Editor's Note: This essay, by UNC-Chapel Hill student Andy Duvall, is the third installment of a Clarion Call special series, “If I Knew Then What I Know Now.” In the near future, the Pope Center will devote an entire new section of its Web site to providing alternative forms of information to prospective college students, ranging from hard data to the anecdotal experiences of some who have “been there.” This series of personal essays, extending over the next few weeks, will offer different perspectives and guidance for students and their parents. We look forward to the possibility of having our readers share their experiences as well.
Before I reminisce about my college experience, it’s imperative to establish that college is the most important time in your life for both academic and social growth. You can’t have one without the other, and my first lesson for you is to maintain an equilibrium between the two. Do not let one outweigh the other.
With that said, I’ll start by sharing with you what I would have done differently in the classroom. The main thing would have been to participate more. In high school, class sizes are typically around 30 students, and teachers try to facilitate participation. In college, however, many lecture courses have more than 200 students, and professors don’t require participation. Many students just sit toward the back of the room and doze off.
I was one of these students. In my junior year, however, I took classes that required active participation. One class, for instance, had only 8 students, and we each had to contribute to every discussion. Another class had only 19 students and required us to present information in front of the classroom. I learned more my two semesters of junior year than in the previous four semesters combined.
But don’t wait until your junior year to start speaking up in class. In fact, I suggest that during freshman orientation you register for as many participation-intensive courses as possible. If the courses that fit your schedule are more lecture-style, then sit in the front and don’t be shy about asking the professor a question.
Many first-year students are intimidated by professors. Don’t be. They are human just like you and me. Furthermore, grading in college is both objective and subjective, and participating in class and demonstrating an interest in the material can help you with the subjective portion. Also, if you communicate with your professor there’s always the chance he or she may give you a future job recommendation.
Thus, my main lesson in the academic perspective is to be eager to participate, no matter the class size. But the classroom is only half the battle.
You must also come into college with a mentality to challenge yourself socially. You need to network, and you need to participate in activities to keep you busy and focused on a balanced life. In retrospect, there were definitely aspects of my social life that I would have liked to change.
The main thing I would have done differently is to join a club or sports team. At Carolina we have a carnival a few days before the semester starts called Fall Fest (I assume that there are comparable events at other schools). After passing by the football toss and the inflatable maze, you will stumble upon hundreds of different organizations looking for new members. This is a perfect chance for you to meet new people. Also, club memberships can demonstrate leadership and stick-to-itiveness, two qualities that look great on a resume.
I’ve always enjoyed soccer, and I had played competitively since I was 5 years old. However, I was so overwhelmed by my first few weeks on campus that I forgot the tryout date for the club soccer team. I missed a great opportunity to make a good group of friends doing something I’ve always loved to do. Therefore, my lesson for you is to pursue in college what you’ve always loved to do. Or find a new passion.
There are so many advantages to joining an organization on campus. Two are most pertinent to my life.
First, it looks great on a resume. As you proceed through college you should expect to print off more and more resumes and have more and more interviews. I was self-conscious about my resume because I lacked extra-curricular activities. Don’t make this mistake!
The second advantage of joining an organization is building friendships. Freshman year is an important time for you to start. You will meet new people from all over the country, and each person will be looking to make new friends. The process of meeting people is much easier when you share common interests (such as being part of an organization). In my freshman year I was very shy and not eager to open myself up to new ideas. My mentality changed, however, in my sophomore and junior years, as I became more outgoing and participated in many intramural sports. As a result, I’ve developed friendships that could definitely last a lifetime.
The secret to success in college is maintaining a healthy balance of academic and social growth. It is also a time to learn about yourself. Challenge yourself to try new things and meet new people so you can figure out who you are. They say college is the best time of your life. If you keep a good balance and discover yourself, I promise you it will be.