In 1982, I was a newly minted 18-year old college freshman. I was coming off four of the most exhilarating and emotional years of my life (high school), and everything that I thought I knew was suddenly turned upside down. My closest friends had all moved away to go to college. The disciplined routine that I had become accustomed to was gone. And, most frighteningly of all, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
My friends all knew what they wanted. They went away to college confidently, declaring their majors and enrolling in the appropriate classes—all with the ease and self-assurance of people who knew where they were going and how they were going to get there.
I was completely clueless. However, my pride would not let me admit to anyone how naïve I was. Based on some random conversations with a family friend, and bolstered by a financial incentive to go to college, I walked into an academic advisor’s office and boldly declared that I was going to become a medical doctor.
The academic adviser seemed somewhat bored—not really interested in me as an individual. I was just another person in the long line of incoming freshmen that were lined up in his lobby. He rattled through a list of recommended courses, put together my schedule, and sent me out the door. Little did I realize that just three semesters later, I would be academically dismissed from college for bad grades.
Thirty-three years later, I am now an instructor at the same college that dismissed me for bad grades. I have served the university in a variety of roles. But the most personally rewarding role has been that of academic adviser to incoming freshmen.
I have met with dozens (if not hundreds) of students who aren’t sure what to do. They might know what they want to major in. They might have no clue what they want to do with the rest of their lives. But they all have one thing in common—they are looking to me to help them figure it out.
FOUR FUN FACTS FOR FEARFUL FRESHMEN (OR SOPHOMORES…OR JUNIORS…OR…)
- FUTURE: You don’t have to know what you are going to do for the rest of your life when you are 18 years old! Too often, students will come to me in a panic—feeling completely overwhelmed by a schedule of classes with hundreds (or thousands) of courses—and having absolutely no idea which ones to take.
- FLEXIBILITY: This isn’t high school. You don’t have to take algebra as a freshman, health as a sophomore, U.S. History as a junior, and Government and Economics as a senior. In fact, you may not need to take any of those classes ever again. And if you DO need to take them, you can take them any time during your college career, and you get to decide when to enroll in them!
- FUN: As an academic adviser, I have found that one of the best ways to help students become acclimated to the university is to try to make their first semester as stress-free and (dare I say it?) FUN as possible. That means finding courses that the student will enjoy. Of course, there are some general education courses that need to be taken early in a college career—Elementary Composition, for example. But there are also opportunities to explore new and interesting classes. One of the first questions I ask every new student is this: “What classes did you enjoy in high school?” Once I tap into a student’s own interests, I am able to help them craft a schedule that will include at least one or two classes that they won’t dread going to on the first day of school. That intimidating schedule of classes actually becomes a bountiful menu of options—a buffet from which you can select. And just like any buffet, if you try something that you don’t like, you can try something else instead. There are always going to be a few classes that you won’t enjoy. But if you intermix them in your schedule with those that you do like, it will make your college experience much more enjoyable.
- FRIENDSHIP: One of the best way to plug into college is to find a campus club that interests you. Large residential campuses have hundreds of different clubs and organizations, ranging from religion, athletics, and hobby clubs to social awareness, entrepreneurial, and cultural organizations. Even smaller (and non-residential) campuses will have numerous social opportunities to look into. This is a great networking opportunity that also has the potential to clarify a potential career path. And one of the great things about a club is that if you decide you don’t like it, you can just drop it and try something else. You didn’t have to pay for it (like you do for classes), so there is no risk in exploring a variety of clubs to find the one(s) that fits your interests best.
Whether you are a high school senior who is preparing for school or an adult learner who has decided to go to college after several years in the workforce, these few tips can help you transition into a successful college career. If you have any questions or comments about your own college experiences, please leave them in the comment section below and I will be happy to respond.