Get help from our network of more than 300 experts on changes big and small, personal and professional.
Dr. Thomas Ellett on Starting College
Thomas Ellett, Ph.D., is the Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs at New York University (NYU) and the president of Thomas Ellett & Partners, a firm dedicated to personal life coaching, professional development seminars and consulting. He has more than 20 years of experience in education and has been invited to speak and consult at such schools as Wesleyan University and The University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Ellett tells us why the first 30 days are such a critical time for new college students.
Are there common questions and fears that you hear from students during their first 30 days at college?
“Will I get along with my roommate? Will I be accepted in this community? Will I have friends?” It’s all about connection. That’s the most important thing in the beginning of college. After you settle in, it becomes money: “Can I stay here? Can I pay my bills?” For undergraduates, a third fear is academics. It’s all about connection, then money and academics.
What are some of the emotions associated with starting college?
There’s a lot of anxiety and excitement. Anxiety will accompany the excitement of meeting so many people. Students are bombarded with visual stimuli, new ways of thinking and new ways of dressing. All of those things hitting you in the face can be overwhelming. For a percentage of students, there will be some homesickness as soon as they get in the car.
How can first year students address some of their fears before arriving on campus?
I think that talking with people who have gone to college is helpful. Talk to someone from your high school or a sibling who went previously. Students have more access to social networks today. They are able to connect virtually. Doing virtual tours will let you know what the school is going to look like or perhaps what your RA or room looks like. Students couldn’t do that 10 years ago.
I think it’s less scary to be away now. Today, more students in high school are going abroad. When I was in school, we didn’t do that. Students come to college with more perspective than ever before. The whole moving away thing is different now.
What goals should students establish during the first 30 days?
You need to ask: “What does balance look like to me as it relates to my eating habits, finances and relationships? What do I want them to look like?” Be a little visionary with the end in mind. For some, it might just be surviving away from home or eating food that is different or meeting someone from another religion. Participate in as many social activities as possible. Those who are connected to peer groups are more likely to succeed and graduate than those who aren't—that is common throughout all the research literature.
Should college students establish a routine for their schoolwork and social life?
I believe life is about routine. Real change happens through the establishment of a routine that follows your value set. Promote positive change in your life. Be responsible for your own journey instead of letting change drive you. This is one of the biggest life changes that can take place.
How can students get the most out of their first few days of classes?
Think about your goals and reflect on them. I think you have to practice reflection, whether through spirituality or through nuts and bolts. In the realm of academics a student might think, “I am sitting in this bio lab now. Thought I wanted to be a doctor. I hate this. I can’t do this for the rest of my life.” You have to reflect. Or you might be taking an English class and realize, “I really love this.” Find what really motivates you to be successful and happy.
Does a commuter student face different issues than students living on campus?
As a commuter student, you are at a major disadvantage. There is less of an opportunity to socialize and connect. Sometimes it’s a cost factor, and that’s understandable. I believe it’s best to live on campus and literature supports that idea. Try to get involved in organizations. Try to get involved with others as best you can.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
I have a strong faith sense that supports me through change. I look at change as opportunity. It evolves over time. Even if a change isn’t something you were really looking for, you do get used to it. Sometimes there are opportunities that are really good if you are open to them.
The best thing about change is...
…it allows for a broader perspective of life. The more perspective you have, the more opportunities can occur.
What is the best change you have ever made?
The best change I ever made was becoming a father. I have two wonderful sons who mean the world to me and give me an exciting life. Being a father is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
For more information on Dr. Thomas Ellett, visit www.ellettpartners.com.