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4 Steps to Optimizing Your College Experience in the United States

So you've got accepted into your dream school in the US. Here are some tips to help you make the best of college life
BY John Snyder |   06-07-2016

Succeeding at a college or university in the United States is much more than achieving excellent grades. While your primary goal is to learn, and earning good grades is an indication that you are learning the material from your classes, here are four things to do to make sure you get the most out of your higher education experience:

  1. Participate in class. Unfortunately, a number of your classmates, especially Americans, may see participation in class as not being “cool.” Don’t fall into this line of thinking. Even if you lack confidence in your spoken English, speak up in class when the professor asks for comments or a class discussion is underway. Although more classes are now being taught online, you can still participate in online classes through chats and discussion boards. Whether the class is online or in person, be actively engaged. While you are learning from the professor and your classmates, they will also learn from you. However, participation doesn’t mean dominating the conversation or always having to provide an opinion when a question is asked. Listening is just as important as speaking. Balance your contributions by sincerely listening to what others have to say. Always remember that learning is a community activity, not a solitary one.
  2. Partner with your professors and other professionals on campus. Do not view your professors as authoritarian figures who are employed only to lecture and impart their knowledge to you. Seek opportunities to do research with them, assist them with projects, serve as a student worker in their office, and be involved in the activities and clubs that they supervise. Visit them during their office hours if you do not understand what they are teaching or if you need help with other academic concerns. Yes, these professionals have earned their credentials and deserve your respect. While your professors are not your best friends to party with, they were previously students, too. Chances are good that they had professors when they were students who inspired them and provided them an opportunity to work collaboratively.  Being in the academic profession, your professors are probably eager to mentor and work with students who sincerely share the same passion for their subject area that they do.

    In addition to professors, there are numerous other professionals employed by colleges who are involved with student activities, campus recreation, academic advising, leadership development, career services, international engagement, intercollegiate athletics, and alumni relations – to name a few -  who may provide you with additional opportunities to get fully involved. These professionals may be willing to be mentors and offer opportunities for you to further develop your skills and abilities through on-campus jobs and volunteer activities. But you have to proactively seek these opportunities for partnerships with professors and professionals at your college; these partnerships are not going to come to you.
  3. Connect with your classmates. Reach out to classmates who have the same desire to succeed in college as you do. Make an effort to get to know students from other cultures and other countries. Although some American students may seem to already have their friends and may not appear to be eager to welcome a “foreign” student into their social circle, introduce yourself to them, join their study groups, and look for activities that will allow you to get to know them outside of the classroom. Do not just socialize and study with students from your same country. One of the reasons to study in the United States is to get to know Americans – real Americans beyond the stereotypes you may have envisioned from movies or politics. However, choose your friends carefully. If you get involved with a group of students whose priorities are wrong – perhaps partying every night is their primary objective – you will be the one who sacrifices the opportunity to achieve your academic and professional goals in exchange for a temporary good time.
  4. Network with alumni. The previous three steps all involve networking – developing and maintaining relationships with others. But do not limit your networking to only those who are on campus. Reach out to alumni through LinkedIn, job and internship fairs, alumni and campus social events, activities, and conferences. The staff at the alumni office on campus will be willing to help you connect with alumni. You do not have to wait until you are a graduate of the college to connect with alumni. Do it during your first semester on campus and continue to do so until graduation and beyond. Learn from alumni, both international and domestic alumni. You will already share the common element of being a student at the institution from which they graduated. Use this common bond to learn from them and to broaden your network.

    Higher education is a proactive, participatory activity. Go beyond being just “book smart” and become an active member of the campus community in and out of the classroom.

These four steps are practical ways to get started in your quest to take advantage of the opportunities that your college experience offers.


John Snyder is Associate Director at the Office of Career Education and Development at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania



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