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Advice for Incoming Students: Take Care of All of You

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As summer vacation dwindles to a close, new college students will proudly claim their spots on campuses all over the country. It's an exciting time, full of newfound independence for many, and as a college president, it's thrilling to watch your campus fill up with young people on the cusp of discovering themselves as adults.

The first few days and weeks are an exciting time of transition between high school and college, and truthfully, one for which so many are unprepared. I hope these tips will help you get ready for some of the best years of your life.

To all of you incoming students, I challenge you to own it--embrace both the freedom and the responsibility that comes with attending college. You're in charge of your academic future, your involvement on campus, and your wellbeing; don't sit passively for the next four years.

Learn to be an advocate for yourself. Take a leading role in your college experience inside and outside of the classroom. There are so many people available to help you--academic advisers, professors, student life staff, coaches, and other members of the community--but you need to actively seek them out. Even your roommate will prove to be a great asset. The start of college is no time to be shy! College also offers you opportunities to solve problems on your own. If you have an issue or concern, don't immediately run to your parents or your college's president--there are many other people to whom you can turn for guidance and to help you bolster your problem-solving skills. That is, in part, what independence is all about.

Prioritize balance. While exercising your new freedom as a college student is fun, balancing responsibility with it can be a challenge, and in fact, it's a skill that can take a lifetime to master. It may not be the most exciting tip for incoming students, but trust me--it's one of the most valuable.

Keep track of your life. Though it may seem like a no-brainer, it's worth stating that the primary reason you're at college is to get an education, so make sure to make the most of it. Keep track of your life with whatever works for you, whether it's a paper planner, the latest and greatest app, or a giant, color-coded whiteboard calendar. If you're not a morning person, perhaps think twice before you schedule an 8 a.m. class. Meet with your professors, find study groups, use services like writing centers and math tutors--all of these resources will help you be a responsible student.

Be bold (smartly). Perhaps one of the most responsible things you can do is to take calculated academic risks. Choose to embrace the unique and interesting academic opportunities that await you. Is there something outside your comfort zone that piques your interest? A course outside your major or general requirements that sounds fascinating? Is there a syllabus with a reading list that excites you or a topic that challenges your current thinking? Go for it and chronicle what you learn and how you grow.

Set goals and monitor your progress toward achieving them. The most important goal you can set is the date for your graduation. I join fellow leaders in higher education in focusing on increasing graduation rates and our best partners to make this happen are our students. Meet with your adviser your freshman year and build a four-year plan for the classes you need to complete and programs you want to experience. You'll have a better sense of the sequence the classes you need take and the milestones you need to hit to study abroad or qualify for a dream internship. Success is rarely attributed to dumb luck; build a plan to make college live up to your expectations.

Take stock of people and resources around you. College is a great time to step up and take charge of your life outside of academics, too. It's important from the get-go to know what resources are available and how to take advantage of them--many services and resources are included in your tuition bill, so don't let them go to waste! It's important to think about things like making lasting friendships, finding activities that match your passions, and career planning--you don't need to wait until senior year to use career services. Perhaps the student government association appeals to you, or maybe an athletic team. Or maybe you want to perform in the marching band or join the campuses theatre group and be involved in a production. These are incredibly marketable experiences that will help you in your life--and, you get to meet some really great people, too.

Now, this doesn't mean that you should join every club and activity that the campus has to offer. You shouldn't stress about missing out on experiences because it's impossible to do everything. Feel confident and enjoy what you've decided to explore on campus. And if you find that the activities you initially selected aren't for you, it's never to late to try something new.

Remember the "social" part of social media. With your smartphone in hand, it is easy to prioritize archiving experiences over living them. Ensure that you are participating in all that makes the college years so rich, and most of those involve interacting with others. You will need to close Pokemon Go, Snapchat and Instagram so that you can build the memories, experiences and skills that are the hallmarks of a residential college experience. Remember to live every moment as it happens and not worry about chronicling experiences to share with others. Relationships live in real time and not online in social media.

Take care of all of you. Your independence on a college campus can also bring new responsibilities that might not be so obvious, like your health--and not just physical health, but mental and emotional health, financial health, and social health. Even if you've never had a budget or been in charge of your own meal planning or thought about the longevity of your social media posts, college offers you space to learn to make good choices with your wellbeing and these lessons will carry over into your every day adult life. And, again, your institution provides resources to assist with all of your "healths," so be sure to ask about those you are most interested during orientation or the first week on campus.

One last piece of advice--going to college is a change and change can be stressful. Don't give up easily if you feel overwhelmed. Remember that most people on your campus are there to help and support you, including a place to seek counseling if you need it. Give yourself some time to adjust to your new experience and you will find it very rewarding.

Now is the time to take charge. By using your freedom and responsibility in a complementary way, you can maximize your college experience--and your post-college life, too.

Wishing you good luck, amazing experiences inside and outside of the classroom, and many memorable moments.