For many students, Tuesday marks the beginning of a new era in their lives. Thousands of freshman will be walking college campuses for their first day. I remember the moment like it was yesterday. There were 50,000 people zooming around on bikes and walking to class at the University of Minnesota. I came from a town with a population of 3,111 in northwest Wisconsin and thought I was completely prepared and ready for the challenge. I had pushed and exposed myself to so many different opportunities to mentally prepare. However, until you’ve been there, it’s really hard to describe how you will feel.
That’s not meant to scare anyone, but college can be an eye-opener. There are so many responsibilities that suddenly are thrown your way. You meet your professors who pass a syllabus around and tell you “the final is worth 35% of your grade. If you don’t study, you won’t pass.” I remember my reaction at the end of the first day. I felt like I was slapped across the face while looking the other way. You'll have hours of homework in four or five different classes. My head was spinning as I walked back from my freshman introductory Spanish class. “Como estas?” “Estoy nervioso.”
There was the anxiety of first tests, quizzes, and in-class assignments. You will need to adjust to how every professor grades and the way they like their assignments done. It took a few weeks to meet new people and adjust to life in a huge city. I remember feeling overwhelmed and there’s certainly days where I still struggle with it. However, I’ve learned how to develop my own mentality for handling the rigors of life, school, and work. It’s something that has allowed me to grow and develop on a daily basis. Many of my tips not only apply to freshman, but people in all stages of academia. You are going to grow as a person over the four years and that’s what college is meant to do!
Handling the adversity
There are some days where you’ll face adversity, but how do you respond? This is a skill you will use for the rest of your life. It’s a form of emotional intelligence. When someone tells you that you aren’t getting the job done, do you just run away? The same can be said when you get a bad grade. Ask yourself: did you exhaust all options. For me, it’s a four-step process. This is a checklist I’ve developed to reflect upon my performance in academia. I adjust it for various life situations.
Did I study enough and give my best effort?
Was there an opportunity to seek help? – don’t be embarrassed to go to a tutor lab for help. I spent days in Spanish labs asking questions and it helped me develop valuable relationships with faculty. More importantly, it increased my tests scores substantially.
What can I do better in the future?
Did I set up a meeting with the professor or TA to go over the problem so it doesn’t happen again?
One of my favorite teachers once said, "it's not what you know, but how you find." There's not a phrase that's more true. Many times, we often just go through the motions and don’t seek alternatives to improve. We cave at the thought of not meeting expectations, but reflection is so important. If we don’t seek out resources and embrace the challenges we face, there is no way we will grow and advance in life.
Hey, you in the front
I remember thinking about sitting in a huge auditorium with hundreds of people around me. Many people told me my professors would never care to develop a relationship. That was far from the case. Many of them have become positive influencers and mentors in my life. It’s all about taking the initiative to introduce yourself and build a relationship. Faculty love to see students engaging with the course material and asking questions. If you sit in the first two rows every day, it is easier to interact with professors and they notice you are in class. It holds you accountable to show up for class because if you don’t, they’ll notice. Attendance and preparation are so critical to learning the concepts you are taught. Show up!
I always made sure to introduce myself after each first class and made sure the professors knew I was excited to be working with them. I was confident and shook their hands. I thought it was so cool when P.J. Fleck made this mandatory for his football players at Minnesota because it’s something that really has helped me be successful. It might seem daunting and intimidating, but it isn’t once you’ve actually done it. It’s a way to separate yourself, which is something my blog has discussed in detail before. There are situations where you’ll be uncomfortable in life, but can you overcome them? You get what you put into it and that applies to life and academics. Don’t be scared and get into those open seats in the front.
Take time to rest and manage your time
There are certain times where you’ll feel like you need to stay up all night to get a paper done. Instead, plan out your schedule for adequate sleep. It helps you get into a rhythm and be more efficient. The key is to stay on a consistent schedule. Many people ask me how I can perform well in school, write about sports, and still sleep at night. It’s because of my time management skills. During my first year of college, I struggled with it for the first few weeks. Eventually, I found a strategy. Every Sunday, I plan out my week by looking up the assignments that are due. I develop my schedule to get them done with plenty of time to spare. I also make sure I’m living a healthy lifestyle and eating well. In my first year, I often forgot to eat or completely lost track of time. It’s important to exercise, eat, sleep, and take care of yourself, too.
I’ve found that working in small bursts throughout the week is more effective than cramming everything into a few hours. In fact, studies even show it’s more effective. There is nothing more rewarding than checking off my “to-do” list in the notes section of my iPhone. The time that opens up in my schedule allows me to do what I love, which is writing about sports and gaining experience for my job. Your grades are important, but the work you can do outside of your classes is very critical, too. In addition, aside from class and doing what you love, make sure to find extra time to hang with friends or have a fun night out. Focus is important, but a diversion gives you something to look forward to. Many times, my “fun” still revolves around sports, but it’s what my friends and I love. Also, keep in touch with your family back home because this new journey is an adjustment for them, too. Whether it’s a quick email, text, or phone call, it really helps lift the spirits of both parties.
Stay on your path
I’ve seen it too many times: a person who follows the wrong crowd in the first year. Getting off to a strong start and finding a quality group of friends that will support you is so important. I’m a very independent person, but have surrounded myself with people who know how to motivate me in subtle ways. Every person is different, but your true friends will always bring out the best in you. Stay on your path and don’t let anyone sway you from what you feel is right. You’ll likely be pressured into various situations, but if you question it, follow your heart and not the group of people. True friends will understand why you are making a certain decision. The direction you head is truly indicative of who you surround yourself with. Be who you want to be!
There are days where you’ll want to quit, but remember, there’s a difference between failing and failure. You can learn from failing, while failure occurs when you simply quit and don’t have the opportunity to correct your mistakes. Have confidence, take risks, and build relationships because pretty soon your college experience will be over and you’ll want to go back and wear your school colors again. I know how special the maroon and gold and block M are in my life. It symbolizes a campus that has been walked by many alumni that are making an impact in the world. The “M” is something we all have in common. It’s a “little thing” that I’m grateful for in my life.
For me, it’s also the same place my dad walked. Every day, I think about the story he told me when I first toured the University of Minnesota. His dad drove him down to the “U” and dropped him off without a tour. He said, “kid, you’ve got one of the best universities in the country in your backyard. See you later.” He started school immediately. I can just hear my grandpa saying that and I wish he could have saw me get accepted and walk this campus. It’s a special place to me and I can guarantee you’ll have a similar memory in the future at your college.
Life is all about moments and memories, so go out and embrace this new journey!!