Academic Advising Resources

SUGGESTIONS FOR NEW STUDENTS

Authored By: Jerry O'Connor

To students:

These are some ideas for your consideration.  The university wants you to succeed and if you met the entry requirements, you have the capabilities to earn your degree.  These suggestions are derived from those who were successful.  Some may seem repetitious in nature, nevertheless there are different nuances in each of these admonitions.

So, apply them to yourself as you progress through collegiate studies and your program will be enhanced.

1. BRING AN OPEN MIND, NOT A VACANT ONE.  you are in college to learn, not find verification of your own biases and prejudices.  You are going to face intellectual challenges to many of your pet theories, personal beliefs and values.  The challenges do not mean what you consider dear or important are necessarily incorrect, but it does mean you may have to rethink the reasons why you hold them. 

2. GO TO CLASS.  You might hear that in college 'a person can go to class any time he or she wants.'  NOT TRUE!  Yes, some classes will be boring but not everything in life is interesting and collegiate studies are not a matter of you being entertained.  So learn to handle the 'grunt work' and then you will demonstrate a pattern of good work habits that can only enhance your achievement.  Once in class, pay attention.  You will soon realize that collegiate studies are not an extension of the high school experience.

3.  GO TO CLASS EVEN IF YOUR ARE GOING TO BE LATE.  Too often students arrive a few minutes late, feel embarrassed and leave.  You should simply slip into the class as quietly as possible, sit in the back of the class

and then, make it a point to apologize to the professor after the class if finished.  Very rarely will he mind unless, of course, your tardiness becomes a habit.  There is no excuse for that.

4.  GO TO CLASS PREPARED.  Students often complain that a class is boring. Boredom is usually a result of one not understanding the material or hasn't completed the required reading before the class.  Just be warned, if you didn't do the required reading or research before hand, you will likely not understand what the professor is talking about.  Such lack of understanding will certainly make any presentation boring.

5.  READ THE CLASS SYLLABUS.  Every class has (or should) a syllabus.  If you are lucky, the professor may explain it in detail. Whether that happens or not, once you get your copy, READ IT!  I said read it, not scan it.  It should outline the professors expectations for the class, what will be required for success and how students will be evaluated (OK, graded).  In many instances it specifies the dates certain projects or papers are due, when exams will be given and expected classroom performances.  If you wait and read it 'at a convenient time,' you may find yourself playing academic catch-up, a no-win situation.

6.  TYPE YOUR NOTES AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  Sitting down at the computer and typing up your notes is an excellent way to remember the material presented in the class.  In addition, it usually means that three pages of hand-written notes often ends up as single page which will make them easier to study when it comes time for review.

7.  SIT AS CLOSE TO THE FRONT OF THE LECTURE ROOM AS POSSIBLE.  This is not 'brown-nosing.'  It is easier to hear a professor's lectures or comments, see materials if he or she is using A-V equipment, and be more easily identifiable by the professor when that all important letter of reference becomes necessary later in your academic career.

8.  SHARE YOUR NOTES.  Now this does not mean you take notes for others. It means you should share what you got out of a class and that favor should be returned by others with whom you study.  You may learn that you missed an important fact, your notes were incomplete or even incorrectly prepared.  Studying together means, helping others as well as yourself master the material.

9. LEAVE THAT BLASTED CELL PHONE IN YOUR ROOM OR AT LEAST KEEP IT TURNED OFF.  Cell phones are supposed to be utilitarian, not status symbols.  It has done more, in my opinion, to contribute to rude and deliberately insensitive behavior on the part of many students.  There is nothing more important than for you to get a good education.  And no one gives a 'diddely squat' if you are the most sought after cute chick or gorgeous hunk on campus.  If you want to be important, improve your mind.  If you want to be a pain, make everyone around you aware of your new toy and that you know how to use it.  People who have this 'cell phone' addiction are those who talk too much and communicate so little. 

10. LEARN THE CAMPUS.  Every year many new students literally get lost. The initial campus tour seldom provides the geographic knowledge essential to letting around any major university.  So become an explorer and spend some time learning where all the academic departments and student services units are located.  Don't become one of those seniors still looking for the library.

