The next big step . . .

Transition from high school to college challenges Columbia youth
Thursday, August 21, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:21 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Some are moving across town and others are moving across the country. Five local high school students have chosen different paths, but are sharing some of the same mixed emotions and experiences as they prepare for the next step in their lives — college.

The transition from high school to college can be a challenge. Uncertainties about the future and goodbyes to family and friends can be overwhelming. Some high school graduates will be hours from home. Others will be only minutes, choosing one of the several options for higher education that is offered in Columbia.

A head start

Lance Harris, a Hickman graduate, has already had a taste of dorm life. A guard for the Kansas State University basketball team, he arrived at the Manhattan, Kan., campus in late June to train with the team and take summer classes.

“It took a week to get used to the college life,” Harris said. “I was nervous, but after a while it faded away.”

Harris acquired a couple months of college life experience. He is taking two criminal justice classes and is getting acquainted with the university and the team.

“It’s kind of dead on campus right now,” Harris said.

The trip to Kansas State is about three hours from Columbia, making it possible for Harris to return here occasionally for some good home-cooking.

Adjusting to distance

Three hours will seem like a short distance for Rock Bridge graduate Ted Kopta, who will be driving about 12 hours to make it to Emory University in Atlanta, his new home.

“I know I’m probably going to be back to Columbia,” Kopta said. “I think it’s a good idea to live away for a while.”

Not being able to just drive home for a weekend does not worry Kopta or his parents.

“It seems far off, but it’s really not,” he said.

Kopta, who has always been involved with volunteering throughout high school, has already signed up for Volunteer Emory, a program supported by the university to be involved and make acquaintances.

“I know I’ll meet a lot of new and interesting people,” Kopta said. “I think it’s good to get away and not automatically have this group of friends.”

Kopta’s father, Arthur Kopta, also attended college far from home. He wanted his son to have the best education possible, no matter where in the country it was.

“At first I think he’ll be a little homesick, but then it will become second nature for him,” Arthur said. “Soon we’ll be calling him more than he’ll be calling us.”

Close to home

Rock Bridge graduate Shaina Shorr will remain in Columbia for college.

“It’s much lower pressure,” said Shorr, who will attend MU. “There’s a lot more convenience moving across town than across the country.”

After looking at other universities, Shorr decided to remain in Columbia to earn a degree in international business.

“It just didn’t make sense to leave,” Shorr said. “Money was a big factor; out of state wasn’t worth my while. Everything is working out really well for me here.”

Although in-state MU undergraduates will face an 19.8 percent tuition increase this year, Shorr said it is still cheaper than out-of-state tuition. Shorr had interest in the University of Illinois-Champaign, but paying about $2,340 for a 12-credit-hour schedule sounded much more appealing than the $8,302 base tuition at Illinois.

Scholarships from MU also influenced her decision.

“Illinois just wasn’t giving me what I wanted,” Shorr said. “It was so frustrating.”

Even though Shorr will not be leaving town, many changes await her. She has never shared a room. What was once her personal space will now be shared with a roommate. Small sliding doors will replace the walk-in closet, cafeteria food will take the place of Mom’s home-cooking and privacy will be at a minimum.

“I’m a little apprehensive,” Shorr said. “I’m worried that I won’t get my room all moved. I’m afraid it’s not all going to fit.”

Shorr will have her family nearby, but some of her close friends are attending schools away from home, including Wisconsin, Arizona and New York.

“It seems crazy to me, the extent at which we’re spreading ourselves out,” Shorr said. “It’s a lot of distance.”

Some of her friends will be far away, but Shorr will have the convenience of being familiar with the community and many people at MU.

“I’m a little worried that I’ll fall into my high school routine because I can,” she said. “I won’t have to branch out.”

After spending her summer working and saying her goodbyes, she is ready to experience a new lifestyle, she said.

“I’m just excited in general, there’s so much new stuff.”

A new responsibility

Dorm life is not on the agenda of all high school graduates. Some students decide to take on a bigger responsibility.

Vincent Okonsky, a Rock Bridge graduate, and Truman Shrum, a Fayette High School graduate, will be living on their own for the first time and attending St. Charles Community College in St. Peters.

They will have no resident assistants, adult supervision or campus security to scrutinize their lives.

“We can set our own rules,” Okonsky said. “I will have to rely on my own morals. If we get ourselves into trouble, we have to get ourselves out of it. We don’t have anyone to watch out for us.”

Okonsky and Shrum agreed they will miss how simple life is now, relying on their parents. They will be working full time in retail while enrolled as full-time students.

“It’ll be a learning experience,” Shrum said.

“I’m being challenged to see if I can make it on my own without my parents. I hope to grow up a little,” Okonsky said.

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