Written by Jasmin
The school year is rapidly approaching, and I’ve been eager to get together with my friends before we all head back to school. Today I was able to have lunch with a close friend who I haven’t seen in several months. As we talked about our plans for the fall, the conversation eventually turned towards “Where Are They Now?” musings about people we knew in high school. We had several success stories to share, but there were just as many tales of dropouts, pregnancies, and more. As I get closer to the end of my college career, the number of the people in the second category keeps increasing and a part of me wonders, what determines who succeeds and who doesn’t?
Obviously there is no simple answer to that question. However, I’ve learned several things over the past two years that may be useful to future students. College is definitely a learn-as-you-go experience, but these tips may help you (or your child) make a smooth transition to “the real world.”
1. The statement “college is a time to explore new things” is a lie.
That may seem harsh, but the reality is that the degree requirements of most schools leave you with little time to “expand your horizons.” On top of major requirements, there are often university requirements (at ND we must have 2 semesters of both Philosophy and Theology, etc.) and college requirements (languages for the College of Arts, calculus for the College of Science, etc.), and these can take up a lot of room in your schedule. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try out new things (I took Japanese my Freshman year and loved it), but don’t be fooled into thinking that you can sample a bunch of courses your first year. You will end up paying for it later, when you find out that they don’t count (more on this in #2).
2. Learn what counts and what doesn’t.
A failure to do this is what keeps a lot of people from graduating on time. Not every class is worth credit toward a degree, and the sequence and type of classes you need is often major-specific. Additionally, there’s a difference between the number of credits you need to graduate (around 120) and the number of credits you need to earn a degree (around 30). So, you can have enough credits to graduate but no degree and vice versa.
3. Go into college with a plan.
Like number one, this goes against much of what people will tell you, but it is true. In college, you have an unprecedented level of self-reliance and responsibility, and it really is up to you to make sure you reach the finish line. The cost of education is going up each year, while the value of an undergraduate degree is going down every year. Soon, it will be the equivalent of a high school diploma with regards to the amount of job security it provides someone entering the workforce. These and more reasons make it important to create and follow a path for yourself in college, based on your career and lifetime goals. Is it more important for you to get practical experience (internships, jobs) or stellar grades? Will your major likely lead you to a job post-graduation or into graduate school? Asking yourself these kinds of questions will help you figure out what you want to get out of the next 4 years and how to accomplish it.
4. Know your major before you pick your major.
College is so different from high school, because you are no longer striving to be “well-rounded.” You are training to become an expert in a particular field (hence, why you have to attend hours and hours of lectures on the subject!). However, it’s important to know what the major entails before you declare. Case in point: I am a Spanish major, and, contrary to popular belief, being a Spanish major is not about learning the Spanish language. It’s about analyzing the periods and authors relevant to Spanish and Spanish-American literature. Thus, if you want to be a bilingual doctor, a Spanish major is a bad idea, because you will spend hours learning about Baroque Poetry while all you really want is to know how to say “scalpel” in Spanish. Doing a bit of research beforehand can save you from taking difficult classes that have nothing to do with your chosen career path.
5. Spend time with people who have the same goals you do.
My friend mentioned this today, and I think it’s a piece of advice worth mentioning. If you surround yourself with people with good study habits, you will likely have good study habits. If you surround yourself with people who party all the time, you will party all the time. Good friends are not only useful (as study buddies, proofreaders, etc.), but they also want and encourage you to do your best. If they don’t care that you are bombing a class, they aren’t your friends. Real friends would never be OK with seeing you fail.
6. College, like life, is fleeting–don’t waste it!
I’ve only been in college 2 years, but it truly has been the quickest 2 years of my life. I am going to graduate a semester early, and it is sobering to realize that I am over halfway finished with my undergraduate career. They didn’t lie when they said it would fly by, and I’m glad I can look back and say I made good use of my time as an underclassman. College is all about choices; some make the choice to succeed, while others make the choice to fall short. It’s rarely easy, but who said it would be?