Monday, September 05, 2011

Starting College: Words of Advice

Here's a column that I wrote last year.  Perhaps it may be useful to first-year students about to begin their college experience.

Inspired by Greg Mankiw's great New York Times column titled "A Course Load for the Game of Life," I decided to offer a few comments of my own for college freshmen.

1. Pick your faculty, not just your courses. Ten years from now, it won't matter much if you took "18th Century French History" or "Cognitive Psychology" in your freshmen year, but you will remember the faculty member who made a huge difference in your life. Seek out the professors who care the most, who have a passion for teaching, and who are willing to spend time outside the classroom with students. Building those relationships early in your college career, and finding good mentors, can have a huge impact.

2. Be smart about personal finance. Think carefully about how you manage your money. The habits you cultivate at 18 years of age will last a lifetime. Have a great time, but don't take on unnecessary debt and don't spend carelessly.

3. Redefine how you study. For many students, studying means reading or re-reading the textbook and their notes from class. I would encourage you to think differently about studying. As you prepare for an exam, sit down with all your class materials, and write out a detailed review of the entire course. Then, boil that review down to just 1 or 2 pages. Then, boil it down again to just a few note cards. That process of having to synthesize and integrate all your learning in writing will have much more impact than a few extra hours spent re-reading the same tired words from a textbook.

4. Seek out your own space. Don't count on studying in your dorm room. Far too much distraction exists in the dorm room. Find a spot on campus in which you are comfortable, and in which you can focus. For many, it will be a spot in the library. However, there may be other locations as well. If you do go to the library, don't sit in a high traffic area where you will constantly be approached by friends.

5. Care for your whole self - mind, body, and soul. Don't just focus on academics. Stay in physical shape, take care of your spiritual well-being, and be mindful of your stress level.

6. Read constantly about world events.
You might think I'm crazy. After all, you will have tons of assigned reading in your courses. Who has time for more reading? Actually, staying abreast of current events in world affairs, business, science, and the like will be very helpful in your college career. As you read, you can and should try to make connections to what you are learning in class. By applying what you are learning in class as you read about world events, you will engage in much deeper learning. The lessons will sink in much more effectively.

7. Thank your parents. Be sure to express appreciation early and often to your parents and other family members who are supporting you throughout your college experience. Be mindful of the sacrifices that your parents are making for you. Don't dismiss the fact that it may be emotionally difficult for them to see you leave home. Surely, you should seek out and affirm your independence from your parents, but don't trample on your parents' feelings as you do so.


Matt Putvinski said...

Great Article Mike. One other I would add is to start building your brand on how you want people to see you. Especially in the social media space. Now is the time to start networking for that career!

Michael Roberto said...

Great point, Matt. I will share that with students.

Jagadeesh Venugopal said...

Sadly, many students choose courses based on who will give them a good grade with minimal effort. Buck the trend. Sometimes, the greatest learning occurs with "tough professors". A decade later it won't matter whether you got an A, A- or B, but what you truly learned will continue to matter.

Another piece of advice... if your heart isn't truly in it, don't do it. Don't take a major or a course because your parents expect you to, or because it is the trend du jour. If your heart is in something, success will follow sooner or later.

Kevin Franzen said...

Dr Roberto I read this and liked it. I wanted to say two things that I wish I learned as a student many years ago. I learned one lesson from a friend of mine when he was getting his PhD at Cal Tech that learning was more important than grades which is hard to always get as grades do matter when wanting to get into competitive graduate programs. Find a way to learn a balance. My second was a study tip based on Pareto Principle (80/20) so when reading text books read the introduction to each chapter followed by the summary and then re read the intro prior to skimming the chapter. This will save time and help you pull material faster from the chapter and it works for all non science textbooks.