I asked some of my colleagues at different institutions to answers some questions about their experiences in college and after. I think students should talk to as many graduates, faculty, and staff members as possible to get a sense of what you might expect in college. Many of my colleagues shared reactions or responses to these questions. Instead of listing them individually with all of their answers, I combined them here for the sake of brevity. Remember that every professor and staff member you meet has probably been where you are right now. We know what it was like to be a student. These replies below are full of wisdom – read carefully!
•Patrick S. Lawrence, Assistant Professor of English, University of South Carolina Lancaster
•George Miller, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Temple University, Japan Campus
•Lata Murti, Associate Professor of Sociology, Brandman University’s Online Campus
•Mark Padoongpatt, Associate Professor of Asian American Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
•Eleanor Reeds, Assistant Professor of English, Hastings College
•Sarajean Rossitto, Lecturer in Political Science, Temple University, Japan Campus
•Nitasha Sharma, Associate Professor of African American Studies and Asian American Studies, Northwestern University
•Casey terHorst, Associate Professor of Biology, California State University, Northridge
•Caroline Kieu Linh Valverde, Associate Professor of Asian American Studies, University of California, Davis
I wish more students who applied to college knew that . . .
•It’s good to be “still deciding” on your major area of study.
•Universities have turned increasingly corporate. You may not get the experience or the return on your investment that you hoped for.
•Your education just starts in the classroom. It then continues around campus, across the city, and around the world.
•You need to take initiative. The key thing is what you put into your college experience, not your grades.
•The admissions system is racist and classist and misogynistic. If you’re not admitted, it’s not a reflection of who you are. However, it’s important to know that this is the system (although it’s slowly changing), and you have to know the rules to play the game. If you’re able to get in the game, fix the system from within.
•You will probably change your major at least once, if not several times, during your undergraduate career. This is completely normal. It is part of self-exploration, finding your passion, and expanding your mind and possibilities.
•We expect you to grow from being a consumer of research and knowledge to a producer. In the first couple of years, you should be a sponge: soak up and consume as much knowledge and information as you can in lower-division courses. Just learn and learn. Then, when you start to take upper-division courses, especially in your major, you’ll be expected to shift to questioning existing knowledge and producing your own insights.
•It’s not always necessary to attend the most elite and expensive universities. State universities can teach you lessons on perseverance and initiative in ways that private and small colleges do not.
•Whether you get into your “dream” school or the last one on your list, remember there are so many factors shaping a college experience.
On the first day of class, students should try to . . .
•Enjoy the excitement and not worry too much about making an impression on your professors or peers.
•Connect with your professors and classmates. Community will be the best aid to your learning.
•Read and understand syllabi policies.
•Compare the schedules for all your classes so you can plan ahead for deadlines.
•Enjoy lectures, think critically, and take in the whole experience of being a new college student.
•Ask questions and talk to people you don’t know.
•Have a one-minute conversation with your professors to tell them who you are and why you’re taking their class. This is especially important in large classes where it’s easy to get lost in the crowd.
•Sit at the front of the class and study the syllabus.
•If it’s a smaller class (less than forty), introduce yourself to the professor if they seem approachable.
•Give themselves a break. Just soak it in and don’t feel too overwhelmed.
I want to tell all college students that . . .
•The habits of mind that college trains you in are underappreciated and overlooked.
•The most valuable learning takes place when you are open to going outside of your comfort zone.
•College can be very hard socially and psychologically.
•It’s okay to make mistakes. The key thing is to learn from your errors and keep trying new things.
•You can change majors, and you can enter fields of employment beyond your major after you graduate.
•College should be enjoyable.
•Studying is a team sport.
•You should pursue studies that you feel passionate about.
•College is the time to find “your people.” We grow up influenced by our families that were assigned to us at birth. Find the people who you identify with the most, who understand you the best, and who will become your new chosen family. When you find that group, listen to them and let them influence who you are, and, in turn, influence them.
•The “little things” go a long way. For example, reading and studying the syllabus will help debrief you on what to expect in lectures. Visiting office hours regularly and coming prepared with questions about your professors’ research interests will help you better understand their approach to the world.
•When it comes to choosing a major, there are two ways to think about it: focus on a career, or focus on a skillset. Remember that your major will not guarantee you a job in a particular area. For instance, earning a BA in business will not guarantee you can open up your own business; a BA in psychology does not guarantee you will be a psychologist. Instead, think about majors in terms of the skillset you want to have to make sense of the world.
•You should do the required readings! The professor assigned them for a reason!
•These may be the best or the worst years of your life, but they are a finite amount of time and after that, you will be out of college. Try to make the best of it. This does NOT mean attempting to do everything and being involved in every organization on campus. It does not mean you have to triple major or gear yourself toward a lucrative post-college career. It DOES mean you should learn who you are as a person: what are the preferred rhythms of your daily life? What kinds of peer groups do you thrive in? How do you deal with difficult circumstances? This is a time of growth – mental, emotional, and physical.
