Today marks the first day of classes here at Iowa State University. I had the privilege of being a part of 9 first day schools during my time at Iowa State. Everything seems so fresh and new. You have a chance to have a new start no matter what you have done in the past. The happiest students in the classroom are the football and volleyball players because the first day of class marks the end of two a days.
While my college days are long gone, I would like to reflect on some of the things I learned during my 9 years of college. Take it as some advice to anyone who is in or is planning on going to college.
Don’t Skip Orientation
They say that the people you meet in your first of college will become your lifelong friends. I think there is a lot of truth to that. By going to orientation, you accomplish a few things. Orientation will do just that. It will help orient you as to where your classes are and give you some advice about some of the classes you are taking. If you are like me and came from a small town, the size of a college campus can be pretty overwhelming. By attending orientation, you can save a lot of time asking people where you need to go and having your head buried in a map.
Another thing to consider is that there are a lot of freshman at orientation. As freshman you come from so many different places, but you all have a two very important things in common. None of you have a clue what is going on or what you are doing. Why not take advantage of this. You are all lost so why not try to get found together. You can meet so many different people. Find some people who have the same interests as you. Then you have someone to hang out with during your free time. Find some people you will be sharing classes with. This will give you people to sit with during class. If you have to miss class, then you know someone you can get notes from. If you have to form small groups, you already know some people you can work with. You don’t have to have all the answers and you are not supposed to, but with some friends, you can take the journey together. Your old family support group is no longer there so you are going to need some people to lean on.
It’s Ok to not Get all A’s
Depending on how smart you are as a person and how tough your classes were in high school, many people get pretty good grades in high school. Guess what? So did everyone else who goes to college. That means that the whole bell curve just go moved up several notches. Classes are more challenging (both content and tests), there are more students in your classes, and there is not going to be someone looking over your shoulder all the time making sure you get the work done. For the first time, you don’t have your parents making sure you get your homework done before you play. It takes a lot of discipline and hard work to excel at the collegiate level and if you have not had to do this before, it can be very foreign and challenging. Sometimes it is important to get a few bad grades. Bad grades have a way of being a reality check up for us. They wake us up and make us realize that we have to work harder to achieve success.
For me personally, it was organic chemistry my sophomore year. I had always done pretty well in my science classes, but I just could not understand organic chemistry. I ended up having to drop the class and retake it the following year. I made it through the class ok, but it took a lot of hard work and my grade was still not that stellar.
Live in the Dorms for at Least One Year
In the years since my years in college, I have noticed a trend. Freshman come to college and immediately live in an apartment off campus. Understand that I am not saying that there is anything wrong with living in an apartment. In fact, I think it is a very good idea to live in an apartment your last couple of years of college if you choose to. I’m saying that you should live in a campus dorms for at least one year. Living in the dorms will expose you to a wide variety of different types of people. You will end up finding out that you become friends with people you might not have ever taken the time to get to know. The only reason you get to know them is because you are living in the same building. Then you find out more about them and you find you end up being great friends. Who knew?
Every dorm floor has their own identity. A floor name, a common bond. My dorm floor was 5th Floor of Larch Hall. We were Kehlenbeck. You have a floor leader who watches over you to make sure you are not getting too out of hand. Once a week you have a floor meeting. You all get together and discuss different events going on around campus. You get to hear about great things you can get involved with that you might not know about if you don’t get exposed to them. This is a great way to get exposed to them. There are floor parties, which are a great way to meet other people. You all eat together in a common lunchroom. Much cheaper than going out to eat, much easier than cooking for yourself, and much more balanced and healthy food than you could ever hope to eat. It is also another great way to meet people.
They also have some really neat traditions. During dead week (week prior to finals), our floor observed 23 1/2 hours of quiet time for study purposes. from 10-10:30 pm each night, it was as loud as we wanted. Horns and stereos would blare and people would run up and down the halls screaming at the top of their lungs. As long as I live, I will always have the memory of that in my life. When I was a freshman, I was a football player and Coach Dan McCarney made it mandatory for freshman to live in the dorms, so in the fall of 1995 and spring of 1996, I lived on 5th floor Larch. My room was pretty small, but I loved it and I would not have had it any other way. I loved my time there. I still will run into old friends I met my freshman year in the dorms that I’m sure I would never have known had i not lived in the dorms.
Consider Joining a Fraternity or Sorority
This is for many of the same reasons I mentioned in the last recommendation. You will gain a very close friendship with a whole population of students. You can develop your leadership skills through offices you can hold in the house. You get exposed to a lot of campus activities you can get involved with. You have a great group of people to participate in social activities with. Yes, I am talking about parties. Animal House is a funny movie, but it does not give an accurate picture of what greek life is all about. It s a great option and something you should seriously consider doing. In the fall of 1996, I joined the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and stayed there through the spring of 2000. I had an absolute blast during my time in the house and it definitely helped develop me into the person I am today. I have a group of life-long brothers that I will be bound to for all the years of my life. It is definitely on of the best choices I made during my college years.
Play a Sport
I had the honor of getting to be a part of the Iowa State football team for five wonderful years from 1995 -2000. The lessons I learned competing in that sport will stay with me all the rest of the days of my life. I understand that there are a lot of people who won’t be able to be involved with a major college sport, but there are many other options. There are intramural teams for about any sport you can imagine. You are going to be spending a lot of time sitting in class and a good amount of time sitting and studying. It is important to realize that you need some time to get up and move around. Get involved with a sport. It is a great way to meet people and it is a whole heck of a lot of fun. If you have the honor of winning with your team, you can even get a free T-shirt. I did get to get involved with some intramural sports as well as football and to be honest, I had the most fun playing broomball. It was like hockey, we played it on ice, except we still used our shoes and we used brooms instead of sticks. THe games were very late at night and it was an absolute blast.
