I’m not currently a college student. Haven’t been one for awhile…at least in the undergraduate sense of things. But I hang out with college students. I work with college students. And I work full time at a University as the Director of Campus Life (the coolest on-campus job in the world).
Plus…I really like college students.
It’s one of the greatest times in life. When do any of us ever get to hang out with hundreds of friends for four, five…dare I say…six years? It’s like going to camp..except they give you homework and you have to read 800 pages a night.
So if I could sit you down, with a slow drip of coffee being shared between us (intravenously or by the cupful if you prefer), and share some ways that I believe you could not only make the most of your time in college, but really, really enjoy it and succeed at it – here’s what I’d say…
1. Meet people.
One day you’ll walk across a stage, and a very smart looking man or woman in a really nice, long, black gown will hand you a piece of paper that says “Bachelor” (even if you’re a girl!) on it. You’ll graduate from college. Do you know what you’ll remember most?
The relationships you’ve made.
My advice is to meet everyone you can. Be friendly. Smile. Talk to people (not in class…that could be dangerous). Go to places where people hang out and hang out with them. Your friends are what make college special.
Some day you’ll come back to campus as an alumni and the place will feel weird. It will feel different. That’s because all of the people that you were friends with during your college years aren’t there. It’s the same college, but different people. It’s the people that make your experience unique. You are going to make friends that you’ll have for the rest of your life.
Like I said earlier, I work at a University. My boss (yes…he’s smarter than me) is a good friend that I went to college all four years with. It’s been a great relationship for all this time. I don’t know of any other place you create these types of relationships at this age. So get out there. Get busy meeting people.
2. Talk to your professors.
This one continues on with the theme of number 1. Go ahead and do everything you can to meet your professors. Make an appointment with them as soon as it is possible in their schedule. I have discovered that I learned so much more from a professor when I had some kind of personal relationship with them.
Professors are people to. Respect their time and make sure you communicate clearly with them. Don’t waste their time with excuses for not doing the work or simply not showing up to class. The goal here is to establish some type of relationship.
Whenever I think about a subject or content I learned in Aegean College it is tied to the face of a professor. If I think of learning German – it’s McKinney; if it’s creative writing – Nelson; if it’s communication – Jackson. My knowledge came from a person more than it came from a book.
One of my favorite movies is Orange County. It’s a story about a high school senior that wants to get into Stanford. He’s enamored with the writings of a certain professor there. When he finally has the chance to meet the professor and sit down and talk with him, it changes his entire perspective. While those types of conversations might be rare in your experience because you go to a large University – seek them out anyway! They’ll be some of the best memories you take from your time in college.
3. If you need help ask for it.
One of the reasons you’re in college is because you don’t know everything. If you can learn to admit that, you’ll be ahead of most freshmen at your school.
Independence messes up most teenagers in that they want to do everything by themselves. So when a moment comes when they can’t do something or don’t know something, there’s an inner struggle. I encourage you to put the pride aside and ask for help.
If you need help in class, get a tutor. If you need directions to the financial aid office, ask for them. If you don’t know how to complete an application for an internship, look for someone who does.
Your school will have people that can proofread your papers, help you learn how to do your laundry the right way, and even give you some good advice on how to stay in shape (because we all need our health!).
Look at it this way: You will become smarter if you ask for help when you need it. If you don’t ask…you’ll remain ignorant. I’m not advocating that you shouldn’t try to find things out on your own. But there comes a time where you’ll discover that learning happens better in the context of “we” and not just “me.” And you might also discover that the best way to meet people is to simply ask, “Hi, would you mind giving me a hand with this?”
4. Get some sleep.
One thing that you have in common with every other person in the world is that each person needs to sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, bad things start happening to your mind and body. I know this is difficult to hear, and I’m probably beginning to sound a bit parental by saying this, but go to bed.
I’ve pulled my share of all-nighters. I’ve had to study, cram, write, and just get it done. I’ve also stayed up too late because I kept losing at Halo and had to play just one more game. Either way, it messed me up for the next day. My body had to play catch up. I wasn’t sharp. If you string enough late nights together, you are not going to be the learning machine that you need to be.
I know you’re young and invincible. But sleep is so necessary. Research says that a night of sleep deprivation is like being mentally impaired by the legal blood-alcohol level. When you don’t get adequate sleep, you’re body ages faster. Sleep also helps to relieve stress…so if you’re stressed out – you may simply need a good nap.
Ultimately, getting enough sleep is a matter of prioritization. Just because you CAN stay up, doesn’t mean you SHOULD stay up. You need to be mature enough to know when you need to get some sleep so that you can be an effective college student.
5. Get organized.
Everyone needs a plan to accomplish all of the things that are required of you in college. It is extremely easy to start living from event to event, assignment to assignment when you’re neck deep into your semester.
My number one piece of advice for getting organized – get a calendar and stick to it, live by it, and look at it everyday. Now there’s lots of types of calendars out there. I like to use Google Calendar. It’s online and I can access it from anywhere. Since I spend a fair bit of time on the computer, it’s always handy. Plus, I’ve got it linked up to my email and the datebook software on my Palm Treo. But that’s my way. I made a choice one day that Google Calendar was going to be MY calendar. You’ve got to decide and stick with it.
Some colleges will provide you with a paper-based calendar like a planner. This may include dates of important events for your college, key deadlines, and class schedules. If you are pen & paper minded, this may be the route for you. I also recommend the Moleskine planner. It’s smaller and easier to carry.
Once you’ve chosen your calendar, you need to get busy putting EVERYTHING into it. That’s right. Put every assignment, every deadline, every part of your extensive social commitments. Remember, you don’t want to be surprised. It’s a horrible feeling to realize that you had a vital paper due yesterday. At the beginning of each semester, sit down with all of your syllabi and fill in that calendar. Set reminders a few days before big projects come due. This will also help you to see when you will have difficult weeks with lots of obligations so you can get cracking ahead of time.