for everything else.
  • Stretch yourself: enroll in at least one course that really challenges you.
  • Make thoughtful decisions: don't take a course just to satisfy a requirement, and don't drop any course too quickly.
  • Think beyond the moment: set goals for the semester, the year, your college career.

Congratulations on your transfer to SMU! You’ve already proven that you can succeed in college, or you wouldn’t have been admitted to SMU. No matter why you transferred or how happy you are to be here, you will face a period of adjustment. Other students have already formed friendships, relationships, and study groups. They’re familiar with the campus, with its resources, with the sought-after professors, with the local hangouts. How do you catch up and feel as though you really belong? Here are some suggestions:

Take Advantage of Orientation Activities for Transfers  
Yes, you already know about college, but this is a new place with new demands and options. Orientation activities are prime opportunities to learn all you can about SMU. You’ll get acquainted with advisors, professors, past and present transfer students, and available services — before the semester begins and you are too busy to search them out.

Use the Course Catalog, Map and Newspaper to Learn
Study the catalog, especially requirements and course descriptions in your major. With a campus map, walk around campus and visit each building; read The Daily Campus online. Get off-campus, too, to discover social and cultural opportunities in the SMU neighborhood. Nearby DART buses and trains provide an inexpensive way to explore Dallas; add a DART pass to your SMU I.D. card for just $5!

Visit Fondren Library and Ask for a Brief Tour Before the Semester Gets Busy
Every college library is organized differently, and you’ll be a step ahead if you have a general sense of the SMU system before that first assignment sends you there — with a deadline. And don’t hesitate to ask a research librarian or a student worker for help with a specific task. No one expects you to know it all, and a little guidance could save you hours of frustration.

Get Involved in at Least One Extra Curricular Activity Right Away No Matter How Busy You Are  
Check out SMU360 to find a variety of clubs and events. You’ll meet people who share your interests, reach beyond the classroom, and tap into the grapevine of informal communication. Avoid the P-C-P (Parking lot—Classroom—Parking lot) syndrome! 

Introduce Yourself to One Person in Each of Your Courses
Exchange phone numbers and e-mail addresses, then plan to take notes for each other if either of you must miss a class. You may want to compare notes or study together for a test, so look for a serious student, not a last-row latecomer. You may even study together for a test.

Swallow Any Shyness
It’s not easy to walk into a classroom or cafeteria where you don’t know a soul and everybody else seems to know everyone. (They don’t — it just seems that way!) You’ve already survived freshman year elsewhere; you can handle being a newcomer more easily with that experience. Introduce yourself, and ask a question; suddenly, you’ll know more people than you did yesterday. The poise you develop will be valuable in both college and career.

Take Stock and Set Some Short-Term and Long-Term Goals
You’re at a natural turning point. Evaluate your interests, aptitudes, and career possibilities. Your advisor will help you match courses not only to your degree, but to your individual needs and talents. As you set those goals, plan to take advantage of free campus resources, including the Hegi Family Career Center, Counseling and Psychiatric Services, the Women’s and LGBT Center, Tutoring and the Writing Center, the Disability Accommodations and Success Strategies (DASS) Office, The World Language Teaching Technology Center, Social Change and Intercultural Engagement and Study Abroad.

Be Prepared for Classes to be Different 
Depending upon the college you’ve transferred from, SMU classes may be smaller or larger. Faculty may seem more or less formal, and more or less focused on teaching, research, and writing. Being surrounded by many students whom you do not yet know may make you feel less at ease. Yes, the setting is somewhat different, just as your high school differed from your first college, but the goals of successful teaching and learning are the same. Give yourself a few weeks, get to know your professors (see below), and you’ll be more comfortable.

Visit Each of Your Professors During Office Hours or by Appointment
Introduce yourself, mention that you have transferred, and let them know that you are eager to take advantage of SMU’s academic opportunities. In short, become an individual, not just a name on a class roll. Once you’ve established contact, sit near the front of the classroom, participate fully, and make your mark. You’ll soon need career or graduate school recommendations from your major professors, and you don’t have four years to get acquainted with them in a leisurely fashion. It’s also far easier to ask for help with an assignment or after a poor test grade if the professor already knows you and your positive attitude.

