Tuesday, May 5, 2015

2: A Letter to an Incoming Freshman

This lesson is a “crash course” in some important tips – from fellow students – that you need to know at the beginning of your first semester of college.

As you approach “move-in day” at college for the first time, we wanted to share with you our own thoughts about what it takes to succeed in college.
Before we begin, we know that college life may seem overwhelming at times. We were there. Don’t worry if you find yourself overwhelmed – things will get better!
Party in Moderation
First and foremost, don’t take your newly found freedom for granted. Spending all of your “free” time going to parties and drinking (especially when underage) is going to put you on a fast track to fail.
Try not to party too much, especially right before a test. There will always be parties; your academics come first, and realize that you are not the only one “staying in” to study, instead of going to a party.
Sure, it’s fun to go out and party. But you have invested so much time and money into your education; don’t waste it. Save parties and similar activities for the weekends. Once a week is plenty enough.  Clearing your mind of things one night a week is a great way to get you back on track for the stressful week ahead.
College Rape is Not Uncommon: Have a “Designated Friend”
Like it or not, date rape is a common occurrence on many college campuses today. Date rape is simply this – rape by an acquaintance. And, far more often than not, date rape occurs when alcohol has been consumed to excess.
Be aware that when the person you are with is intoxicated, she or he cannot consent to sex. In other words, if you have sex with a person who is drunk, you’re a rapist. And being drunk yourself does not excuse your actions, at all.
Here’s a rule of thumb. If you are with someone who is too drunk to drive, then that person is too drunk to consent to sex. If either of you is drunk, wait until the next day. If the feelings are really there, they will be present the next day, when you are both sober.
Most importantly - if you plan on drinking, go with a friend who is the “designated safe person” – whose job it is to look out after you and ensure you get back to your dorm room or apartment or home safely. And always get your own drink, and keep your drink in your hand always – yes, the stories about “roofies” are real, where someone might try to spike your drink with a drug in order to later rape you. 
Make the right friends, be social, and get involved.
We know that socialization in college can be hard at first, because we know that you may feel isolated.  But you should get out and socialize.
But don’t solidify your friends too fast. Take a few weeks to “try them on.” If you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas!
If you make the right friends, doing homework will be much easier. If you find friends who care about their grades, you will be motivated to do your work, too. If your friends party a lot, you will be tempted to do that, too.  So be careful in choosing friends.
Make friends with a group of students within your major. Your friends are an essential resource for you, as you can help each other out with homework problems, studying for tests, working on projects.  Having friends in class can also make the class more fun and enjoyable.
Keep your dorm room door open. Literally, just leave it open. You’ll get to know people you live with much better.
Smile, and say “hello” or “good morning” to those in your classes, or in your dorm. A smile shows that you are approachable, and a greeting can often lead to a good conversation.
Don’t know how to converse? Just be curious. Ask questions about the other person – such as where they are from, what they like most about the college, and what major they are studying. Ask for advice – almost everyone loves to give out tips.
We would like to let you know that there is no reason of being afraid, when it comes to socializing, especially with your fellow classmates. All of us make “socialization” mistakes from time to time. We are very friendly and forgiving of such mistakes … and if you run across someone who isn’t, just ignore that person.
Sometimes, it’s not what you know it’s whom you know. In business and in life, you will need to know how to talk to people. So practice and develop your social skills in college. 
Study with others! A few of us studied for hours – alone - only to find we learned nothing. And for some they would usually get confused and make matters worse. If you study with a group you will get to hear different interpretations of the concepts being studied. And teaching others is the best form of studying!
Get involved with clubs and organizations on campus – to make friends.
Clubs and organizations are the best way to make new friends, and these friends can potentially become a very good support system when you need them.
So visit a club meeting. If you don’t feel like it is for you, just move on and try another.
Get involved on campus. Being active and making connections with people while you are here will make college a much more enjoyable and fulfilling experience. The number one factor in staying at a college is the level of involvement you have on campus. If you want to stay in school, stay active!
20% of learning at college takes place in the classroom. The other 80% is learned from friends and organizations you are involved in! This is the time you will learn to be independent, responsible and in general your own person!  Make the best of it and grow as much as you can! 
Understand the costs of being at college. 
There’s a lot of money being spent on your education, by you or your family. Make it worth your while.
But it’s not just money.  In fact, the most important cost of attending college is your time. Time you can never get back.
The years you spend in college are the most important years for your future. Make them count!
Make Certain You are in the Right Major
Not everyone knows exactly what their career path will be when they enter college. And many who think they know discover different interests as they proceed through classes.
Most people are happy pursuing careers for which they possess a good aptitude. To discover your aptitudes, consider some of the “personality tests” that are usually free, from your campuses’ “career development center” or other area. These can be a great way to narrow your choices.
