To The Class of 2015
Your packing may not be done yet, but you’re probably already full… of advice. Your family, friends, neighbors, pastors, and perhaps total strangers are, with the best of intentions, offering you wisdom, stories, memories, regrets, and suggestions about this strange new voyage you are undertaking. And so, based on the good American ideal that more is better, here’s yet more advice!
So what if you could ask current college students (and recent graduates) about their best advice for incoming students? These are some excerpts compiled from columnist and independent college counselor Lee Bierer, and also from www.collegeanswer.com (published by SallieMae).
"In the summer, many stores (Linens 'n Things, Best Buy, etc.) hand out "Everything You Will Need In Your Dorm Room" lists at the front door. Don't buy everything they say you'll need. It's not true. Instead, begin keeping a list on your nightstand, and each night before bed, for about a month, jot down things you used that day–tools, fans, bedroom slippers, makeup mirror–and then use that list to pack and to purchase only those things you don't own and will need. And remember, there will be stores where you go, so don't go crazy at Sam's Club buying the biggest package of Band-Aids, or an army's supply of mechanical pencils."
Biola's Housing Office has prepared a checklist (pdf format) that you can download, that contains our best advice in a handy checklist format. And we have a whole site devoted to life in La Mirada, which includes where you can shop.
"I am a sophomore in college and it took me a full year to learn the importance of studying. I really did not like to study by myself so I started studying in a group... I learned that a small bit of studying goes a long way."
"Remember to concentrate on your studies… The first year will consist of your easier classes and it is a good time to bring your GPA up."
"If there's one thing I've learned in my first year of college, it is that you must plan your time wisely. Time isn't set for you like in high school; you must stay on top of things… Make sleep a [top] priority. You will be delirious after too many all-nighters and a whole term of little sleep. Work hard, but have fun once in a while."
"Another thing that takes some getting used to is attendance. Some professors will take it and have it factor into your grade; others will honestly not care if you come to class or not. Having this freedom to come and go as you please can be a rush at first, but you can end up shooting yourself in the foot once finals come around if you aren't familiar with the material. The best advice is to start by going to every class, every time, as though you have to. From there, you can make up your mind…"
"Procrastination!!! I never knew it was such a problem for me until college. There are so many clubs and opportunities available in college. You will always find something else you'd rather do than class work. I can barely sit still and study for more than 30 minutes unless the test is in 24 hours or less. Find study groups early in the semester and hold each other accountable."
"One thing you must do as a college student is to get to know your professor(s). That can be a big help in the future of your college career. Many times, students just come to class and think that's it. But it's more than just that! Taking the time to know your professor helps you to understand the class and the work better. And your professor gets to know you, the student, a little bit more. You won't be just another face in the classroom."
Dr. Randall S. Hansen has an entire website devoted to college and careers, and he adds:
• Get Organized. In high school, the teachers tended to lead you through all the homework and due dates. In college, the professors post the assignments–often for the entire semester–and expect you to be prepared. Buy an organizer, a PDA, a big wall calendar; whatever it takes for you to know when assignments are due.
• Find the ideal place for you to study. It may be your dorm room or a cozy corner of the library, but find a place that works best for you to get your work done while avoiding as many distractions as possible.
• Go to class. Obvious, right? Maybe, but sleeping in and skipping that 8 am class will be tempting at times. Avoid the temptation. Besides learning the material by attending classes, you'll also receive vital information from the professors about what to expect on tests, changes in due dates, etc.
• Become an expert on course requirements and due dates. Professors spend hours and hours preparing course syllabi and calendars so that you will know exactly what is expected of you, and when. One of the lamest excuses a student can give a professor: "I didn't know it was due today."
"Of course, it's a cliché, but college is about trying new things. You might surprise yourself with what you realize you actually like but, for whatever reason, never gave a chance before."
"Everyone is in the same boat. You may not realize it, but everyone around you is thinking the same things you're thinking, wondering what kind of impression they're making. Will this be just like high school? Will this be the best four years of my life? Some students may carry it off with more confidence, but the intimidation factor touches everyone."
