Words of Advice From a College Professor to Her First Year Students

Dear First Year College Students,

A few words of advice from a college professor for a successful college start.

Congratulations on embarking on your college career. The world is open to you with endless possibilities. I know you want to take full advantage of your college experience.

As a college instructor, I have some suggestions for making the most of your post-secondary education. First, as you (and your parents) know, the “college experience” is expensive, so get your money’s worth. But what does that mean, exactly?

college student in class
A college professor wants her first year students to know this about college. (Twenty20 @pamelasphotopoetry)

11 Pieces of Advice From a College Professor to Her First Year Students

1. Show up for most, if not all, of your classes. While your new friends are sleeping in and blowing off class, remember that you are paying for each session. So, go sit in class, pay attention, and do the work. (If you are going to sleep in your seat, though, just stay in your dorm room.)

It’s always disappointing when former students who earned a C or below contact me post-graduation and say they have not learned all they could and are unable to find a job in their chosen major. The extracurricular activities are fun, but they don’t pay the rent, let alone the student loan repayment.

2. Forget perfection. For every slacking class-cutter, there is a Ms. or Mr. Perfect. Just because you always got all A’s in high school, though, does not mean you will in college. There is no “perfect.” I know you want a 4.0, but college is about learning, trying new things and occasionally failing at some endeavors.

3. Educate yourself about the student loan process. Understand what you are signing. Work up a post-college budget now, assuming a modest income, student loan payments, and normal living expenses. Be honest with yourself. If the burden is too great, get a part-time job, work on campus, or commute and live with your parents. Do not expect to work full-time and carry a full course load each semester. Very few students can pull that off successfully. It is too stressful, and you will fall behind with your assignments.

4. No, your grandma didn’t die — again. College professors have heard everything, so your lame excuses will not fly. Just don’t even say it. Or email it. Or utter it after nine absences. Also, candor — “It was my 21st birthday and I was hung over for three days” — doesn’t make your case any better. You will still fail.

5. Whenever possible, make real connections with professors and other students. During class, put your smartphone away and don’t surf the web on your laptop while pretending to be “taking notes.” I know you think you are multitasking and still really listening, but, trust me, the professor just thinks you are rude.

Participate in the meaningful discussions of the classroom. The professor-student connection is one of the most rewarding aspects of the college experience. Don’t miss it. Plus, professors are a good resource when looking for jobs after graduation.

6. Live it up — to a point. It’s OK to have a good time but remember that moderation is what makes it possible to graduate with a respectable grade point average. Employers will not look at you if you have a 2.1. (Some readers might think this is obvious to students, but, no, it needs to be said.) Forget parties on Tuesday nights and staying up all night playing video games. Live in the real world, not the virtual one, unless a degree in Call of Duty is what you are looking for.

7. It’s all you, all the time. If you don’t have it already, learn some personal responsibility. For many students, it is the first time they are away from lifelong friends, not to mention no longer circling their parents’ orbit. In college, you are expected to speak for yourself. Your parents cannot talk to the professor or review your grades without your approval.

So, know what is going on. If you get behind or have a true personal emergency, communicate that to the professor, chair of the department, and dean of the college if necessary. If you are failing, don’t live in denial. Withdraw before the deadline to save your GPA and possibly some money. If you want to quit, withdraw officially so you can re-enter if you change your mind later. Oh, and clue your parents into what is going on because they love you and, in many cases, have co-signed for your collegiate sojourn.

8. Campuses have mental-health services; use them if needed. College is a big life change. Assignments converge and overwhelm. Parents get divorced/laid off/die. Breakups happen. Your best friend ditches you for a new guy. Go talk to someone and do not be ashamed. A little counseling can take you a long way. You can make it.

9. Channel Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said: “The things taught in schools and colleges are not an education, but the means to an education.” College is a gateway to lifelong higher learning; it is not a guarantee of a six-figure job, luxury car, expensive sneakers, or the latest iPhone.

10. Find your “thing.” Immerse yourself in your field of interest. Work an internship, find a related side job, or freelance. Start today.

11. Enjoy everything you can. Remember, it’s not what you get away with, but what you get out of college that makes the difference. Leave with a lot.

This article originally appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Lisa B. Samalonis is a writer and medical editor who also has taught composition and journalism courses at colleges in New Jersey.

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