The Freshmore Experience

Coping with CC’s cold shoulder

by Sam Faktorow, guest writer; illustration by Eleanor Anderson, editor

It was about this time two years ago when I first set foot onto the Colorado College campus. A senior in high school, I knew I was somewhere between eight and nine months away from starting my freshman year at Somethingorother University, the College of Whatsitcalled, or perhaps Godknowswhat College. By the end of the tour, my uncertainty regarding the school at which I would like to spend four of the best years of my life evaporated into the cool, Colorado Springs air. “Colorado College is the one,” I thought to myself. By that time, I had already applied and checked the little box that said Early Action. “I’ll get in no sweat,” I told myself confidently. A month later, in January, I was deferred. Senioritis was beginning to set in. Fast forward two more months. Wait listed! (Maybe I shouldn’t have let senioritis kick in so hard so early on . . . ) Two months more pass, it’s early May. I received this note through e-mail (yes, through e-mail):

Dear Sam,

Congratulations! I am honored to invite you to be a member of the Winter Start Program in the Colorado College Class of 2013. You are one of the few selected from our waiting list to participate in this program. This program will allow you and as many as fifty of your classmates to enroll at Colorado College at the start of our second semester in January 2010.

Wait, what? So, I’ve been accepted. But I can’t come until January. Is that what you’re telling me, CC Admissions? After finishing my application and interviewing in October, prospie-ing in December, being deferred in January, getting wait listed in March, I’ve finally been in accepted in May, only to be told I can’t come until second semester? After a brief existensial crisis in which I reconsidered my desire to attend CC, I confirmed my acceptance, signed the papers, made my deposit, and began my journey as one of the least understood minorities at CC: a Winter Start.

According to the admissions website, the Winter Start Program was “established by the college to manage enrollment for the spring semester. While it is a practical program to utilize rooms left vacant by upperclass students studying abroad, it is also a way to increase the number of first year students we are able to admit in a given year.” Okay, that sounds reasonable enough. Students study abroad, drop out, etc., and a second wave of new students fill their places.

Despite the admissions website’s explanations of the program, it still seems to be vastly misunderstood, even by Winter Starts themselves. “I applied to CC Early Decision, but I didn’t know what I was going to do or what being a Winter Start really meant at the time,” said Snapper Tams.

Similarly, many Fall starts don’t know much about the program. “It seems like last year Winter Starts were very much defined by the fact that they were Winter Starts, but this year they’re much more integrated,” explained an anonymous student.

Some students request the Winter Start program, rather than having it choose them. “I applied to CC wanting to be a Winter Start; I wasn’t ready to start college in the fall,” explained Blaine Carper.

For others, entering college as a Winter Start is a more responsible alternative. Phoebe Kulasegram, for example, asked to be enrolled as a Winter Start. “I was taking time off anyway and couldn’t get financial aid for Fall Start,” she said.

Although CC prides itself on the accessibility of its extracurriculars and other programs, as well as its very open student community, the Winter Start experience is not always easy. Molly Moffet explained that “it was harder to get involved in school activities last year. I really had to make an effort to meet new people.” It’s quite difficult, in reality, to come in halfway through the year, when 500 other people in your grade have already spent a semester together getting to know each other. The advantage of the Winter Start experience, however, is the almost immediate built-in group of friends that it provides.

The Winter Start equivalent of NSO, known as Winter Start Orientation (WSO), is an extremely different beginning to school. Beyond the obvious contrasts (there are fewer people, everyone is bundled up in winter clothing instead of trying to cool down in summer wear, the rest of the student body has already started classes, etc.), there are some major differences between NSO and WSO.

The entire group of forty-something students ventures to Baca for five days and spends each night together doing some kind of bonding experience. Thus has its drawbacks. Winter Start Kathy Demmon explains that although “it was nice meeting everyone and knowing who they all were, I think that portions [of WSO] could be shortened, and CC should have Winter Starts go to different places with a small group of eight, just like normal NSO, because I felt I didn’t connect with any one person on a deep level.”

