Dear College Student Scholars:
Please permit me to tell you a story.
Shortly after I arrived at college (nearly 40 years ago) I suffered several events that had not happened to me in high school – I failed. Over and over. I blew it on quizzes, essays, and exams. I was astounded when, just a few weeks into the semester, I had failing grades in one course and grades far below my personal expectations in several others. Hence, I felt as if I didn’t deserve to be at college.
Compounding the problem – I was extremely shy. It went beyond introversion (which, I later learned, is a strength, but not an excuse). I was not forming connections with other students. I was quiet. I often ate alone at the eateries on campus. I was lonely. I suffered from social anxiety. I felt, again, like I didn’t belong at college.
But – I persevered. How? I used my grit and determination to figure out how to change – a few little things, that then had major impacts. And, very importantly – I reached out for assistance, and received guidance – some from fellow students, some from professors, and some from other types of counselors on campus.
And then, with courage, I chose to tackle the challenges I encountered head-on. I utilized my new insights into how to study, how to keep myself focused, how to manage my time more effectively, and slowly learned how to get involved in groups and made friends.
Today I am very fortunate to be teaching college students, after successful careers as a lawyer and then as a financial planner. I have dozens of professional colleagues in law, financial planning, and in education that I am proud to call my friends. I also engage in advocacy efforts in Washington, DC, and speak several times a year at industry conferences – often to hundreds at a time (and I do so without any nervousness or anxiety). I’ve had the honor of serving on numerous industry committees and learning from top persons in the financial planning profession. My success I can tie back to one decision I made – to persevere, at a time during my first year of college when I didn’t think I belonged in, or deserved to be at, college. I prevailed … and so can you!
If you find yourself in similar situation, or having similar feelings of self-doubt, please realize this:
You deserve to be here. You’ve made it! – You are in college. You have every right to be here. You deserve this opportunity. It’s up to you to make the most of it!
Not all who apply to college are offered admittance. You were admitted with the full expectation that you possess the talent and abilities to succeed here. Your professors all want you to succeed – that’s why they welcomed you to the community of scholars on the first full day you were here.
Realize that scientific research has demonstrated that neither your intelligence, nor your I.Q., is fixed. The brain is malleable. With effort, practice, and exercise, new neural connections form in your brain. The result is that your intelligence, as measured by I.Q. scores, can and will increase.
You can, and will, make friends and join communities. College is a great place to make friends, many of whom will become lifelong friends.
A student once wrote to me that he suffered miserably from loneliness his first semester. And then he joined the Drama Club on campus. Not only did he make friends, but in his sophomore year he landed a small part in one of the plays. By his junior year he landed a leading role in another play. His self-confidence in social situations went from very low levels to very high levels. He learned to overcome his fears, and he then became outwardly friendly to others and a friend and mentor to many other students.
Many other of my students have written to me, in essays which I assigned in one of my classes, that they really didn’t find a lot of new friends on campus until they joined a couple of clubs and organizations. Some wrote that the first club they joined didn’t work out, so they just dropped out and joined another – and tried again until they found a “good fit” for them. If you have not yet done so - join a club or organization – this week!
Realize that in your freshman year, and often in subsequent years, EVERYONE will experience an academic setback (a grade, or many grades, below their expectations). And EVERYONE at one time or another – or for extended periods – will have awkward moments or periods when they feel that they don’t belong. These setbacks should not be interpreted by you as a sign you don’t belong in college, or that you are not going to succeed. YOU DESERVE TO BE HERE.
Another student I know lacked confidence in his abilities. “Everyone else seems so confident in class,” he told me. “Even when they take notes in class. I sometimes feel like I’m the only one who is lost.” I assured him he was not.
Every week I receive e-mails from students inquiring about how they should study for a particular class. (This past week I received over a dozen e-mails and visits, asking exactly that question.) And I often meet with students who doubt their own abilities. By reaching out to me, they have “crossed the threshold” – often I can empower them with a study method. At other times I refer them to another person on campus, perhaps a specialist in dealing with a particular issue, who can offer the needed guidance.
While each student’s situation is different, and the challenges and their solutions vary, perhaps the key is this … EVERY STUDENT HAS DOUBTS. EVERY STUDENT AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER LACKS CONFIDENCE IN HIS OR HER OWN ABILITIES. BUT … EVERY COLLEGE STUDENT IS A SCHOLAR AND CAN OVERCOME THE OBSTACLES AND PREVAIL.
