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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

tips and advice for college students

^me in my first dorm room on move-in day at the very beginning of freshman year - august 2003^

it's the time of the year when high school seniors are deciding what to do with their lives after graduation.  so, i'm excited to be teaming up with earnest today to share my tips and advice for college students!

whenever i think about education, i'm always taken back to a memory i have from when i was a little girl.  growing up, my dad used to listen to dr. laura (an american talk radio host).  i remember the first time he told me about dr. laura, "you can be dr. laura" he said . . . words that would end up sticking with me for the rest of my life.  i'm a fiercely strong person when it comes to drive and focus, and i attribute that in large part to how my parents raised me.  i take great pride in the fact that i graduated undergrad a semester early, dove right into grad school after, and then continued on to earn my doctoral degree.  anyone who knows me knows that i very much value higher education . . . but, it wasn't always like that.

i worked hard through elementary school, junior high school, and high school.  by the time i hit senior year in high school, i was so exhausted and burnt out that i couldn't even imagine going to college.  i actually didn't want to go at all.  of course this didn't go over well with two parents who hold multiple college degrees, so i went.  i applied to three different universities and got accepted into all three.  i couldn't make a decision as to where i wanted to go, mainly because i didn't want to go, and on the day decisions were due (talk about waiting to the very last minute) i remember my mom anxiously telling me that i just had to pick a school.  i looked at the three acceptance letters, saw that two of the universities were offering identical scholarship amounts and the third university was offering just a little bit more.  i picked the school that offered more.  folks, i based my whole college career on a difference of $2,000.  it was practically a game of eeny, meeny, miny, moe.  (please don't pick your college this way!)  in the end i am glad i chose the school i did, but i should have been much more intentional about my choice.  it's funny that someone who didn't even want to go to college after high school ended up with a Ph.D. after her name.

so here it is: a list of 10 tips and some advice learned along the way from someone who didn't even want to go to college and ended up surviving three degrees . . .

^left: in my dorm after a show sophomore year, right: in my dorm on the first day of junior year^

1. start taking college courses early 
most colleges have programs available where high school students can take college courses at a deep discount while they are still in high school.  i started earning college credits during my junior year in high school through a scholarship program run by my high school (and i should say it was my dad's idea).  to this day, it is still one of the very best things i ever did for myself.  it's a good way to get your feet wet and ease into college.  it's also an awesome way to start college with several credits under your belt!

2. take advanced placement tests in high school
almost all high schools offer advanced placement tests.  take them!  if you score well, you can earn college credits.  that means you don't have to take some of the entry-level courses that everyone else will have to take.  you'll start college with a leg up by already having several credits, and you'll be able to focus on upper-level courses that are of more interest to you than generic introductory courses.

3. in addition to your major, declare a minor
in college, you end up taking electives to fill your credit graduation requirment.  instead of taking random electives, be intentional about your elective course choices and put those electives to use in order to earn a minor in addition to your major.  i graduated with 2 minors (english and dance) in addition to my major because i had enough courses to meet the requirements for those minors.  years later, i'm still glad i declared those minors.  they've come in handy when applying for jobs.

4. take summer courses
summer sessions are much shorter than fall and spring semesters, and summer credits are typically much cheaper than credits throughout the school year.  the summer is a great way to bang out several credits.  it's also a great way to get a course "out of the way" quickly if you don't want to commit to it for a 15-week semester.

5. before you take any credits at another college, check to make sure they'll transfer
i took all of my courses at my college except for two spanish courses.  i was required to take 2 foreign language courses (which i had no interest in) so i took them over the summer at my local community college.  it saved a ton of time and money since the community college credits cost significantly less than my university's credits cost.  yes, it's a great idea to take some of your general education courses (or core curriculum courses) at a local community college to save money, however, before you sign up for any classes at another school make sure your college agrees that they will transfer and get that in writing!  (i spent a year as an academic advisor for undergraduate students and i saw way too many students get burned by this, and it could have been avoided in every instance if they would have just checked first.)

6. learn your program requirements early on and advise yourself
listen, academic advisors see hundreds of students and have to know dozens of different majors.  unless you are at a very small school with a great student-to-faculty ratio, your advisor is not going to know your program as well as you should.  learn your program requirements on day one and get them in writing (most are given to you in a handbook).  let those requirements be your bible by which you make every move for the next 4 years of your life.  there are countless stories about people having to stay an extra year because their advisors messed up and they were just a few credits short of graduation requirements.  hearing those stories was a driving force for me to take the reins to make sure i got out on time with what i needed.

7. save money wherever you can (and don't miss out on the freebies)
college is expensive, i don't need to tell you that.  it's easy to spend money unnecessarily in college, especially when friends want to go out to eat, out to the movies, etc.  set a budget for yourself and stick to it and don't miss out on all of the freebies that you can get.  from t-shirts to food, see what is going on with your student activities department and participate.  gym memberships are expensive, but almost all colleges offer access to their fitness center for free for current students.  take advantage of that!  also, don't forget that your student id card is gold when looking for discounts at stores and restaurants!

8. hold a leadership position while you're in college
this looks great on a resume and future interviewers will love it, but more importantly you'll get experience being in charge of a group and you'll get to develop and test your leadership skills.  i was the president of one club and the secretary of another.  i learned some great skills from those experiences and learned a lot about myself too.

9. get an off-campus internship (even if it's unpaid)
i see so many students turn down internship opportunities because they are unpaid.  this is the time to take an unpaid internship (because you won't be able to afford to take one after you graduate when student loans need to be paid).  you'll get experience outside of the classroom in a real life setting, and many times internships lead to job offers (or at least letters of recommendation).

10. find a mantra and stay focused on your end goal
if there's one thing i will always remember from my dad, it's the saying: "where there's a will, there's a way."  it has to be one of his favorite sayings because he recites it all of the time, and i heard it countless times growing up.  i had no idea that it would become my personal mantra to get me through school (and many other things in life).  find what works for you and stay focused on your goal.  remember what you are in college to do, don't get sidetracked.  it's okay to change your major, but don't change it too many times or else you will really set yourself behind.  when i began my doctoral program, a veteran professor shared some great advice with my cohort on the very first day.  she said that when times get tough we should imagine ourselves walking across the stage at graduation being handed our diplomas.  i am so incredibly grateful that i heard that little piece of advice that day, because truth be told it was the only thing that got me through my doctoral program.  i kept it in the back of my head for 4 straight years, and that image was what pulled me through.  when i finally got to walk across the stage as dr. laura it was the most fulfilling experience.

^ryan's crazy friends' annual bbq right outside their dorm on the lawn . . . pretty certain that having an open flame on a bbq grill would be frowned upon on a college campus nowadays!^

^writing papers for a class on our matching computers in ryan's dorm room sophomore year^

love, laurie


ma pa camlet said...

What a great walk down memory lane. Great pictures. I hope you are glad you stuck it out. No one can take away your PhD. Sounds like you take after your mama, I was going to quit in third grade.

Mom H. said...

Great advice!