Take hope, confused college students

As I was approaching high school graduation in the year 2000, everyone seemed to tell me, “College will be the best four years of your life!” Looking back, though, I wish someone had told me instead, “Mandy, your first year of college will be a big transition. And many times, transitions are hard.”

No one told me this.

Yes, looking back, my college years are full of fond memories. However, as most first-year college students experience, my first year of college was a huge adjustment.

Now it is 2013, and I am no longer a first year student at JBU. Today, I am a faculty member whose area of research and work primarily focuses on first-year college students. There are many things I have learned from scholarly research and experience that would have been helpful to know during my first year of college.

Begin with the end in mind. College flies by. Envision your college graduation. What experiences do you hope to have? Start making those a reality.

Did you know that one of the key questions students ask themselves during the first year of college is, “Am I smart enough to be here?” One of the lessons I learned during my doctorate was that my ability is malleable and not fixed.

So how do you view your own intelligence?

Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, found that people tend to have one of two mindsets: that their intelligence is pretty much fixed and cannot change (fixed mindset), or that their intelligence can be changed (growth mindset). Which mindset we have definitely impacts how we respond to setbacks or failures.

In college, I thought my intelligence was fixed. So, like many students, I was constantly worried that I was not smart enough.

When I got a 60 percent on my first major college exam, I thought, “See! This is evidence that I am not smart enough.” Years later, after I learned about Carol Dweck’s research, I realized that I needed to change my mindset to a growth mindset. I started to see setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow.

When I started to view my intelligence as something that could (and did) change, I realized I should feel no embarrassment in saying to my statistics professors, “I have no idea what you are talking about. I am lost.” I often tell people that the reason why I successfully finished my doctorate in 3.5 years is because I felt no shame in asking for help.

I wish someone had reminded me that developing friendships takes time.

New students often tell me that their new college friendships feel shallow compared to the deep friendships they had in high school. Students often forget that these relationships took years to develop and did not happen overnight. Be patient. Give yourself time.

First-year students often share with me the belief that everyone else has their friend groups, but they don’t. No, most students are just like you. You are going to continue to make new friends throughout college. I would encourage you to take the initiative to invite people to do fun stuff with you. Also, if you are in a clique, I encourage you to branch out and get to know different people. Invite people into your community.

Emily Henry, a Gateway student mentor, recommends that you find someone to process with (an RA, professor, your Gateway student mentor, etc.). I agree. There are many great people at JBU who love to pour into students. Get to know us!

Going to college is an important transition into adulthood. In any transition, there is going to be stress. Reach out to us when you need support, and make sure to take time to celebrate your achievements.

In closing, I offer some practical tips to help you thrive this first year.
• Get involved in something outside of the classroom (CAUSE Ministries, Mock Rock, Enactus, etc.). This is really important.
• Use a planner to keep track of important due dates and appointments.
• Check your JBU email every day. This is how professors communicate with you outside of class.
• Read the Here & Now for important announcements about activities on campus.
• See chapel as an important part of your education. Alumni frequently tell me it is one of the things they miss the most about JBU.
• Try to get your homework and reading finished early in the day. Use your breaks between classes strategically.
• If you need a quiet place to study, use the library study rooms.
• Use the Writing Center on campus.
• It seems that Facebook and video games become a stumbling block for many students. Stay off of these at night and go to bed.
• Find someone you don’t know in the caf. Sit by them and get to know them.
• If you are struggling with study skills, homesickness, feeling connected or picking out a major, come see me and I can direct you to the appropriate JBU resources.