As parents make final preparations for move-in week, this article from USA Today recommends encouraging students to make the most of their college opportunities.
Approximately 20 million students are expected to make their way to college campuses in just a few weeks. For first-year students and their parents, the journey is typically a blend of excitement and anxiousness. While supply lists, moving vans and parking logistics rightfully occupy attention during move-in week, family conversations about how undergraduates can make the most of time on campus are just as important and often overlooked. As two former college presidents and a journalist who writes on the transition from campus to careers, we recommend adding discussions about how to make the most of the opportunities college offers to the pre-move checklist, whether families have made this trek before or a student is the first in the family to attend college.
Encourage students to select coursework that will widen interests and experiences and look for opportunities to Student Studying Science “cross-train” their learning. If a student is more interested in science and technology, encourage them to take rigorous classes in anthropology, philosophy, history and creative writing. Excellent communications skills will serve techies well, and it’s helpful to understand the broader social context for products and projects. Likewise, arts and humanities students should know how to marshal data and figures effectively to enhance research, creativity and transferability. This approach entails rigor and risks. But cultivation of curiosity makes for a more interesting life and can pay off too. In fact, one top factor associated with six-figure salaries is taking courses outside a major.
Engage outside the classroom
Urge incoming students to find a mentor in a professor, coach or staff member. These are the people who can help guide time in school and potentially provide advice, references and even friendship. A recent survey from Gallup found that college graduates are almost two times as likely to be engaged at work if they had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and 1.4 times as likely to thrive on measures of well-being. But how can students find a mentor? They should put some effort into building relationships with people they admire and respect. Show up for office hours, volunteer for department events, ask an insightful question at a public lecture or even ask about research internships. Remember to be respectful of your professors and departmental staff time too. Mentorship doesn’t necessarily have to be time intensive to be effective.
Find opportunities to integrate and apply academic learning to a significant project with meaning to the student and to society. Recent research indicates that just one third of graduates complete capstone work, and only about 20 percent of students report doing undergraduate research. More than half do an internship and/or service learning, but these potentially powerful experiences do not typically result in a significant piece of (signature) work. When done well, this kind of signature work can help students engaged in precisely the kind of complex problem-solving employers value and our society needs.
Take advantage of “career services” on campus. Too many undergrads put off a visit to a career services office until the final semester before graduation as they search frantically for a job, any job. Ideally, first year students should do this before the end of this semester and repeat this process throughout their time on campus. Students will learn how to translate coursework into a strong signature portfolio, find internships or entrepreneurial opportunities to test out future paths, and explore more about what motivates them. Finding a career, just like finding the right college, is not a race to be won, but rather a match to be made.
Learning from others
Finally, embrace free speech and diversity of thought on campus. Campuses have become flashpoints in larger cultural conversations around freedom, diversity, and inclusion at a time of economic and social transformation for our country. Adopt a mindset of “vigorous civility.” Disagree without attacking each other personally and learn how to debate without delegitimizing. Even in the context of hate speech, the answer, as Justice Louis Brandeis taught, is not enforced silence. In the face of hate speech, the call for more speech is not merely an option; it is a moral obligation.
For all the challenges colleges face today, American higher education remains the gold standard. Students come from all across the globe to study in colleges and universities in this country. If over the course of their four years, students embrace cross-training, seek mentors, explore signature work, cultivate careers not jobs and practice vigorous civility, they will reap the value of a well-rounded education: learning for all of life.