By Robert Mann
Over the next few weeks, thousands of anxious and excited young people will descend upon university campuses across the country to begin their college careers. As a college professor, I always love the first week of the school year, as I get to witness the fear, excitement and wonder in the eyes of so many remarkable young people as they start a new chapter of their lives.
Walk across any college campus on those first few days and you’ll see all kinds of dramas unfold. Parents bid tearful goodbyes after moving their child into the dorm. New students head off to their first classes, some are confident and full of purpose; others, tentative and a bid intimidated. For many, it’s the first time they’ve lived in a “big city.”
They’re all eager to prove themselves in this new world, but are understandably fearful. I imagine they ask themselves, as I once did, “Do I really belong here? Will I make it? Will I fit in?”
Last spring, my church honored me with the opportunity to speak to a luncheon of our graduating high school seniors. I did my best to share with them the most practical advice I could give about college. While you can find my notes for the entire talk here (First United Methodist Church Senior Luncheon), I offer you an abridged version of my talk. Perhaps it will be helpful to the college freshmen in your life.
1. Learn time management and good study habits. There will be no one waking you up, no one to remind you to go to class, no one telling you to study and no one reminding you of that test. Get a planner. Read your syllabus. Write down all the due dates for the assignments. And don’t wait until the last minute to write your papers.
2. Anticipate that you will have conflicts with roommates and other people you encounter. Don’t give up on people too quickly. Of course, don’t stay around people who might hurt you in some way and you certainly don’t want a roommate who stays up all night if you’re the type to go to bed early. But embrace and enjoy the different people you’ll meet.
3. Get to know your professors. Go to class. Sit on the front row. Go to their office hours. You never know what opportunity (job, scholarship or internship) might come your way because you got to know that professor.
4. Travel abroad if you can. Do internships. Join student organizations. There are a million opportunities for fun and out-of-class learning. Find what suits you, but don’t miss out of the other side of college. Get involved in something that doesn’t involve sitting in a classroom.
5. If you need help, ask for it. Whether it’s help learning how to improve your writing, or dealing with emotional distress, homesickness or despair that you’ve got the wrong major. Ask a professor or a departmental counselor to point you in the right direction. Every college has staff to help you in ways you can’t even imagine.