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The Benefits of Students Acting UpAmy Baldwin, Ed.D.
People often say college is the best four years of your life. I don’t know if that’s true, but I sure grew a lot in the process. Beyond my abundant credit loads each semester, I discovered independence and learned to be comfortable as myself.
Entering freshman year, I thought I knew what I wanted to study. I'd double major in Spanish and business — then after graduation open my own coffee shop and travel the world on the side. Less than a semester in, I realized that wasn’t my ultimate dream.
I learned a lot about myself in college. Here are my top pieces of advice to share with your student.
Ironic, I know, given the title of this piece. But people will give you a lot of advice, especially related to your academic major, and going to college is about discovering what advice (if any!) you want to follow.
My parents, teachers, friends and coworkers all offered advice — and all encouraged me to do different things. Professors in classes I didn’t care about suggested I consider a minor in their subject (which was always flattering even though I didn’t want to do that).
It took a lot of processing my thoughts in writing and out loud for me to realize, on my own, that I wanted to major in journalism — and minor in Spanish and business.
I took classes that sounded interesting, even if they weren’t required for my major, and these were some of the coolest courses! In some of them, I learned to critique pop culture, organize the layout of a newspaper and analyze romantic relationships. Even these helped me discover what I wanted to do because they taught me skills that I can incorporate into day-to-day interactions (less so on the newspaper layout, though).
It wasn’t just the classes I took that influenced my discovery. I encourage all students to get involved in clubs and groups, on and off campus, because those can be pivotal experiences.
Working as an RA (Resident Assistant) for two years helped me realize that service and leadership are some of my passions. I learned how to deal with my own conflict and that of others, how to work closely in a team setting and how to have difficult, emotional conversations. I discovered that I want a career where I can serve and support others.
In high school, I was very involved in music and theater. I didn't major in these areas, but continued with both as extracurricular activities in college, and they helped me keep my life in balance.
Having creative outlets was essential. Some weeks, it felt like I had a thousand assignments due and no time to rest. Then I would go to choir rehearsal and leave an hour and a half later refreshed and calmed.
The arts also allowed me to meet some of my closest friends. I connected with a group of people my freshman year but didn’t stay with them because we lacked a shared interest. In the arts, I had common ground with other students, even though I wasn’t formally studying music or theater.
I chose to get involved in choir because it’s one of my passions, and it was probably more influential, overall, than most of my journalism classes. Encourage your student to focus on things that are fun and that allow them to express themselves. These may end up being more important than their major.
I lived on campus for three years and didn’t have a car. For a long time, I hesitated to venture far because I didn’t know the area and was scared to take public transportation. My school describes this as being “underneath the pinecone curtain” (there are lots of towering pine trees).
But after a while, I found myself sometimes feeling a bit trapped. I started taking the bus downtown (or wherever I felt inspired to go that week) and realized that getting off campus helped me relax and rebalance.
Getting out of the dorms helped me get out of my head. As soon as I was on the bus, the racing, stress-filled thoughts changed to excitement and curiosity. I discovered cool buildings and met nice people (and weird ones) on the bus. I felt free, and I also learned that I could get pretty much anywhere without a car.
Whether your student is in their first or fifth year of college, I wish them good luck with everything they encounter. Encourage them to take time along the way to reflect on how they’re growing academically, relationally and personally.
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