My Advice for New College Students

By sethmsparks

Last week I received a request from Central College (sent out to all Alumni) seeking advice for the incoming freshman class and graduating seniors from former students. I sat thinking deeply for a minute, and then started writing down the “tips” that were jumping into my head. One after another, I jotted an idea with some notes behind it, until I had a decent list. I spent a few more days working through my thoughts, doing a little bit of research, and editing the best that I could.

My advice for incoming Central students is below. I’ll be creating a separate post on my tips for graduating students. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my tips. What did I forget? What did I miss the mark on?

Advice for incoming Central students:

1) Study Abroad.
I didn’t, and it’s the single biggest regret of my time at Central. I had a load of reasons [excuses] not to go, but just a few years out of school I realized that most my excuses not to go were actually the reasons that I should have. Living and studying abroad is a tremendous opportunity, and the hype around it is legitimate. Don’t miss out.

2) College is a tool. Learning is up to you.
Central will provide you with every resource you need to learn, but finding passion for learning is up to you. Having the resources available and applying routine to make sure you study enough can seem like you’re doing it “right”, but without a passion to really understand what you learn, you’re not getting what you’re paying for. Four years seems like a long time, but it will go fast. Use the time you have, and the resources provided to explore and learn.

3) Liberal Arts is a good thing.
You will undoubtedly question the rationale of taking a seemingly random assortment of courses that make up a Liberal Arts education, but stick with it and eventually you’ll realize the importance. Steve Jobs said that all innovation hinges on Liberal Arts, because it allows you to connect the dots between unrelated ideas. Your education at Central will develop your horizontal & lateral thinking skills, which allow you to solve problems more creatively than others. In any job you’ll have in the future, creative problem solving is critical.

4) Build good habits.
It’s easy to just show up at Central and feel like your only obligations are class related, but almost everyone will be involved in something extracurricular at some point. With all the “chaos” in your world, it’s easy to slack on the little things like getting exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and having relaxing social time. Build those habits early so they stick with you.

5) Connect with professors.
Not through social media (though that’s OK too). Connect with them intellectually and emotionally. Spend time after class or in their office asking questions. Most of the educational content covered in your classes is available somewhere online for free. Think about your tuition as access to Central’s facilities and the minds of it instructors, not just as access to a textbook curriculum. Make your professors teach you during, after, and outside of class.

6) Write down every question you have and get an answer to it.
During orientation, class, and even casual conversation, you’ll have questions. When you do, write them down. It’s easy to shrug them off and wait for them to pop back up when they’re relevant, but at that point it’s usually too late. Writing down your questions allows you to keep up with the “conversation”, and find answers when the time is right. Documenting your questions and answers can also establish you as a resource to other students (think: “make friends”) who undoubtedly have the same questions, but are too scared or lazy to act.

7) Adopt a productivity system.
Find a productivity system (like Getting Things Done + Inbox Zero) that you can utilize to keep yourself productive. Figure out how to effectively use your calendar & reminders, and how to manage projects and independent tasks. Adopting a productivity system will establish a habitual process for managing everything you need to accomplish, so you spend time completing tasks instead of organizing yourself. Trying to defragment assignments, projects, extracurricular work and research through multiple sources and mediums will drive you insane. Start this up as early as possible, and mold it to fit your needs as you go.

8) Read Seth Godin’s “Stop Stealing Dreams”.
Seth Godin write a short manifesto on education that has some big ideas. It might change your view on education and what your role as a student should be. The availability of information at your fingertips no longer necessitates an education based on the rote memorization of facts. Education today should teach you on how to research and synthesize that wealth of information to identify solutions. Central President Mark Putnam has a great blog that talks about his vision for education, and its purpose in our society. And it’s clear that the vision of President Putnam is creating an environment at Central that few other students outside of Central are experiencing. Combining 1) an understanding of your role as a student, with 2) the environment that President Putnam is orchestrating, is a tremendous opportunity for you to become something special.