11.  UNDERSTAND THAT THE UNIVERSITY HAS RULES.  Even if there are more than can be memorized (and there are), always have a copy of them handy.  Your student handbook will have them.  Remember, ignorance of what is required is no excuse for failing to perform.  Contusion is one thing but ignorance of the rules says volumes.  Do not become one who frequently states, 'But no one told me... '

12. IGNORE RUMORS.  Rumors of all types abound on a campus.  Almost all have a semblance of truth and an abundance of fiction.  So if you hear a statement which, if followed could affect your program, check with your advisor.  Acting on or putting your faith in the validity of a rumor could prove embarrassing.

13. BUDGET TIME.  This includes having a social life but you must learn to plan your study time properly.  This means you do not start studying for that all important quiz the night before it is given or initiate writing that report the day before it is due (otherwise known as the red-eye special).  To utter the statement, 'I work best under pressure... ' is really a silly excuse made by those who have no choice.  Just remember, your lack of foresight is not going to be your advisor's or professor's emergency.

14. ACCEPT CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM. Bear in mind that a professor will critique your work and be doing you a favor.  Such criticism is not meant to be personal nor should you take it that way.  No matter how competent you may be, all work can be improved.  Indeed, if your work is heavily RED LINED, it means that your professor took a lot of time to show you the need to improve and how to do it.  How would you feel if a professor didn't read the paper or test and simply assigned a grade?  Wouldn't you be just a little angry?  If you feel free to criticize your instructors (and you will), be prepared to understand and accept academic criticism.

15. UNDERSTAND THAT BEING A STUDENT IS A FULL TIME JOB.  You cannot work hard one day a week and hope your grades will be above average.  In addition, you must focus on not just academics, but also on good social skills, interaction with others in university sponsored activities and still know when to study.  Collegiate studies with the attendant activities is a full time job.

16. DEVELOP AN APPRECIATION FOR THE MASTERY OF THE LANGUAGE.  No matter what your major or discipline of interest, the single most important life skill is communication.  It is how you use language that places you above the animals when properly used, or below them when abused.  It is how you communicate yours skills that demonstrates the depth of your education.  A person who only speaks in cliches conveys the shallowness of their studies.  For example, when a student utters, 'I want to work with people, I am a people person,' I can only respond, 'You have a choice?  Can you name one career in which you do not need people skills?'

17. BECOME PART OF THE UNIVERSITY.  Becoming part of the university community is just as important as going to class, writing papers and taking exams.  This does not mean you should join every social group but learn to be selective and then participate.  Explore your options and learn where you fit in and your college experiences will be enhanced. Being involved is another very important part of your education.  Don't become a hermit.

18. GET TO KNOW SOME PROFESSORS BEFORE YOU GRADUATE.  This is hard for new students but you can target some faculty who, you think, are worth knowing before you graduate.  Your professors are the individuals who evaluate the

quality of work, will supply references for your career packet or graduate application, and guide your intellectual development.  Should you be fortunate enough to develop a bond of friendship, you will find they are invaluable mentors during the rough periods of your academic life.  It is true you may develop negative feelings towards some.  This would be true at any university.  But the vast majority are quite approachable and don't let the titles of professor or doctor intimidate you.  Those appellations were their achievements and now they want you to attain the goals you have set for yourself.  It is to the university's benefit to help you achieve those goals.

19. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG IN BEING INITIALLY CONFUSED.  Don't get upset when you realize you haven't mastered all the facets of collegiate life during your first term.  You might even get more upset when you find you cannot answer that horrible but well meaning question, 'What are you going to do when you graduate?' (and only a freshman yet).  Bear in mind that college is way of life.  You will be learning to cope with it every day and that is as it should be.  So if you are worried about your initial confusion, you are only normal.  Being normal is a state you work to maintain and not assume it will just miraculously happen.  By the way, seniors about to graduate often express greater anxiety about leaving college than do new freshmen just entering school.  So if you think being a freshman is tough, try being a senior.

20. BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF.  You will make errors or seeming mistakes during your collegiate career.  Please be assured you are not DOOMED. When you realize or even think you have made a 'goof,' don't run to your roommate, coffee buddy or spiritual guru; contact your academic advisor and set out to remove or correct the situation.  If you don't, it can fester and create other problems.

