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Each fall at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

, hordes of freshmen rush to sign up
for engineering studies. And each spring, in an equally swift exodus, many retreat to
some other - almost any other - discipline.
This mass change of heart has played out so regularly it is almost a joke to some
close observers. But it was no joke for Frank Sanni.
As a Tufts freshman he, too, thought he would be an engineer - and so did his father.
Then Mr. Sanni discovered that calculus, a basic building block for an engineering
degree, was tougher than he was. "I bombed in it," he says, "I was so miserable I
didn't want to study."
Each year, academic stumbles like this befall freshmen making the transition from
high school to college. Call Sanni's problem Academic Pitfall No. 1: Getting off on
the wrong career track.
It's one of many trip-ups that can send inexperienced students into an academic
tailspin. A quarter of all freshmen do not return sophomore year at the same fouryear college where they were freshmen - often because of personal and academic
missteps. But whether the problem is too much partying or having a roommate who
doesn't like to study - there are resources available to give students a hand. To
avoid being overwhelmed and getting bad grades, students need to seek help from
the academic resource office on campus, experts say.
"Students find themselves in academic difficulty for many reasons - but not usually
because they are not qualified," says Nadia Medina, director of the Tufts Academic
Resource Center. "It's just that they haven't developed college-level study
strategies - or maybe they're choosing the wrong career because they want to make
money."
To help minimize problems, many colleges now offer semester-long orientation
courses on everything from time management to avoiding plagiarism.
To avoid "crashing and burning" in a single intense discipline, for example, Sue
Yowell, dean of students at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh advises starting
with a range of courses first semester - then narrowing the focus.
Academic counseling from more than one adviser to see how the advice compares
is also a good idea. Or take a self-directed test to identify career potential. The key
may be persuading parents footing a hefty tuition bill to fund the academic
exploration, says Joe Moon, associate dean at Oxford College of Emory University in
Oxford, Ga.
"If they get early career counseling, they can discover they have freedom now to
explore," he says. "But mom and dad may still have to be convinced. They may say:
'What do you mean you're going to be a sociology major?' "

Fortunately for Sanni, he refused to become mired in self-doubt, and his parents
supported him. He began taking other courses, including psychology. It clicked. After
graduating in 1996, he landed a job he enjoys with an ad agency in San Francisco.
"Our culture puts too much importance on how quickly we decide what we want to
do rather than thinking about the 'why' and the 'how,' "he says. "Students need to
explore ... to find out what they really love to do."
Even if freshmen have chosen a major they are happy with, they can still fall prey to
time-management problems.
Take Paul Dell'Aquila, who reached academic meltdown his junior year at Tufts. He
was enrolled in four higher-level courses in one semester. He was also writing three
nights a week for the student paper, coordinating evening speakers for his dorm,
spending time with his girlfriend - and working as announcer at Tufts basketball
games.
With two weeks left in the semester, he had so much course work left that he was
forced to withdraw from all four courses and be placed on academic probation. He
was given six weeks to finish them the following semester - in addition to
maintaining a passing grade in his four other courses.
"I was still using the same study skills I used successfully in high school," he says.
"But mostly that involved cramming. And I had a combination of final exams and
papers all coming due. I was overwhelmed. And I'm thinking - 'It's all over.' "
At first, even Ms. Medina thought his predicament was "impossible." But together
they found a large calendar and scheduled every hour of every day for six weeks.
He also gave his television to a friend to keep for him.
Mr. Dell'Aquila followed his new schedule rigidly, allocating just a few minutes to his
girlfriend's birthday party. Finally he raced to submit his last paper before 5 p.m. the
last day. He made it - and the dean's list that semester and the following two
semesters of his senior year.
"I still use the time-management techniques I learned," he says. "I saw it as a
military battle - I just kept chipping away until I finished."
Some students are tempted to get around time problems their first year by taking
shortcuts, including plagiarism. At Southern Connecticut State University in New
Haven, history professor Polly Beals tackles that problem head on.
"If you copy a sentence and don't cite it - that's cheating and you could be
dismissed," she tells five freshmen slumped in their seats during orientation earlier
this month. "It's not enough to just flip a few words around in a sentence," she says.
"When in doubt - footnote it."

The availability of documents on the Internet and online databases has made
plagiarism a bigger problem, says Robert Harris, a professor of English at Southern
California College in Costa Mesa, Calif. "I tell my students that you really have to be
on your ethical toes when you sit down at a computer."
PHOTO (COLOR): TUFTS UNIVERSITY: Fall is a good time for students, especially
freshmen, to watch for academic pitfalls. Academic resource offices can help with
decisions about what to study and time management.
PHOTO (COLOR): FRANK SANNI: He sought help when he fell behind. 'I just kept
chipping away,' he says.
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By Mark Clayton, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Send comments to: claytonm@csps.com

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