Ten things every college-bound senior needs to know

Congratulations, high school seniors. Graduation is but mere weeks away. Now what are you going to do?

Getting tired of that question yet?

No doubt many of you have a definitive answer: “Get a job.” “Join the military.” “Go to college.”

And many of the college-bound among you may even know what you want to study.

I recently served on a Daniels Scholarship committee, interviewing bright, hard-working and ambitious high school seniors competing for generous scholarships. They were eager and nervous (Who wouldn’t be?), and made me think back to my own experiences as a new college student and later as a college instructor and adviser.

You probably are surrounded by people offering advice, and I’m sorry to pile on, but I can tell you a few things that might help. So I offer, “10 Things You Need to Know About College.”

10. College is not just a means to an end.

It’s an end in itself. It’s a valuable, enriching time, inside and outside the classroom — a smorgasbord of opportunities not to be replicated at any other time in your life. The experiences you gain in your college years — intellectual, emotional and physical — not only will make you a better student, but a better human being.

9. You don’t have to know what you want to be yet.

Some people seemingly are born knowing what they want to be when they grow up, but they are a sliver of the college-bound population. If you’re trying to choose a career path based solely on what you’ve experienced up to this point in your life, you are making an uninformed decision.  For a while, every new class can spark a new interest. Maybe one of those early enthusiasms will stick, maybe it won’t. It’s a process. “Undecided” should be relabelled “Wisely Evaluating My Options.”

8. Take care of yourself.

I hope you were fortunate enough to have someone for the past 18 years make sure you wore a warm coat, ate vegetables and got a good night’s sleep. That person now is you. Take care of your body. It’s not only that 3 pounds of gray matter that’s going to get you through college, it’s the other 100-plus-pound package walking it around. You likely will stay up too late, eat too many empty carbs and otherwise tax your system. Newfound freedom includes the freedom to make some less-than-stellar choices for yourself, but you won’t succeed in a state of being continually rundown/hungover/stressed out.

7. Let people help you.

You’re not in this alone. It’s good for society if you graduate college. Over the course of your working life, on average, you’ll make more money, pay more taxes and spend more on goods. It’s also good for democracy. You have an important role to play in our country’s governance. Develop your critical-thinking skills and be a fully engaged and informed citizen. So go hard after scholarships. Swallow your pride and, if the opportunity arises, let Mom and Dad and even Great-Aunt Millicent help out.

6. Work.

It’s not only others who should be willing to invest in you. Invest in yourself by working part-time. College is demanding, but you have the same 24 hours everyone else has. All of your life you will be balancing shifting obligations: school, career, spouse, children, parents, volunteering. Get used to juggling. The rewards of work are many: money, structure and a sense of accomplishment are but a few.

5. Network.

Those brick buildings ringing the campus are not a fortress. You cannot expect to sequester yourself away for four years and emerge — Ta da! — ready for potential employers to fight over you. Join clubs related to your (eventual) major. Volunteer for something related to your field. Ask questions of the professionals who are guest-lecturing in your classes — then ask them for their business cards.

4. Join the college community.

While you’re already conditioned to the classroom, college is not like high school. Don’t fall into familiar habits. Organize a study group. Join an outdoors club. Go to games, plays and concerts.

3. Explore the community at large.

Whether you’re staying in your hometown for school, or moving across the state or the country, get out and explore. Find the best breakfast, the art galleries, the singletrack trails. You may be from someplace else, but you have a new home. Don’t act like a visitor.

2. Find mentors.

You will be immersed in a culture of intellectual curiosity and innovation. Odds are you’ll find a few professors whose classes you particularly like. Take more of their classes and talk to them during office hours. There also are coaches, RAs, advisers and club sponsors to learn from.

1. Don’t sell yourself short.

You have been the beneficiary of compulsory education for 13 years. That’s over. Your attendance and progress are no longer concerns of the state. College is a privilege for which you are paying dearly. Show up on time. Pay attention. Read the assignments. Make a good life for yourself now.

Laurena Mayne Davis is managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.



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