Advice for the College-Bound

As summer draws to a close, hundreds of anxious teenagers anticipate the transition from high school to college.  Whether heading out of state or staying close to home, a brand new world awaits.

Having taught high school students for 35 years, I’ve watched thousands of kids make this transition.  I’ve also observed that some return to visit a year later with the aura of conquering heroes while others look and feel, well, pretty bummed out.  I recently wrote a book intended to help more students complete Year #1 as a member of the first group.

Relax… I avoid the “don’ts” that your parents, relatives, teachers, and coaches have no doubt already covered.  I also resist the temptation to lay a guilt trip over how much it costs.  (That’s because I’m trying to figure out how to pay for the college expenses of my own kids!)

Instead, I offer five simple rules for success that come highly recommended by the scores of college students I interviewed for the book.  Rules may not be cool, but consider the notion that the biggest threat to first-time college students is the danger of drowning in free time.  You’re about to be thrown into the deep end of the pool.  Maybe a few simple rules can help you find your stroke in the early going.  Here goes:

Rule #1:  Go to Class!
Whenever students and/or parents first hear this rule, they invariably respond with “Duh!!!”  Back in high school, if you just stopped going to class, you’d likely find yourself in hot water within 24 hours.  In college, chances are good that no one knows or cares if you are going to class at all.  All of the students I have known who have failed out of college have shared one thing in common – they didn’t go to class.  Conversely, I have never met a student who went to all of his/her classes who flunked out of school.  If you honor the simple commitment to attend all of your classes, a number of good things will fall into place.  Furthermore, a whole host of bad ones will never visit your door.

Rule #2:  Study 3 Hours Times 5 Days Per Week
Just as you need to go to class, you need to study.  (I know… “Duh!!!”)  Many students struggle with the idea of transitioning from “homework” (a term you will never hear in college) to “studying.”  Whereas your high school teachers might tell you your assignment for the next day, your professors might present you with a semester-long syllabus on the first day of class.  You may have nothing due for six weeks.  Before you exclaim, “College is awesome; let’s party!” Think again.  It can be hard to make yourself study when nothing is due for a month and a half.  So, rather than focus on assignment completion, commit to studying for a set amount of time each and every weekday regardless of what is due.  I’m not promising that you’ll make Dean’s List, but if you can commit to a minimum of 15 hours per week, you will be a student in good standing.  You will also minimize the anxiety many of your schoolmates will face as papers and exams come due at the end of the semester.

Rule #3:  Commit to Something
I have heard many parents urge their students to refrain from athletics and extracurricular activities in the first year.  I disagree.  When I was in college, I played a spring sport.  I also did better academic work in the spring than I did in the fall.  I had to keep a schedule.  My coach would check up on my grades.  I couldn’t split for long weekends because I had to go to lacrosse practice.  If sports aren’t your thing, try out for a campus theatrical production, write for the paper, get involved with campus recycling, get a work-study or off-campus job.  Not only will a regular commitment to something connect you with constructive and maybe even lifelong friendships, my experience says that your participation will enhance (and not detract from) your academic performance.

Rule #4:  Get a Mentor
Whether a professor, coach, dean, or off-campus employer, seek out people with life experience who can give you both support and a kick in the pants when you need it. In high school, teachers are expected to look out for you and lend a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on when you need it.  While you don’t need these things any less in college, assume that the burden lies with you to take the initiative and seek them out.

Rule #5:  Procrastination Kills
In one group interview, I asked, “What is the one thing you would tell a kid starting college tomorrow?”  One student responded, “Procrastination Kills.”  Then everyone in the room began sharing their procrastination stories, unknowingly serving up an assortment of tricks and techniques, many of which found their way into my book.  While these were all over the park, they all had something to do with doing something… Right  Now.

Look at it this way, there are 168 hours in a week.  The above five rules will tie up less than a quarter of them, leaving you with 120+ for purposes of sleep, leisure, and recreation.  (Yeah, college is awesome indeed!)  I don’t promise that you’re about to experience the best four years of your life.  But there’s gotta be a reason why so many people say so.  Good luck and… Go To Class!

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld