1 Preparing for SUCCESS Preparing to STUDY Preparing for LIFE
3 In this chapter you will explore
4 Confessions of a COLLEGE STUDENT... MINDY DEUEL, 40 Kalamazoo Valley Community College fewer than 2 percent of Americans of traditional college age attended college. Today, new technologies and the information explosion are changing the workplace so drastically that in order to support themselves and their families adequately, most people will need some education beyond high school. College is so important that more than 67 percent of high school graduates (approximately 18 million students) attend. Because higher education can be essential to your future earning power and your overall well-being, we are committed to providing a set of strategies you can use to do your best. That s what this book is all about. As you re settling into your new college routine, we want to welcome you to the world of higher education. The fact that you are reading this textbook probably means you are enrolled in a first-year seminar or college success course designed to introduce you to college and help you make the most of it. In this chapter, we ll discuss how you fit into the whole idea of college. We ll consider why the United States has more colleges and universities than any other country in the world. We ll also help you explore the purposes of college many that your college might define for you. But even more important, we ll help you define your purposes for being here and offer many strategies to help you succeed.
5 So what is the college experience? Depending on who you are, your life circumstances, and why you decided to enroll, college can mean different things. College is often portrayed in books and films as a place where young people live away from home in ivy-covered residence halls. We frequently see college depicted as a place with a major focus on big-time sports, heavy drinking, and partying. And, yes, there is some of that at some colleges. But most students today don t move away from home, don t live on campus, and don t see much ivy. College is really far more than any single image you might carry around in your head. There are many ways to define college. For starters, college is an established process designed to further formal education so that students who attend and graduate will be prepared for certain roles in society. These days, those roles are found especially in what has become known as the information economy. This means most college graduates are going to be earning their living by creating, managing, and using information. Because the amount of available information expands all the time, your college classes can t possibly teach you all you need to know for years to come. The most important skill you will need to learn in college is how to keep learning throughout your life. American society values higher education, which explains why the United States has so many colleges and universities more than 4,400. College is the primary way in which people achieve upward social mobility, or the ability to attain a higher standard of living. In earlier centuries, a high standard of living was almost always a function of family background. Either you were born into power and money or you spent your life working for others who had power and money. But in most countries today, receiving a college degree helps to level the playing field for everyone. A college degree can minimize or eliminate differences due to background, race, ethnicity, family income level, national origin, immigration status, family lineage, and personal connections. Simply put, college participation is about ensuring that more people have the opportunity to be evaluated on the basis of merit rather than family status, money, or other forms of privilege. It makes achieving the American dream possible. College is also important because it is society s primary means of preparing citizens for leadership roles. Without a college degree, it is difficult to be a leader in a community, company, profession, or the military.
6 Another purpose of a four-year college degree is to prepare students for continuing their education in a graduate or professional school. If you want to become a medical doctor, dentist, lawyer, or college professor, a four-year college degree is just the beginning. College is about thinking, and it will help you understand how to become a critical thinker someone who doesn t believe everything he or she hears or reads but instead looks for evidence before forming an opinion. Developing critical-thinking skills will empower you to make sound decisions throughout your life. Although college is often thought of as a time when traditional-age students become young adults, we realize that many of you are already adults. Whatever your age, college can be a time when you take some risks, learn new things, and meet new and different people all in a relatively safe environment. It s OK to experiment in college, within limits, because that s what college is designed for. College will provide you with many opportunities for developing a variety of social networks, both formal and informal. These will help you make friends and develop alliances with faculty members and fellow students who share your interests and goals. Social networking websites (such as Facebook and MySpace) provide a way to enrich your real-life social networks in college. College definitely can and should be fun, and we hope it will be for you. You will meet new people, go to athletic events and parties, build camaraderie with new friends, and feel a sense of school spirit. Many college graduates relive memories of college days throughout their lives, fanatically root for their institution s athletic teams, return for homecoming and class reunions, and encourage their own children to attend their alma mater. In fact, you might be a legacy student someone whose parents or grandparents attended the same institution. In addition to being fun, college is a lot of work. Being a college student means spending hours studying each week, late nights, taking high-stakes exams, and possibly working harder than you ever have. For many students, college becomes much like a job, with defined duties, expectations, and obligations. But most important, college will be a set of experiences that will help you to further define and achieve your own purpose. You might feel that you know exactly what you want to do with your life where you want to go from here. Or, like many students, you might be struggling to find where you fit in life and work. It is possible that as you discover more about yourself and your abilities, your purpose for coming to college will change. In fact, the vast majority of college students change their academic major at least once during the college years, and some students find they need to transfer to another institution to meet their academic goals.
7 How would you describe your reasons for being in college and at this particular college? Perhaps you, like the vast majority of college students, see college as the pathway to a good job. Maybe you are in college to train or retrain for an occupation, or maybe you have recently experienced an upheaval in your life. Perhaps you are here to fulfill a lifelong dream of getting an education. Or maybe you are bored or in a rut and see college as a way out of it. Many students enter college without a purpose that has been clearly thought out. They have just been swept along by life s events, and now here they are. Your college or university might require you to select a major during or before your first year, even before you have figured out your own purpose for college. Some institutions will allow you to be undecided or to select no preference for a year or two. Even if you are ready to select a major, it s a good idea to keep an open mind. There are so many avenues to pursue while you re in college many that you might not have even considered. Or you might learn that the career you always dreamed of isn t what you thought it would be at all. You will learn more about choosing a major and a career later in this book, but you ought to use your first year to explore and think about your purpose for college and how that might connect with the rest of your life. Wired WINDOW
8 Although a college degree clearly will make you more professionally marketable, the college experience can enrich your life in many other ways. We hope you will take advantage of the many opportunities you ll have to learn the skills of leadership, experience diversity, explore other countries and cultures, clarify your beliefs and values, and make decisions about the rest of your life not just what you want to do but also, more important, how you want to live. When you made the decision to come to college, you probably didn t think about all of the positive ways in which college could affect the rest of your life. Your reasons for coming might have been more personal and more immediate. There are all sorts of reasons, circumstances, events, and pressures that bring students to college; and when you put different people with different motivations and purposes together, it creates an interesting environment for learning. Many college graduates report that higher education changed them for the better. Read the information in the following box to learn how completing a college degree will make a positive difference for you.
9 We know without a doubt that college will make your life different from the one you would have had if you had never been a college student. Consider the following list. You will note that the first item is that college graduates earn more money. (Look at Table 1.1 to see exactly how much more.) However, note that these differences go far beyond making more money. When compared to non-college graduates, those who graduate from college are more likely to: earn more money have a less erratic job history earn more promotions have fewer children be more involved in their children s school lives have more discretionary time and money become leaders in their communities and employment settings stay married longer to the same person be elected to public office participate in and enjoy the arts When compared to nongraduates, college graduates are less likely to: be imprisoned become dependent on alcohol or drugs be duped, conned, or swindled be involuntarily unemployed use tobacco products If you just graduated from high school, you will find some distinct differences between high school and college. For instance, you will probably be part of a more diverse student body, not just in terms of race but also in terms of age, religion, political opinions, and life experiences. If you attend a large college or university, you might feel like a number not as special as you felt in high school. You will have more potential friends to choose from, but familiar assumptions about people based on where they live, where they go to church, or what high school they attend might not apply to the new people you re meeting.
