Letter to A College Freshman
Dr. Linda Karges-Bone
Dear College Freshman,
When this article comes out, you will be packing your bags for the big move to college. There will be tote bags from Target™, holding sheets and towels, boxes of printer cartridges and paper, tins of snacks and probably a fresh credit card ( for emergencies only) and you are thinking that all this marvelous stuff is exactly what you need to be successful. I am not dismissing the value of microwave popcorn and cocoa packets, nor the comfort of a snuggly throw monogrammed with your university logo. All of this is excellent. But, there is more to consider.
From my vantage point of 27 years in the professorate, and having successfully brought two daughters through undergraduate and graduate school programs, I can offer a few guidelines that mother and daddy may not know, remember from their own experiences, or care to think about during this emotional transition. So, I will serve, as we say in the university world “in loco parentis”, the Latin for, in the place of your parents. I am going to give you twelve pieces of advice that will keep you in school, in good health, and on the path to a 4 year graduation instead of a 6 or more year stay at your alma mater.
#1. Please get up and go to class. Every day. There is a myth that one can still “pass” by taking advantage of the absence policy. It is true that most colleges and universities, especially the larger ones do not take roll. This gives students the foolish idea that they can attend when they feel like it and simply turn in papers and tests. Here’s what really happens. Since most professors cover 1-2 chapters per lecture session, you have no idea of what went on during your absence and hence, will not be able to coherently answer questions nor craft papers that make any sense. You will fail the class, not be missing too many days, but simply because you did not learn anything. In addition, the “FA” or Failure Due to Absences policy is in effect. Depending on whether the class meets on a M-W-F or T/Th. rotation, the days that one can miss differ. The professor will not warn you and you may not be clear about the policy. Once you meet the limit, it is over. In many programs, such as teacher education or nursing, absences “count” against one’s grade and can trigger removal from the major because one is not deemed a suitable candidate for the license.
#2. Which brings me to the second piece of advice. Do not email professors to ask them “What you missed” when you were absent. You cannot have it both ways. If profs do not take roll, then they also do not “re-teach”. They assume that if you were not there; you do not care. If you do not care enough about the discipline to which they ( professors) have devoted decades of their lives and the acquisition of an advanced degree, then you are no longer in a position of good favor.
#3. On the other hand, if you do attend class every session and still struggle, feel free to approach your professor for assistance or a referral for tutoring. Professors love the hard-working attentive students and take it as a source of pride when they reach out to the faculty for guidance. Do not wait until you are drowning in the content. Act quickly.
#4. Plan your schedule carefully. Take at least 5 classes ( 15 credit hours) per semester, but try to balance them out. If you love history, then take two of them and get it over with. If your skills in mathematics are questionable, consider taking math during a summer school session when you can give the work your full attention.
#5. Meet with your academic advisor each semester. It is easy to get behind a year or more simply by messing up a course schedule. Certain majors require specific courses to satisfy graduation requirements. For example, a future teacher, future nurse, and future business professional will not take the same mathematics courses. Just because your room –mate is taking “Logic” to satisfy her math requirement, does not mean that you can. Do not, and I repeat, do NOT make up your own schedule The schedule must be blessed by the academic advisor.
#6. As part of your quest for a solid schedule, be sure to register for your classes the very first day that registration opens. If you want a specific schedule or professor, then be ready to sign into your account and register online the moment the new semester’s portal opens.
#7. Unplug while you study. Facebook and ipods do not help. You may think that you can do both, but the brain simply adjusts and does each of the tasks with less care. Plan on one hour of reading ( minimum) after each class session. Learn to take “green” breaks during exam prep. Research suggests that taking a walk outside during a study break enhances retention of new information.
#8. Try new things. Take advantage of electives. You may not consider yourself artistic, but take a painting class anyway. The same for Chinese, or an interesting Psychology or Religion class. Expand your mind. If you are a typical “left brain” perfectionist, then go for something more “right brain” and creative. The pre-frontal cortex or area of higher order thinking in your brain is not fully wired until around age 25. There is a great deal to learn and experience.
#9. Join at least two different campus organizations. Make one of them a “service” oriented group. For example, my students belong to the “Future Teachers’ Society”, a group that provides fellowship as they carry out service projects that benefit children and families. Organizations help to build what we call “social capital”, a force that enhances the flow of dopamine and oxytocin in your brain, making you feel peaceful and happy. The other group? Something new and fun. Something that challenges you to think, explore, and create.
#10. Along those lines, consider some kind of study abroad experience. Whether it is an immersion in Spanish, a mission trip to Africa, or a trek through the rainforest in Costa Rica, get on a plane and experience the world. It is a humbling and eye-opening experience that gives your university stay a polish and patina.
#11. Take care of yourself, physically. Join an intramural sport and play just for fun and fellowship. Take advantage of your school’s work out center. Ride a bike to class. Learn to rock climb or join a hiking group. Physical activity reduces anxiety and increases the amount of gray matter in the front of the brain. Likewise, make friends with the salad bar instead of the pizza bar in the cafeteria. The Freshmen 15 is not a myth and it isn’t pretty. Be forewarned.
#12. Most of all, guard your heart and mind spiritually. Many, many young adults abandon their faith during the college years. It is true. What is not true, I believe, is that the college or university is to blame. We all make choices. The new found freedom of university life gives one a great many possibilities, spiritually, mentally, and socially. As an adult, each of us is challenged to make choices. God will not abandon you in college, but He will watch as you make decisions. Keep this in mind: “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15
I am excited for you. College is wonderful. It changed my life so much that I never left! Be well. Make good choices. If you get stuck or scared, reach out to your campus minister, your adviser, or even to me. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great Freshmen Year.