After Your Initial Visits, Stay in Touch with Professors
At SMU, professors expect you to take the initiative and ask for advice on preparing for the first test, narrowing a paper topic, or choosing a major. If a grade is low, it’s fine to ask to look over the paper or test with the professor to determine what you can do differently on the next one. If you don’t react to a low grade, a professor may assume that you don’t care. In reality, you may just be embarrassed or a bit intimidated. Don’t let emotion hold you back; do go to office hours to take full advantage of the opportunity to learn from that expert faculty member. No, you don’t need to visit daily, and yes, a professor may have a bad day. If you aren’t warmly welcomed, ask for an appointment to return later. Use e-mail too.

Expect More Demanding Courses 

Upper-level courses are likely to require more study time than introductory courses; be prepared, perhaps for the first time, to really need the recommended 30 hours of study per week for a full course load. You may need to be more active in your approach to study. How? Prepare for each class by keeping up with reading assignments. Don’t just read; also reflect upon new concepts. Take more lecture and reading notes and review them regularly. Seek relationships and connections between lectures and texts. Advanced courses may include longer and different types of tests, papers, and presentations. Some final grades depend upon just two exams — a midterm and a cumulative final. In junior and senior level courses, professors aim to prepare you for your future career or graduate work, so be prepared to think more analytically, to learn more independently, and to demonstrate your knowledge more completely.

Don't be Alarmed by Low Initial Grades  
Given all those differences, it is common for a transferring student’s GPA to drop in the first semester, but most students then make some adjustments and their GPA’s rebound. Don’t panic if your expected A’s do not materialize at first. Some professors grade hard at the start to clarify their high expectations, and some just don’t award many A’s! Once you get back the first graded test or paper, you’ll have a better idea of how to improve on the second one. Pay attention to early grades, react quickly and appropriately, but don’t panic. Ask students who transferred here before you, and you’re likely to find that they experienced the same pattern of events. Each semester, of about 6500 SMU undergraduates, only 20 – 30 students achieve a 4.0 cumulative GPA. SMU’s Honor Roll has several hundred students each semester, but a straight-A cumulative average is rare here. That too may differ from your first college.

Honestly Evaluate your Study Habits and Skills, Even if You Had a 4.0 at your Previous College 
Because professors’ expectations, reading loads, or grading standards may be different at SMU, the study system that worked before may need to be refined, especially for junior and senior level courses. Schedule an individual academic counseling appointment to stay accountable to your academic goals.  

Monitor Your Own Academic Performance
Take action at the first feeling of uncertainty about course content. The best step is often to devote more time to that course. Plan time to keep up with the reading, prepare more thoroughly for each class, review weekly notes, see the professor for advice, meet with a study group, and see a tutor. And to reduce both stress and procrastination, give yourself an academic check-up each Friday. Look back at the past week. Have you fallen behind in a course or two? Devote some weekend time to catching up. What’s coming up in the week ahead? Get a head start on those tests or that paper over the weekend. If you check yourself once a week, you’ll never get so far behind that you can’t get back in control.

How Can Student Academic Success Programs Help You?
You may never have visited the learning center at your previous college, but don’t miss out on SMU’s unique Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center (A-LEC)! At least 70% of new students work with us; each year we record over 20,000 student visits for tutoring, the Writing Center, HDEV 1210: Academic Success and Personal Development, individual academic counseling, and learning strategies workshops. And it’s all free! To get the most out of your SMU education and your tuition dollars, come see us.


Tip #1: Go To Class 
New students often hear that in college, "you can go to class anytime you want." NOT TRUE. Some classes may seem less interesting than others, but college is not for entertainment. Experienced students often say that the more time they spend in class, the less time they need to study outside of class. 

Tip #2: Learn The Campus
One campus tour seldom provides the geographical knowledge necessary to get around a major university. Become an explorer and spend time locating where major academic and service departments are located. Don't become a senior who is still trying to find the library.

Tip #3: Know The University Has Academic Rules
No one memorizes all the rules--but have a copy available. Academic policies are usually found on the web page and almost always in the student handbook or catalog. Do not become one of those who says, "But nobody told me..."

Tip #4: Check Out Rumors
Rumors of all types fly across a campus. While almost all do have a particle of truth, most rumors are largely fiction. Check program or academic rumors with professors or advisors before changing anything related to class preparation or scheduling.

Tip #5: Budget Time
Have a social life, but plan your study time properly. Do not begin to study for a test or write a paper the night before either is due. Read syllabi early for dates and note them on a calendar. Remember, sleep is also necessary, so budget for that as well.

