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Advice for New College Students from Two Sociologists

This piece was originally published in 2013 for The Society Pages. It’s still relevant today. See the full post here.

Screenshot_22Congratulations to everyone starting college this semester! College can be a bewildering new challenge, but a bit of advice can go a long way. Below are some of the secrets of college success from us: two sociologists — one from an open-access four-year school and one at a private liberal arts school — with over 15 years of college teaching combined.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to get straight As from the get-go.

College is a unique institution with its own rules and skills. You will not simply get an A because you are “smart.” Getting an A is a combination of effort, prior knowledge, and experience, so being smart at college means learning a specific skill set. If you are in your first year, you may find that you must work harder to get the same grade as a senior who has much more experience at excelling in college classrooms and, thus, knows better how to do it. Be patient with yourself. Acknowledge that there will be a learning curve and give yourself some time to climb it. In the meantime, look forward to when you will be the one who knows exactly what to do.

Sometimes studying hurts and that’s a good thing.

The mind is like a muscle: if you use it, it becomes stronger. You can improve your emotional intelligence, your reasoning skills, your mathematical ability, how quickly and effectively you absorb new information, and more. But it isn’t necessarily fun. Like working out your body, working out your mind can be uncomfortable, even painful. You’re not really challenging and improving your mind unless it hurts a little. So you may find that learning can sometimes feel kind of like suffering. This is normal. It doesn’t mean that you’re not smart, it means that you’re getting even smarter.

Memorize the phrase “pluralistic ignorance.”

Research shows that most college students misperceive their peers’ behaviors and attitudes. They think drug and alcohol use is higher than it is and that their peers are less concerned about it than they are. They also tend to think that everyone else might be having more fun and more sex. We suspect this is even worse now that everyone stalks each other on social networks. Keep in mind the possibility that studying a lot, having other responsibilities, and not partying all the time is normal. Because it is.

Read the rest here.