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Congratulations, You're In College! Now What?

作者:未知 来源:美国国家公共电台 2019-09-04


This is NPR's LIFE KIT, and I'm Elissa Nadworny, an education reporter. For a lot of students, college is kind of like this big unknown. The beginning can be especially scary.

ANIAH WASHINGTON: I remember being absolutely terrified.

NADWORNY: Aniah Washington was the first person in her family to go to college. And she remembers packing up, getting ready to leave home.

WASHINGTON: My sisters were all trying to take my room when I left so I just left some things there (laughter).

NADWORNY: She arrived on campus a month before school started to be a part of the school's Summer Bridge Program. It's essentially a way to practice college before the fall semester starts.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah. And make sure your - there's a name on it as well.

NADWORNY: Each year, about 45 students take college classes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We good? OK. I want you to imagine that I'm a baker.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And I specialize in baking wedding cakes.


NADWORNY: They live in the dorms, and there are even counselors, current upperclassmen, that are there to help them along the way.

WASHINGTON: You can ask questions that everyone has when they're starting college but they don't necessarily have the right person ask or they're too scared to ask.


NADWORNY: This year, Aniah isn't one of those scared freshmen asking questions. She's now a sophomore, and she's answering them.

WASHINGTON: I'm like, wow, you're all, like, looking up to me like I'm, like, some, like, professional. And I'm just - I'm barely making it through, too, guys. But I'll give you as much advice as I can.

NADWORNY: In addition to answering questions and giving tips on how to study, Aniah and other counselors actually walk the incoming freshmen to their class. Because even little things, like not knowing where to go or how long it'll take you to get there, they can have lots of negative ripples.

WASHINGTON: You feel a little bit down about yourself. You're like, wow, I can't even get myself to class on time. And that can really break a student down.


NADWORNY: Aniah goes to Amherst, a small, liberal arts school in Massachusetts. Not every school will have someone to walk you to class, like Aniah, but the tips and tricks she's picked up are good for anyone at lots of different colleges. Because getting in, deciding to go to college, it's just the first step. Now you've actually got to navigate the place, and that first year can be especially hard. But it's super important 'cause research shows if you finish your first year and you sign up for the second, you're far more likely to get that degree.


NADWORNY: So how do you get through that first year? That's what this episode is all about.


NADWORNY: We'll listen in at Amherst's Summer Bridge Program and talk to current students and recent grads about what made their time in college successful. Plus, we'll hear from the folks working to support students, making sure they get from that first year to the second one and then to graduation. More in a minute.


NADWORNY: Today, it's hard not to get caught up in the push to go to college. And yet, just 60% of college students who start school end up graduating. That means millions of students don't finish.

YOLANDA WATSON SPIVA: Completing is important because studies have shown that those with a bachelor's degree actually earn about a million more dollars - $1 million - additional over their lifetimes of those who don't complete college.

NADWORNY: That's Yolanda Watson Spiva, who runs the nonprofit Complete College America. She says in order to finish you've got to start strong. Her best advice is takeaway No. 1, go to college on purpose.

SPIVA: So you don't just go to college because your school counselor or your parent told you to. You actually go to college because you have an agenda.

NADWORNY: Movies about college make it look like four years of beer pong and self-discovery. But getting a degree is expensive. It's you or your grandma or some donor that's got money on the line. Plus, there's the time aspect. It's time away from working and making money. So simply going because everyone told you to without a clear endgame, you run the risk of getting into debt and not having a degree.

SPIVA: College is not a place to go and figure out and find out who you are. That's not what college is about.


NADWORNY: Now, I hear you. For lots of people, college is a place to grow and learn and discover what you're good at. You can still change your plan and your major and your aspirations for life after college. You just want to be mindful of what it's going to take to get that degree.

SPIVA: Map out all the courses in advance. You have to lay it out and see it for yourself and know how long it's going to take you.


NADWORNY: That brings us to takeaway No. 2, pick your classes wisely and map out your path. Some of this is really basic. For example, think about how many credits you need to graduate, and do the math. If you need 120 credits to graduate then you'll need 15 every semester in order to do it in four years. And if you're not taking a full course load, that may mean extra classes over the summer, or a longer timeline. And it's not just the number of credits. You have to know what classes are required for your major so you can plan accordingly.