Tip #6: Accept Constructive Criticism
Keep in mind that when a professor critiques your work, they are doing you a favor. This is not personal; any work can be improved. The more "red lines" you see on a paper, the more time that the professor took to point out ways for you to improve.

Tip #7: Realize That Being A Student Is A Full-Time Job
You can't work hard only one day a week and earn acceptable grades. Look at collegiate life as a full-time career for the present. Focus on good academic habits, social skills, and balancing priorities. Now is the time to develop skills that will be expected after graduation in your selected career.

Tip #8: Develop An Appreciation For The Mastery Of Language
No matter what your major or discipline of interest, the single most important skill for life success is communication. Understand what language is acceptable and in what situations. How you communicate your skills and thoughts demonstrates the depth of your education. Even if your grades in technical courses get you that first job, it is your communication skills--verbally and written--that get you your promotion.

Tip #9: Become Part Of University Life
Becoming part of the campus community is just as important as going to class, writing papers, and taking exams. Don't join every group, but be selective and participate in activities that will offer balance to your life. Take advantage of the variety of university experiences.

Tip #10: Get To Know Your Professors Before You Graduate
Begin by targeting some faculty that you think are worth knowing before you graduate. Who are you likely to have in more than one course? These are the professors who will evaluate your work, supply references for future career options or graduate school, and help guide your intellectual development. Most faculty are very approachable; don't let titles of "professor" or "doctor"' frighten you. Those titles are their achievement, and these are the people who will help you attain the goals you have set for yourself.

Tip #11: Have The Courage Of Your Confusions
In high school, a good student is supposed to know all the answers and get everything right. But in college, you take on more difficult challenges and more demanding material. It is no longer possible to have "all the answers." Beyond college, that kind of high school perfection isn't even remotely possible. Learn to be patient with others and with yourself. Learn to function well in situations where 100% success isn't possible; seek out and value the big questions which are more important than answers.

Tip #12: Be Patient With Yourself
You will make errors or mistakes during your collegiate career. Please be assured that you are not DOOMED. When you realize, or even think, you have made a mistake, set out to correct it.

Tip #13: Make Your Own Decisions
Seeking advice is always nice. Trying to play it safe and avoid making decisions can lead to as many problems as making uninformed or risky choices. Weigh options and gather as much information as possible. Accept responsibility for your decisions.

Tip #14: You Are In School For Your Education, Not Someone Else's
If you enter college just to please everyone else, or even ANYONE else, you will end up pleasing no one. If you let others decide what you are going to study, where you attend college, and what you are going to be, you have ignored your responsibility to yourself. 

Tip #15: Know Your Academic Situation Before The Withdraw Period
If you have a question or concern about how you are doing in a class, go to the professor and discuss it. Keep yourself informed and record all grades received for each assignment. Read each syllabus carefully, and pay attention to the weight of all assignments as they determine the final grade in each course. Keep all grades updated.

Tip #16: Learn To Communicate In The Classroom
There are no dumb questions concerning subject matter. If you don't know or don't understand something, chances are several of your classmates don't either. Learning to ask questions is a skill. Develop it!

Tip #17: Safeguard Your Physical And Mental Well-Being
When exhausted, rest. Eat proper food and know when to relax. Plan exercise into your schedule. No one is going to thank you for working yourself into a frazzle or getting ill, let alone for staying up all night.

Tip #18: Accept Responsibility For Yourself, Your Behavior, and Your Education
Be self-aware—understand what is causing a problem, and take positive and proactive action steps to fix it. If you are not doing well academically, get help. Very few students get through college without some assistance. Remove distractions when studying. Go to review sessions and use tutoring services. Go to class and participate. Don't blame your professors, your roommate, or your teaching assistants. Get their help to eliminate the problems. 

Tip #19: Locate And Use All University Services
The university wants you to succeed and will help you by means of all its services. These range from math and writing skills to personal counseling. Let the university serve you. After all, it is your school. You are paying for these services in the form of tuition and fees.

Tip #20: Call Your Family
It may sound silly but parents and family can prove to be the best support service. Families honestly want to know how you are doing. They may not be able to do more than listen, but that act alone is essential to your well-being. Siblings, grandparents, and neighborhood friends are in your corner and want you to succeed. Let them share in your new life.