Some of you high school seniors have already ended your college process. That would be those of you who were accepted Early Decision (ED) last month. Others of you are possibly finished because the goal of being accepted to college has been satisfied through some version of Early Action (EA). You have until May 1st to make your enrollment decision, but you're in somewhere.
Others of you, probably the majority, are in the Regular Decision (RD) applicant pools of any number of colleges, waiting for a forthcoming verdict within the coming months. The suspense level for you is much higher than your ED/EA friends. Anything can happen, including the dreaded waitlist.
All of you, however, have one thing in common. This fall you will be on campus at a college or university. That's an exciting event to which you can look forward.
Accordingly, what should your focus be right now, other than your primary purpose of avoiding a letdown in your academic and extracurricular activities, a.k.a. senioritis? I have a suggestion (as if you didn't already suspect that): Start to examine and anticipate how to take major advantage of the resources your college will offer you.
Granted, for those of you who don't yet know which school will be honored with your presence, you may wonder how to anticipate resources when you don't know which resources you'll have at your service. Think in general terms, then. College human services and physical resources fall into similar groups. My goal today is to help you see how you can maximize your integration with those kinds of benefits.
To do that, I'm recalling some advice I gleaned from College Confidential's Ask the Dean expert, Sally Rubenstone. A while back, I asked her a number of questions about this topic and, as usual, she responded in wise detail. Here's her evergreen advice:
- Why is it so important that students take advantage of these resources during their time on campus?
As I’ve said many times, college—like youth—is wasted on the young. Many college students who haven’t yet navigated the “real world” on their own don’t realize how many “free” services come with the cost of a college education. Granted, if you’re paying more than $50K per year, nothing really feels “free.” But on many campuses, there is no additional charge for benefits that range from resume-writing classes to weight-management programs.
- Is it smart for students to get acquainted with the career services center right off the bat rather than waiting until senior year?
A growing number of college career-services offices have programs that are specifically aimed at younger students, not just at seniors. But even on those campuses where these options don’t exist, the career counseling department should be a must-do first-year agenda item. These visits can be a great way to learn what’s “out there” in the job world after graduation, along with the steps required to get there … steps that should be taken sooner rather than later. Most teenagers are more or less familiar with the road to law or medicine. But which courses, skills, internships or grad-school programs are right for an aspiring sommelier or CIA cartographer? Most college career offices maintain long lists of internships and even paid jobs for both the school year and summers, often with tips from past students who have already held these posts.
- How can academic advising help students in their field of study?
For students aiming for grad school, college professors can be a great source of advice. While there are gazillions of private counselors who point teenagers to the best-match colleges, there are far fewer consultants who help with grad school choices. But the best teachers can be the worst advisors. Some professors only serve as advisors to undergrads because they are required to do so. Any student who feels that he or she isn’t connecting with an advisor or isn’t getting the kind of help required should try to make a switch. The profs who are great when it comes to suggesting courses may be clueless when it comes to internships or even job options. So if a professor seems awkward at advising, it may be time to change … as diplomatically as possible Also be on the lookout for faculty mentors. While these folks may not formally wear the academic-advisor hat, they may be able (and very willing) to help steer you toward internships, career ideas, study abroad programs, etc.
- For students who might need more emotional support, can the counseling center provide students with valuable resources?
While many students seek out help for serious problems, which are also swelling among teens, others recognize that a counselor can serve as a good sounding board when it comes to the smaller concerns that adjusting to adulthood can spawn, especially now that the stigmas once attached to mental-health concerns are vanishing.
- How can students take advantage of specialized extracurricular offices to explore their interests (study abroad, professional organizations, etc.)?
Step number-one is to know what’s available. A good pre-frosh exercise is to sit down with a list of college offices and organizations even before you arrive for orientation. Put a check mark besides those that you think warrant a first-semester visit. Whether you’re seeking an activity that might help you meet like-minded others quickly (e.g. the Ballroom Dance Team or the Madrigal Singers) or a stepping-stone to professional opportunities (the Black Pre-Law Association or the Biological Sciences Society), know before you go. HINT: This exercise can offer valuable bonding time with Mom and Dad. Ask for their input as you peruse the lists. Whether you find their suggestions helpful (“Look … you can continue with Model UN”) or painful (“Hey… a Magician’s Society … you used to be so clever with your card tricks!”), this family powwow can help ease their transition to your college years.
- How else can students get the most out of on campus services?
Real-world adults expect to pay for Pilates classes, tennis lessons, or treadmill time in a gym. But college students typically have access to these amenities for little or no charge beyond tuition and fees. College is the perfect time to learn to scale a rock wall or dance the tango, and you may also earn credits doing so. Even busy undergrads can (and should) find time to stay fit, and the college years allow easier access to instruction … and possibly a life-long passion … than can be found almost anywhere else, at least beyond Club Med.
So, you can see that much lies beneath the surface of your so-called "institution of higher learning." In some ways, it's really an almost endless source of help and enrichment for you as you move toward at least your intermediate goal of finding success and happiness after college. Yes, maybe you'll want to continue your education in graduate or professional school, but during those undergraduate years, be sure to maximize your opportunities -- and value -- by taking advantage of all the aspects your school has available.
Looking ahead to more than classrooms, courses, and sports can make a significant difference in your college career. Research those resources. Remember: The life you enhance may be your own.
Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles at College Confidential.