However, Moffet also noted that “after Baca, I could still go up and sit with any Winter Start in Rastall.” Fall starts seem to find their initial friends in their NSO group, their hall and their FYE, which do not always overlap. For Winter Starts, however, there is an instant group of forty people who enroll in a handful of FYEs, allowing this group of new students to continue spending a lot of time together post-WSO.

Beyond WSO, everything else about CC is just the same for Winter Starts. We still have to take an FYE, we still have the same all-college requirements, still live in one of the three big dorms upon arrival, and so on. The semester off, though, creates a vastly different freshman year experience for Winter Start students.

Rather than graduating from high school and beginning college a few months later, Winter Starts have half a year to experience the world in whatever way they wish. Some, like myself, spend that time working. It seemed the most practical option at the time, and I’m glad I chose to do so. It made me appreciate coming to CC all the more.

Others go abroad. Natalie Dupille explains that she spent her semester, “working as an assistant English teacher at a boarding school for indigenous students in Ecuador.” She says, “It was incredible, and I got to travel for a couple of weeks afterward.”

Still others acquire a new skill. During his semester off, Taylor Benz went to EMT School and got his pilot’s license. So, despite the initial disappointment that many Winter Starts felt upon being placed into the program, the semester off allowed a time for discovering the world in a limbo state.

A Winter Start’s first year at CC is vastly different from a Fall Start’s because of the way it is broken up. For a Winter Start, freshman year more or less matches up to an actual calendar year, beginning in January and finishing in December. The large break in the middle for summer, and jumping into things at the start of fifth block, leads to some odd experiences.

Our first block at school was not spent in warm weather with the senior calendar in mind each night, surrounded by 500 other students in the same situation. Instead, Winter Starts are greeted in January by cold weather, constant whispers of where people will be skiing the upcoming weekend, and only forty likeminded companions who are also trying to understand the ropes of college. And rather than finishing FYE, taking two more classes, going home for break and then returning for another semester after only a few weeks, the first year for a Winter Start is FYE, two blocks, many months of summer (at home or maybe at CC for Summer Session), and then second semester.

I find myself identifying with the Class of 2013 as the people with whom I will graduate, but the Class of 2014 as the people with whom I was introduced to college life (I was most certainly not fully adjusted by the time this academic year began). This strange position of standing somewhere between two grades has led me to have an equal number of friends in both classes. I’ve begun calling myself a “freshmore” when people ask me what grade I am in. I’m definitely not a freshman; orientation and FYE feel way too far away. On the flip side, I don’t feel quite like a sophomore; I don’t have enough credits and there’s still a ton of people in the class of 2013 I have yet to meet.

The Winter Start program, while fairly unique, can also be found at other top colleges around the country, including Colby, Middlebury, and UC-Berkeley. At CC, though, the Block plan sets it apart. In my own experience as a Winter Start, adjusting to the Block plan from the traditional semester plan employed at my high school had to be done at a much quicker pace than for Fall starts. On the one hand, both Fall and Winter Starts, as mentioned before, have to deal with the trials and tribulations of FYE. When Winter Starts arrive on campus, however, the rest of their graduating class has already adjusted to the Block plan and they are left to adapt on their own.

Time off lends itself to a different stance towards arriving at school. “I think I was more mature coming to school after being in Ireland,” notes Moffet.

Dupille explains, “I wouldn’t trade my Winter Start experience for anything . . . I had a great sense of independence coming to CC that a lot of incoming freshmen may not have. I think a lot of people come in directly from their high schools to college on their parents’ dollar, and it’s sort of like—well, what has changed? You don’t live with your parents anymore, but you still rely on them extremely heavily. There’s no real-world experience there at all.” Being out in the real world, beyond the CC bubble, gives Winter Starts time to develop a sense of self-efficacy at the very start of college that Fall starts may struggle with.

Despite all its difficulties and frustrations, being a Winter Start is definitely a fantastic experience. “I always mention I’m a Winter Start when we do introductions in class. It’s a point of pride,” explains Woogie Stabile. In that semester off that Fall starts do not get, Winter Starts experience the real world and perhaps, in the end, it is Winter Starts who are most prepared for the world outside the CC bubble. One thing is for certain: our orientation was quite cold.

The Freshmore Experience (PDF)


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