If you work in education, the summer has flown by, and classes have begun. Most of us find August and September to be both exciting and exhaustive! If you are a college student, you probably feel the same way, with added feelings of anticipation, and nervousness, as well as a bit of sadness as you leave the old and move on to something new. Rest assured, however, the majority of students not only survive but thrive! In my 30 years in higher education, I’ve had the opportunity to glean some tips you might find useful as you begin your own journey. These tips are geared toward traditional-aged college students (18-24 years old), but perhaps there’s some nuggets non-traditional students might find helpful as well.
1st tip – “Find something you enjoy doing, then figure out a way to get paid for it,” Grandpa Svoboda, 1988. This was the advice Grandpa gave me when I graduated from high school. It was excellent advice at that time, and it remains excellent advice (He also told me to quit listening to “that racket”, but it was the 80’s). Truly spend time thinking and reflecting on what is going to get you out of bed and excited to start your day. Excitement won’t occur every morning, but your occupation should ideally be something you enjoy. Don’t think about what limits you, but rather what excites you. A question I often pose to students is- If time, money, and education were not factors and you could do any job you wanted to do, what would you do? Answering this question tends to eliminate the limits we place on ourselves and the pressure to chase other’s dreams. You do you.
2nd tip – Trust that you belong here. Your ability to stick with something, graduate, and take on a new challenge is what got you here. Trust and embrace those attributes. And while you’re here, don’t compare your successes or your failures to anyone else. This is YOUR journey. College is the place where goals and interests diverge from those of your friends, and you’re now following your own path. Embrace your strengths, build on those, and try something new. College is a smorgasbord of new opportunities to try. The most interesting thing about you should not be your Instagram or TikTok, and now is the time to create a unique YOU. Oh, and by the way, go ahead and eat in the dining hall or coffee shop by yourself if you want. It’s not weird. It’s a sign you are comfortable in your skin…and that you’re hungry.
3rd tip – Embrace the privilege of attending an institution of higher learning. Not everyone gets to go to college, and you need to take advantage of it. Also, with freedom comes responsibility. Go to class, ask for help if you need it, utilize every resource we have available to you, and take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Understand that everyone employed at a college/university is there to help students succeed. It’s our passion, but we can’t want you to succeed more than you want it for yourself. One of the harder transitions for students to make occurs when they realize they are responsible for their own learning. Topics are complex, and you will be expected to think critically, synthesize the information, and apply it. And when you don’t feel like going to class, or not studying, or not completing the assignment, ask yourself what your “best self” would do. If you were acting as the best version of you, what would that best version do? Your best self will never fail you.
4th tip – Remember why you started. Taking that first class is your first step toward achieving your dream and life goals. No pressure. 😊 Trust that there will be times when you will feel overwhelmed. That’s natural. Trust that the late-night phone calls missing home will subside. Trust that the homesickness, doubt, and loneliness are temporary. It may take a semester. It may take two, but know that nothing worth having was ever easy. In the meantime, set a routine, get some sleep, ask for help if you need it (and maybe even when you think you don’t), start exercising, introduce yourself to someone new, get involved in a club or organization that interests you, try doing something out of your comfort zone, and surround yourself with people who can contribute to your life and your goals…and spend time contributing to theirs!
Finally, have fun!! Adulting is overrated. And we don’t get spring breaks. Wishing ALL college students a successful and enjoyable academic year!
Photo: Dr. Kristen Alley