“Tips for Graduating Seniors”

It’s the season of celebration for high school seniors. The journey through high school is coming to an end, as is the college search and selection process. Congratulations! You are on your way to achieving even bigger and better things in life!

As you look ahead to the start of a new life beyond everything you have known and done, take time to reflect on the road you have traveled thus far. The people and experiences you have encountered along the way have been instrumental in giving definition to the person you are becoming. They will always be part of you. It’s easy to become consumed in the future. Don’t lose sight of your roots.

In a few short months, your life will change in important ways. You’ll be living independently in a community of young people, most of whom will be strangers to you. You will be starting a new chapter in your educational experience in which your high school GPA and test scores won’t matter any longer. You will be able to choose courses, majors, internships, and research opportunities that will both educate you and prepare you for life beyond college.

And, hard as it might seem, you’ll go from the “top of the heap” in the social order at your high school to the bottom at your new college. Perhaps most importantly, though, you will soon find that you—and only you—are ultimately accountable for managing your life experiences.

It is with these thoughts in mind that I would like to offer the following advice as you prepare to start your college experience.

  1. Finish your senior year with energy and focus academically. The momentum and confidence that result from a strong finish will be instrumental to a good start this fall.
  2. Participate in orientation programming at the college you have chosen. This will help you become acclimated to your new environment. In all likelihood, you will meet with your academic advisor, make preliminary course selections and explore housing options Many colleges offer orientations early in the summer that will allow you to begin planning well in advance of your arrival for classes in the fall.
  3. Communicate documentable learning/health issues to appropriate people at your new college. It is best to do this during the orientation program if possible.
  4. Keep a transcript of your college credits (Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and any other college credits) handy. You never know when you might need to redeem them over the next four years.
  5. Take advantage of residential first year seminars if they are offered. You will benefit from having a shared learning experience with your hall-mates as well as engaged involvement of a professor who is dedicated to supporting your transition.
  6. If you are concerned about managing the transition to college, academically and otherwise, consider starting with reduced course-load if your credit situation will allow it.
  7. Identify affinity groups (teams, clubs, music organizations, etc.) of which you can become a member. Research shows that students who make such connections early in their college experiences are more likely to persist through graduation at the colleges they have chosen.
  8. Manage the business side of your enrollment responsibly. In other words, open your mail and respond appropriately! Once you turn 18, billing and financial aid documents will be sent directly to you. Allowing these documents to sink to the bottom of your in-box or post office box puts you at the risk with regard to missing important deadlines.
  9. Keep your parents in the loop. Money and finances are not the only matters you will need to monitor responsibly. Your new college may not reveal (to your parents) any information about academic progress, health status, disciplinary matters or ongoing attentiveness to support for special needs without your permission.
  10. Have fun, but stay focused. The first semester will go very quickly. Because you will be spending less time in class, you’ll need to budget your out-of-class time well in order to keep pace with assignments. Be prepared to do a lot of reading. Many colleges find that the ratio of hours spent prepping for class to hours spent in the classroom is at least 3:1.

Finally, take advantage of the opportunity to become educated. Ask questions. Challenge assumptions. Test theories. The best advice I received in college came from a professor whom I respected as a content expert and a brilliant thinker. Upon observing me taking notes during the first lecture of the semester, he paused to remind me that taking notes was not my job. Rather, it was my job to try to disprove everything he said.

Seeing the astonishment on my face to the suggestion that I challenge his every word, he added, “If you can disprove something I have said, you have discovered a new truth. If you can’t disprove it, you have validated an old truth. Regardless, you have come to a better understanding of the truth.”

I would urge you, then, to spend your college years in search of the truth in whatever you do. Embrace the opportunity to squeeze everything you can out of your experience as an undergraduate. Seek out people who are thinkers and doers. Try new things. You will soon discover that your real educational opportunity rests not in the place you have chosen, but in the manner in which you choose to become engaged during your four years on that school’s campus.

Have fun—and good luck!

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