(Wow, that went fast! The summer’s nearly over and the kids are getting ready to go back to school. A lot of our college-age kids are already on their way! If you have a college student just starting out, please share this blog post with them. This essay first appeared on The PediaBlog last August.)
We’ve spent the past week on The PediaBlog discussing the ways high school students can dominate the process of college admissions and achieve their goal of being accepted to the college or university of their choice. Hopefully you have been enjoying the fruits of those efforts. No one gave any of this to you — you earned it! I hope you had a great summer because now it’s time to get back to work.
Are you nervous? Everyone is. (If they say they are not, don’t believe them.) Maybe your chosen campus is close to home; maybe it’s in another state. Maybe you already know your roommate from high school; maybe your roommate is a perfect stranger. Maybe you have a lively, outgoing and friendly personality; maybe you are more of the shy type and introverted. Whatever your situation is, there are some things you need to understand before you leave home.
Everyone is going to have to adjust to a new way of living. This might excite some of you and scare others, but the future is here and you are on your own. For 18+ years, a parent has told you or suggested to you or reminded you to do things that you will now have to do yourself. Mom isn’t going to be there in your dorm room to tell you to make your bed, wash your sheets, do your laundry, wash your face, take your medicine, eat your dinner (and finish your salad), go to sleep/wake up!, do your homework, study, study, study. Your dad won’t be there to tell you that girls are trouble and boys are worse, and he won’t be there to read you the riot act when you come back wasted from a night of partying or you spent the night in someone else’s bed. You’ve grown up quick. And now here you are.
(By the way — are you registered to vote yet? This would be a good time — today, in fact — to register. You’ll need to make arrangements for an absentee ballot since you most likely won’t be home on election day. Do it! Remember who you are and where you come from, and then vote!)
Whichever college you are attending, everyone is either smart or brilliant (and all points in between). That includes you! Everyone got good grades and good test scores to be accepted to your school. What appealed to the admissions office at the school you are attending are all the other things in your application that indicated not only your intelligence, but also your intellectual curiosity which motivates you to continue to learn, the interesting activities and hobbies you participate in with passion, and the grit that drives you to persevere. These are the qualities — not so much your good grades and strong scores — for which you were actually chosen to bring to campus and share with others.
Everyone struggles in the first semester. Maybe the problem is academic. Maybe it’s personal. Maybe there is a health issue. Whatever the problem, everyone has at least one and everyone struggles. Here is some advice I have offered to rising freshmen over the years, much of it informed by personal experience as a student, a doctor, and a dad:
- You are there to learn. If you do college right, you will have a good time but you will work your butt off. Working your butt off comes first.
- Don’t miss a class for any reason. Not one. Ever.
- For every hour of class time, you will have 3-4 hours of homework. Unlike high school, 75% of your learning for each course is done outside of the classroom. This is a secret no one tells you. I’m telling you. Be serious about this or else you will struggle mightily.
- Don’t fall behind in your school work. Catching up is much, much harder in college than it was in high school.
- A big key to academic success is time management. Get organized and stay that way. Find a way to disconnect from social media, which has become an important part your life. It’s fun, but it’s also a total time-suck. Don’t let it distract you from getting your work done efficiently.
- When you leave your dorm room in the morning for your first class, do not return until all your classes are finished and all your homework is done. If you have time to kill, go to the library, get something to eat, go to the gym, find something to do, but don’t go back to your dorm room. (Nothing good happens in a dorm room — a place to hang out in and relax and sleep but not a place to read a chapter or write a verse or study for a test.)
- Ask for help if you think you need it. Don’t wait for things to build up. Talk to your professor during office hours (see below), get some tutoring, talk to your RA, your academic advisor, or, if you are feeling overwhelmed or depressed, a counselor.
- Go to each professor’s office hours and introduce yourself, even if you don’t have a question. Tell them who you are, where you are from, what your major is, and that you just wanted to stop by and say “hi.” It may be the shortest conversation you ever had or it may be a longer “come-on-in-and-let’s-chat” kind of deal. Most professors love when students stop by and who knows: maybe this professor will offer you a job in her lab or an internship next summer.
- Get out of your comfort zone and say “hello” to everyone on campus. That’s the best way to make friends.
- Get involved on campus. Join a club (or three), play an intramural sport, go watch a theater or musical performance or listen to a guest speaker.
- Stay/get active! Use the athletic facilities (they’re free!)
- Eat! But eat real food (not processed junk), lots of fruits and veggies, and drink water, milk, or nothing. Stay away from sugary beverages and be very careful with your caffeine intake.
- If you are feeling sick — maybe your throat is on fire and you couldn’t sleep, you have a fever, or your cough is so bad you can’t go to class — go to the student health center. There are medical professionals who work there who will help you. The service they provide is already paid for. You don’t have to call your parents for permission. Just go! (You can call them after you see the doctor.)
- Get at least 6 solid hours of sleep each night. (At least try.)
- The law says you are still too young to drink. Don’t.
- Weed is probably illegal in the state you are going to school in, so don’t smoke it.
- Tobacco is still bad. Don’t start now.
- If you have sex, you’d better be damn sure your partner consents. Keep it positive and respectful. Always use a condom. Always.
- Text your mom often. It’s easy. Just do it!