Editor’s Note: Adam Weinberg is the president of Denison University in Granville, Ohio. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
High school students and their parents devote an extraordinary amount of time and energy to the college search process. But then an odd thing happens once a student is accepted. Families tend to exhale — “All done!” — and mostly put college out of their mind until late summer, when it’s time for the incoming freshmen to start classes.
The truth is, much can be done between now and late August or early September to help prepare you for your upcoming educational journey. Students tend to worry so much about whether they will they get in and not enough about how best to take advantage of where they wind up going.
It matters far less where you go to college and much more about how well you take advantage of the place you are going. For example, most studies show that having a college degree more than doubles how much you will earn in your career. But for this to happen, you must finish college and you have to use college to acquire the attributes needed to succeed in your chosen profession.
If you’re starting college this fall, keep these tips in mind to ensure you get the most out of your college experience:
First, you need to keep learning everything you can about the college you will attend. Sure, you already know quite a bit about the institution — that’s why you selected it — but now’s the time to do a deeper dive.
Every college offers a wide array of academic majors, co-curricular activities, arts and athletics. Dig around the college website for more information on these offerings. Check social media to see what other students are doing. Spend time exploring all the opportunities you will have and getting excited about the options. Have fun with it.
Don’t stop there. Reach out to current students to get their input. Ask them: What do you like most about the college? What’s been your best experience so far?
Talk to people in your hometown who are recent alums. What do they wish they had known before they started? Which are the best clubs to join? What are the experiences most students miss and don’t take advantage of? You’ll be amazed at the little tidbits of advice you can pick up.
Also, be sure to ask: What are the best local restaurants? What are the best outdoor hikes or day trips in the vicinity?
By gathering all this information ahead of time, you’ll avoid the common lament of many college students that they only started to feel like they really knew the place in their junior or senior year. You will also move from “being nervous” to realizing what an amazing opportunity you have in front of you.
College is generally eight semesters, and maybe 40 courses. They go fast. To get the most from each semester, you want to have a strong sense of what you want to accomplish with the investment of time, work and money you will put into it.
The second thing you should be doing before the school year begins is taking full advantage of anything and everything your university offers in terms of orientation.
If the school offers an in-person orientation, go. If they’re offering an online Zoom orientation, attend. If they have pre-orientation trips, participate. If they’re offering parent orientations, your parents should aim to attend.
Also, don’t just skim the orientation materials that are sent to you and toss them aside. Take the time to digest them carefully, and maybe even read through them a second time.
Whether it’s meetups or mailings, take advantage of what the school is doing to help you get oriented. They’re trying to provide a roadmap, so you don’t get lost before the journey even starts.
When the fall semester bill arrives, make sure you understand the financing. If you are receiving financial aid, make sure you understand the package and how it works. Don’t be afraid to call the financial aid office and ask questions. If you need to work during college, ask about work-study opportunities. On-campus jobs can be a great way to get engaged on campus, acquire job skills and even develop an important relationship with your supervisor and co-workers.
But perhaps most importantly, make sure you’re mentally, physically and emotionally ready to hit the ground running come the start of the school year.
College is awesome, and it is hard. Professors will expect a lot from you, and your peers will be smart and engaged. You will get the most from college when you show up in a place in your life when you are ready.
Too often, students start college as soon as they graduate from high school instead of when they are ready to maximize the experience. Too many students go off to college before they are ready, leading to either bad outcomes or wasted opportunities.
Be honest with yourself if you have health issues. You may benefit by using the summer to address them and work with others to develop the tools you will need to manage them in college. If you have study habit issues, use the summer to figure out a plan for how you will stay organized and on top of things as you navigate a new place.
If you need more time, ask for it. That’s what gap semesters and gap years are for. It doesn’t matter when exactly you start college or when you finish it; what matters is how you show up when you are in college. Your time here is relatively short, so make the most of it.
The next few months are a way of exploring pathways to take full advantage of all that college can offer. Getting ready for it should be half the fun.