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What to Do When You Arrive at College

Tips for Undergraduates.
BY Bennett E. McClellan |   11-09-2014
Congratulations high school finishers. You are now college beginners. In the spring, you passed out of the hallowed halls of your high school. Next, you will pass into the hallowed halls of your university. Back then, you were graduates. Today, you are under-graduates. Things have changed. Now what?

Here are some ideas to help you make the most of your new situation.

First, recognize how much things have changed. You are no longer one of the smart kids in high school. You are now one of the most ignorant citizens of the university that admitted you. Yes, you aced the AILET, broke the NET, evidenced NEED, clawed back the CAT, escaped the NEST, or knocked off a NEET. If you studied at an international school, you advanced through the A-levels, swatted a NAT, sat the SAT, or committed to ACT. Yet your academic career to date has only brought you to the collegiate starting line. Knowing a lot helped you get through high school. Knowing how little you know will help you get the most out of college.

Second, investigate your surroundings. You are in unknown territory. Do not retreat to familiar habits, hobbies, or headsets. Investigate this new place. Visit the academic facilities, virtual and real. Attend classes. Discover the library. Read the entire course catalogue. Look everyone up on Facebook. You have embarked on a great adventure. Explore the potential that surrounds you.

Third, connect with somebody. Students who form peer communities do better in college than students who attempt their studies on their own. Yes, your classmates are competitors. But more importantly, your classmates are your colleagues. Your college selected a peer group capable of challenging you and helping you make the most of your education. In college, your sense of competition must shift from, “If my colleagues win, I lose” to “If my colleagues win, then I win by learning from them.” Reach beyond your comfort zone. Make friends.

Fourth, be open to the possibility of the unexpected. If you already know everything you expect to learn in college, you will not learn much. If you look for learning you could not possibly have anticipated, you will learn a lot more. Discoveries occur when people let go of what they already know. Being ignorant gives you great license. You may now learn everything you had not learned before.  Create a space in your brain where the unexpected can happen.

Fifth, make a schedule. Many undergraduates arrive at college with no prior experience in scheduling their own time. Start using a schedule to guide your daily accomplishments. Make time for classes, for studying,  to eat, play, sleep and celebrate. You are now your own alarm clock.  Hold yourself accountable for getting things done on time. Stick to your schedule. If it  needs adjusting, adjust it. If you have trouble managing your own time, adjust yourself.

Sixth, take responsibility for your education. The university system is designed like an adventure course full of problems and possibilities. It forces you to make choices. You will need to develop your own set of criteria by which you can evaluate each and every decision you make.  Your instructors will dictate what you must study. Nobody can dictate what you will learn. Taking responsibility for your own learning will help you accomplish your life goals as you progress through your education.

Seventh, realize 3 or 4 years is not that much time. From day one, you will have the choice of what you will take away from each challenge you undertake. Take every course you can complete. Make every connection you can nurture. As you do so, consider what possibilities your choices create. Choose activities that expand options for your future. Make university the portal for opening new possibilities in your life. Experience each moment fully.  Absorb every lesson.

Bennett E. McClellan, Ph.D, is Professor and Vice Dean for the Jindal Global University’s School of Liberal Arts & Humanities (JSLH).  He is author of The TOTAL QUESTION Workout, a guide for asking better questions to get better answers for running your business or your life.

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