Hit The Ground Running at College With Summer Prep Tips


If you are a college-bound high school senior, you've no doubt made your decision about where to go this fall. Among your considerations for “getting your mind right" about being a college student should be how to handle and take advantage of the various resources, opportunities and circumstances college will offer you. You can use the summer to get a jump start on preparing.

Over the decades since my college days, I have thought about the opportunities for both learning and growth that I missed when I was a student. There are many reasons for missing them, but I'd like to bring out some practical points to keep in mind for when you land on campus. Your parents may also be able to comment on what kinds of options and emotions await you there.

Being a new college student, away from your home base for the first time with an exciting sense of independence can be overwhelming, if not somewhat disorienting. Carol Brzozowski, writing in New York Parenting, focuses on Emotions During The First Year of College:

Although students are aware that study demands in college are different, many are unprepared for the amount of, and rate at which, the material will be presented. While many have been successful in high school, receiving an average grade may come as a shock. It takes time to see the bigger picture and the learning process over a semester.

What the student thinks others expect of him is very important. Living up to or failing those goals can be a source of motivation and reward, but also stress and shame.

There's the “hidden curriculum" of college: how does one navigate the campus, pay bills, balance a checkbook, shop for groceries, find classrooms, ensure he's in the right course, is on track for his major, approach a professor, ask for help with academics, figure out where to eat, do laundry, manage differences with roommates, and the myriad of tasks that were once taken for granted or provided by others? Can anyone help? Is it even OK to ask for help?

Fitting in socially also is a significant concern — developing friendships, intimacy, and social support is desired but takes time. Where does one go to initiate these important aspects of community life? How does one cope with difficulties in creating a social network?

For some students, making independent decisions can be daunting. How does a student decide how to act and what options to choose? Who will approve or disapprove of those options?...

To help you deal with your upcoming adventure this fall, and to answer some of Carol's questions, here are some key points that may support you this summer in getting a head start on approaching and taking advantage of your college experience.

Success Through Preparation

Families sometimes spend hundreds of thousands of dollars with no real sense of the return on their investment. So, it's wise for students to take advantage of the resources and opportunities that are available to them in college. Lots of adults look back on their college years and say, “Why didn't I do it while I could?" -- referring to missing the chance to learn German or to eat all those breakfasts that were already paid for. Four years may seem like an eternity to an 18-year-old, but the years go by fast, so it's important to hit the ground running.

Getting Organized and Creating a Solid Schedule

Freshmen can be overwhelmed when they first encounter a course syllabus, and one of the critical lessons that successful students learn is how to distinguish between what they have to do and what they can get away with skipping, and it's not a lesson learned overnight. So a schedule is important but it should be a flexible one.

The Wednesday-night study session earmarked for anthropology might need to be shoved onto the back burner in order to finish a critical physics lab. Even in this electronic age, a big desk-blotter-size paper calendar may be more effective than the one stuck inside an iPhone when it comes to plotting (and spotting) due dates and seeing the big picture. It's also a good place to rough out a weekly schedule to see if everything -- including sleeping -- actually fits. If this is how you work best, then pick up a paper calendar this summer to prepare.

Passion for Studying and Challenges Vs. Going Through the Motions

Think of a college class -- even a huge lecture -- as interactive. It's more like a video game than a TV show. If you snooze, you lose. Here are some tips to stay involved in your classes:

- Exert your energy before the first day of the semester. Choose classes wisely. Read course descriptions carefully. Don't shy away from unfamiliar options. Seek out campus insider info and online review sites to learn more about courses and professors. Even when a class is required, there can be different section options. You may be able to land the rock star prof to make distribution requirements seem more interesting.

- Sit down front or as close to the professor as possible. You'll be more likely to feel involved and less likely to fiddle with your phone if the teacher is looking right at you.

- Participate in class. But... don't dominate discussions or speak out when you have nothing to add just because you think it will help your grade. Profs will see right through this ploy. Remain alert and engaged. You may learn something!

- Seek out extra help at the first signs of trouble. Take advantage of faculty office hours and campus academic support centers before you fall too far behind.

Establishing Priorities for Class Schedules, Coursework and ECs

By roughing out a weekly schedule that includes in-class hours plus the anticipated amount of time needed to complete each assignment, including extracurricular commitments, you can see if your choices are realistic. Except for recruited athletes on scholarship, extracurricular endeavors are usually the place to make cuts when your schedule looks too busy. “Cuts" can mean merely lowering the level of involvement rather than quitting a favorite activity. Get at least a full semester in before taking on leadership roles or major EC projects.

The Importance of Quality Fellowship

College should be about preparing for the future via both academic and extracurricular activities, but it should also be about having fun, too. So make sure that the others around you reflect that balance. Spend time with those who share your academic goals and outside interests. Avoid party animals if you feel they're taking you off the road to your goals. Joining campus clubs and pre-professional organizations is a good way to meet others with common aims and interests. Take the summer to look up which clubs are available at your college.

This Summer is Your College Head-Start Opportunity

Visit College Confidential. The “College Life" and other forums on CC are full of information from fellow collegians who attend a wide range of schools. Even when your SATs and ACTs are in the past, CC can offer the inside scoop on internships and grad school opportunities and even transferring, if necessary. Take advantage of the full scope of this almost limitless college info resource, and check in on it throughout the summer.

Going to college can be a major culture shock. There are so many new situations to deal with. However, rather than going around campus in a daze wondering what to do, take advantage of the resources offered by your school. There is help available that can make your campus life, both in and out of the classroom, a quite positive “learning" experience in many ways.