Making the most of college

April in Portland is always such an interesting month. The weather is so changeable from moment to moment that you never know what to expect. In April, spring doesn’t seem quite ready to commit to us yet. There are signs that spring wants to be fully sprung, as it were – trees are in leaf again, flowers are blooming, and when the sun is shining, people are out and about in shorts and flip-flops, and the optimistic among us begin to think about what tomatoes to plant in the garden this year.

But then we’ll get a bout of rain or hail and a shot of cold air, and everything will be gray for awhile longer.

It occurs to me that Portland’s ultra-variable weather in April aptly mirrors the emotional state of high school seniors trying to make up their minds about college before that May 1 deadline.

Many students alternate between feeling sunny and optimistic about the future, and nervous and unsettled about their next steps. They are happy that the college admissions process is behind them, but also a little sad and nostalgic about the fact that their time in high school is coming to an end. They are excited about the opportunities that college will bring, but they also look at the academic and social transition from high school to college with some trepidation. Most are enthusiastic about being in a new environment and meeting new people, but they also wonder if and how they will maintain their high school friendships. And some have lingering doubts about whether or not they made the right decision.

But as April edges toward May and things settle down on the meteorological and emotional fronts (we hope!) most seniors start to focus their thoughts on college. As this year’s seniors prepare to head off into the wide world, I want to share an article about how to launch a successful college career.

Over a decade ago, Dr. Richard Light, a professor at Harvard, studied the factors that influenced student learning and overall success and happiness in college. His research yielded a number of simple yet effective strategies. These include suggestions like: “Meet the faculty,” “study in groups,” and “write, write, write.”  These suggestions are easy to implement and have a pronounced impact on student success, yet are often overlooked by students.

A summary of Dr. Light’s advice appears in this article from the New York Times.  (The article dates from April 2001, but the advice remains sound all these years later.)

Although most seniors still have their eyes fixed firmly on the immediate future (how many days till graduation?) and may not be interested in this advice right now, this is a good article to have them bookmark on their computers or tuck in their backpacks for later reading.