The best way to make sure you get this right is to meet with an adviser. Odette De Leon is one at Valencia College, a community college in Orlando, Fla. She works with students to plan all this out.

ODETTE DE LEON: We, as advisers, are here to inform. We don't dictate decisions, but we definitely inform them.

NADWORNY: She draws from her own experience. She, too, went to Valencia College, and then transferred to a four-year school and got her bachelor's degree.

DE LEON: I know what it means to not know how do I start, how do I register for classes, what documents do I need?

NADWORNY: She sees so many students signing up for classes right at the deadline. It's a last-minute decision mostly driven by the time the class is offered and nothing else.

Why is registering for classes such a big deal?

DE LEON: Well, your first semester is determinant of so many things. For example, your first semester will determine your college GPA. So if you do good your first semester, that GPA is going to stay with you, and now you've just got to work to keep it.

NADWORNY: And it's a lot easier to keep it up than to try and bring up a low GPA. And GPAs can determine your eligibility for certain scholarships or financial aid. Plus, there's the stress. If you're taking on too much, it can weigh on your health physically and mentally. That's why Odette says you should be strategic about what classes you choose. Some classes are much more work than others, but they may amount to the same number of credits. You want to find a good balance and not stretch yourself too thin.

DE LEON: It's not the same to take business calculus in college and to take dance. It's not the same then to take a humanities class. It's not.

NADWORNY: You might actually want to take that business calculus class or one just as hard, but maybe don't take four at the same time. That's where an advisor can step in to answer questions like...

DE LEON: What's the workload going to be like in this class? What types of help am I going to need? What are the departments I can go to when I'm struggling with X or Y? You know, so that timeliness when scheduling yourself - crucial.

NADWORNY: And if you're unsure of a class or a professor, she says try Googling it. Sometimes you can find a previous syllabus that's essentially a course outline, and those can give you an idea of how much work a class will be.


NADWORNY: Once you pick your classes, you're probably going to have questions about assignments, about your tuition bill, about campus. One way to get these questions answered is to ask an adult on campus. And that's takeaway No. 3 - make a connection with a faculty or staff member. This can be an adviser, a librarian, a financial aid officer like Odette, even an admissions counselor - anyone connected with the college that can be a person to lean on who knows the ropes of the institution.

Research has shown that having one strong connection with an adult can make a big difference. These relationships can lead to advice on what classes to take, internships and career advice. But they can also just make you feel supported.

RICK LOPEZ: I think that I got lucky.

NADWORNY: Rick Lopez is the dean of new students at Amherst, and he actually went to undergrad there too. When he was a freshman, he made a strong connection with a professor. It happened in a class on Baroque art. He'd never heard of that before.

LOPEZ: I grew up Catholic. I had never seen a picture of the Vatican. When they showed pictures of it in the art history class, almost all the other students in class had been there (laughter). I was like, I don't know what that is, really.

NADWORNY: So he went to the professor after class to talk with her about it. He says he was transparent. He told her, this is my experience, and I've never learned a lot of this stuff. His vulnerability was rewarded. The professor was new to the college, and they immediately hit it off.

LOPEZ: Maybe I connected with her because we were both confused about how everything worked.

NADWORNY: Sometimes they talked about class and Baroque art. And other times, they just talked about life. She was interested in his experiences growing up on the U.S.-Mexico border.

LOPEZ: She was also very concerned about me because I was wearing completely inappropriate clothes for the weather. I was wearing, like, a cotton jacket, and she was very worried. She was like, that clothes is not going to work for you.

NADWORNY: She eventually became a mentor. And years later, after Rick had gone on to get his Ph.D. and was hired back as a professor at Amherst, the two of them taught a class together.


NADWORNY: So the way Rick connected with his mentor was during office hours. That's the time that college professors set aside time to answer questions. It's a great way to meet them outside of class, which brings us to takeaway No. 4 - go to your professor's office hours, even if it scares you a little bit.

LOPEZ: Everyone from almost every background has that fear that they got in here by accident and that if you go in and talk to your professor, that's more and more possibility for them to discover that you're actually an idiot who got in by accident. That's scary.

