Preparing for Freshman Year: Creating a Mindset for Success
by: Natsuko Tohyama & Rene Saldanha
Student visa? Check!
Packing list? Check!
Flight booking? Check, check!
Physically preparing for your first year at university can be exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Filling out all those enrollment confirmation documents, finding appropriate housing, and reading the course brochure in preparation for class registration sure take up a lot of energy!
But how are you mentally preparing yourself to succeed during your course of studies? Because the mindset with which you usher in this shiny new period of your life will have a tremendous impact on your success in university and beyond.
Completing your high school studies or resigning from your job and beginning your college career is a momentous transition - and transitions entail many challenges as well as opportunities for growth.
Do me a favor: Take a deep breath.
Imagine yourself in your first week at your chosen university. What adjustments are you making? Are you meeting new people and beginning to build networks? How might you feel about the rigor of your classes or the new teaching styles you have been presented with? How is your physical environment different from the one you were accustomed to?
Now imagine yourself a month into your course. What adjustments are you making now? How do you get along with your roommate(s)? Are there any exams or project due dates coming up? Have you found a part-time job, internship, volunteer work, or other practical learning opportunities, and what challenges do they present? If you have traveled away from your family and friends, how are you managing those important relationships?
While you are welcome to continue imagining what adjustment challenges you may face a semester or a year into you university career, I believe my point is clear: By deciding to attend university, you have just committed to a huge transition. To ensure you grow rather than merely stumble through your experiences as well as to get the most out of the tuition and fees you are paying, build a strong internal mindset and resources before you reach your destination:
Explore your dreams and set goals
What have you always wanted to do but never had the chance to? Are there career directions you would like to learn more about? What academic fields would you like to explore? College is the time to develop your interests and aptitudes in a safe environment. If you have always been curious about cultural anthropology or wanted to learn to use oil paints but never had the time, here's your big chance! Identify activities to put on your exploration "wish list" and keep it in a place you'll see often.
As you explore your dreams, you should also set goals to achieve during your next years at university. These can be in any life arena. Other than achieving a 3.5 cumulative grade point average or a second-class uppers degree, perhaps you want to learn to live independently, develop networking or public speaking skills, or gain fluidity in a foreign language.
Be open to new experiences, but establish boundaries
Why go to university at all if you do not intend to explore? Stepping out of your comfort zone is, well, uncomfortable. However, it is often when we find the courage to do something different that we gain the most. Embrace your fears! Make friends with that classmate who hails from a completely different background than you do. Study abroad in Johannesburg, South Africa. Join an alpine skiing organization.
But know your limits. While experience may be the best teacher, it would be foolish to put your mental and physical health in danger. Do not take on more activities than you can handle, and never compromise on the values that make you, you. For example, if you do not believe you could realistically handle working with third degree burn victims in Moldova for three months or 16 university credits is the most you know from experience that you can juggle, then it's okay to say "no".
Develop (and stick to!) a plan to keep in touch
College is an exciting time - so exciting, in fact, that some freshmen forget the existence of their support team back at home. They become so busy with their double majors, internships, and new social networks that they do not take the time to share their journeys with those who care most.
Never forget your gratitude toward the people who helped you come so far. Even as you amass incredible experiences in college, connecting with your family and mentors will, for most, keep you grounded and true to yourself.
Whether it is phone calls, SMS, Skype, Facebook, or even visiting, find a mode of regular interaction that works for both parties. Keep your loved ones in the loop about your dilemmas, decisions, and days.
Prepare to network, Network, NETWORK!
As exciting as college is, it can also be one of the most trying experiences that you will have so far. You will eventually learn to fend for yourself, but in the interim, you will need to form a support system. Who do you turn to when you find yourself locked out of your room, struggling to choose between two classes, or sick but not sick enough to hike all the way across campus to the medical center? Here are my networking suggestions:
Go to office hours. Office hours are a time that professors keep free despite their busy schedules so they can get to know you. They want to challenge you, to see you develop and improve as a student. By asking for help when you need it, you are showing a mature concern for your education. Plus, professors are passionate about their subject and want you to be passionate too. Office hours are a golden combination of personal and professional support.
Go to office hours. No, seriously. Just go.
But other than that, forming a working relationship or, if possible, a friendship with your roommate can greatly improve your college experience. You will probably have to interact with your roommate on a daily basis, and in a good roommate relationship these interactions should be pleasant and helpful. Ensure your needs with respect to the room are clear, and be ready to make some compromises to accommodate your roommate.
Older students (even grad students) with the same interests as you can guide you as you make academic and career choices. These students can help you find professors who would appreciate your style of work, classes you need to qualify for appropriate graduate programs, or even the trick to doing well in the class with the most nightmare-worthy exams.
On a final note: Be polite and considerate to the staff who make your college experience safe and comfortable. Say good morning to the lady who cleans your residence hall. Ask the young man scanning your ID card at the dining hall how his day is going. Not only will they welcome your friendliness and gratitude, but they can become invaluable resources and friends. Whether it's Dee the house matron who tells you about internships available at her daughter's company or Lynn, the lady at the dining hall who offers you a bottle of honey because you lost your voice, these people are some of the most supportive you will meet in college. Appreciate them!