I cannot promise you that every experience you have on any college campus will be a positive one. At times you may have some negative experiences. But I can assure you that YOU BELONG AT COLLEGE. You made the grades to get into college. You can, with effort and perseverance, and if you reach out for assistance, succeed.
Small decisions by you can yield big results. One student relayed to me that she overcame her poor writing skills when she made the decision to cross the threshold and entered the Writing Lab. She asked for her essay to be reviewed (before it was submitted in the class she was writing it for. She received valuable tips on the essay’s organization, the use of topic sentences in paragraphs, etc. Her resulting essay grades improved dramatically. And this led to improvements to her final grades in many classes, and to her GPA.
Another student was not doing well in College Algebra, but after his first test he started to do all of his homework in the Math Lab, where a proctor is available to help out when students get stuck on a problem or concept. His grades in that, and subsequent math classes, improved dramatically. (And he was less distracted at studies.) Other students have turned to online math tutoring, often offered through colleges for free.
Still another of my students wrote to me that she expanded her comfort zone by sitting down with another person, who was all alone, in the dining hall. She adopted the role of interviewer, asking questions about the other person’s major, what the other person liked about college, what advice the other person would have for an incoming freshman, etc. (Asking questions – and listening and then asking follow-up questions – is a great way to start a relationship.) She did this multiple times, and each time felt more comfortable approaching strangers in this way. It turns out that several of the persons she approached had some of the same challenges she was dealing with. And she made friends - that remain remain friends to this day.
If you suffer a setback, and you begin to feel depressed, or feelings that you may not succeed here, there is so much help available at Alfred State. Reach out and seize it.
- Your Resident Assistants (they’ve been there – recently)
- Your Residence Directors (they’ve also been there)
- The Academic Success Coaches and other advisors at your college's Student Success Center.
- Peer tutors, available at many colleges and for many classes.
- Your academic advisor.
- Your professors.
- Your coaches.
- Your club advisor.
- Your college's Health & Wellness Center - the counselors there are very helpful when you have problems such as inability to get to sleep, anxiety, and so much more
- Your college's Career Development Center – particularly if you begin to question whether you are in the right major.
- … and many more!
Where do you begin? Contact your RA, RD, academic advisor, or athletic coach – they can either assist you, or connect you with the right resources on campus. Your campus may also have special counselors or coaches for academic success.
Want to further boost your own ability to succeed? Write a letter to another freshman. This is an important exercise, which everyone can do. It will provide you with real insights, as you write the letter. (See the attached letter, as an example). Pretend to write a letter to “my brother/sister/friend, when you get to college.” Tell them what you’ve already learned. Give them tips on what it takes to succeed, and persevere, while at college.
(If you desire, shoot me a copy of the letter you write. RhoadeRA@AlfredState.edu. I’ll keep your name confidential, but may use excepts from your letter in future communications to your fellow students. It’s just one of the many ways you can help out your fellow students – and help me, too!)
Lastly, state either:
(If you are presently alone, say out loud): “I am a scholar, motivated to succeed. I am part of a diverse, caring community of scholars.”
(If you are with one or more others, say together, out loud): “We are scholars, motivated to succeed. We are part of a diverse, caring community of scholars.”
Repeat this daily. Print it out. Post in above your study area - or on the back of your door.
Some final thoughts …
College is a great place to grow and expand your comfort zone, a bit at a time. If not now, when? Challenge yourself to become a better person – and student – each and every day. Adopt S.M.A.R.T. Goals to propel you forward. Develop yourself better into the person that others will follow.
With grit, perseverence, and - on occassion - support from others, you CAN and WILL succeed at college. Never let self-doubt, lack of confidence, or instances of failure get in your way.
Instances of failure, as occurred more than several times to me, did not make me a failure. Nor should any setbacks cause you not to succeed at college.
Never, ever give up!
Ron A. Rhoades, JD, CFP(r) is the Curriculum Coordinator for the Financial Planning Program at Alfred State College, Alfred, NY. He provides his students with exceptional learning experiences in Business Law I, Investment Planning, Retirement Planning, the Personal Financial Planning Capstone course, Employee Benefits Planning, Insurance & Risk Management, and Money & Banking. He is also the author of Choose to Succeed In College and In Life: Continuously Improve, Persevere, and Enjoy the Journey, available for $2.99 (Kindle edition) at Amazon.com. He can be reached at RhoadeRA@AlfredState.edu.