The transition from high school to college is no small thing. 18-year-olds go from living with their parents and being among the oldest and most experienced kids at their school to being a college freshman, living in a dorm with a stranger and not even know their way around campus.
There are many challenges that come with this massive transition, but I believe that there is even more OPPORTUNITY that comes with this new season--if they start out on the right foot.
I’ve been a New Student Orientation keynote speaker on hundreds of college campuses and talked with thousands of individual college students, and here’s what I tell them.
1. Yes, college is hard. But you're not here on accident.
Students should be fully aware that the four-year experience they're entering into is no cakewalk.
But they should also be reminded that they were chosen out of a large pool of applicants to have the privilege of attending your school, and they are worthy of sitting in this room and taking on this new challenge.
2. There are people and organizations here to help you.
Balancing homesickness, new friends, challenging classes, hours of homework, an on-campus job, community service, and a leadership position in clubs can leave students feeling exhausted, depressed and anxious. Not to mention the pressure of figuring out life after college! Having been invited back to some universities for over ten consecutive years, I have seen students' needs and experiences change. Mental health is an increasingly prevalent and very real issue.
Coping mechanisms for this level of stress are a given. It's up to orientation facilitators, professors, parents, and upperclassmen to introduce healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with loneliness, failure, and fear of the unknown. The most successful people ask for help the soonest, so if I'm on stage, I'm always quick to tell students that it's a sign of strength to get a tutor or a counselor.
3. You are part of our family.
Most college students don’t drop out or transfer schools because they can’t make the grade; they leave because they don’t feel like they’re part of the community.
Orientation is the foundation for making students feel like they belong. They need to hear that they belong from the stage and have it reinforced by everyone in their college community.
4. A failure is an event, not a person.
Students, especially first-years, are going to make mistakes. They might get their first failing grade, drink more than they intended to or forget to turn in an assignment. But none of these things have to define who they are.
As a parent or orientation leader, don’t shirk these topics. A surefire way to perpetuate unhealthy habits is to ignore them. The best way to prepare students for success is to teach them to bounce back--no one achieves perfection on the first try.
5. College is an amazing privilege--not an automatic step after high school.
Only about a third of Americans and 7% of the world's population has a bachelor's degree. Even though some students may feel like everybody goes to college, it's an incredible privilege to attend a university.
While of course there is (and should be) diversity in students' backgrounds at any given school--from first-generation students to those carrying on a family legacy--all students need to be reminded that attending university is the best opportunity they will ever have to write a new script for their life.
6. The only person who gets to decide what your college experience will be is you.
College is the perfect time to let go of old scripts. If a student's high school script told them that they were a slacker, a loner, a low-performer, or anything else that holds them back, college is a blank page.
I tell students that because most people on this campus don't know them, they can now become anyone they want. Starting today, they have the opportunity to become the person they've always wanted to be.
They need to know that being on their own and starting fresh doesn't have to be intimidating: it's empowering because they have the power to create their future in these four years. (I created a tool that will take you step-by-step through writing a new script for your life.
7. If you do what you're supposed to do today, you can change the world tomorrow.
Daily quizzes, 12-page essays, and group projects can feel meaningless for some students who want to be world-changing doers. As they enter college, incoming first-years need to understand that all of their seemingly trivial homework assignments really are moving them closer to their dream career.
Even though college students may not have the opportunity to change the world while they're in school, they can still partake in the most important part of making an impact: changing lives.
College is an awesome opportunity and a great responsibility. So, if you’re a student now, don't waste it. If you’re a parent, aunt, professor, teacher or anything else, take time today to encourage the college students in your life. (Or share this article with them!)
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