Monday, August 23, 2010

Are you ready for college?

This post first appeared on

This is it. What you have been working towards for four long years in high school, why you studied long and hard for your SATs or ACTs, why you gave up evenings and weekends in order to perfect your college application. Your Fall semester is about to get underway. But after all that hard work, are you ready for your college academic career?

One of the first things you need to ask yourself is “why am I going to college?” To get a degree? To get into business/law/medical/graduate school? To get a job? Or is it to get an education? You need to be clear about your goals. Write them down so that when the number of distractions outnumber the hours in your day, you can remind yourself the reason why you’re in college to begin with.

The second thing you need to decide is how you are going to approach your classes. You will be required to take a number of courses that are outside of your major or interest, especially your Freshman and Sophomore years. Are you going to see these courses as a burden or an opportunity? Each class presents a chance for you to improve your skills, expand your knowledge and practice critical thinking. But if you decide ahead of time the class is a waste of time, then it will be.

Which brings me to what is probably the most important class of your Freshman year: Freshman Writing. Most students don’t see it that way. But remember, no matter your major, from science to sociology, pre-med to pre-law, engineering to English, you will be required to write, and write well. A professor can’t evaluate your ideas if they can’t understand them, or are distracted by mistakes. Freshman Writing classes have been developed specifically to help you transition from high school to college-level writing.

Improving your reading, writing, and critical thinking skills takes practice; Freshman Writing invites you to practice and concentrate on these three important areas. But a student’s freshman year is full of new challenges and responsibilities: a full course load, a job, roommates, social life, homework, extra-curricular activities … the list goes on and on. Courses such as Freshman Writing often end up getting pushed aside, or lost in the chaos and excitement of the freshman experience.

And please, remember that what you learn in Freshman Writing isn’t just for your English classes; it’s for all your classes. If you have to write, then you should be applying what you learned in Freshman Writing. Your college education should be about taking what you learn in all of your classes and applying them elsewhere. This will help you succeed on your path towards your degree, career and beyond.

But you don’t have to do this alone. Learn about all of the programs and services that are available on your campus, often at no charge to you as a full-time student. Is there a writing center, a peer tutoring service, college literacy program, or other student support groups? You never know when you will assistance of one kind or another, be it academic or something else. If you know where to go if your money runs out, or if you have problems with a roommate, or if your computer breaks, then if something does happen, or you need help, you can get it in a minimum amount of time and stress.

And, finally, learn how to relax in a healthy way. University can be stressful, not to mention full of distractions. Without proper sleep and rest, you won’t be able to learn. Living off of energy drinks and all-nighters will wreck your health, your immune system, and your GPA. But lying in bed, mind racing, will do exactly the same thing. Find a way to unwind, calm your mind, and get the sleep that you need to stay healthy and keep your mind sharp. This is often something we ignore, the least of our worries. Or “stress-relief” involves lots of alcohol. There are lots of different services and programs available on campus, so explore what works best for you. Your body and brain will thank you.

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