What would college students tell future college students to help them with the transition to college? I had my ideas as to what they would say when I set up the interviews of several of my former students over the past few weeks. What I didn’t expect was that their advice would resonate with anyone who is starting a new phase in their lives. They were poised, thoughtful, and reassuring. Here is what they had to say:

  • Setbacks are temporary. Each former student of mine talked about how they were challenged at the beginning of their first semester. Some were homesick; others had difficulty making friends; some had difficulty managing their time. All of them, however, talked about how they made it through these early challenges. “It got better,” one student said. And that is such great advice for any college student dealing with a difficult situation. Sometimes the student had to make a change, get outside of their comfort zone, or talk to someone to get through the tough time, but it did (and it will) get better.
  • Getting involved makes the experience more enjoyable. Every student I interviewed talked about how important it was from them to join a club, make friends, go Greek, go to events, and get involved with activities. Even though COVID-19 made this much more difficult this past year, each student talked about doing it anyway. Their ability to make connections with others has made the college experience much more enjoyable.
  • You may be stronger (smarter, more organized) than you thought you were. When I asked them what they were most proud of, they all mentioned how surprised they were that they had what it takes to make it. One student who wasn’t sure if she was prepared for college because she didn’t do well in high school marveled at how just applying herself and caring about what she was learning paid off. She made great grades, but more importantly she sees herself in a much better light.
  • Sometimes all you have to do is try. College isn’t as hard as thought it would be, they told me. All they had to do was try. I heard this over and over again. These students jumped in and took a chance to see if they could do it. Was every experience successful? No, but the fact that they tried–and succeeded or at least learned what to do next time.

Reach out to others, recognize that challenges are temporary, believe in your ability to rise to the occasion, and take a chance and try. These are the big lessons my students have learned about college and themselves. I think this advice works for all ages and stages as well. It is good to remember that no matter what is in front of us, we have the ability to get through it–and we may just surprise ourselves in the process.


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