From Michelle, a Grown and Flown friend:
This week, my nephew Elias turns 18 and begins his freshman year. Having taught college students for the past 15 years, the best gift I can give him is this list of how to make the most of the next four years. Thank you to some of my colleagues, former students, and friends who shared their collective wisdom in compiling this college advice.
1. SHOW UP. Attend every class session unless you have a contagious illness. (Woody Allen was right: 80% of success is just showing up.) And don’t sit in the back; I can practically predict a student’s grade based on where he or she sits. Slacking in the back row = bad grades with very few exceptions
2. INTRODUCE YOURSELF. Find an excuse to go to office hours, not just once but two or three times a term. Take a draft of your essay to a TA or professor for review; once graded work has been handed back, go back and ask for advice on how to improve it. These people will be your references, advocates, and possibly even friends later in life; you want them to remember your name when the semester is over. And don’t be afraid to kiss a little ass. If your professor is giving a talk or performance, show up — and make sure he or she knows you did. Helpful hint: always remind said professor, adviser, or TA of your name when you encounter them; they will be eternally grateful.
3. ENGAGE. Come to class prepared enough to ask a perceptive question or make a useful comment. Don’t be a wallflower, but don’t dominate either – your fellow students will not love you if your hand is always the first one up. When you e-mail a professor, do it for a good reason and be respectful (don’t address us as “dude” or by our first names unless we’ve asked you to). Turn off your cell phone and do not text during class. We can tell.
4. AFFILIATE. Take advantage of what campus life has to offer – clubs, events, service trips, religious groups. Join something the first week; student activities start-up right away and there is no better way to meet non-freshmen. Try out any and all groups that seem interesting until you find your niche. Research shows that students who are affiliated with a campus group or who have a part-time job are less likely to drop out and more likely to progress through college on time. More important, it enriches the experience.
5. LEARN A LANGUAGE AND/OR LIVE ABROAD. Once you leave college, language classes are expensive and hard to schedule. Take advantage of the daily classes and language labs that are included in the price of tuition. Try to study abroad. Even if you can’t get away for a whole semester, find a short-term spring or summer program and, when it comes to choosing where, the more foreign the better.
6. STAY HEALTHY. Don’t neglect your health. Eat well and be sure to get enough sleep. Getting sick means lots of missed classes and lots of missed fun. The recreation center, gym, or intramural sports are great ways to meet people and will help keep your mind clear. Do not abuse any substances, and do not kiss anyone who is sick.
7. TAP INTO RESOURCES. Career and professional advice; funding for internships, study abroad or travel; opportunities to work with professors on research; mental health counseling and disability support services – these are all offered by most schools, but it is up to you to recognize your needs and make use of such resources.
8. BE SOCIAL. Leave the door of your dorm room open much of the day and cultivate a broad group of friends. One colleague reports, “I went to my 30 year reunion this summer and met so many interesting members of my class that I didn’t know in college (but should have).” Don’t walk around campus texting. Make eye contact. Chat with kids in class. Set up a study group of three or four people to share ideas, questions, and notes if you have to miss a class (see #1).
9. SAVOR YOUR INDEPENDENCE. College is a time to grow up. Make the place where you live a home away from home so you have a measure of personal comfort. Create a positive atmosphere that will nurture you. Keep your support system – friends, family – in place, andcall them when you need them, but don’t be afraid of loosening the ties.
10. Make the most of each day. The years will fly by.
Michelle Miller-Adams is an associate professor of political science at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.