WASHINGTON: Goodness. So office hours are the most intimidating thing.

NADWORNY: Back when Aniah was an incoming freshman at Amherst, her Summer Bridge Program had mandatory office hours. Students had to go talk with professors.

WASHINGTON: I was like, isn't that what class is for? Like, what else am I supposed to talk to them about?

NADWORNY: And I've heard this from students all over the country. Office hours are terrifying. Arizona State University actually made a pretty hilarious video about this fear.


FRED COREY: You may be one of the millions of college students suffering from fear of meeting one-on-one with my professor, or FMOOWMP.

NADWORNY: (Laughter) The video is edited like a pharmaceutical ad. And the treatment they suggest for FMOOWMP?


COREY: Introducing FOH - Faculty Office Hours, or OH for short.


NADWORNY: (Laughter) Once students try it, they report...


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: Once I tried FOH, everything fell into place. I understood what was going on in class, and I knew how to study for my next test. I'm hooked.

COREY: Possible side...

NADWORNY: (Laughter) There's lots of shots of slow-motion skipping, sunnier skies. There's even a hug between a student and a professor. This video is super fun. And actually, lots of schools and professors across the country are trying to make office hours less intimidating. They're holding them in the dorms or food courts, or they're calling them student hours or hangout hours.

So what do you talk about when you actually go to one of these? Well, you can bring an assignment you're struggling with, or you can ask what's on an upcoming exam. You might even be able to get an extension on a paper. You can also talk about stuff or learn stuff that's unrelated to your class. Marco Trevino, a student at Amherst, ended up getting private grammar lessons from one of his professors via the office hours.

MARCO TREVINO: I remember writing my first paper and going to office hours and saying, hey, how can I improve this paper?

NADWORNY: He had gotten a bad grade on it. And he assumed, oh, I'll just work harder, put more hours into it. But the professor's response surprised him. He asked about Marco's high school grammar classes. Marco realized they weren't actually that good.

TREVINO: And he's like, OK. Like, we could work on that. We could work on that. And so from there, I started seeing him more often to improve my grammar and my writing.

NADWORNY: They met one-on-one despite the fact that this college-level English class did not include grammar.

TREVINO: And I didn't know what the curriculum was lacking until all of a sudden I was surrounded by students who had learned where a comma went (laughter) all around me.

NADWORNY: Going to office hours, it opened the door to all this extra knowledge that wasn't even on the syllabus. Marco is now a senior majoring in American studies. He writes essays in nearly all of his classes.


NADWORNY: Now it's time to make some friends. So takeaway No. 5 - find a group of fellow students that support you.

LOPEZ: It seems kind of obvious. Like, what? You're going to talk about how to make friends so I could succeed academically? But it is important.

NADWORNY: Rick Lopez, the Amherst professor, he sees it every year. Those first couple weeks of college, there's all these groups of, like, 20 people. They eat together. They walk to class together. And then there's a day where they realize, I don't really have anything in common with these people.

LOPEZ: And you can beat yourself up about that. You could think, I'm never going to have a friend. Everyone said that college is where you're supposed to meet your best friend. I can't even meet my best friend, and I'm struggling in chemistry.

NADWORNY: Luckily, college is full of opportunities to meet people. Start with your classes. Work on assignments together or form a study group. There are also clubs and organizations, so let that organizational framework of those meetings ease the awkwardness of scheduling a first friend date. Aniah Washington, she found friends and a sense of belonging during a weekly event at her school's Queer Resource Center.

WASHINGTON: It's just called Queer Talk. And students are welcome to come and join the conversation. And you just sit, and you talk about all of the horrible things that happened in your week and then all of the great things that happened in your week. Finding my group of people and finding people who, like, shared identity with me was really important for me.

NADWORNY: She's also the vice president of an organization on campus for first-generation students. Both groups offer Aniah support when she needs it and a place to let off some steam. The friends she's met, they also hold her accountable when it comes to schoolwork.

WASHINGTON: Your parent or your guardian isn't going to be there to wake you up at 7 o'clock in the morning for class. It's going to be your best friend. They can be like, hey, what are you doing? You got to go to class.

