Five years ago I wrote the following post when my granddaughter, Whitney, began her freshman year of college at Texas Tech. This post has been one of the most popular posts I have ever written. Hardly a week goes by that it doesn't garner a few hits and at school time, it has registered as high as 25% of all hits for the week. I hadn't read this post for five years and, upon rereading it, decided that the advice was still timely. Meanwhile, in five years, my granddaughter is nearly ready to graduate from Texas Tech with a degree in history and become a history teacher. It took her an extra year because she needed to work to keep herself in school. We are so proud of her for her accomplishments. I hope that your own granddaughter may profit from this advice based on 45 years of college teaching. Comments are welcome.
Advice to my Granddaughter on Starting Her Freshman Year of College
There are only a few landmark experiences in life that are truly memorable, and one of those is becoming a freshman at college. Leaving home, family, friends, neighborhoods, and leaving all of those wonderful conveniences of home such as laundry, food, and an unspeakably messy room, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of bewildered freshmen go off to colleges across the land every fall. My granddaughter told me she was nervous about it all, and I promised her that within a few days she would be so busy and so caught up in her new life, her new friends, the routine of her classes, and the sheer excitement of a new environment which promises so many things to see and learn, that she would get over being nervous very soon. And, as we old timers know from vast experience, the newness of college wears off, like the sheen from a new romance, and then we settle in comfortably as we watch all the greenies go through what we went through.
After nearly 45 years of teaching college, I didn't mean to preach to my granddaughter, but I did offer a few suggestions based on what I had learned from teaching and knowing many thousands of students, many of them freshmen. So here are my basic suggestions and cautions for my granddaughter and for any other beginning college freshman:
- I once asked one of my most brilliant and successful students, "What is the secret of your academic success?" His answer: "I kept up with the class and I learned the material." There it is. That's all there is. Too many students came to me during every semester asking "What can I do to improve my grade?" And the answer is always the same: "Keep up. Learn the material. Don't get behind. But make sure you actually learn the material backward and forward and don't kid yourself."
- Coming out of high school, you were stuck in class all day every day, pretty much. Gee, in college, I only go to class maybe 15 hours a week and I have all this spare time. I'll have plenty of time to get around to studying, so meanwhile I'll party, socialize, go to games, and have a good old time. Fifteen hours a week is nothing. Big, big, mistake. The 15 hours a week is deceptive because you need to study two or three hours for every hour you spend in class if you want to succeed. And you can't kill time for awhile and expect to make it up.
- Don't get caught in a bind so you have to cram for tests.
- For heaven's sake, go to class. Listen and take careful notes.
- Read the syllabus and do exactly what the instructor asks you to do. Don't make up your own rules or requirements if you don't like what's in the syllabus. Do it anyway. And do it on time so you don't have to make excuses for being late.
- Don't wonder if you really need to know something. You never know what will be on the exam, so learn everything, absolutely everything, and then you won't be nervous during tests and you can ace them.
- Here are a couple of things I didn't tell her: Don't try to bamboozle your professor by telling him or her "I really knew the material but your exam didn't let me show my knowledge." Oh brother. How many times did I hear that timeworn weak excuse in 45 years? Pay attention in class and don't visit, text, play video games, or invent other distractions. Don't ever turn your electronic junk on during class. Ever. I'm not kidding.
- Don't get caught up in a quick college romance as soon as you hit campus. Too many of my student problems were caused by overinvolvement too soon. Give college a chance to settle in and give yourself a chance to settle into college and college life.
- Wean yourself away from home. Don't call home with every little whine. Stand on your own feet. But do keep in touch with parents, and do show gratitude for what they are doing to send you off to college.
- You'll figure the rest of it out. Just be thankful you are in a situation where you can be a college freshman. Take it all in, the atmosphere, the fun, the friends, the sports, the activities, the intramurals, the parties--but never forget why you are there in the first place.
Having said all that, I'm still sad that I'm not back in the classroom this fall after being gone for eight years. I never got tired of teaching. As I look at the photo of my beautiful young granddaughter, and as I can feel her excitement for life and learning, I miss my life among 18-22 year olds which lasted more than four decades. I could never imagine what life would be like outside of the University, and I never was willing to try it for very long. College was my home. The kids were my family. Learning was my profession. And I never got tired of the exuberance, the eagerness, and the nervous anticipation of greeting a new class of 400 freshmen, so recently transplanted from parents and home, to my classroom. And I always envisioned about 800 parents at home wondering how their 400 freshmen were doing. And whether they all, in fact, did hate economics as much as they professed to do. I just wonder where all my kids have gone, what they have accomplished, and whether they remember anything except a few corny jokes I told in class to try and keep them awake. I hope even just a few became teachers. There is no better life. So off my granddaughter goes to Texas Tech, to become a Red Raider. I'm anxious to watch and see how it all turns out.