On a news site I use, I saw an article by Arizona State University Online. The headline for the accompanying picture read, “Checklist for Student Success” and the article’s long title was “Thoughts and Insights for Prospective Students.” I think it was picked up because it is a topic that needs discussion. In many colleges, a high percentage of the enrolling students do not make it through. How can we help them have more success?
I remember my experience as a student who was a valedictorian from a very small high school attending a top ranked University (U of R) and studying physics. The transition was huge. There was so much to learn besides classes. The routine of farm life was gone and in its place was the chaotic lack of schedule called dorm living. When it came to classes, there was so much to learn about how to learn that I had never had to learn because the school I attended had not been sufficiently challenging. Adjustments were major. I made it through but barely that first year. I would have benefited hugely from some advice about how to succeed in college.
I did graduate from U of R in physics so most people are a little surprised at my shift of profession into Christian ministry. But that is a story for another day. For this article it is enough to note that I have since had the privilege of attending college three more times. In recent years, I also had the privilege of serving on a college board of trustees for six years (Houghton College). So with my own experiences in mind, both my early struggles and my later successes, I offer my own seven point version of “Thoughts and Insights for Perspective Students.”
Use the course syllabi as a planning tool
I agree that keeping close track of those class syllabi is key. No doubt the means have changed since I was in school but the principle is the same. Student success is directly related to knowing exactly what the professor expects. You will need to use syllabi to develop the discipline of scheduling your own semester work ahead of time too. Such things as research projects, semester term papers, collaborative work, cannot be done last-minute. In addition, even if you can do a paper in one night, you will not be able to do one for each of two different courses because you didn’t discover until the last-minute that they were due on the same day.
Plan your schedule with study time included
Set yourself a daily and weekly schedule that includes study time. Don’t expect study time to just happen as I seemed to do my first year. If you can’t study in the room because of interruptions, use a library or some other place regularly. If your friend time starts controlling your schedule, you are headed for trouble. Don’t make excuses; take responsibility and learn to discipline yourself. One semester we got in the habit of playing cards late at night and into the wee hours and I wondered why I was failing the 8 am class I had.
Ask for help when you need it
Seek help when you are frustrated. Dig for additional resources if needed. Most teachers are much more approachable than it seems. This one tip would have saved me much grief. My background in math was not adequate for what I was attempting in physics. I needed to seek some help to catch up a little. I thought the problem was just me so I struggled through with much frustration. Seeking help would have been so much wiser.
Choose friends wisely
Choose friends with values like yours. This is actually one of the most important choices you will make. This is also good advice for high school students, active duty military personal and anyone else starting a new chapter in their life in a new setting. Friends influence us! One of the probable reasons for my later success in my first college was that I found a group of students who had religious values like mine and study values even better than mine and I associated with them as my friends. That helped me immensely.
Professors are people too
Realize that professors are real people too. They have just taken many more courses. But they probably haven’t read the same books that you have. They don’t know every subject equally well. They know one subject very well. Learn from them eagerly but do not be surprised when they are not perfect or when some are better than others.
Remember to grow in good character too
Remember that unfortunately most colleges only teach subjects. But character education is even more important. Knowledge without good character will not result in a successful career. So beware of those peers who would treat college years like a moral holiday. The result of that attitude is a bunch of moral infants as graduates. Unfortunately, fraternity and sorority houses have a bad reputation in this regard. I don’t recommend joining them.
Embrace the stretching
Finally, college is a stretching experience. This is a wonderful part of those years. Embrace it but exercise discretion too. As I look back I can think of so many things that stretched my perspective from that of a Western New York farm boy with very strict roots. Here are a few: I first flew in college as my roommate flew me to his house in Ohio – I had not been West of Niagara Falls either. I rode a public bus in college when I took lessons at Eastman and saw an inner city neighborhood for the first time on my return trip. I had a professor who was an immigrant who had a heavy accent. I had another, a favorite, who smoked a pipe which I admired too much and almost decided to imitate – thank God I did not. I attended Pentecostal/charismatic worship services for the first time and began to learn about the wonderful variety in the family of God. Sometimes I was conscious of the stretching. More often I was not. We learn and grow through such new experiences.