COLLEGE OF ST. BENEDICT—Harvard Professor Richard Light has spent a lifetime studying what leads to the most “successful” undergraduate experience. Over 20 years of research enriched by the views of nearly 2500 students led to advice he shared with the large group of college consultants attending the recent Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) Conference held on the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University campuses.
According to Dr. Light, successful college students will
1. Get to know one faculty member reasonably well each term or semester. Research shows this is the single best way to engage fully in the life of the campus.
2. Explore at least one entirely new topic or course every semester. Replicating your high school class roster is not particularly productive or satisfying.
3. Develop a strategy for making tradeoffs between “investing” in new classes or activities and “harvesting” the benefits of known skills. Successful students experiment with the new but also continue to build on what they know they’re already good at.
4. Focus on time management. Students who make adjustments to and are aware of issues in time management are far more likely to succeed in college.
5. Pick classes in the first or second year that will support choosing a major wisely. Knowing something in advance about departments and majors saves time and aggravation in the long run.
6. Try to relate what goes on inside the classroom to life outside of class. Forming these kinds of connections gives more meaning and depth to academics.
7. Engage in a wide variety of extracurricular activities. There exists a very strong correlation between campus involvement and overall student satisfaction with college.
8. Seek out diverse views. Successful students will reach out to people whose views do not necessarily correspond to their own.
Students who make the most successful transitions from high school to college either learn or are instinctively aware of many of these lessons. It’s not rocket science, but a surprising number of college-bound seniors take little time to reflect on the fundamental differences between high school and college. And this isn’t good.
So after you come back from the beach or when things get slow at your otherwise exciting summer job, spend a few minutes thinking about your personal strategy for college success. Set some goals and pack up Dr. Light’s advice to take along with you to college. It will be far more useful than the digital TV or your Xbox 360.