Advice for incoming college freshmen: My top-ten list

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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.

6. Use the library and its librarians. The library is not just a place to study and buy coffee. It has books, too! No matter what else you do, make use of your library’s reference librarians. You’ll be amazed by how how much they know and how eager they are to help you.

7. Be flexible. They say, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” That’s true, so embrace it. You may think you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, but things may change. That’s why schools like LSU make you wait a year before declaring your major.

8. Follow your bliss. Don’t chase money. It’s true what they say about money: It won’t make you happy. What makes you happy – what makes you a good wife or husband and a good father or mother – is getting up every morning to do a job that you love, that fulfills you and that you can say actually contributes to the betterment of society.

The theologian Frederick Buechner said it well: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

9. Accumulate mentors. When I look back on the last 35 years of my life, I can clearly see how my life and the direction of my career were shaped by people who entered my life and guided me, helped me, hired me, had faith in me and continue to nurture and care for me.

10. Be grateful. Remember to say thank you. In recent years, I’ve made it a point to call or visit those mentors and tell them how much they meant to me. It’s good for your ego to constantly remember that you owe so much to so many people. Thank your parents for how they love you and all they’ve done for you. Thank your high school teachers. Tell your friends how much you appreciate them being there for you.

If you’re a college senior – or a senior citizen – I invite you to share your own advice for Louisiana’s incoming college freshmen on the online comments section under this post.

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your first semester of college?

8 thoughts on “Advice for incoming college freshmen: My top-ten list

  1. Robert: Great advice. I know first hand that your college years are a lot more fun and rewarding if you achieve tangible results. I wish I was a freshman again. Jimmy Maurin


  2. Thanks, Jimmy. I wish I were a freshman again, too!


  3. I would add: get out of your comfort zone and learn about things you never thought you’d be interested in. Poets–take physics for poets; physics majors–take poetry for physics majors. Stretch your mind on new subjects, not substances. The rewards last forever!


  4. Good advice. My favorite was the one about being flexible. I started out to be a veterinarian, retired as a newspaper editor. I know most students would not find appeal in taking six years and half again as many credits as required to graduate, but I enjoyed every minute except for the physics class that I dropped as soon as I realized I lacked even a hint of preparation. From livestock nutrition to a variety of biology classes to the graduate level history courses, I loved them all. And as you suggested, I abandoned a career that I suspect would have been financially rewarding and settled on one immensely more rewarding in other ways.
    My best wishes to all students who are entering college for the first time. Don’t be intimidated. Learn what you must, and then learn what you want.


  5. I’m a 44-year-old incoming freshman so I have no advice, but I appreciate everyone else’s. I haven’t been in a classroom since 1987 so I thought I’d be more nervous, but I’m really just crazy excited.


  6. You have always been wise. I printed this and gave it to my high school aged child. The same advice is applicable in the workplace as well – sans the library/professors.


  7. I would add: learn to manage your finances responsibly! College campuses are chum for credit card sharks. It’s a tragedy when college grads can’t take their dream job because it doesn’t pay enough- or worse, that students drop out because they can’t pay their credit card bills.


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