WILLMAR -- The activity level is picking up this week on Ridgewater College's Willmar campus as students and staff arrive for the beginning of the fall semester on Monday.
Students have been on campus this week to register and head for the campus bookstore. The staff's first official day back at work is today, but many instructors were around campus earlier in the week, too.
"There's just that buzz," said Sam Bowen, the college's communications director.
"It's a fun, fun time to be on campus."
New students attended orientation sessions throughout the week to learn the ropes of going to college.
At a Wednesday morning session, some of the tips were fairly basic: Get a planner and use it; schedule study time just like work or class time; don't skip classes, because you aren't getting your money's worth if you do; academic help is available, but you need to take the initiative to ask for it.
Students also received information about using the college's technology services. "Almost everything we do at the college is online," said Bethany Wallace of the college's counseling service.
Tuition bills, financial aid information, schedules, grades and transcripts will all be in their campus email, she said, and students will be responsible for checking their email frequently.
After orientation, Rachel Castillo, 38, of Willmar waited to speak with a counselor. "I'm trying to not get overwhelmed," she said.
Castillo said she plans to attend the cosmetology program, but that program had no openings this fall. She plans to take some general classes this fall -- "I want to start along with everybody else."
Coming to campus "makes you feel young again," she said. "I'm real excited."
The cosmetology program is her main goal, she said. "I would really love to learn how to do that," she said, "and I have a big family, so my family would really benefit from that."
Castillo said she's heading back to school for her own self-esteem and because she thinks it will help her support and care for her family.
While Castillo waited, Tina Renne, 38, of Grove City met with Wallace to choose her classes. Renne attended the school 20 years ago and is returning now to ultimately pursue a career as a dental assistant.
She was able to sign up for the prerequisite sociology and English classes she needs before transferring to finish her degree.
"We own a construction business," she said, and she believes the dental assistant degree will help her provide her family with a stable income and health insurance.
"There's a goal I've set for our family," she said, and she believes that will give her the drive to do well in school.
Wallace said she enjoys the buildup to the first day of classes.
"This week before school starts is very exciting," she said. "It's very busy, trying to meet everybody's needs. ... It works most of the time."