I have a specific message for . . .
∘It is imperative to take classes in ethnic and racial studies. No other fields will teach you about power, history, and inequality in quite the same ways.
•Asian American students!
∘This is a great time to learn about your racial/ethnic identity and its relation/impact to the university, community, state, country, and world.
∘Don’t be afraid to speak up and own your perspective or idea. Nothing is more disheartening to me as a professor than clever, diligent, and kind young women who don’t know their own worth: have confidence in what you have to offer.
∘Be equal. Don’t be afraid of risks or of being aggressive because you can’t succeed without these things. Never play the victim card.
∘Knowing how to succeed in college can be mysterious. When you struggle, you’ll see others succeeding. You might assume you don’t belong there. What you don’t see is that some people succeed because they asked their parents or their older sibling or somebody else in the family how to do well. They know the rules, the secret tips, and the insider info. Although college faculty members try to provide some of this secret info to students, we are wildly bad at it. We assume students know what they need to do. But if nobody has ever told you, how could you possibly know? One way to solve this is to ask questions. If your friend is doing well in the class, ask them how they study. If you don’t understand something in class, more than likely, the professor didn’t explain it well enough. Follow up with them after class or in office hours. Office hours are your time with the professor. You’re not a burden. Their job is to help you do well in the course. Go to office hours and ask them how, and then try do something different. Success in a college course requires different skills than you needed in high school. You have to study how to learn at a different level. Knowledge about those skills is out there, but, unfortunately, it won’t be handed to you; you have to go seek it out.
∘Don’t be afraid to claim your identity as a first-generation college student. Embrace it. If you have trouble or have questions, tell your professors and/or friends that you are a first-generation student and don’t know how college is supposed to work. It is not your fault. You are a trailblazer and a pioneer.
∘Explain the challenges of your situation to professors. Find at least one professor who also worked and lived internationally to advocate for you! We’re out there, I promise.
•Online learning students!
∘The first time I meet my students in person is at their graduation ceremony. Yet, often, we greet each other warmly, as if we have known each other for years. And we have, virtually. I teach undergraduate sociology classes completely online. I must connect with my students and get to know them. I must also allow them to get to know me, without the help of facial expressions, hand gestures, posture, or tone of voice—all the non-verbal language that study after study says makes up most of our communication with others. How do I do this? I choose my words carefully and intentionally to let students know I care not only about their learning, but also about them. Rather than writing, “Why haven’t you been submitting assignments?” when emailing a student, I write, “I hope this message finds you well. I notice that you haven’t submitted any assignments during the last two weeks. Is everything okay?” The extra words are worth it. So is asking my students a lot of questions instead of telling them what to do. When giving them feedback while grading their assignments, I ask, “Could you have explained the point you made in this paragraph further?” instead of just writing “incomplete” or “insufficient.” Words matter. Especially when interacting completely online. My words are what my students carry with them. They determine whether a student has a positive or a negative learning experience in my fully online courses. A positive experience motivates my students to continue learning about the course subject matter beyond the eight-week term. A negative experience may cause students to feel that they are incapable of understanding the course subject matter. If that happens, they might not try to learn more about it after the course ends. I strive to give all of my students positive online learning experiences—the kind that lead to warm greetings at graduations even though we have never met before.
∘If you have not yet been able to be yourself or who you think you are, this is the time to just be you.
•Students of color!
∘Seek out professors you feel you can trust. Lean on them; turn to them in moments of doubt. Take ethnic studies courses so that you can study issues of race, racism, inequality, sexism, and more. These will help you better understand yourself and your place and power in the world.
One key attribute I think all successful college students share is . . .
•An optimistic determination that they will succeed.
•They are willing to take feedback and to grow.
•A motivation to learn.
•They participate in campus life. Join a club or spend time with friends on campus.
•They find ways to care about course content, and they connect it to their own experiences.
•A desire for attending to the world’s problems.
What really got me through college was . . .
•Professors that I trusted.
•THERAPY. GO TO THERAPY.
•Working on what I was truly interested in.
•My mission in life.
•Finding my intellectual passion.
•My amazing mentors. As a first-generation student of color, I turned to professors of color. I visited them during office hours, read their books/articles, and took classes with them. I was also an out-of-state student at a predominately white school, so building a tight-knit community with other students of color and working with professors of color really got me through college.
•My flexibility, my lack of obsession about grades, and my active social life.
After you finish college, please remember . . .
•Your college is a lifelong support system. Your teachers, classmates, and the academic staff will be there for you, always.
•Return to campus and share your knowledge with the next wave of students.
•You are responsible for articulating the value of your degree.
•The perfect career is one you make for yourself by showing what you can do when given the opportunity.
•Your possibilities are as wide as the ocean.
•No one really cares what grades you got (except grad school admissions).
•Be tough and don’t be afraid of risk.
•Apply lessons of social justice and finances to real life.
•Stay in touch with professors you loved and/or ones who cared about you.