21. MAKE YOUR OWN DECISIONS.  Seeking advice is always wise.  Trying to play it safe and avoid making choices can lean to serious personal dissatisfaction and likely failure.  You must learn to take a chance (not a needless risk) when options become available and accept responsibility for your decisions.  If you can do that, you are displaying the attributes of responsible adulthoo

22. DON'T PLAN YOUR FUTURE AND IGNORE THE PRESENT.  You may end fouling up both.  Planning ahead is wise. To lay out a life plan and then consider it an accomplished fact is to court disaster.  When confronted with an academic glitch, not achieving a desired grade needed for graduate school or missing out on a sought internship possibility, you may find the most optimistic and well laid plan becomes a shambles.  You may want to be a doctor, lawyer or Las Vegas CROUPIER but talking about it will not make it so.  Your only obligation is to be the best first year student possible.

By focusing on those initial academic requirements however onerous or tedious, you can make your goals possible.  If they do prove elusive, you will at least have the superior base for developing new goals.

23. REMEMBER, YOU ARE IN SCHOOL FOR YOUR EDUCATION, NOT FOR SOMEONE ELSE'S. If you entered college just to please someone else, or anyone else, you will end up pleasing no one, least of all yourself.  While parents, guardians and friends should be concerned about your academic welfare, it is your education, your degree and your life.  LEAD IT!  You can then take pride in thinking for yourself and, at the same time, educate others as to your competence  But if you let others decide just what you are going to study and just what you are going to be, you have abnegated all responsibility to yourself.  Yes, making decisions and worrying about the possible consequences is hard BUT YOU CAN DO IT.

24. KNOW YOUR ACADEMIC SITUATION PRIOR TO THE WITHDRAWAL FROM CLASS DEADLINE.  If you have a question about how you are doing in a class, take your concerns as an opportunity to g visit the professor and discuss your situation.  If your fears are justified and a worst-case scenario is developing, find out how to alter and improve your study habits.  To wait until after mid-terms or waiting until the last week to 'see how things are going' will lead to playing academic roulette.  Keep yourself informed.

25. LEARN TO COMMUNICATE IN THE CLASSROOM. There are no dumb questions concerning classroom content.  If you don't know or don't understand something about what is going on in the classroom, you can be sure that many of your peers don't either.  Learning to ask questions is a real skill and you must develop it.

26. SAFEGUARD YOUR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL WELL-BEING.  When exhausted, rest. Eat proper food and know when to relax (not sluff-off).  No one is going to thank you for working yourself to a frazzle or getting ill by ignoring your body's or mind's basic needs.  It is foolish for you to clamber for your 'independence' and then once 'free,' simply do not know how to take care of yourself.

27. ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOURSELF AND YOUR BEHAVIOR.  If what you say and do is prompted by others, or if nothing is ever your fault because others allegedly'pushed' you, you really cannot claim to be an adult, just a pathetic follower.  If you are not doing well academically, get help.  There is no shame in getting help and very few get through college without some form of assistance.  So what if it takes a little longer to learn the material or even to graduate?  But if you are having academic problems and can only offer a myriad of excuses or blame others for your failure to perform, you are simply seeking a 'cop-out' for your ineptitude.

28. LOCATE AND USE ALL UNIVERSITY SERVICES.  Contrary to what some believe, the university does want you to succeed and will help you by means of all its services.  These range from writing and math development to personal counseling when stressed.  Let the university serve you.  You don 't need anyone's approval t seek such services.  After all, it is your school and you are paying for those services.  USE THEM!

29. DON'T DEPEND UPON OTHERS TO DO YOUR WORK.  Asking someone else to take class notes or have others inform you of just what is going on in a class so that you can 'sluff off' is an abnegation of your responsibilities to yourself.  If there is a true emergency wherein you will miss classes, contact the student affairs or Dean's office and they will notify your professors who later will help you get back on track.  But if you seek to rely on others for what you should be doing, you are certainly being 'less than intelligent.'

30. THE COMPUTER IS NOT THE SOLUTION TO ALL YOUR ACADEMIC WEAKNESSES.  The 'knowledge' contained in a computer system was entered by someone who could not and cannot know what any user's intent might be.  To claim that spell check and other aids excuses you from learning just what is correct form and style (e.g. To, too, two) is a form of arrogance and indicative of a lazy mind.  The computer is your aid, not your alter-ego.

