As a college professor who has taught first year students for many years, I write here about the top 21 things that first year college students benefit from knowing before they come to campus. This way, they are best prepared to hit the ground running! In a previous article, I address some significant, in depth and emotional conversations that parents should have with their prospective college students. In this article, I am addressing the nuts and bolts for early college success.
1) Get familiar with what a course syllabus is, its purpose and how to effectively make use of it. It is the compass for success in a college course and usually provides all the answers you need. You don’t want the professor to first remember you from an e-mail asking questions that are answered in detail in the syllabus resulting in an e-mail back to you indicating, “It’s in the syllabus.”
2) Decide what sort of organizing tool you will use to keep track of appointments, meetings, due dates, exam dates, and other commitments. You don’t want to be the student who entered Tuesday as the final exam date when it is Monday. There are numerous electronic ways of organizing; and a paper calendar still remains a terrific tool as well. As soon as you see the syllabi for your courses, go ahead and mark in all due dates, exam dates, holidays, any cancelled classes, etc. It’s not up to the professors to remind you of everything.
3) Some advice about e-mail. Be sure to use your school e-mail when e-mailing your professors. Do not e-mail your professors from addresses like chocolatekisses69, caramelatte, strawberryshortcake, or biggolfballs. Your e-mail will likely go to Spam and if it does go through, you will not be taken seriously. Think of e-mailing your professors the way you would e-mail a prospective boss or current boss. After all, they are. School is your new job for the next four years. Be professional and courteous. Include a salutation and not “Hey Prof.” And when e-mailing women faculty, don’t be sexist and type “Mrs. Blank.” They earned their doctorates also. Use Dr. or Professor or their first names if they permit it. Don’t attempt to ask about grades over e-mail and definitely don’t try to challenge grades on e-mail. Be sure you know how to send e-mail attachments. And, check your school e-mail account regularly so you get all the latest announcements.
4) Buy the books that are required for the course and consider also purchasing any recommended texts if you can afford them. Don’t e-mail and ask the professor if they are really necessary or not. That’s foolish. And, don’t wait until the last minute to order books. Amazon delays are not a good excuse.
5) Invest in some basic office supplies. For example, you will want a stapler and a supply of staples so that for professors asking you to submit written assignments on paper, you can hand in a stapled document rather than a loose one or one with bent corners. Remember, your professor may have hundreds of students in any given semester and if s/he is caught in a wind gust, all those loose papers could just go flying. It’s good to have your own supply of pencils, pens, tape, paper clips, index cards, paper, legal pads, markers, hi-lighter pens, envelopes, a calculator, etc.
6) Attend all your classes unless you are sick. It’s a strong predictor for success. And if your classes involve participation, get engaged in the discussions. This will enrich your learning. You may also make new friends in class this way.
7) Go online and learn about all the various student organizations on campus to see what you might want to get involved in when you arrive. Be sure to attend student organization fairs that usually take place in the first few weeks of the new semester. Typically, it’s a great way to meet people, to introduce yourself to student leaders, and to even get some free stuff that they distribute!
8) Go online and get acquainted with the myriad resources that the college provides to students. For example, know how you can find the counseling service, health service, sexual assault prevention office, office for students who identify as LGBTQ, the writing center, tutoring, cultural centers, the office for students with disabilities, religious services, Greek life, etc. Knowing how to access this information ahead of time is tremendously helpful for when you might need and want it!
9) Attend the social events that have been planned for first year students. Everyone will be in the same boat and it’s a wonderful way to connect with new people.
10) Remember that your roommates and suitemates may become your close friends and they might not. Often, they don’t. That’s okay. They often provide a base and launching pad in the first few weeks to go to events geared for new students and they might provide companionship at mealtime. They can be a nice starting place for your social life.
11) If you are a young woman, remember that all research and statistics sadly show that first semester female students are at greatest risk for sexual assault in their first semester. It is important to remain vigilant about this, especially when attending parties, fraternity gatherings, Little Sister events at fraternities, etc. This is true regardless of the fact that male violence against women is not something women ask for, and it is not women's fault.
12) It is normal to want to experiment with your newfound sense of self in a new place, but using your sexuality as the primary way to connect with others usually results in a downward spiral for both men and women students. Try to cultivate your social life that is not wholly dependent on alcohol, drugs and sex.
13) Office hours are a unique part of the college experience. It is a time when you can sit down one on one with your professors about your classes, your life, your future, your hopes, fears and dreams. Faculty usually post office hours on their doors and on the syllabus. Be sure to only seek out your professors when they are available. If they are open to scheduling appointments outside of those office hours, then you might send him/her an e-mail (re-read #3 above!) asking for an appointment, offering a variety of time frames, indicating what the meeting is about, and for how long you might need to meet. This reduces the amount of back and forth e-mails and lets your professor know you are prepared.
14) Amazing relationships can be cultivated with faculty----these people might become your mentors from whom you'll eventually seek reference letters, and they might become your thesis advisers, collaborators for research, and possibly even your friends for years to come. Hundreds of students have stayed in touch with me over the years. I have attended some former students’ weddings, baby showers, and even a funeral for the daughter of a former student. These are priceless connections. I treasure them. I trust the former students do as well.
15) Professors do so much more than teach. You are well served to be compassionate to this fact. We are faced with intense pressure to “publish or perish.” In fact, writing and publishing are large parts of why we are hired and how we get to keep our jobs. Most of us conduct research, write articles, book chapters, and books, speak at conferences, edit book collections, facilitate workshops related to our work at other campuses and in the community, etc. So, this is why you might find that many professors are not on campus every day and need enough advance notice to schedule appointments with you. Try to respect and trust that all these other professorial activities deeply enrich the college experience you receive because the more active and involved your professor, generally, the more s/he has to offer in the classroom as well!
16) Check the campus events calendar regularly so you know about amazing lectures, performances, concerts, exhibits, and screenings on campus. So much learning and growth happens outside the classroom and outside your dorm room.
17) Consider your relationship with technology. Think about how tethered you are to your phone and consider how you might forge real connections in real time with people in front of you. Try leaving your phone behind when you go to the dining hall.
18) Get acquainted with your professors’ policies on technology. If they don’t permit laptops and phones, don’t test them. There is no good reason to have your phone out at class unless it is part of a required class activity. As I say to my students, if I am lecturing about crime or racism, and you are smiling into your crotch, I will think you are playing with yourself. Keep the vibrating devices in your bag.
19) If you have an assignment due at class, come to the class with the assignment. Do not miss part or all of the class to finish the assignment. And, never e-mail your assignments unless your professor says it is acceptable.
20) At the earliest sign of trouble, seek help. This applies to needing academic tutoring as well as to needing help for your mental health and wellbeing. Admitting you need help is a great start. Resources abound on campuses to help you (see #8).
21) Don’t hole up! Get out of your room. Resist the urge to go on a Netflix binge all through the day and night. Your best memories from college are likely to come from the connections you make and the things you get involved in on and off campus, whether it is an athletic team, a sailing club, an art organization, a theatrical production, an A capella group, etc. Eat nutritious foods, get adequate rest, exercise, and have fun. It’s a special and incredible time in your life!
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