Advice for Future College Students

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 13:05 -- Emily Johnson

Last fall, we asked the first-year Posse Scholars at UT Austin to share their perceptions of readiness with us: What does readiness mean to you? What do you wish you’d known before entering college? We encourage you to read what they said because their thoughts reflect much of what we say regularly about the importance of building skills, not just content knowledge. This fall, we asked these same students (now sophomores) to think on this topic of readiness again. We asked them: What do you want high school seniors to know about college and how to prepare for it? Their responses are organized below and grouped into helpful themes.


Try things. Fail. Learn. Try again.

  • Failing is part of the process.
  • I can change the decisions I make (sometimes).
  • You are more than your GPA and the challenges you face.
  • Just because you knew how to study in [high school] does not mean you can use the same skills [in college].
  • Pause and reflect.

We agree that college is a time of learning, growth, and discovery, but rarely do we talk about the learning that occurs through failure. We can help our students be more successful by helping them understand that the process of learning includes confusion and failure.

Plan it. Then do it.

  • To do lists are your friends! And planners!
  • For some people short to-do lists work best.
  • You will always be busy, but try to make time for yourself.
  • Time management is a skill you need to learn.
  • Be practical.

Many of us struggle to coach our students about making good decisions around their academic plans. For many students, the lack of guided structure can derail them if their planning skills are not solid. As educators, we can help students be realistic about their strengths. In our Posse meetings, we often tell students they need to be real with themselves: if they know they won’t wake up at 6:00 in the morning, they can’t say to themselves, “It’s ok if I don’t study tonight; I’ll just get up early tomorrow to study’ because they won’t, and they need to recognize that. We also coach students to pplan leisure time just like they plan study time, or it’s too easy to let it all be leisure time.

The people you meet now help form the networks for the rest of your life.

  • Connections are more crucial than you think.
  • Orgs, orgs, orgs. The importance of organizations while in college is something I wish I would have picked up on quicker. You need two organizations: one that will help develop yourself professionally and one [that feels like] your family.

Managers will almost always hire someone recommended to them by a trusted colleague over someone about whom they have no knowledge. We advise our students to always do good work because you never know when a former professor, RA, organization supervisor, or even fellow student will be the connection that leads to an exciting opportunity. An important reminder is that networking is not just for social purposes, so we encourage students to talk to the person next to them in class, go to professor’s office hours, and take advantage of every opportunity to connect with others.

Reach out. Help of all kinds is available to you, but it is up to you to seek it.

  • Dean of Students office can help you more than you know.
  • Try to ask a lot of questions in class and out.

Successful students make the most of university resources; they use tutoring, visit the health center, and ask questions in class. It is not uncommon for students to arrive at the university and realize that the smartest students ask questions. This is especially the case if help-seeking behaviors have not been fostered in their prior learning experiences.

It’s not just about getting a degree. It’s about gaining experiences.

  • Cultivate your skills and talents and not just on homework. You never know where they can take you.
  • College is about exploring and expanding your horizons and comfort zone.
  • Don’t worry – articulation of your ideas and passions comes with personal experience and learning.
  • Learn what type of learner you are.
  • Seriously, do what you love! (like for real, makes life easier).

We often say to students: you can choose to go to class, study, and do the bare minimum for a degree, but when a potential employer says, ‘Tell me who you are’, what will you say? Employers and graduate schools want people with skills and experiences, people who can talk about their passions, who know that they want to do and why. Students gain this insight not just through reading texts but through internships, study abroad, student organizations, volunteering, community service, research with professors, and independent study. Graduates who can articulate their skills, their challenges, their contributions, their work style, and their goals are graduates who go on to do great things.

The special opportunity to work with the Posse Scholars provides us keen insight into students’ perceptions of readiness. What I am most struck by is that none of the students focused on content knowledge; the things they wish they had known are all outside of the realm of content. As we think critically about college readiness, it is imperative that we focus beyond content knowledge to help students really be prepared to succeed. 

Thanks to the UT Posse 1 Scholars for their wisdom. Their direct quotes are bulleted above.

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