31. NOT EVERYONE GRADUATES IN FOUR YEARS.  Shocking as that statement may see, there is nothing magical about the number four.  If you change majors, hit academic snags, are offered an internship possibility or select a program of studies that requires more outside experiences, it may not be possible to be part of the four year crowd.  Indeed, the majority of all students who do graduate take longer than four years.  While the idea of a four year program is thought of as the norm, the reality is, there can be many circumstances that will mitigate against it.

32. BEAR IN MIND THAT ONCE A DEGREE IS ACQUIRED, IT STILL DOES NOT GUARANTEE YOU A GREAT CAREER, SUCCESS OR A LARGE BAG OF MONEY. A degree is supposed to be indicative of some sort of intellectual and academic achievement.  Employers will hire you assuming that you can demonstrate superior intellectual skills such as writing, speaking, research, observation and the like.  It is you who will be considered for a position, not the diploma.  Success is never guaranteed.

33. DON'T ASSUME THAT ADVISORS CAN PERFORM MIRACLES WHEN ASKED TO DO THE IMPOSSIBLE.  If you try t continually schedule classes long after they have started, try to enroll classes even though you failed the pre-requisite, seek exceptions to the hard and fast rules or design a schedule allowing you to sleep late and play often, you don't want advice, you want a miracle.  Remember, there is much in the 5P adage, PRIOR PLANNING PREVENTS POOR PERFORMANCE.  If you have slovenly study habits, demonstrate little or no planning skills and then request the advisor to'bail you out,' you should ask yourself just what in heaven's name are you doing in college.

34. SAVE ALL ITEMS OR DOCUMENTS THAT HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH YOUR PROGRAM OF STUDIES. When you officially drop a class, save your copy of the drop slip.  If you make one or more significant programmatic changes which involves paper work, save the student copy.  If there are no copies because you transacted such business on the web, check, recheck and then check again your procedures and, if possible, make a print copy of the transaction.  You cannot 'claim' you have officially dropped a course in which you received a failing grade and then offer no proof.  While university offices can make mistakes, they are more than helpful if you or any student can offer evidence that they really did follow the correct procedures.

35. DON'T ALWAYS INSIST THAT YOUR SCHEDULE MUST BE ONLY A CERTAIN WAY. Trying to only have a full schedule between 10 am and 2 pm and only on MWF or Tuesdays and Thursdays so that you can sleep late, enjoy late afternoon coffee klatches, tour the countryside and the maybe, just maybe do a little studying is indicative of someone who sees college as a game.  Even if you have a job, it makes more sense for you to try and schedule your work time around your classes.  You can become an entrepreneur after you graduate.

36. A DEGREE IS NOT AN ENTITLEMENT, YOU MUST EARN IT.  This should be obvious.  Yet advisors are often bombarded with requests for exceptions to university rules, complaints about how unfair class standards are or that the poor grades 'awarded' i certain classes are not a true measure of a student's competencies.  I am certain many advisors have heard 'I have a right to a degree.'  No, you or any student has a right to EARN a degree. If you accept and understand that premise, you will likely be successful in attaining your goal.  But if you claim degree reception is a right, you really have no place in college.

37. SPARE YOURSELF AND OTHERS FROM UTTERING LAME EXCUSES.  Many students have excuses for their alleged incompetencies.  'I don't test well' or 'That class isn't relevant' are often heard.  Accept the fact that you will have to take tests which are designed to show if you have mastered subject content.   If you did poorly on a test, then you haven't mastered the content or, what is worse, didn't consider it important.  As for a class being relevant or irrelevant, how did you arrive at that conclusion? Certainly not by means of any competent research efforts and definitely not because of your vast life experiences.  Lame excuses, like the continual use of four letter words, are the largess of the impoverished mind.

38. DON'T ASK TO TAKE A SUPERIOR COURSES IF YOU DON'T HAVE THE ACADEMIC BACKGROUND.  Just because an upper division course sounds more interesting will not make it easy to master.  If you tell an advisor, 'I just know I can handle harder classes that what my high school grades show' or 'My real interests are along that line,' you may be bluntly told, 'No, you can't and being interested doesn't meet the prerequisite.'  Sounding and looking very earnest may be good acting, but they are not substitutes for performance, past or otherwise.  Wanting something does not automatically translate into ability.

