Fall Begins and Advice for First Year Students

Yesterday was the first day of my fall semester. They gathered us faculty together to advise us on how to advise the incoming freshmen.

This is a new experience for me.  I myself was never really advised during my own college experience. I have a faint memory of advisors being available for us during my undergraduate years at UC San Diego.  But I don’t remember it ever being a requirement that we sit down with them. And I know for certain that my course scheduling was completely up to me.

So this is a new experience. Here at Wesleyan, faculty are responsible for approving the course plans of individual students each semester.  And I can see some of the advantages and disadvantages inherent in such a system. I’ll restrain myself from mentioning any possible disadvantages until I’ve had a bit more experience. But some of the advantages are clear. Definitely at an institution that emphasizes a four-year timetable (students at UCs regularly take more than 4 years and occasionally as much as 7 or 8 years to graduate), it is useful to have advisors managing student course plans.  But the best advantage I can see so far, and I’m still very new to this, is that it provides an immediate link between students and faculty, encouraging the development of community on the campus.

Advice for incoming students

Following the practice of other faculty, I’d like to offer a bit of public advice to those starting college this fall:

1. Ask questions. It is actually a very smart thing to realize that you don’t know the answer to something.  So ask questions. Lots of them. And definitely do not be afraid to ask your professors any questions you might have. I’m a professor. I hang out with other professors.  And I can’t remember any of them telling me they wish a student hadn’t asked them a question.  But I do remember them saying they wish the students would ask more questions, come to office hours, etc.

1a. Just to stress things here.  Talk to your professors. That’s what we are here for.  And your access to us at a place like Wesleyan is one of the things that makes Wesleyan great. Take advantage of it.

2. Focus on learning how to learn. We will try to cram your head full of stuff while you are here.  But the most important stuff that can help you most in the long-term, is learning the skills that are necessary to keep learning throughout your life.

3. Learn skills, especially writing and quantitative reasoning. OK, so I have a bias here as a political scientist. Maybe you are an artist and these particular skills don’t seem overly useful. But I think for most people, these are two of the most important skills you can learn in college.  Also, don’t be afraid to tackle skills that you are uncomfortable with. Which brings me to my next point…

4. Challenge yourself. Push yourself in new directions. If you don’t like speaking in public, find courses that will push you to do just that. And don’t just play to your own preconceived notions of what you like and what your good at. If you come out of high school not liking science, try a science course here.You might surprise yourself with what you find.

5. Get involved in university life, but not over-involved! Many students here at Wesleyan don’t need to be told to get involved. But, nonetheless, it is important advice. Equally important, however, is that it is a good idea not to stretch yourself too thin.  Consider doing a couple things very well, rather than many things not so well.

6. Consider study abroad. It may be too early to make solid plans for this, but — if you can make it work — this can be an extremely rewarding part of your college experience.

7. Connect… with students, staff, faculty… This is a time when many of you will form lasting relationships with people (I met my wife as a freshman in college). So, even if you are shy, make an effort to know others here.

I’m sure there is much more that can be said. But for most of you, this is a good start.

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