Last year, I watched a U.S. news clip that featured a new college Dad tucking in the sheets on his freshman kid’s dormitory-room bed. I actually screamed at the TV screen: “Oh, pulllease. Do yourself a favor and learn how to make your own bed.”
Now, as someone who once made my own share of freshman mistakes — and as a woman who has navigated the American work place for almost three decades and also been a professor — I feel compelled to offer some mid-life tips on how to get the best from college:
1. Have a broadly-defined career plan. Yes, you will change your mind and even, perhaps, your major. College will change you. Let it. But make sure that every course and internship you take follows a general trajectory toward your life’s passion and a career that excites you.
2. Don’t lie. Ever. If you didn’t complete the paper, say so. This is how you gain and retain respect with your professors. Lying is how you lose it.
3. Honor those who refer you: If someone puts his or her own professional reputation on the line to help you get an internship or job (or get into this college), this is a really big deal. Don’t abuse it or make your referrer regret his or her faith in you.
4. Learn humility: Your profs, your new boss, your mentor or the person across the job interview table really *does* know more than you. In other words, know what you don’t know.
5. Small town kid off to big-city college? Wahoo for you. Take every opportunity you can to meet, do, say, love somebody different from yourself. Be bold. Venture forth. Take risks.
6. This is your public health warning: Think STDs, date rape (and yes, boys, that really applies to you), alcohol poisoning, drug overdose and avoidable pedestrian and building-related injuries. You *can* get a degree from the ICU hospital bed, but it’s not optimal.
7. Take a rhetoric and/or public speaking class: Employees who write and speak clearly gain their colleagues’ respect and are infinitely more promote-able. Trust me on this one.
8. Take a creative or reflective writing class (poetry, fiction, personal essay, journaling) to find out who you really are. There is no greater self-confidence booster than coming to know and treasure your own individuality.
9. Have manners. Send that “Thank-You” card. Oh, and the response to “thank you,” is “you’re welcome.” (Not, ‘Yep.’).
10. Have a blast. Really! This time in your life will never come again. So stop comparing yourself with others and remind yourself that you’ve gotten this far and by gum, you’re going to make the best of it.