39. ALL THE 'DETERMINATION' IN THE WORLD WILL NEGATE IGNORANCE.  'I can be anything I want to be if I work hard enough.'  Now that is a good statement philosophically but in practice, it might prove difficult to put into action.  If the skills essential to academic success are present and put to use, then such stated goals are attainable.  If those skills are not present, then you must either do a lot of make up to develop them, or you are in for some serious setbacks.

40. DON'T TALK A GOOD STORY, DEVELOP A FOCUS AND THEN GO FOR IT. Talking a good story is, to this advisor's mind, indicative of one who knows they blew past opportunities.  So if you enjoy spending your time regaling listeners about your future expertise, it may sound impressive but it would be better for you to keep your mouth shut and take inventory of just what it is you need to do in order to succeed.  THEN DO IT!  Bear in mind that no one is really impressed about what you say you are going to do an if you make strong assertive statements to impress the listeners, you are being childish.  Playing to the crowd is a losing game.  Always keep in mind that you will be evaluated on your actual performance, not your promises of performance. You do not want it said, 'I thought he was a man of promise;; but it appears he is a young man of promises.'

41. THEREFORE, BE CAREFUL OF FORMULATING A 'PLAN B.'  As discussed above, you have a plan A for what you plan to do after college, focus on it.  Many enter school without a focus while others espouse their aspirations from the date of entry.  It has been my experience that when a person talks Plan A but also relates how they have a plan B and even a Plan C, they usually end up dropping Plan A.  T have two or more options may seem like sound planning, but it usually means one's energies become diffused.  They just are not developing a solid focus.  If Plan A proves impossible of attainment, an academic counselor will gladly work with you to formulate a Plan B.

42. YOU WILL BE DIFFERENT.  The collegiate experience, if enthusiastically engaged in, will effect a transformation in you.  You will become a different person.  Not that you will be any better or worse than your peers, but by the time you return home for that first extended break you will notice that former high school friends, who did not go for post high school studies, will view you a bit differently and you will return the favor.  Those who went to other colleges can share common experiences but even then you will view each other just a bit differently.  The changes are often nothing more than a felt attitude, an awareness that you re-developing new insights, raising new questions and the like, but they are there.  University studies can enhance your individuality.  As a high school senior you were aware of the differences in yourself between the ages of 14 and 18.  The changes that will transpire in you between the ages of 18 and 22 or so will make the high school changes seem miniscule. If nothing else, collegiate studies should make you a more interesting as will as a more productive person.  Look forward to it.

43. KEEP YOUR INTEGRITY.  You may be tempted to 'cut corners' indeed, you will soon be aware that a few of your peers think nothing of cheating. Overt plagiarism, use of crib notes and purchased term papers are the largess of those I term 'academic sociopaths.'  Their concern over what grades they want as opposed to what they should learn is a disease.  If they are caught, they often evince surprise at the long term repercussions.  Not only will they fail the class (and should), but they will find it hard to get references (after all, what is there to recommend?), will likely find it impossible to take advantage of other university opportunities such as internships (they would be poor representatives of the university) and, if they are perceptive, will soon realize that no one trusts them.  Why should they?  I mention this because the temptation tO follow suit is often quite strong when you realize others are getting away with such activities, especially in a highly competitive program.  Always be cognizant that, like good study habits, integrity is something you are not only raised with but is a character trait you can enhance by adhering to a code of ethical behavior.  Once integrity is lost, it may take something like forever to recover it.

44. SPARE YOUR ADVISOR, PROFESSORS AND ROOMMATES ANY WHINING STORIES OF 'ALL YOUR PERSONAL PROBLEMS'  If you have problems of a personal nature, tend to them.  University studies are no escape and to enter school with the idea they might go away or use them as excuses not to perform is reprehensible.  Sad or as traumatic as they may be, they are your problems, no one else's.  If you need help, get it.  But for heaven's sake don't sit around whining in an attempt to gain sympathy and doing nothing about them.  If you can't handle them, there are agencies or university personnel who will gladly provide assistance.  Just remember, everyone has problems.

