Preparing for College

Three Words of Wisdom for College-Bound Students

Are you headed to college this month or next? Parents, do you have a son or daughter who will leave the nest and fly to a campus somewhere? If so, those college-bound young people should ponder and remember a few wise words during their pass through higher education.

No, those words are not eatdrink, and be merry. According to keynote speaker, business author, sales and marketing strategist, and former dean of student affairs, Jeff Beals, writing in LinkedIn, those words are responsibilityauthority, and accountability.

How do Beals’ three words relate to those going to college for the first time? What do I have to say about them (if you’re interested in my opinion)? If you want to know, read on.

Responsibility. I like that word. Taking a broad look at our society today, we can see a paucity of responsibility in many areas. Beals says:

… The keys to college success are quite similar to those of the professional world … In order to succeed, each individual must take total responsibility for his or her own life. You must graciously accept credit when it is due, and more importantly, you must be the first to stand up and take the blame when you have made a mistake.

If you get an “A+” on a term paper, it’s because you did the necessary work, not because you got lucky. If you’re late for class, it’s your fault, not because you got stuck waiting at a railroad crossing (you should have left earlier). People who adopt this belief are almost always more successful than those who make excuses.

Every individual has responsibility for himself or herself. Nobody else can or should make decisions for you …

Blaming others for our failures or shortcomings is merely plastering the buck onto those around us who, many times, don’t have the opportunity to defend themselves. Harry Truman recognized responsibility and advertised that fact with a little statement that rested on his desk in the Oval Office. It said, “The buck stops here.” Where does your buck stop?

I think a good indicator of your (I’m speaking to about-to-be college students here) Responsibility Index, if you will, would be to look back over your high school days and even to your work experience, if you have had the advantage of employment during your past several years. When things went wrong, did you immediately look for excuses as to why you failed? “I didn’t get enough sleep!” “My calculator batteries died!” “The test curve was too punishing!” Or, did you have the objectivity to proclaim something like, “I didn’t study enough for this”?

And what about authority? Beals comments:

… Fortunately, each of us has the authority to carry out that responsibility. Nobody has the right to take away the power you have over your own life. Finally, we are accountable for the decisions we make – good or bad. You live with the consequences of your decision-making and actions.

In my view, authority has a lot to do with self-image. Do you see yourself as strong or weak? Can you be assertive when circumstances call for that? There is a crucial difference between power and authority. Using a military example, during my Navy days, I dealt with a lot of line officers aboard my ship, The USS Intrepid, which is now a sea, air, and space museum in New York City. There were many Commanders, Lieutenants, and even Ensigns. When I would see a three-striper (Commander) coming toward me in the passageway, I would note the power of their rank, most times without a sense of their authority. On the other hand, there were a few Lieutenants who had a genuine air of authority about them that sometimes even eclipsed the power of their superior officers, although they rarely exploited that authority for their own advantage.

Thus, swinging the rudder back to you, a college freshman, you must realize that you have the personal authority to steer your own life through the various mazes of circumstances that you will have to navigate in college and life. Yes, you have power too, but it is authority that will more effectively bond responsibility to your behaviors.

The tripartite trunks of this tree of life we’re speaking of here also includes accountability, of which Beals says:

Finally, we are accountable for the decisions we make – good or bad. You live with the consequences of your decision-making and actions …

According to the Business Dictionary, accountability is:

The obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner. It also includes the responsibility for money or other entrusted property.

As you may suspect, and even see from the definition above, there is a close link between responsibility and accountability. As it applies to college students, accountability contains a unique element: transparency. That means that reporting the consequences of our behaviors, performance, or other actions will not be tainted by subterfuge. It also means that we will not try to buffer the impact of our own miscues by coloring the reports of “what happened.” The truth willset us free, although there may be some bitter taste to that freedom. Such is life in the Truth lane.

Following Beals article, some cogent comments appear. Here are a few highlights:

– I think your comment goes to the heart of the value of attending college. It is not only about learning to think well (“Check your premises”, as Ayn Rand admonished), but also, and especially important, engaging respectfully with everyone, for some of them could be your future co-workers, employers, or business partners, or someone whom they know might be someday. No matter how informed and competent you are in a field of work, if you behave poorly towards others, you will eventually make yourself a pariah in your profession, and practically unemployable outside of it.

– My 3 words for success: GET SOME SLEEP.

– Excellent advice. Also three more words can be added: Never Give Up.

– 3 words for college success? “Do Your Homework! or maybe “Go to class.”

I couldn’t agree more!


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.