I asked my daughter Rachel, who's finishing her first year of college, what advice she might offer student-readers. Here are Rachel Leddy's tips for success in college:
1. Build a social network. Living away from home in a dormitory with 1000 other people your age is a little unnatural after about 18 years of family living and close friends. It's important to make sense of the mass of people by finding those you can relate to and trust. If your roommate is a no-go on the friendship front, seek out activities in your dorm or your campus. Look for religious organizations or activities like intramural sports or debate teams. Find support from your resident advisors, teaching assistants, or other mentors. College friends do not have to replace the connections you have at home; they do, however, make your home away from home more comfortable.All good advice, if I say so myself. Thank you, Rachel!
2. Get good with names. Meeting people can be overwhelming, so make yourself special by being the one who knows everyone they meet. People love to be known and recognized, so find a trick to help you keep people straight. When you meet someone new, repeat his or her name aloud once or twice and then put your trick into action. Identify something deeper than clothing choice with the person, such as a story they tell you, the place you where you met (e.g., on a bus to the quad or a specific basketball court), or someone they strongly remind you of. If you forget a name the next time you meet, be honest and ask. Tell the acquaintance that you remember the time or place but you can't remember the name. People want to be remembered; don't worry about offending someone by asking them to help you remember them the next time.
3. Feel out your campus. Get to know your new home by finding a place for everything. Find a specific place to study (like a residence hall library, a specific table at a library, or a coffee shop you like). Find a space outside to play Frisbee, lie out in the sun, or read. Make these places your own and you'll be more comfortable in your new home. Of course, it's important to be flexible with your space. Be aware that your space is shared, not owned, and be prepared to find a new place if needed.
4. Create rituals. This is perhaps the easiest and most important thing to do at the start of the year. Establish familiarity through daily, weekly, and monthly rituals. Rituals can be as simple as taking notes with a favorite pen in journalism or always stopping for a drink at the same soda machine before chemistry. They can be more formal, such as going out to dinner once a week with your roommate or significant other. By setting rhythms in your new space, your days and weeks will be more natural and flow more easily. Flexibility also pertains here, so be prepared to change or reschedule your ritual based on availability and conflicts.
5. Remember what you're at school to do. You're at school to learn. The school is there to provide you with a great education, so do your part and go to class. Stay healthy. Take plenty of vitamin C. While it’s tempting to stay up all hours with friends, get enough rest to keep your immune system up and your mind alert. College is a great (and expensive) opportunity. Don’t waste it.
February 15, 2016: Rachel adds one more tip:
Nearly 10 years have passed since you published this post, and I think that the tips still stand up! I find it interesting that these tips were mostly focused on living away from home for the first time instead of talking about the academic nature of college. The nature of these tips illustrates just how big a transition the college years are for many young people. Living with new freedoms and responsibilities must be balanced with (sometimes extremely) demanding academics. My four years at university were not the most successful years of my life; however, I think that being willing to grow and explore is still the most important aspect of attending college.
Knowing what I know now, I would adapt this post to add this tip:
Become comfortable with failing.
Depending on your experience in high school, you may be very surprised at the number of responsibilities you will face in college. Even if you were a top 10 student in your class of 200, you may be a middle-of-the-road student in a class of 10,000. If you were a top athlete, you may not even succeed in club sports. Do not be discouraged by failures at the beginning of your university experience. Work with an advisor to determine the workload that will suit your strengths and challenge you academically while allowing you to balance your academic pursuits with the (very big!) transition to living away from home for the first time. Adjust your expectations of yourself and find outlets for your creative energy that are fulfilling, even if they aren't exactly what you did in high school. You are not exempt from failure, no matter how capable you are. Do not fear failing; instead, embrace each mistake as a learning experience. Stay sober enough to avoid making mistakes that will haunt you for the rest of your life. And never, ever, ever drink and drive.