Fourteen Suggestions for Incoming College Freshmen

Fourteen Suggestions for Incoming College Freshmen
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After receiving a nice response to my Huffington 2012 blog, "Ten Suggestions for Incoming Freshmen," and listening to some readers, I have done some fine-tuning. My primary credential is that I have been a Cornell English Professor, for 45 years and have also held some visiting professorships at various public universities in three other states.

Last year I and a handful of other professors--all of whom have demonstrated a strong interest in undergraduate teaching--were asked to contribute to a Cornell discussion "Advice for Entering Freshmen." What follows is an extended version of my comments. The suggestions apply to all entering freshmen, although especially those who will be living on campus. Needless to say, this is far from an exhaustive list, but one that students, parents, and colleagues should think of as a point of departure.

I am a tad wary of sounding like Polonius in Hamlet, but then most of his advice to his son Laertes actually makes sense.

Except the first suggestion, what follows are in no special order.

1) Keep your career and life goals in mind and remember why you enrolled where you are. After a reasonable amount of time--at least a semester--if you and your academic program are not a good match, think about transferring within the college or to another college.

2) Try to find some campus or community activities that parallel your goals. If you need or want a part-time job, try to get one compatible with your goals as another way to test if you are on the right path. But also use jobs and activities to expand your horizons and interests.

3) Manage your time because time-management is crucial to success. At the outset, keep a chart of how you are using your time. Work on your course work every day but not all day; do something that is fun and relaxing every day.

4) Be sure to get enough exercise and sleep, and be sure to eat regular nutritious meals. Sleep deprivation can lead to poor performance and poor judgment.

5) Remember the three R's: Resilience (Falling down and getting up are one motion.); Resourcefulness (Use your skills and intelligence.); and Resolve (Pursue goals with determination and persistence.).

6) Look at setbacks and problems as challenges to be met and overcome; when you do so successfully, you will be gaining confidence to meet the next challenges

7) Think about your classes as communities of inquiry where you and your fellow students and the professor are sharing intellectual curiosity, love of learning, and the desire to understand important subjects.

8) Get to know one professor reasonably well each term. You will not only have necessary references for programs within college, work positions, and graduate school, but also you will feel part of your college community.

9) Be sure to participate in one or more of the many campus activities, but the first term chose a limited number until you are confident you can handle your course workload.

10) Take advantage of lectures outside courses, special exhibits, campus theatre, musical programs and other campus resources as well as the natural and/or urban treasures of the area in which your college is located.

11) Find a few comfortable and quiet study places on campus, places where you work effectively and are not easily distracted.

12) When you enter a new situation such as the first weeks at college, you might feel somewhat desperate to make friends quickly. But it is important to retain your core values and judgment and to avoid becoming part of a herd or doing things only because others are doing them.

13) Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Seek help when you need it, no matter what the issue. Know that substance abuse is a problem on campuses, with alcohol being the most abused.

14) Laugh a lot and continue to develop your sense of humor. When things are not going well, remember you can't fix the past. But you can start where you are.

Author of the 2012 book Endtimes? Crises and Turmoil at the New York Times, 1999-2009 (Excelsior Editions of SUNY Press), Daniel R. Schwarz is Frederic J. Whiton Professor of English and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter at

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