Magazine article Work & Family Life

How to Make the Most of Your College Experience

Magazine article Work & Family Life

How to Make the Most of Your College Experience

Article excerpt

Why do some students have such a wonderful experience in college and others don't? Chances are, it's not because students picked the right or the wrong college but because they didn't make the most of the opportunities available to them at the college they did choose.

The high rate of college dropout and the rising cost of a college education make this an important issue for students and their families. What can college students do to improve their odds of having a positive academic and social experience? Is there anything parents can do or say to be helpful?

A new book by Professor Richard J. Light, Making the Most of College (Harvard University Press), offers suggestions based on a 10-year study of which factors were most likely to improve students' learning and overall happiness. For this study, researchers interviewed faculty from 24 institutions and 1600 students about the quality of teaching and advising, the academic choices the students had made and how they spent their spare time. Dr. Light offers these concreteand fairly simple-ways for students to get more out of college, in terms of their academic success as well as their personal happiness.

* GET TO KNOW AT LEAST ONE FACULTY MEMBER reasonably well each semester, and get that faculty member to know you too. You'll feel more connected to your school (and those letters of recommendation from faculty members will be helpful later on). For students at large schools or commuter campuses, this may be more difficult, but it's worth the effort.

* DON'T TRY TO HIDE ACADEMIC PROBLEMS. Two main symptoms of trouble ahead were found to be "a sense of isolation" and "unwillingness to seek help." If you're struggling with your writing or falling behind in a math or science class, get some help right away. Start with your professor. Make an appointment during office hours; don't try to discuss your situation in a few minutes after class. Talk to your academic adviser. Find out about campus centers for peer tutoring or other assistance programs that may be available in particular subject areas.

* STUDY IN GROUPS. One of the best ways to understand complex course material is for students to do their homework independently and then to study in small groups of four or five once or twice a week. Many professors used to frown on this approach but now are encouraging group study, particularly in the freshman year. They recognize what was revealed in Dr. Light's research-that students who study in groups understand the material better and are more engaged in their classes.

* TAKE A MIX OF COURSES. Students are often advised to get their requirements out of the way first and then take the classes they need to complete their major, saving the fun electives for senior year. The most successful students in the Harvard study did precisely the opposite. They started out taking required courses plus some smaller classes that allowed for more faculty-student interaction. The introductory core or survey classes are often large, and they cover so much material that students don't have anything to sink their teeth into. A better way to begin is to take a mix that includes some required courses and others that pique your interests and stimulate your imagination. The study found that people who do this feel more connected and happier when they choose a major.

* WORK ON YOUR WRITING. The more you write, the better. …

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