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Advice for New College Students From a Recent GradCambria Pilger
College is an exciting crossroads.
Students enter a world where they know few (if any) people and no one knows them. They may have met some classmates through a Facebook group, during orientation or at a local send-off event, but for the most part they’re starting with a clean slate. They can do anything and be anyone.
While studying should take up most of your student’s time and energy, encourage them to get involved in a campus activity or two. There are lots of choices: clubs, sports, performance groups, volunteer opportunities…the list goes invitingly on and on.
In most cases, students can join at any point in their college career, adding more activities as they get better at managing time and juggling responsibilities.
Not everyone makes friends easily. Even students who do may be out of practice if they stuck with the same group all through high school. Sharing an activity with people who enjoy the same thing is a natural way to connect with potential friends. It's a particularly good route for students who are shy. Clubs aren't just for extroverts!
College may be your student’s first experience making all of their own decisions. They’re learning about themselves and their place in society and choosing what form that society takes.
A sense of community influences not only how happy a student is but also whether they complete their course of study at all. It can be isolating to spend all your time in class or at the library. Being involved with campus groups means working for a common goal and sharing successes and setbacks.
There’s nothing wrong with sticking with familiar activities, but college is also a chance to reinvent oneself. At many colleges, students without prior experience can get involved in theater, radio or the newspaper. Intramural sports welcome athletes of all abilities, not just the kids who’ve played since kindergarten. Encourage your student to try something new!
Many campus activities are subsidized by the school (often through student fees), so students can access opportunities they might not be able to afford otherwise. Off-campus trips (concerts, outdoor club excursions, etc.) are often a fraction of the actual cost — a good way to try new things with little investment. Some schools offer mini study abroad trips over breaks with price tags considerably below what you’d spend if you planned the same trip yourself (and additional financial aid may be available).
The 2016 Project CEO survey* of more than 15,000 students from 40 schools found that co-curricular activities have a larger impact than any other opportunity outside the classroom on building eight essential work skills valued by employers.
Students get experience fundraising, creating financial plans, running meetings and managing peers. These skills will transfer to almost any discipline.
Then there’s that magical word: leadership. Campus organizations are run by members, meaning there are lots of officer positions to go around. Students can also develop leadership experience through team projects and at on-campus jobs.
Writing for or editing a campus publication, working at the school radio station, working as a Teaching or Research Assistant or in a university office — these are all excellent experiences to highlight on a resumé.
The frosting on the cake: an activity may make your student’s resumé more attractive to potential employers who were part of similar groups or who simply want to know more.
It’s never too soon to learn that everyone you meet has the potential to change your life. Your student shouldn’t wait until after graduation to start networking, whether with fellow students or, in the case of organizations with national chapters (such as Greek life and volunteer groups), a much larger network of people who can open doors when job searching.
If an activity includes intercollegiate competition, they’ll meet students from other colleges with similar interests, and social media makes keeping in touch easy. Suggest your student sign up with LinkedIn and start adding connections now!
A Cal State Sacramento study found that students who got involved on campus had higher rates of retention and graduation as well as higher GPAs. Another study at Purdue showed that, among students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, the GPAs of campus organization officers tended to be even higher. Juggling classes, homework and outside interests requires time management skills which are necessary to college success, and connection and well-being factor in, too.
College move-in is approaching! Help your student prepare by making sure they have everything they need for a successful freshman year.