By Adela Penagos, PhD, President
The end of the school year is a great opportunity to reflect on everything we have learned about our academic and personal habits throughout the year and to consider the benefits of starting a new academic year with a clean slate. This past year, I taught more incoming first-year students than in the previous year, and I was reminded day in and day out of how little we prepare our students to transition into college. From my point of view, the biggest ROI in an undergraduate education is rooted in helping students succeed academically and socially during the first year, as this allows them to thrive in subsequent years. Thus, I am going to share some thoughts to hopefully assist you to transition smoothly into your new life this fall.
1. Choose your courses wisely.
I understand that you are likely to be an overachiever or a very wise person who happened to excel in high school. Regardless of how well you did in high school, college is a different ballgame. It might be the first time you are away from parental supervision; you are used to doing well in your courses with little effort; or you will be exploring a new area of studies where the subject matter will be quite challenging –which is partially what college is all about. In my advising experience at Harvard, Notre Dame, and BC, my most successful advisees followed these recommendations: read carefully each course description; and balance courses in terms of required reading, tests, meeting times, and class size. These students distributed their schedules throughout their week and day to ensure there was enough time to enjoy their new life without being overwhelmed by having too many classes one day of the week and exams and papers always at once.
2. Rely on other’s expertise.
I am always surprised when the students I teach would rather do everything on their own than ask me for help during class or office hours, even when their test results clearly are pointing out toward needed guidance. Often, the learning journey would be less challenging if they were wiling to ask important questions prior to a test or assignment, make some adjustments, and listen to experts’ advise. It is likely that your university has an advising program composed by professional advisers, faculty, peers, or a combination of all of these persons. While the quality of an advising program depends on the model adopted by each college or university, I highly encourage you to ask questions of anyone charged with helping you in selecting your courses and teaching them. The more information you can gather about the courses you are about to take, the more likely you are to excel academically and this will have an impact in your first year experience. Students who do well in the classroom feel better about themselves, which results in positive self-esteem, better interactions with others, and overall a more rewarding college experience.
3. Learn the traditions of your new home.
We all want to fit into our community. The best way to achieve this goal while in college is to put your best foot forward to learn the traditions of the place you will call home for the next four years. This spring semester, I had the opportunity to attend the National Student-Athlete Day Reception where I teach, as one of my student’s guests. The students who spoke about the uniqueness of our institution, highlighted several traditions that all in attendance could relate to during their individual speeches. Knowing these traditions immediately created a bond with their audience. Traditions will help you connect with alumni and ultimately will give you a sense of belonging, which is what we all hope for in any stage in our lives.
My wish for you is that the next four years of your life are as transformational as they have been for many of the students I have worked with throughout the years. While it will take some time to transition into your new home, there are many ways to make the journey much easier and enjoyable.