Then get out and explore. Discuss a career with a professor who has actually worked in that field. Attend a career fair and meet employers in that field, and discuss the types of jobs that are available to new graduates, and career paths thereafter. That’s right – even as a freshman, attend career fairs! (It’s great practice for later, too!)
What are Your Primary Goals in Being Here?
Prioritize your goals. What is truly important to you? Sports? Partying? Girls? Boys? Drinking? Or to graduate with a degree so you can be successful in your chosen profession?
Do your best so you can obtain the best job after you graduate from college. If you want a good job, you will need to work hard. The best jobs usually go to those with the better cumulative grade point averages, and to those who are involved in clubs and organizations.
Your personal success is the result of the steps you undertake to achieve it. Ask yourself, “What should I do to make certain that you graduate from college?” The answer is typically, “Go to class and do the work.” Good answer, but actually doing these things is not always easy.  Learn how to persevere and accomplish your goals.
Understand the Need for Self-Control and Grit
One must possess self-control to succeed in life. Practice self-control always.
There will be many days when you would rather go hang out with your friends instead of doing your homework, but self-control will get your through this. Have “grit” – resilience and perseverance.
Your main priority should be your class work; everything else should be secondary. Don’t let your social life control you.  There are going to be times when you want to go hang out and party, but you know you have homework to do. Remember that school comes first.
Try studying in the library, preferably with friends who also need to study.  This way you can avoid some of the distractions you may encounter in the dorms.
Don’t Procrastinate
Don’t procrastinate. When you receive your assignment for the next class, get it done that same day, or as soon as possible. Don’t wait for the deadline to arrive and be up half the night trying to study or finish an assignment. This is especially true in college because unexpected events pop up such as friends stopping by, an accident occurs, or a new class project is announced.
You have to learn how to think through the consequences of your decisions, even if it means learning to refuse your friends at times. Your true friends will understand and still be there when you are done.
College is Not High School
Don’t think you can get by without studying, as you may have done in high school if you were a genius.  College is different. Some of us never studied a lot in high school, but college is very different. If you don’t study, tests and quizzes will not be easy, and you probably won’t do very well.
Professors don’t spoon-feed you the material in college. Some of what appears on exams will never be discussed in class.
Be prepared for class, go to class, and pay attention in class.
You must attend to all of your classes – no excuses! Some of us did not learn that essential need until our sophomore year or later, were lucky enough to scrape by and not wash out. Believe you me, it does come back to haunt you.
Study two to three times a day. Study every night. If you do not, you will fall behind quickly. In order to grasp the many points taught in each class you need to do the reading and assignments outside of class. Getting all your work done will give you a sense of accomplishment, and will relieve stress.
Employ Good Study Habits
When reading chapters, create outlines to help you effectively communicate and understand what you’ve read. Do outlines of the material prior to class. Or use concept maps; you can use “mind map” software, such as Freemind (free download).
Do the assigned reading – the day before class (or earlier). You can’t just float along by doing your homework fifteen minutes before class, like you may have done in high school.
Don’t underestimate the material or the professors.
Make certain that you put twice as much time toward a class, outside of the class, than you do when you are in that class. Repetition is the key here; you are not going to learn much from reading the material once.
Always go to a class prepared – meaning read the assignments and take notes beforehand!  Always review the material prior to class; this will prepare you for what is to come and will help you to memorize the material that much faster.
Pay attention in class at all times. Take as many notes as you can in class. It helps you to stay focused in class, and helps you to retain the knowledge you are exposed to.
Some of us have been told (and have learned) that sitting in certain parts of the classroom will enable you to perform better.  Sitting in the first two rows of the center section of class can be the most beneficial.
Manage Your Time; Plan and Be Organized
Budget your time and set a schedule. If you do this one thing, and stick to it, then everything else will be much easier for you. Plan all of your activities out each week. Try to keep a steady schedule each day, balancing classes and homework with other activities.  It helps you stay organized and not stress out about what you need to do.
During the first year at college some of us had a hard time managing our time. But we got better. When you successfully manage your time, you find that you get a good amount of sleep and the time to engage in other (fun) activities.
Being organized can help you avoid some very foolish mistakes.
Know what is expected of you prior to each class.  If you keep track of all of your assignments and try to complete them on time, it will make your life much easier.
Always check your e-mail and Blackboard (course management system), to keep up with messages from your instructors.
Sleep! Eat! And Take Care of Yourself!
“Go to class, go to chow, go to sleep.”
While it may sound self-explanatory, in our freshman year it took some of us some time to realize that he or she needed to get a good night’s sleep.  Once one’s sleep each night increased, so did one’s GPA.
We cannot stress how important getting enough sleep is!  Most of the time when you don’t get enough sleep, you don’t even bother to get out of bed, much less get to class! So make certain that you are getting enough rest!
One of us had an 8:00 a.m. class during freshman year and he or she was always tired in class, and that affected his or her grades.
