HomeArticlesMaking the Most of College: Advice for Freshmen

Dear Estelle.  Each summer you give “rising college freshmen” some  key strategies to enhance their college experience.  Frequently you speak about the importance of roommate compatibility. Do you have other suggestions for new college freshmen that will make their 4 years in college interesting and productive?   MC, a Soon to be Empty Nester, Denver

Each summer in early August I advise new college freshmen on how to maximize their college experiences.  Frequently I discuss college survival and the importance of learning to live compatibly with a roommate.  In June I attended a national college meeting in Minnesota. Among the speakers was Dr. Richard Light , a Harvard professor, who teaches program evaluation and policy analysis focusing specifically on higher education. His ideas on college success were derived from interviews with more than 2,500 students picked randomly from Harvard and other colleges. He asked each student to rate their 1st year experience on a scale of 1-10. The surveys were carried out over a period of 20 years and culminated in a Harvard Press best-seller entitled “Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds.”

His conclusions are very relevant today and if students make an effort to follow some of Dr. Light’s advice they will most likely find their college experience more productive and interesting. These are several tips he suggested:

  • Get to know one faculty member each year.The lasting effect of this is immeasurable.
  •  Most colleges invite students to  preselect their coursework.   Try one new
  • class each year,  “Think out of the High School Box!”
  •  “Investing vs. Harvesting”  Dr. Light recommended that each student take a risk or invest in  something new i.e. a new activity completely different from high school.
  • Continue harvesting by reaping benefits from what you’re good at.
  • “Time management”  Use time wisely and  productively.
  • Choose classes freshman year  that will help you select a major.
  • The most fulfilled students take what they learn academically and apply it to  their other life outside the classroom.  Since class is only 15 hours a week, make connections between class and outside class
  • Engage in activities on campus; try community service.
  • Reach out and get to know people who are different than you.

My group discussed these issues with Dr. Light and then added a few ideas of their own:

  • Be sure to take advantage of workshops that are offered to students on campus. These might include: Time management, procrastination, help in writing, and stress management with activities like yoga and dance.
  • Give your parents opportunities and roles. Discuss with them how often they should call or when can they expect a call or text from you.  In a crisis situation, decide who to call on campus?  Who will tell my teachers that I won’t be in class if I have an emergency?
  • Join 4 different activities.
  • Make a midcourse  correction, if necessary.  Understand your assignments and don’t wait until the end  of the course to understand its requirements.
  • Never pass up on a legitimate opportunity.  Take a risk a day.
  • Don’t let one person spoil your idea of a college
  • Members of my workshop were amused by the YOYO acronym: You’re on You’re ownI Parents need to give their children independence to make decisions or figure things out  on their own.
  • Attend Freshmen Orientation!
  • Get to know your roommate before college starts and set some ground rules for successfully living together.

Many suggestions came out of this wonderful workshop. Students will benefit immensely if they heed them. Their college experience will be more successful, productive, and even contribute to success after college.

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