Friday Roundtable: 'Six things I wish I'd known before starting college'

UofM students
Students and staff members navigate the campus of the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2015

This week on the Friday Roundtable, we revived our "Six Things I Wish I Would Have Known" series.

In the past we've talked about the six things people wish they would have known before starting their own business, becoming a doctor or teaching.

This week, MPR News host Kerri Miller put a question to three people who work on college campuses: "What do wish you'd known before starting college?"

Grace Coggio, assistant professor of communication and media studies at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls; Trey Williams, director of TRIO/Student Support Services at Carleton College; and Erin Carlson, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Minnesota joined the conversations.


1) Talk to your professors

Williams said that students are often intimidated by office hours, and don't know how to initiate conversations with professors without making it sound like they haven't done their homework. Carlson's advice to students is to show up anyway.

It's OK to be curious and ask questions about the field at large, and not just the courses that you are enrolled in. As a professor, Carlson said she's not looking for total comprehension of the subject during these discussions, but instead wants to see passion and excitement from her students.

2) Don't limit yourself to one population

When trying to adjust to life on campus, it can be easy to find one group that you click with and make that your home. Williams encourages students to expand beyond that base and meet with students from other backgrounds, in other activities and with different interests. A well-rounded college experience includes diversifying the time spent out of class.

3) Enter with an open mind

It's possible to enter college with your career path already charted, but in college you'll be exposed to new opportunities that you didn't know were out there. Give yourself the flexibility to explore what it would look like to delve into a new field, a new career or even just one class that wasn't on your radar before walking on campus.

4) Embrace who you are

It's hard to pick a major without knowing who you are or what you want. Coggio recalls majoring in nursing because it was a "practical" choice. Despite her family's well-meaning encouragement, she came to realize that she wouldn't have a successful career in a field that she wasn't interested in. She tested a number of different courses before figuring out where she could best put her talents to work.

5) Take care of yourself

College can be a stressful time. Carlson encourages students to figure out to decompress, and to make that a habit. Whether it's hitting the gym, practicing an instrument or making use of the mental health resources offered on campus, it's important to schedule time for yourself.

6) Find a mentor

Establish a relationship with someone who is in your field. Ask for advice, tell them your goals, and let them hold you accountable.

Summer reading suggestions

• For the student who isn't sure where to start: "You Majored in What?: Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career" by Katharine Brooks

• For students who are looking to shift their paradigms: "Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race" by Beverly Daniel Tatum

• For students who are considering going back to school: "The Secret to Success" by Eric Thomas

• For students who are looking to stay curious: "The Harry Potter" series by J.K. Rowling

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