Great advice for college students

I had a lot of great conversations with brand new college students last week.  Among other pieces of advice I shared, one of them was basically… faculty one-on-one time is the most under-utilized resource at the university.  So many students just don’t appreciate this fact at all, or are totally intimidated, or are just after their degree and nothing more.

Loved this Frank Bruni column from this weekend on how to get the most out of college:

But others do have the freedom to tailor their time. They just neglect to take advantage of it. My friend Eric Johnson, who provides guidance to underprivileged students at my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, put it to me this way: “The more you regard college as a credentialing exercise, the less likely you are to get the benefits.”

Johnson is as thoughtful and insightful about higher education as just about anyone I’ve come across. The wisest students, he said, “move into a peer relationship with the institution rather than a consumer relationship with it.” They seize leadership roles. They serve as research assistants.

And they build social capital, realizing that above all else, they’re in college “to widen the circle of human beings who know you and care about you,” [emphases mine] he said. That’s perfectly put…

But perhaps the most important relationships to invest in are those with members of the school’s faculty. Most students don’t fully get that. They’re not very good at identifying the professors worth knowing — the ones who aren’t such academic rock stars that they’re inaccessible, the ones with a track record of serious mentoring — and then getting to know them well…

Walker is an example of what a mammoth study by Gallup, Purdue University and the Strada Education Network has found. Previously known as the Gallup-Purdue Index and now called the Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey, it has questioned about 100,000 American college graduates of all ages about their college experiences, looking for connections between how they spent their time in college and how fulfilled they say they are now.

The study has not found that attending a private college or a highly selective one foretells greater satisfaction. Instead, the game changers include establishing a deep connection with a mentor, taking on a sustained academic project and playing a significant part in a campus organization. What all of these reflect are engagement and commitment, which I’ve come to think of as overlapping muscles that college can and must be used to build. They’re part of an assertive rather than a passive disposition, and they’re key to professional success.

Great advice.  If you are a college student, follow it.  If you are an NC State student, you know where to find me.  And you know where to find organizations to get yourself involved.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

4 Responses to Great advice for college students

  1. This is indeed solid advice. I heard the same message at the Veteran students meeting I went to yesterday, and it’s almost more critical for them, given their route to University and the additional hurdles they are often faced with.
    As to students knowing how/where to get involved, while they should have heard that in their orientation programs, it never hurts for faculty and staff to know enough about involvement on campus to make those referrals, or at least ask your students what they’re doing on campus or what they are interested in.
    I promise if you talk to students about involvement, I’ll hit them up about forging relationships with their faculty members!

  2. Nicole K. says:

    Yeah, I think a lot of incoming students have a hard time realizing that their professors are people just like them and that they want to see their students learn and do well. When I got my health issues stabilized, I realized that the only way that I could have a hope of recovering my academic career was to explain myself to the powers that be in the political science department and ask them to support my application for a contractual readmission, which I was told repeatedly was almost never granted and had not been granted in recent memory.

    So I explained my story honestly and openly and asked them to help me figure out how I could move forward. They asked me to prove myself by taking classes for two semesters at the community college, which I did. After I was successful there, they supported my application and I was granted the contractual admission. That experience taught me a lot about the value of open communication and asking for help from those who are best able to help.

    Then I developed a rapport with another professor through exchanging emails about topical events when I took his feminism course as the first one following my readmission. We didn’t meet too much in person, but I was able to get some valuable advice and feedback whenever I needed it.

    In fact, when I decided that I was going to accept my transgender identity, that professor was the first person other than my therapist who I told the truth to. The supportive email I got in response helped give me the confidence that I needed to move forward and tell my dad something I’d been afraid of saying for over 20 years the following week.

    When it became clear that I it wasn’t going to be easy for me to get a job using my undergraduate credentials, that professor’s email planted the seed that led to my considering and later joining the MPA program at NCSU.

    So yeah, it’s worth it to get to know the professors and other faculty that are willing to offer help, advice and support to their students. I know it’s been a great benefit to me on multiple occasions.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Hmmm, some random professor is feeling all warm and fuzzy. The most amazing and humbling thing about this job is being able to make a real difference in people’s lives.

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