Editor’s note: This article is part of the occasional series “If I Knew Then What I Know Now.” John Eick is a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Ever since elementary school, my ultimate dream in life was to attend the University of North Carolina and play basketball for the legendary coach Dean Smith. Due to Dean Smith’s retirement and my not-so-great basketball skills, my dream went unfulfilled. But I did get to attend UNC-Chapel Hill.
Throughout high school—and even middle school—I meticulously completed every assignment I was given, always with thoughts of the Old Well, Kenan Stadium, or Franklin Street in the back of my mind.
When the college application process started, I grew excited over the countless benefits that colleges and universities—including UNC—could offer me: challenging and engaging classes, electrifying athletic teams, a diverse crowd of new people, and, perhaps above all, freedom.
When the time finally came to move into my dorm room, I welcomed my newfound independence with open arms. The first few weeks of school were fantastic! I spent a great deal of time with friends from high school and with new people whom I met on campus. I ended up staying out late most nights of the week and would often neglect to do the reading or homework for classes the next day.
Unfortunately, I had a challenging lineup of courses, including upper-level calculus and Spanish.
Initially when I started getting behind, I would make a pact with myself to start buckling down and to catch up on the readings the next night, but this would never really happen. Instead, my lack of discipline compelled me to keep procrastinating, putting the work off day after day. My professors modeled their lectures on the assigned readings, assuming that their students had completed their assignments the night before class. Because I failed to adequately prepare for these classes, I did not obtain as much information from these lectures as I should have.
This lifestyle lasted until mid-term exams. Predictably, my performance on these tests was less than ideal. Upon seeing my grades, I became disappointed in myself for having fallen so far behind. I started to get more serious about keeping up with the workload and I spent the rest of the semester digging myself out of the hole that I had created. Through a lot of hard work, I ended up doing okay in most of my classes. I am very grateful that I did not wait longer to realize that I needed to take the course work seriously.
During that first semester, I learned an important lesson: if one is not careful, freedom can become detrimental. Reflecting on my own personal experiences, I realized that during high school, figures of authority, both at home and in the classroom, had provided far more structure than I had in college. My parents were always nearby to make sure that I woke up early enough in the morning, that I got to school on time, and that I was back in the house at a decent hour. Structure also existed in my high school classrooms. My teachers would not hesitate to walk my fellow students and me step-by-step through the curriculum, slowing down if necessary, to ensure that we were actively learning. Written homework was assigned daily and had to be turned in regularly in order to earn a good grade.
But in college, students have a great deal of freedom. They are not bound by the rules or requirements set by parents or high school teachers. Parents have only an inkling of what goes on in college. Up to a point, college students can stay up late every night partying and not taking their schoolwork seriously—no one will really know. Several nights a week, I can still hear the sounds of loud music and boisterous chatter in nearby dorm rooms. These days, however, I try hard to get to bed at a decent hour.
Likewise, in the classroom, there is little or no written homework that must be turned in daily. Rather, there is a general understanding that students must be willing to study hard and to spend a great deal of time reading. If a student does not quite understand the material, it is the student’s responsibility to schedule an appointment with a professor in order to get further help.
In the end, I readily accept full blame for my immaturity during these first few weeks of my freshman year. At the same time, the impetus was the newfound freedom that I had just discovered and started to enjoy, once my parents were no longer with me, holding my hand. I had a bit of growing up to do.
College can pose many challenges to incoming students. Certainly the reading and homework take somewhat longer to complete, and classes usually require some more advanced thinking, but overall the work is quite manageable. For me, the greatest difficulty was adopting a new type of lifestyle in which I, and no one else, was directly responsible for my success. What is so rewarding about college is how much of a learning experience it can be in all facets of life, not just academically. Although I have learned greatly from this experience, and am probably better for it, knowing what I know now, I wish I had started my freshman year hitting the ground running.
John N. Eick, who grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he is Chairman of the College Republicans.