45. DON'T TAKE COUNSEL OF YOUR FEARS.  You entered college knowing that seeking an education was going to require hard work.  Some areas may prove more difficult than others.  But,like any challenge you will face, you must meet it head on.  Too many students are fearful of not doing well and start telling themselves they can't do this or handle that.  Just keep in mind the adage, 'if you say you can, or say you can't, you are probably right.'

46. YOU HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO REMEMBER PAST SUCCESSES WITH PRIDE AND FONDNESS, BUT YOU ARE NOT BACK AT SQUARE ONE.  Your past achievements are to serve as a base for future successes.  You may have been the student body president, valedictorian, homecoming queen or the state spelling bee champ in high school and you have every right to be proud of those accomplishments.  But they are in the past.  Now you are starting over. Accept that fact and you will pleasantly surprised that you have removed a proverbial 'monkey off your back.'

47. WRITE OR E-MAIL HOME.  It may sound silly but your parents can prove to be your strongest support service.  They want to know honestly and truthfully just how you are doing.  They may not know how to help other than by listening, but that act alone is essential to your well-being.

Years ago a young student screamed at this adviser stating that the father '... won't understand my situation.'  My response was 'but he will know you are hurting so call him.' The student used my phone.  Her father flew out on the next available flight and the two of them had a great reunion. The student graduated CUM LAUDE three years later but confessed, 'I didn't realize that my father was so caring.'  I found that a very interesting perception.

48. BEAR IN MIND 'EXTRA CREDIT' WORK IS FOR BABIES, NOT SCHOLARS.  Please, do not ask any college instructor to do 'extra credit' workin lieuof what is required.  There are too many students entering universities having received stellar high school GPAs and yet cannot demonstrate basic academic skills.  Possibly there are legitimate reasons for such activity but 'extra credit' substitutions in no way prepares a person for collegiate academic performance.  Students are expected to give their best efforts if they are insufficient, they then realize just what they must do to achieve an acceptable standard of performance.  Too many students speak and write in glib cliches, use incomplete sentences and have no idea of how to compose a decent sentence let alone a paragraph.  'Extra credit' exercises may be great time killers, but have little to do with skill development.

49.  READ! Read to enjoy.  Read to relax the mind.  Read to become acquainted with and enjoy the comfort of good language expression.  Readers stand out in most classes, in interviews, in seminars.  They are the people who often read their essays, research papers or personal letters aloud to themselves to check for errors of composition, thought clarification, format and style.  Show me a person who enjoys reading, be it the classics, westerns, mysteries, historical fiction or even romance novels and I will show you someone who will get an education, not a piece of paper.

50.  YOUR SELF ESTEEM MUST BE EARNED, IT WILL NOT BE GIVEN.  The old bromide, 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen' is very apropos.  All collegiate work will be reviewed, critiqued and perhaps, incontinently brutalized.  If a person wants self esteem, they must earn it.  The things that hurt, instruct.  Almost all students can be and often are critical of their instructors and such criticism may be merited.  But instructors have an obligation to review and evaluate a student's work. Keep in mind you are not in school to be amused, adjusted, accommodated or entertained.  You are in school to be educated.  If you or any student does a lousy piece of work, you should and will be so informed.  If it is meritorious, they will be informed how it can be improved.  Even the best work can always be improved.  So, look to learn in school, not be coddled and pampered. 

51.  REMEMBER, NO EXCUSES ARE ACCEPTABLE.  If you did a poor piece of work, blew an exam, or missed a deadline, no excuse will rectify the error. It may explain the problem, but it does not make them any less of an error.  So, if you know you made a serious error, produced a poor piece of work, or missed a deadline, set out to rectify it.  If it is too late, then make a resolution not to make such errors a habit.

52. OK! YOU ARE PHYSICALLY AN ADULT, BUT SO WHAT! Physical maturation does not automatically mean you are ready for prime time adult responsibility.  You are different now than when you were a high school freshman.  You will be much different upon completion of your collegiate studies.  And even a much different person when you are twenty-eight, thirty and beyond.  So do not assume that with physical maturation, intellectual growth is automatic.  It must be cultivated. 

Jerry O'Connor
New Mexico State University

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