Going to college is expensive. Think about it. Four years of college can equal the purchase of a 30-year mortgage. And these are 18-year-olds getting the mortgage!
Today’s college students cannot afford to crash and burn during their first semester in college. They might be unprepared or figuring out who they are, but many times, they struggle as they adapt to college life and college work.
Candace Cain has served as a college dean of students for more than 20 years, and I’ve always admired her ability to dole out discipline mixed with love and wisdom. She has spent hours upon hours with students during stressful and traumatic times in their lives. She offers tough love along with smart advice, all in an effort to help students sharpen their outlook on their lives.
When students are called to her office, she says she wants them to “understand more than why they have been summoned to my arena. I want them to think about the influence and power they truly hold.”
I’ve heard Candace verbally talk about what she recommends to students, but I thought more people needed to hear her wisdom. So here are her four tips about how to be a successful college student:
- Understand that you are in charge. You are the decision maker in your own life. Not your parents. Not your circumstances. Not your limitations. You, freshman college student, are in charge of your future.
- Start practicing your future today. You want to be a great basketball player? What do you do? You start practicing TODAY. You want to be a top actress? What do you do? You start acting TODAY. The same is true for your education or for any skill or expertise you hope to gain. Practice starts now.
- Define your goal and chart your trajectory. Many students enter college just because that is what they think they are supposed to do. Their friends are going to college. Their parents want them to go to college. But they just drift through with no set plan.So why are you here at this university? As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll get there.” Figure out the direction you want to go. If you haven’t narrowed your goal to a specific major or program, then at least commit to the goal of doing well in the courses you take. Make the most of the huge investment you are making in college.
- Know what will trip you up. Think about your goal, whether it’s a specific program or just performing at your best level. Think honestly about what might trip you up. You know your struggles. Pinpoint the behaviors that have the potential of kicking you off your path. Is it your lack of time management skills? Have you selected a lazy or immature group of friends who influence you poorly? Are you waiting for motivation to magically show up? Once you can identify your potential detours, then put some counter measures in place.
Cain also emphasizes that is OK to ask for help. Ask those who have tread the path before you — who have learned to be focused, authentic and determined.
She said, “We need you to reach your future because you are our future too. We are here to help you get there!”
Candace Cain is assistant vice president of student services and dean of students at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. She served for 20 years as dean of students at Rochester College in Rochester Hills, Michigan.