This is the second of two posts conveying advice from college professors to incoming first-year students. The first post is here.
Advice for Learning
Don't approach college like it's supposed to prepare you for anything. Take classes because they interest you, not because they'll check off some box in a future employer's job readiness assessment.
Those "skills" you need in the workplace will take care of themselves. Don't be afraid to study liberal arts while you have the chance, not because there are jobs for art historians/classicists/ philosophers in the "real world," but because studying those subjects is a chance to view the world as something bigger and more meaningful than the TPS reports you'll be writing after graduation.
For most undergrads, this is their last and only chance to pursue learning for learning's sake, and the shame is they view it as some kind of job training.
Andrew B. Gallia
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Going to college is a privilege, not a chore. I know that sometimes it doesn't feel that way, but it's important to look at every class and every assignment as a learning experience, not something that you should try to rush through with the minimum amount of effort and time required. Someone - your parents, other relatives, you, the university, the state, etc. - is paying for you to be there. Don't throw that money away.
Department of English
University of California, Los Angeles
Focus not only on doing well in class, but on learning. You have the opportunity to take classes on just about any subject from world-class researchers, and you can leave college with an education that you'll never have another chance to get. Find a subject you love to study and find peers who are excited about what they are studying. In four years and in forty years, you'll be glad that you did.
Critical Thinking is crucial. Students need to make that key switch from "what do I need to know for the test?" to "Does that make sense? How does that argument work exactly? Are there other ways of thinking about that question? Other ways of even framing it? How does that help me think differently, more complexly about something?"
It's a subtle but profound shift, and I'm not even sure when it happened for me. I resented that, in my own home, the emphasis was so much on "do well" that it all too often precluded a more creative approach to being in the world.
In courses where it makes sense and is allowed, work with other students on assignments and when studying. This can be very useful in lower division math and science courses, for example. Peer education is extremely valuable and underutilized
Astrophysics & Space Sciences
University of California, San Diego
Groupthink is dangerous; the cool people and places are going to be those that run contrary to your beliefs and force you to see the world differently. Just because someone sees the world differently than you doesn't make them wrong, dumb, or evil.
Advice for Life
On a more serious note, I'd like to say something about not assuming you're in a safe space. I reflect with gratitude on a fairly regular basis that I was never sexually assaulted (in college), despite not always being smart about alcohol consumption and having a false sense of security based on the bubble-like nature of my school.
It's not a race. There will be no reward in the end for overloading oneself with too many obligations or for neglecting to break away from the herd when it comes to study abroad, or taking time off during the summer or before graduate school.
I wish my students could slow down just a bit to see what an awesome time of life college is. Instead, they are more anxious than any group I've ever before encountered. I'm not advocating taking it easy, just maybe making one's choices with deliberation. Do fewer things and only do what you really care about.
Some days I'm a bit jaded about "kids these days" (i.e. any time I read about sexual assault on campus) but most of the time I'm so excited to see them grow and to think about how they have their whole lives in front of them.
I have students who don't know about Sandy Hook, Trayvon Martin, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, or other significant events that took place in their high-school years, probably because they were too busy trying to do well in school and get into a good college so they could secure their positions on Wall Street. They never bothered to read the news, fall down a productive internet research rabbit hole pursuing something that struck a nerve with them, or pause to consider what "the good life" might even mean for themselves, or better yet, for the world.
Then again, some of these students actively pursue a version of individual success that breeds well under sheltered conditions. Other students can't help but be attuned to life's vicissitudes, injustices, exigencies because they live these struggles daily. And I wonder to what extent some colleges, as they turn towards more securitized models of "success" and away from riskier, more potentially contentious practices of learning, might be participating in an idea of education that encourages moving through the world with blinders on rather than taking four years of one's life to consider things beyond the normative track or path to success.
Try to find some balance between academics and life - and I don't mean partying, but being part of something larger than yourself.
There's plenty more wisdom where these came from. If you missed the first post, click here.