“College – the best four years of your life”. Those of us in higher education know this can be true. It can be your students’ reality.
However, as you know, it doesn’t just magically happen. It requires insight and some effort. While my college years were memorable and life changing, looking back, I wish I knew then what I now know. That knowledge would have made four great years even better.
Having worked in higher education for many years, I have found myself counseling and advising thousands upon thousands of students. And with my daughter beginning her first year at college, I put pen to paper and consolidated a few words of advice.
Tips you may want to share with your students.
Find a mentor.
This can be a game changer. A mentor is someone who is unconditionally there for you to support, advise and counsel. This person could be a professor, a student affairs professional, a residence director or advisor, or an upperclassman. An ally who can assist you in your college experience and well beyond. Success and happiness often is about connections.
Find the balance – work and fun.
School is your full-time job. This is your reality – this is why you are there. It comes down to motivation and effort. Give 100%, go to class, read, and study! Know your degree requirements, consult the college catalog, and talk to students about classes and professors. College, of course, should be fun and enjoyable. Some of the best times in your life. Get organized and find the balance – you can have both.
Get to know your professors and make sure they know you.
Make sure your professors know who you are – your name, interests and goals. Go to office hours, ask questions, and discuss ideas. Don’t be afraid to participate in class. There is considerable value and reward when you develop a relationship with your professors. Believe me – this is my job.
Get out of your comfort zone – try new things.
Challenge yourself to try new things -courses, activities, and events. Surround yourself with friends who will challenge your ideas and assumptions. Get off campus and explore.
Make a concerted effort to meet people. Introduce yourself to others. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or ask questions. It’s on you. When you put yourself out there, you begin to make friends and connections.
This is theme woven in many of the suggestions. Arguably, this can be one of the keys in maximizing your experience today and tomorrow – throughout college and in the future, whether it be career advice, the job search or graduate school. Connect with faculty, staff and peers. Some of your peers may become lifelong friends.
Take advantage of opportunities.
And there are many – clubs, activities, athletics, events, intramurals and trips. There will likely never be another time when you have so many opportunities at your doorstep.
Study abroad and do an internship.
Study abroad – enough said. What an amazing experience awaits. Most colleges offer Internships. This is your opportunity to gain experience, make connections and contacts that can serve you well in the future.
Take care of yourself physically and mentally. Understand and manage the stress. We often create our own stress and anxiety. Engage in healthy thinking and self-talk. Exercise, eat well, relax, and make time for yourself. If you are feeling overwhelmed, ask for help (RA, counseling services, wellness center).
Believe in yourself.
Don’t underestimate what you are capable of doing or sell yourself short. This about self-efficacy – belief in yourself and a sense of competence. This is very powerful. Have a growth mindset rather than a fixed one, as this will help you gain confidence and realize your potential. If nothing else, it gives you confidence to try. Don’t be afraid to fail. We are only limited by ourself and our self-doubt.
Lest you forget, go back to number one and find a mentor. A mentoring relationship may persist throughout your college years and often beyond. In some cases, it can manifest into a lifelong relationship – one that grows and evolves and is mutually beneficial. It can become one of the most important relationships in your life. I have seen this firsthand as a former student and mentee has become one of my closest friends. You never know if you don’t take make the effort and take a chance. The rewards can be endless.
While it may be cliché, there is some truth to the notion “college is what you make of the experience”. You get as much out of the experience as you put into it.
Maybe then, it can indeed be the best and most productive four years.
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Podcast With Josie Ahlquist on Digital Identity, Social Media & Leadership