Congratulations on your acceptance as a new college student into the school of your choice. You worked hard as a high school student, and you successfully navigated the admission process. You attended orientation, explored the campus, located your class buildings and familiarized yourself with procedures of the bursar’s office.
Those logistics behind you, you now face one of the biggest changes in your life — the academic, emotional and social adjustment of college. You will soon discover that the pace and intensity of the college semester offers a significant challenge compared with your prolonged high school senior year.
Statistically, almost half of students who begin college do not graduate. From decades of teaching college freshmen, primarily at Rowan University, I have seen predictable patterns of students who succeed and those who don’t. For example, highly successful students attend every class and submit every assignment.
From those experiences, I offer the following to increase your chances to celebrate your graduation in four years:
1. Utilize professors’ office hours: The most underutilized educational resource, and one of the most effective that assures academic success, is meeting with your professors, asking questions, clarifying content and building professional relationships for future recommendations. Professors are required to post their regular weekly hours they allocate to meeting with students. You may walk in any time, but scheduling an appointment shows your initiative and organization.
2. Schedule a meeting with your adviser: You charted your path to get into college; your adviser will chart your path to get you out of college with the degree of your choice. Your adviser will help you navigate the shortest credit path towards graduation. Meet with your adviser midway through the first semester and prior to every registration with the goal of understanding every credit you need. Prioritize required courses because they offer you less flexibility than electives. Familiarize yourself with your college’s database that tracks your path towards graduation. Learn requirements for minors and certifications related to your field of study.
3. Begin near-due assignments as soon as they are assigned: The hardest part of any assignment is getting started. Assignment planning includes a vision of the completed project and the process to achieve success. Collaborate with peers on how they are approaching the assignment. If you have questions or need clarification on an assignment, especially the first assignment, see your professor during office hours. Meeting deadlines and succeeding on the first college essay or similar major assignment indicates the potential for future college success.
4. Find a quiet, distraction-free study area: Your college studies will require more concentration and focus than your high school studies. Learn locations on your campus (indoors and outdoors) where you can study and read distraction free: the library, unoccupied classrooms, lounge areas, conference rooms, lawns and so forth. Your study location and your ability to isolate yourself from your devices will determine your level of college success. Reserve weekly blocks of time for your most intense work.
5. Organize study groups with students who share your academic intensity: Since leaning is also a social process, organizing study groups will enhance your academic experience. Today’s campuses recognize the value of learning communities and provide liberal space availability for students to meet and learn from each other. Your peers offer you perspectives you may have not considered.
6. Familiarize yourself with your university’s course delivery platform, library databases and other technology applications: Technology is in your DNA, but you are inexperienced with the learning and support technology on college campuses. Learn your course delivery system, the location of content for all your courses. Hard copy handouts in class are as uncommon as a decrease in tuition. Attend orientation or webinars for use of library databases.
7. Organize your desktop, email folders and electronic calendars: You cannot succeed in college without mastery of an electronic organizational system, including an electronic calendar, desktop folders and email folders. A convenient back up system eliminates the stress of losing files. College professors don’t accept: “My computer crashed.” Most colleges provide technical support (as part of your tuition) for your computer and college-related technology. Your college may have a preference of platforms (Apple or PC), but various majors will have a conflicting preference. You are resourceful enough to find the information to resolve all your technology problems.
8. Utilize student support resources: Colleges want you to graduate, and they provide the support services to help you graduate. Visit the academic support center and learn types of academic help available. Familiarize yourself with counseling and psychological services, the student health center, technology support and the offices of student affairs and Title IX. Knowledge of resources can help you recommend help for a friend.
9. Read, research and listen: These three academic activities will provide the information you need to write and present. Reading books is the signature activity of an educated person. Some successful college students allocate study time exclusively for reading. Learn strategies for active listening. Your ability to write papers supported by current research is dependent on your ability to locate sources. Your college research expectation exceeds a Google search. Bookmark Google Scholar.
10. Socialize and get involved: Your social adjustment to college correlates to your happiness on campus. But too much success socializing can end your college career without your degree. Making friends requires effort. Be forward and introduce yourself to other freshman. A good introduction is an extended hand and: “Hi, I’m …; I’m from …” Your classes are the best opportunities to meet people. Other opportunities include the dining hall, social and sporting activities, lectures and presentations and organizations. If you commute, a sound economic decision, your school will have a commuters’ lounge. You will have more lifetime friends from college than high school.
Dr. Joe Giampalmi, an assistant professor at Rowan University’s Department of Writing Arts, has been teaching writing for 52 years. Author of five books and dozens of educational articles for national magazines, he has been writing this semi-monthly column since 1985 and has published more than 600 columns. Some past columns are available at DelcoNewsNetwork.com. Giampalmi regularly presents writing workshops for schools and businesses. Please address questions and comments to Giampalmi@Rowan.edu.