Just Say No…to Credit Cards
Credit cards can be a very dangerous thing if you don’t use them correctly. Credit card companies prey on young college students because most of them don’t know better. They set up stands and give students a free T-shirt with their school logo on it to sign up for a card. The problem is that students get away from home for the first time and they don’t have mom and dad to tell them what they can and can’t buy. Even if they don’t have a lot of money, but credit is readily available. You can really run up quite a debt during your time in college that you will spend many years trying to pay off. Remember, it is not just the amount you borrow, but the interest as well. My advice is to stay clear of them. If you need one, get one credit card and have a pretty low credit limit, like $1,000 on it so you can’t accumulate large amounts of debt.
Get a Good Advisor
You will be assigned an advisor when you start college. While most advisors can be pretty good, if you do get a bad one, you need to get a different advisor. An advisor is very crucial to your academic success. They will provide advice to you on classes you should and shouldn’t take. The order you need to take classes and what some good electives you can take that would relate well to your interests. Sometimes when you need to get into a lab in the spring semester, your advisor can write you into a class when the class is already full. They can be a huge ally to you during your college years, so make sure you get a good one.
When I was in undergrad, my advisor was Dr. Keneally. He worked in the Dairy Science department and he was the best advisor anyone could ask for. He gave me great advice and always had my best interests in mind. In vet school, Dr. Lorraine Hoffman was my advisor and she was amazing. It would not have been nearly as smooth of a ride without these two wonderful individuals.
Get involved in Clubs
Clubs are a great way to get involved. You meet tons of people and it is a great way to work in leadership positions. Plus, involvement in clubs is going to be a huge thing to put on your resume. It will be very beneficial when you are looking for your first job. I would recommend getting involved with the club in your major. Get involved and volunteer a ton your first year in the club. Then when the second year in the club rolls around, people will remember you for all your help. Then run for an office and people will vote for you because of all your help. You will learn how to organize and lead people through your experiences as an officer.
If you want to get even more involved, look for a club that represents something you enjoy doing. They have a club for about anything you could ever like doing.
For me, I was involved with a bunch of clubs. I was involved in Block and Bridle Club, AST Club, Oratorio Choir, Rodeo Club, Pre-Vet Club, Equestrian Club to name a few. I had a blast and met so many people. When I went out into the working work, all those extra activities really made me stand out as a possible job candidate.
When you enter the full-time workforce, you’ll quickly discover the true value of free time. There are so many great causes that need volunteer assistance. Campus ministries, churches, non-profit organizations, parachurch ministries, and schools to name a few. Why not use this incredible time in your life to serve others and give back to your community by volunteering? The reward is like no other. Your whole sense of self-worth will be completely transformed. It is one of the coolest things you could ever do. Take advantage of this time of your life when you don’t have a family yet, to really give of yourself.
Get a Part-time Job
Even if you have a full-ride scholarship or a bank of sweet scholarships, having a part-time job can be one of the best choices you can make. Not only do you gain valuable work experience, but a good job will give you extra cash for food, gas, and good times. Employers like people who show leadership in the form of getting part-time work to help get money. It shows them that you take your finances seriously and you can take control of your financial situation.
During my undergrad years, I was not able to have a job due to the large amount of time required for football. In the summers, I worked on the dairy and horse school farms and also worked in a lab for a veterinarian. In vet school, I had a two-year position working in the equine department at the school. I also worked as a cashier at Char’s Amoco. I loved it. It gave me some real world experience. It also let me have a touch of contact with the outside world. College can be a real fishbowl and you can get really isolated.
Take Road Trips
If you live a long way from home and can’t make it home for every holiday, consider going home with one of your friends and joining their family for the holiday. Take a road trip with a bunch of friends and just go somewhere and do something fun. It is a great chance to get away from the daily grind and you can get pretty creative and find that you can create some pretty cheap trips.
Some of my best memories during college are from road trips. I remember our several 4th of July road trips to Okoboji with some football teammates. Trips to surrounding small towns to visit the local bars. Met some amazing people there. Don’t be so serious in college that you forget to have fun along the way.
Develop your Faith and Own It
Of all the advice I could ever get you, this is the most important. For the first time in your life, you are alone and on your own for the first time in your life most likely. Hopefully, you will have good values instilled in you from your upbringing, but it is up to you if you want to follow them. No one will be there to force you to do the right thing. College will be one of the greatest times of your life. It is full of life-changing memories. There are so many great times. But there are also time when college can seem very lonely. You can feel like you are totally alone. You will have tough times. Times when you fail a test. Time when the person you are dating breaks up with you. You can’t handle everything life is going to throw at you yourself.
I would recommend finding a church you can go to regularly. A church can be like a family away from home for you. A safe place that you can go and feel accepted. Get involved with the college group through that church. Usually they have their own service during the week that is geared towards your age and dealing with issue you face. Get involved with a campus ministry. Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a great one to be involved with. Do not be afraid to have a faith and don’t be afraid to stand up for your faith. you know what is right and what is wrong and don’t be afraid to do what is right. As you learn to live on your own and embrace your own values, you will have to stand on your own faith. You can no longer borrow the faith of your family and home church. Professors and classmates can attack everything you’ve ever known as truth, so it’s important to stay connected to a local church, a campus ministry, and God’s Word.
College is an amazing time. Your best memories will come from this period of your life. It is exciting and scary all at the same time. You will truly evolve into the person you will be the rest of your life during this time. Hopefully, these recommendations will prove useful to you. Take it from an old college veteran, make the most of your years there, because they will move much faster than you can imagine at this point. Enjoy the ride!