3 things I wish I had known before coming to college

You’ve heard of “tunnel vision,” right?  I think I am prone to tunnel vision when I’ve been driving too long.  I’ll pass a highway patrol officer while going just a little bit too fast or nearly miss my exit, and it will suddenly occur to me that I have been staring at the weird vanity plate on the car in front of me for 30 minutes and missing everything else in my surroundings.  Here is a term you haven’t heard of: “senior vision.”

As a student in high school, I had a narrow view of college that I assembled from college visits, stories from friends and advice from counselors and teachers.  I stole a few ideas about college life from television shows like “Gilmore Girls,” too.  I had senior vision.

I arrived at Bowling Green last August with all of my myths and misconceptions and realized quickly how wrong I had been.  Here three things I wish I had known before coming to college.  If you’re about to make the critical transition from high school to college, I hope you find these useful.  If you’re already here, you probably had a touch of senior vision in high school, too, so you can have a good laugh at yourself (and me).  Oh, if only I’d known…

You are responsible for you.  In high school, many of my teachers required students to keep updated assignment logs.  They were collected and checked for a grade.  A few also posted homework assignments online.  If I forgot to turn in an assignment, I was reminded.  If I missed a day, teachers would review what I had missed with me.  Some teachers even posted current grades on the wall and asked students to check and initial them.  When interim reports came out, parents had to sign them.  My teachers always made sure that I was on track and informed.  This all changed when I got to college.  In college, instructors will not force students to write down their assignments in their task managers or pick up the handouts they missed when they were sick — not because they don’t care, but because they expect students to behave like adults.  As a student, it is my responsibility to take notes, record assignments, check grades on a system called Blackboard and communicate with my instructors when I have a problem.  If I have to miss a class, it is my responsibility to get the notes.  If I am not sure what it is coming up in a class, I need to review the syllabus.  Succeeding in a college class requires a lot of self-motivation.

Time-management is a skill.  During my senior year, I took a fun college-prep class that was all about college survival skills.  Mainly, I took it because my favorite business teacher was offering it, but I also hoped to learn a thing or two about how to succeed in college.  I did not retain much from the class, apart from an efficient way to take notes.  My teacher discussed “time management skills” pretty regularly, but I never gave it much attention.  Time management wasn’t a big issue for me in high school.  I had plenty of time for Key Club, the Future Educators Association and a part-time job.  I did my homework during study hall.  Easy enough.  About three weeks into college, I realized that I should have paid better attention to Ms. Tebay’s advice.  Time management is critical in college.  It really is a skill — one that I still haven’t perfected, although I think I’ve gotten a little better at it.  College classes typically will not meet every day.  A class will meet two or three times per week, and each time, instructors will usually assign homework.  An average course load is about five classes or 15 credit hours, so I can expect plenty of homework — papers, reading, studying, math problems, projects — each night.  P.S., there are no “study halls” in college.  It’s up to me to set aside enough time in my week to get everything done.  Like most students, I balance work, campus organizations and a full course load, so if I didn’t manage my time carefully, it would be very easy to fall behind.

You can’t control everything.  I probably sound like I’m contradicting myself.  I’ve told you to take responsibility for your success and budget your time.  You absolutely should.  Here’s something that you should also keep in mind, however: some things in college are beyond your control.  In high school, I spent a lot of time fantasizing about and planning out all of the finer details of my life.  There is nothing wrong with planning, and in many areas of college, it really helps to develop a good plan.  You should be flexible; however, and understand that college can be unpredictable.  Before I got here, I browsed through the online schedule of classes and picked out the decidedly perfect schedule.  By the time I registered, none of those classes were still open.  I thought, wait a second … I never had this kind of trouble getting into the classes I wanted in high school.  What gives?  With thousands of other students competing for the residence hall you want or the perfect class schedule you devised, you will face occasional disappointments.  They are inescapable.  I feel confident promising you that you will still make good memories in a different residence hall, and despite his or her reputation on RateMyProfessors, the instructor you get will not be insufferable.  Take online ratings with a grain of salt, by the way, because the students who post bitter, insulting ratings are usually the ones who aren’t satisfied with their grades in the class (maybe they lacked self-responsibility and time management skills).  If you do not get the residence hall you requested, the job you applied for, the scholarship you applied for, or the nothing-before-noon class schedule you picked out, take a deep breath and trust that your college experience will still be awesome.

I have had to learn plenty of other lessons the hard way since I’ve been in college (prime studying time, the usefulness of the Learning Commons tutoring center, why to adhere to parking policies at all times), but I won’t make you suffer through the complete list.  If your high school offers a class or workshop on preparing for college, consider taking it, and definitely discuss the transition to college with your teachers and school counselors.  They can be excellent resources, and they probably have some interesting stories to share from their own college days.  Good luck!

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