10 You will be able to choose from many more types of courses, but managing your time is sure to be more complex because your classes will meet on various days and times, and you will have additional commitments, including work, family, activities, and sports. Your college classes might have many more students in them and meet for longer class periods. Tests are given less frequently in college sometimes only twice a term and you will most likely be required to do more writing in college. You will be encouraged to do original research and to investigate differing points of view on a topic. You will be expected to study outside of class, prepare assignments, do assigned reading, and be ready for in-class discussions. Your instructors might rely far less on textbooks and far more on lectures than your high school teachers did. Your instructors will rarely monitor your progress; you re on your own. But you will have more freedom to express views that are different from those of your instructors. They will usually have private offices and keep regular office hours in order to be available for you. If you re a returning student someone who might have experienced some college before or if you are an adult living and working off campus, you might also find that college presents new challenges and opportunities. For instance, college might feel liberating, like a new beginning or a stimulating challenge or like a path to a career. However, working full-time and attending college at night, on weekends, or both can mean extra stress, especially with a family at home. Adult students often experience a daunting lack of freedom because of many important conflicting responsibilities. Working, caring for a family, and meeting your other commitments will compete for the time and attention it takes to do your best or even to simply stay in college. You might wonder how you will ever get through college and still manage to care for your family. You might worry that they won t understand why you have to spend time in class and studying. In spite of your concerns, you should know that many college professors value working with adult students because, unlike eighteen-year-olds, your life experiences have shown you how important an education can be. Adult students tend to have intrinsic motivation that comes with maturity and experience, and that motivation will compensate for any initial difficulties you might have. You will bring a unique and rich perspective to what you re learning in your classes, a perspective that most eighteen-year-olds lack.
11 What attitudes and behaviors will help you to achieve your goals and be successful in college? If you are fresh out of high school, it will be important for you to learn to deal with newfound freedom. Your college professors are not going to tell you what, how, or when to study. If you live on campus, your parents won t be able to wake you in the morning, see that you eat properly and get enough sleep, monitor whether or how well you do your homework, or remind you to allow enough time to get to class. In almost every aspect of your life, you will have to assume primary responsibility for your own attitudes and behaviors. If you are an adult student, you might find yourself with less freedom: You might have a difficult daily commute and have to arrange and pay for child care. You might have to juggle work and school responsibilities and still find time for family and other duties. As you walk around campus, you might feel uncertain about your ability to keep up with academic work. You also might find it difficult to relate to younger students, some of whom don t seem to take academic work seriously. Whatever challenges you are facing, what will motivate you to be successful? And what about the enormous investment of time and money that getting a college degree requires? Are you convinced that the investment will pay off? Have you selected a major, or is this on your list of things to do after you arrive? Do you know where to go when you need help with a personal or financial problem? If you are a minority student on your campus, are you concerned about how you will be treated? Thoughts like these are very common. Although your classmates might not say it out loud, many of them share your concerns, doubts, and fears. This course will be a safe place for you to talk about all of these issues with people who care about you and your success in college.
12 Consider these differences in the way a student might feel about college: I belong in college versus what on earth am I doing here? Where would you fall between these opposite attitudes? You might find that your exact position shifts depending on what s going on in your academic and personal life at any given time. But no matter how you feel on a particular day, as you begin college you will need to spend time sorting out your own sense of purpose and level of motivation. The clearer you are about why you re in college, the easier it will be to stay motivated, even when times are tough. To build a clearer sense of purpose, look around you and get to know other students who work hard to be successful. Identify students who have the same major or the same career interests, and learn about the courses they have taken, work experiences they have had, and their plans for the future. Look for courses that are relevant to your interests but don t stop there. Seek relevance in those required general education courses that might seem to be a waste of time or energy at first. Remember that general education courses are designed to give you the kinds of knowledge and skills you need for the rest of your life. Visit your career center, your library, and the Internet to investigate your interests and learn how to develop and apply them in college and beyond. A great website to help you research your career interests is the U.S. Department of Labor s Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov), which includes information about average wages for each career by region, job growth statistics, and unemployment rates.
13 Talk to your residence hall advisors as well as your professors, academic advisors, and campus chaplains. College is designed to give you all the tools you need to find and achieve your purpose. It s all at your fingertips but the rest is up to you.
14 Where to go FOR HELP...
15 Chapter REVIEW... One-Minute PAPER... Applying What You ve LEARNED... Building Your PORTFOLIO...
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