Look out, college freshman. Just because you’ve passed through the hormonal turmoil of high school doesn’t mean you’re not in for a period of rapid and drastic change.
The first year of college, whether you’re at a tiny liberal arts school or a gigantic university, poses a seemingly endless list of challenges and opportunities that can be scary. But never fear! There is a way to conquer that daunting first year with dignity and grace.
Despite what National Lampoon seems to think, the purpose of a college education isn’t binge drinking. Certainly, students should take advantage of all that college has to offer outside of coursework. This includes new friends, extracurricular activities and a social scene that may be very different from the one you knew back home -- all far away from a parent’s watchful eye. But with great freedom comes great responsibility, and it’s equally important to suck every last drop out of your tuition by maintaining good grades and investing wholeheartedly in your coursework.
Dr. Robert Seybold, a senior psychologist and Program Director at the University of Minnesota, urges students to be clear in their goals before starting college. Seybold says that when he meets with students who have been suspended for poor academic performance, “the one thing that they’ve all had in common is that none of them could explicate to me why they were at the university.”
Students can avoid losing track of their academic and personal goals by sitting down and writing out a clear list before the school year begins. Seybold advises that “it is a very significant time of personal transition. It’s mostly important for students to be clear about what their reasons are for coming to college and making sure that they’re very intentional about keeping up with their goals.”
Another big difference between college and high school is the lack of structured time in higher education. In most high schools, every hour of every day is packed with a rigid schedule and faculty and parents are there to chastise those who deviate from the plan. In college, professors won’t usually provide incentive to keep up in class. They assume you’re there because you want to do the work, and expect you to do things for your own reasons. One of the most important things you’ll learn in college is that if you want something done, nobody else is going to make sure it happens. You’re the boss now, and you’ll have to take charge yourself.
Never before has multi-tasking been so important. Dr. Mark McLeod, director of the Student Counseling Center at Emory University in Atlanta, says that American colleges and universities are unique in that they go far beyond the basics of education. He urges students to use all of the resources around them, encouraging freshman to “be open to meeting people who are different from you as well as having new experiences. Seek out and find extracurricular groups that interest you, join them and be a full participant. Try joining a group that is involved in something you have never done before. Get involved in college life. If you are shy, tag along with a friend … but get involved. Take a chance.”
Don’t be afraid to use the many support systems available to you. Resident advisors, orientation leaders, and academic advisors can be a friendly face as well as a source of guidance. These and other resources like your school’s counseling center are available to students, often for free, in a way that is unique to a college campus. And, of course, your family is still there for you even if they’re a long-distance phone call away.
Of course, none of this advice means anything if you enter college with a negative attitude. It may sound cliché, but it’s true. It’s normal to be scared and nervous about making new friends and dealing with a heavy course load, but, McLeod says, “Most students, if they are honest, will admit to being anxious as well as very excited.” As you watch your parents drive away, or if you struggle with homework or finding your social niche, don’t let that excitement slip through your fingers.