NADWORNY: It's also worth noting making friends is hard. In fact, we've got a whole LIFE KIT guide about friendship. So even if you didn't make friends your first semester or your first year, there's still time.

LOPEZ: Keep reaching out. Keep taking that risk. If someone else says hi, reciprocate.


NADWORNY: Takeaway No. 6 - be your own advocate. Remember, you're the customer. Even if you're using loans or you're on scholarship, you are paying to be a college student.

SPIVA: I've always said, yes, advisers are wonderful, and they're great. But you should be your best and first adviser.

NADWORNY: Yolanda Watson Spiva from Complete College America says take the reins.

SPIVA: Take your college experience and your college journey into your own hands.

NADWORNY: This doesn't mean you're on your own. Rather, it's an acknowledgement that the college works for you. Odette De Leon from Valencia Community College says ask for help. Your school has a bunch of resources. Use them.

DE LEON: College is not meant to be done on your own. We're supposed to do this together. The institution is there to serve the student.

NADWORNY: Margot Trevino is a senior now. And his best advice for incoming freshmen - find your strengths and use them, even if they don't really seem like strengths at first.

What would you say was one of your strengths that maybe you perceived as weakness at the beginning but now you think of as a strength?

TREVINO: I think being able to so easily relax. Coming in, I was like, why can I easily just step back and relax at certain times, even when it's not good for my academic standing? But now, I'm like, that's amazing that I could actually separate my stress and take a moment for myself.

NADWORNY: Starting college can seem like a lot. But remember, you know you. Lean on your strengths and use them to your advantage. And when things seem like a lot, just think of Marco and relax a little bit.


NADWORNY: Now for the recap. First, go to college with purpose.

SPIVA: So you don't just go to college because your school counselor or your parent told you to. You actually go to college because you have an agenda.

NADWORNY: Takeaway two - pick your classes wisely and keep your eye on the finish line.

DE LEON: We as advisers are here to inform. We don't dictate decisions, but we definitely inform them.

NADWORNY: Takeaway No. 3 - make a connection with a faculty or staff member. Having one strong relationship with an adult can make a huge difference in your experience.

LOPEZ: I was wearing, like, a cotton jacket, and she was very worried. She was like, that clothes is not going to work for you.

NADWORNY: One way to find that connection is takeaway No. 4 - go to office hours.

WASHINGTON: I never thought that I would just, like, have a normal conversation that wasn't about the dichotomy of, like, law and disorder with a professor.

NADWORNY: Takeaway No. 5 - peer support. Find a group of friends that supports you.

WASHINGTON: They can be like, hey, what are you doing? You got to go to class.

NADWORNY: And takeaway No. 6 - be your own advocate. Remember, you're the customer. College is for you.

DE LEON: College is not meant to be done on your own. We're supposed to do this together.


NADWORNY: For more NPR LIFE KIT, check out our next episode. We'll get in how to ace those classes and what to do when you get super stressed. If you like what you hear, make sure you check out our other LIFE KIT guides at npr.org/lifekit. And while you're there, subscribe to our newsletter so you don't miss anything. We've got more guides coming out every month on all sorts of topics. And here, as always, is a completely random tip, this time from Louis Micheli from National Public Media.

LOUIS MICHELI: If you have a succulent that looks like it's seen better days and is on its way out, you might be able to save it still. Pluck off some remaining healthy leaves and set them on soil to dry out for a bit. Once the tip has callused over, start lightly watering the cuttings. After a week or two, you'll see bright pink roots forming. And a few weeks after that, you're in the clear to plant your new baby succulents.

NADWORNY: Ugh, baby succulents - the cutest. If you've got a good tip or you want to suggest a topic, email us at lifekit@npr.org. LIFE KIT is produced by Sylvie Douglis, Alissa Escarce and Chloee Weiner. Meghan Keane is the managing producer. Beth Donovan is senior editor. This episode was edited by Steve Drummond and Lauren Migaki. Our digital editor is Carol Ritchie, and our project coordinator is Clare Schneider. Music by Nick DePrey and Bryan Gerhart (ph). Neal Carruth is our general manager of podcasts, and the senior vice president of programming is Anya Grundmann. I'm Elissa Nadworny. Thanks for listening.






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