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Dr. Jodi Patrick Holschuh on Starting College
Jodi Patrick Holschuh, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Division of Academic Enhancement at the University of Georgia, is co-author of College Rules!: How to Study, Survive and Succeed in College and Effective College Learning, a study skills textbook. Holschuh thrives on creating student resources, including study strategies and tips that are based on real-life student experiences at UGA. Here, Holschuh shares her expertise on how to succeed during your first 30 day of starting college.
What are some of the emotions associated with the first 30 days of starting college?
They run the gamut. You may feel excitement over the newfound freedoms of college, fears about classes, homesickness for family and even friend-sickness—a term used to describe the change that occurs with old friends once college begins. I find this friend-sickness concept fascinating because even when students stay in contact with their high school friends—even if this old friend is a college roommate—the relationships change in unexpected ways once they enter college. Most students don’t even recognize the shift—they just know something is different.
What can first year students do to control these emotions?
Get on the college’s web page and see what is offered. There’s no better way to face your fears than to get informed about what’s out there to help you. For example, most colleges offer some kind of orientation before classes begin. Even if the orientation is not mandatory, it’s still a good idea to get familiar with the services and policies of the campus. You might even meet a friend or two at orientation. In addition, many colleges offer new students a mentoring program which pairs you up with either a faculty member or another student. Your mentor can help you with just about everything you might need as you start college.
Why are the first 30 days of college so important?
The habits you set in the first 30 days are often the ones you keep. If you start out strong—going to class, keeping up with your work, doing fun activities to keep your stress levels in check—you tend to keep these habits and do well.
How will the first 30 days impact your academic success in college?
For some, it’s a make or break time. In many of your courses, such as math or science, the information builds. If you don’t understand the stuff from the beginning of the semester, you’ll be completely lost after 30 days. For others, the first 30 days are a time to figure out what it means to be a college student. If you underestimate the task—which can happen, because there are typically no exams in the first month—and you think college is a piece of cake, you can get into real academic trouble when the work ramps up.
What issues can a student who commutes to school expect during the first 30 days?
Some students say that living at home is like going to “grade 13.” You don’t experience enough to take the changes seriously, which can lead to academic trouble. For these students, I suggest similar advice to those who are living on campus—get involved and get connected on campus. If you’re returning to college after several years out of school, the adjustment may be different. Then you may worry about the age difference and feel you don’t have much in common with today’s 18-year-olds, especially if you have kids or are juggling college and a full-time job. Then, getting connected may be a bit different. For example, you might join a study group instead of a campus organization. But getting that feeling of community and connection to campus is still important for success.
Is it important to take core classes first?
It depends. If you’re already focused on a major, you might want to take at least one course in that major to make sure you like it. If you’re undecided, then taking the core first is not a bad idea. No matter what, I think it’s important to take at least one course every semester that you think you’ll like. One of my favorites was a comparative literature course on King Arthur legends—not in the core, not in my major, but the highlight of my year. You should also think about creating balance. Don't take four courses that have heavy reading demands, like literature, history, political science and art history, all at once. Likewise, avoid taking a full load of problem solving courses, such as math, computer science, statistics and chemistry. Include a bit of each.
How can you pick a major if your school doesn’t give much direction?
Ask everyone you meet. Ask students who have taken the courses, go online to see if professors have posted syllabi or seek out an advisor. The more information you have, they better off you’ll be. Also, each major should have a list of courses required to graduate. If you don’t get much advice from the college, you’ll have to be meticulous about keeping track of what you need to graduate.
If a student wants to transfer, when is the best time to do it and why?
I don't know if there is a "right" time to transfer. Most colleges offer more orientation and support in fall semesters, so you might want to keep that in mind. But otherwise, when you’re ready is just as good a time as any.
What is the key to succeeding after the first 30 days of starting college?
To succeed in college, plan to really learn—not just skim—what you’re studying. That means you need to buy your books right away and when you read, take notes, read in small chunks to fully digest the information and get a tutor if something just isn’t making sense. When you take notes in class, really listen and think rather than mindlessly writing down every utterance. When you study for class, read, write, speak or even draw to help you gain a deeper understanding of the material. Do all this and meet some good folks to hang out with and you will succeed! You will even find that studying for exams is not so hard because you have been preparing all along rather than waiting until the week before the exam.
For some, the professor often makes the difference. If you have a lousy professor, it’s difficult to get motivated to learn. Some of my most successful students say they can use that to their advantage by convincing themselves to learn despite their professor. They tell themselves something along these lines: “Even though I think you are the worst professor ever, I am not going to let that ruin my semester. I can do anything for 15 weeks—even learn from you!”
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
This too shall pass. I think that we all struggle with change and for me, it helps to know that it will not ALWAYS be a struggle—what seems hard today can feel routine if I just give it time.
The best thing about change is...
…the opportunity it affords. Without change, there is no growth.
What is the best change you have ever made?
Having kids. It changes everything about your life, tests your patience and teaches so much.
For more information on Dr. Jodi Patrick Holschuh, visit www.tenspeed.com.