"Take advantage of your "start fresh" opportunity. Get outside your comfort zone, initiate conversations with people you didn't think you'd talk to in high school. Stay open-minded and do your best to squash any negative first impressions you make of others. Find a community you feel a part of and invest time and energy in establishing new relationships. The first few weeks of college are a great time to ask people about themselves, everybody likes to share stories."
"Branch out. Don't hang onto the same people you met at orientation, from your high school or on your floor. Expand your network. Don't let yourself get isolated."
"Be a connector. Introduce people you've met from your dorm to friends from high school or members of a club you're in. Initially, the wider your circle is the better off you'll be. You never know where or how you'll meet the people you'll end up being closest to."
"Keep your door open. When you're in your room, unless you're sleeping, changing or studying, keep your door open. Someone might come in just wanting to chat. Don't get huffy about being disturbed. These impromptu conversations are often great for cementing new relationships."
"Participate in dorm events, new member programs for clubs, etc. These programs are great icebreakers and are usually lots of fun. After attending a few of these, you'll be able to figure out more accurately where, how and with whom you want to spend your free time."
Dr. Hansen adds:
• Seek a balance. College life is a mixture of social and academic happenings. Don't tip the balance too far in either direction. One of my favorite former students always used to say her motto was to "study hard so she could play hard."
• Stay healthy/eat right. A lot of problems first-year students face can be traced back to an illness that kept them away from classes for an extended period of time that led to a downward spiraling effect. Get enough sleep, take your vitamins, and eat right… without mom or dad there to serve you a balanced meal, you may be tempted to go for those extra fries or cookies. Stay healthy and avoid the dreaded extra "Freshman 15" pounds by sticking to a balanced diet.
• Checking account: Know how to maintain a checking account, and what fees they can accrue. This is an easy way for you to quickly run out of money, and once out of control, is quite difficult to catch up.
• Credit cards: Having a credit card is a new experience for many college freshmen. If you have a credit card, you’ve got to think long-term (unless mom and dad are paying the bill and don’t care). A lot of ‘little’ charges can quickly build up a big balance. A debit card may be a better way of keeping your spending within budget. And speaking of budgets...
• Budgeting: Sitting down with mom/dad/other-responsible-adult and learning how much the day-to-day essentials cost, and how to budget money for extras, is a great help. For some of us, it’s hard not to be impulsive, and the move to college will require some new thinking about where you should spend your money, and where you shouldn’t. If you haven’t been paying for your own toiletries, laundry, gas, etc., how much all that costs may be a shock.
It Won't All Be Wonderful
Most students deal with at least one major disappointment or setback their first semester: rejection by a student organization, a failed test or a term paper that's bleeding red ink, relationship heartbreak, long-distance family crisis, fights with friends/roommates, or homesickness.
In 2010, more than 10 percent of students at more than 300 four-year institutions sought some sort of counseling, according to a survey of counseling center directors. These students are seeking help with issues including depression, sexual identity, eating disorders, sexual assault, anxiety, and substance abuse.
Those numbers are from colleges of all types all across the country, and there’s a tendency to think that Christian colleges are immune. Not so. Biola offers a number of people and services to help you with issues and problems, because you’re not the only one. More information is here.
A Closing Word
For some students, college is a source of stress; pressure to achieve, to live up to the expectations (and sacrifices) of family and friends, to not make mistakes or wrong choices. For others, college is the great escape, a chance to experiment and re-invent and risk. For most students, it's both those things, and sometimes one leads to the other. It's a great opportunity. But let's keep it in perspective; our friends at Vanderbilt U have said it well:
College will not be the best four years of your life. Regardless of what you hear as you prepare for college, remember that no life should peak between ages 18 and 22. The four years you spend during your undergraduate education will hopefully be fun, exciting, and inspirational. However, there will also be moments of painful separation, awkward encounters, and seemingly impossible decision-making. College is about building your best life.
College will not be the best four years of your life. They will be a brilliant beginning, though.
We look forward to having you join us; we are praying for you daily.