BND Magazine

August 17, 2014

How to get off to a good start in college -- from those who did

Ask a professor how to succeed in college and you get a quick reply.

"It's very simple: Go to class, do your homework, turn it in on time," said Adam Tournier. "I learned from experience."

But he knows there's more. The 41-year-old associate professor of physics at McKendree University is also the co-coordinator of University 101 on the Lebanon campus. The course gives freshmen a leg up on learning to lead a new life away from home.

Sitting next to Adam, senior Bomi Park had more personal advice.

"Don't try to find a boyfriend or girlfriend your first week of college," she said, shaking her head.

Sophomore Brice Miller, of O'Fallon, chimed in: "It's a 100 percent failure rate!"

From how to keep parents at bay -- but still let them know you're alive -- to the balancing act of social life and academics, five students and two faculty members at McKendree sat down to offer some hard-earned lessons in living the freshman life.

Time is not necessarily on your side

"The biggest struggle," Adam said of being a freshman, "is you're not used to being in charge of your own schedule. You're responsible for your own time and your time is not structured. There are big breaks, so there's time to do what you want, not what you need to do."

Students are smart enough to do the academics, said Mitch Nasser, 38, director of Residence Life, "but social life gets in the way. Now, you can play video games until 3 in the morning."

Not a wise move, said Stephen McIntosh, 20, a junior from East St. Louis. "I had so much Xbox (time)! I thought I could do so much." What followed were "a couple missed grades."

Britani Beasley, a senior from St. Elmo, thought she knew what she was doing with her time.

"I was smart enough not to sign up for 8 a.m. classes," she said. "Then came the second semester and it was, 'What am I doing?' I didn't want to do just sports. So, I signed up for everything. Then, there was no time for friends."

The answer: Dip your toes in a few new things and buy a planner. Organize your life.

Adam: "Get a calendar and write down what you need to do today, what to do this week, what to do this term."

Making a connection

One of Brice's campus jobs is giving tours to incoming students.

"One of the questions I always get is what to do (when not in class). Speaking from experience, ... you can't wait for opportunities to come to you. You have to go and say 'I'm interested in doing this.'"

"Keep yourself busy," said Bomi, whose family is in South Korea. "Go to events and go and do things. There are lots of free things to do. My thing was working. (She's a resident assistant in a dorm.) That's how I connected with people. And don't be afraid to be a follower."

Stephen: "You've got to get involved. It's OK to be uncomfortable at first, but you need to try something."

One way to stay connected with campus life, said Bomi, is so very simple: "Read your email! Check it for events and how to join things. You might get a free couch."

Brice: "It's how I got my job."

Adam agreed: "You'll miss things if you don't."

The parental unit

How much contact you want with your parents needs to be addressed.

Brice: "My parents live in O'Fallon. We sat down and talked when I decided to live on campus instead of commute. They said, 'We're going to leave you alone. We won't show up at your door. It's your life.'"

On the other hand, senior Kati Melton, 21, of Troy, said her mom is "one minute away. She shows up at my apartment and that's OK."

Britani suggested that no matter how you handle your parents now that you're away from home, "It's all right to miss them. Check in with them once a week at least.'"

The good and bad of co-habitation

Even before you meet your roommate in person, communicate with her, said Katie. "You don't want double of everything."

Nobody needs two microwaves or refrigerators, and TVs really aren't necessary when you can download a show or movie on your computer, all of the students said.

Girls typically bring too many clothes and guys are often seen hauling a tangle of electronics into dorm rooms.

"But, do bring at least one set of dress clothes," Bomi said. All agreed that having them on hand for an unexpected special event is a good idea.

The students also said it's important to live in the dorm the first year. It helps develop friendships and camaraderie and eases loneliness.

"I can go into any room and talk to someone if I need to," Brice said.

Kati advised that living with a stranger for the first time in close quarters requires an open mind.

"You have to give your roommate a chance," she said, noting that she and her freshman roommate came from different backgrounds and didn't know if they would get along.

"Now, we're best friends."

But when things get a bit irritating, be respectful, said Bomi.

"Oh, it's the little things," said Brice of getting along. "Don't leave shower stuff all over. Don't slam the door after a bad day."

Britani added: "Pick up your towel. Clean your bowl instead of leaving it in the sink."

Brice: "There are other people on the planet!"

Your own voice

Mitch said college is a learning experience in and out of class.

"There is an emphasis on solving your own problems, especially if you live on campus -- to be able to stand on your own," he said. ... This is when you get to find your own voice.

"You're developing who you are. You're starting over. You can be whoever you want to be. You have more flexibility to be who you are."

One last piece of advice from Britani: "Bring rolls of quarters."

No matter where you go to school, you still need to do your laundry.

Look who's giving advice

Adam Tournier, 41, an associate professor of physics and co-coordinator of University 101

Mitch Nasser, 38, director of Resident Life (dorms, student apartments)

Kati Melton, 21, senior speech communications major/leadership minor from Troy. Member of Student Government Association, dance team, Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority, leadership group

Brice Miller, 19, sophomore history education major/Spanish minor from O'Fallon. Peer mentor; plays on the men's volleyball team

Britani Beasley, 21, a senior speech communications-public relations major from St. Elmo. Campus Activities Board student director, member of Kappa Sigma Tau sorority, New Student Orientation leader

Bomi Park, 22, a senior psychology major/art & marketing minor from Trenton (came to the United States from Korea as a high school exchange student). Resident assistant; often on President's or Dean's List for outstanding academic performance; a talented photographer

Stephen McIntosh, 20, a junior from East St. Louis.

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