“Sleep before study.” You mind cannot retain information if it is worn out and tired.  So get some rest.
Get 7 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night. Everyone is different as to how much sleep they need. One academic study suggests that the average college student needs 9.25 hours of sleep a night (some might need even more). And these studies demonstrate that the 8th and 9th hours of sleep are really important, as that is when long-term memories are best formed. 
If you get plenty of rest, you will have more energy to make it to every class on time, and to do all of the readings and assignments.
So get to bed at a reasonable hour.  Red Bull-fueled study sessions lasting all night are one quick way to burn out your candle.
Also, don’t go to class hungry. Eat a good meal so you can stay focused in class.  Don’t just survive on vending machines, as they will fill your body with garbage, sapping your strength and brainpower.
One of the most important things is to take care of your body.  Without proper nutrition and exercise your body won’t be as effective as it should be.  We know it’s a pain, but try to eat right, get the proper amount of sleep, and you will notice how good it feels.
Keep an Open Mind
You will meet people from very different backgrounds than yours. The world is full of different opinions, facts, information, and technology. Keeping an open mind can assist you in learning more about things that maybe you did not even know you were interested in.
Being able to act properly in any situation is a key to success in school and life. You never know what school or life will throw at you, and with an open mind you will be able to perform at your best.
Avoid Groupthink
Don’t let your peers and their behavior unduly influence your own decisions and actions.  Like the saying goes, “If everybody agrees, somebody isn’t thinking.”
Keep Your Morals and Your Values Close
Just because you have an open mind doesn’t mean you cannot have great morals.
Just because you may be able to get away with something doesn’t mean you need to go there.
"Without integrity, I am no one." Resist the urge to cheat on a test. Don’t plagiarize – every professor knows how to easily detect plagiarism using online software they access - and they access this software nearly all the time!
Ask Questions, and Ask for Assistance
If you do not understand something, just ask a question.  Some people have trouble with this because they are too shy to say anything.  If you never ask, your professor will never know.  You are paying for the professor – and her or his time!  However, if you are too shy to ask questions in class, then ask the professor in her or his office, or e-mail the professor.
There is no dumb or stupid question. Always ask questions when you don’t know something. This way you will learn what you did not know, and you will be able to do better in those classes.
Go see your professors during their office hours. Listen to them. They know what they are talking about, so don’t be ignorant.
When you are doing your best and studying all of the materials, but you still don’t understand it, ask for extra help. You can even request a tutor to assist you. Some of us see tutors for a couple of our classes, and they have helped us come up with several good studying techniques.
Use the Writing Center. Use the English Department to help you with a paper in your business class. Do your math homework in the Math Lab – that way, if you get stuck on a problem, help is right there. And don't forget online study resources available - including online (free) tutoring assistance.
Get to know at least one professor each semester. Knowing your instructors will increase your connection with the material presented and is a great way to get extra help on class work.
If it gets to be too much, just take a breath and then ask for help. 
Don’t Give Up!
Life and college are going to hit you hard at times, often provoking thoughts in you of quitting. But it is times like these when you need to persevere though any struggles you may be up against.
You should always try to look at the good things you have in life. Thinking about all the bad things will only lead to more bad things and negativity.
Take Time to Relax
Don’t take things too seriously. You need to relax and enjoy yourself once in a while.  But – don’t get carried away.
Have fun on occasion. School can be stressful at times. Make certain you give yourself time to go out and enjoy the best years of your life.
Remember – “Just Breathe!” Try to keep your stress level down; it always makes things more difficult if you are stressed out.
Be yourself and do what you love. Happiness is the key to success, and your time at college should be fun.  You can’t get your college years “back,” so take some time out to enjoy the college experience.
R U Texting in class? Watch out!
Lastly, don’t text in class. At least one professor we know will seize your phone and throw it out the window. We are not joking!
There is no reason why you cannot follow these steps to become a successful student.
Now go out there and make it happen!  “Just do it!”
We wish you all the best in meeting your challenges in all of your future endeavors!
Have a great time in college!
            - Your fellow students (Alfred State College, 2012-2014)


Dr. Ron A. Rhoades is an Asst. Professor of Finance at Western Kentucky University's Gordon Ford College of Business, where he chairs the (B.S. Finance) Financial Planning Program. An innovative, passionate teacher, he is the author of Choose to Succeed in College and in Life: Continously Improve, Persevere, and Enjoy the Journey (2014)from which many of these blog posts are derived.

Dr. Rhoades also serves as a consultant to the Garrett Planning Network, a nationwide network of independent, Fee-Only financial planners making competent, objective financial advice accessible to all people. He is the author of several books, dozens of articles, and he is a frequent speaker at financial planning and investments conferences. He is the recipient of many awards for his advocacy on behalf of the fiduciary standard. Dr. Rhoades is also a member of The Florida Bar, and he practices estate planning and transfer taxation for select current clients.

Dr. Rhoades and his wife, Cathy, reside in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

To contact Dr. Rhoades, please e-mail: WKUBear@gmail.com.