Dad’s “Sage” Advice for Freshman Success at College

Pennies on Sully
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“Learn from the mistakes of others – you don’t have time enough to make them all yourself.”
-G.K. Chesterton








There’s a whole new crop of new freshmen out there, so I thought I’d share the advice I gave to my son when he departed for college four years ago. I’ve adapted it a bit for a wider audience, but it’s basically the same sage advice I told my son. I’d be very interested in readers’ advice as well!

1. Stay Spiritually Healthy

– Stick with whatever spiritual practices you’ve grown up with, whether that’s regular worship at your local church/synagogue/mosque or just spending quiet time watching the sun come up. Many college students believe they’re on their own and they don’t have to attend to their spirit, but spiritual health is just as important as your mental and physical health.

– You’ll do a lot of growing in the next four years, and there will be considerable stress from school, relationships, and life in general so don’t add unnecessary stress to your life by removing the spiritual center you depend on (whether you know it or not!).  By all means grow and expand your mind, but your freshman year is not the time for spiritual experimentation.

2. Make New Friends, Each Your Lunch, and Drink Your Water.

– This is the advice my son gave me every day as I left for work when we lived in San Antonio, and since it makes the same good sense for you that it for me did in 1994 I’m loaning it to you.

– Don’t be a cave dweller.  It’s easy to remain locked away in your dorm room for four years making excellent grades and few friends…resist the urge.   “To everything there is a season…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

– Try at least three new things your freshman year: join a club, go to a rally, see a play, go to a football game, take a road trip, enter a contest…don’t let the experience of college life be so big that it overwhelms you.  Challenge the experience to make you a better person.

3. Be Careful What You Choose, You May Get It

– This warning isn’t a caution against taking chances; I encourage you to take (reasonable) risks.  What it does mean is starting with the end in mind, even visualizing it as a fait d’accompli, is an excellent way to discern if you really want something, or you’re merely dreaming; then make a plan to get there.

4. “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” (h/t RAF)

– Success usually goes to the one who is prepared and has asked the question, “what can go wrong here?” Plan for and expect success, but don’t be crushed by failure.  The only real failure is quitting; never quit.

5. Guard Your Chastity

– Some time at college you’ll be tempted mightily to surrender your chastity. You may feel like you’re the last, or only, virgin on campus.  Don’t believe the lie!  Do yourself and your future spouse a favor by remaining chaste.  You’ll then be free to give your spouse what you’ve saved only for her or him. Morals aside, respect the power of sex and leave it for later…there will be plenty of time.

– If for some reason you are unsuccessful, remember you’ve only lost a battle not the war, then see #1 above.

6. Sit In The Front Three Rows, Ask Questions, And See The Prof At Least Once In His Office

– This is probably the best advice I received from my upperclassmen at Texas A&M.  Not only does it endear you to the prof and put you in prime “question” space, it enables you to see without dodging tall people’s heads and hair bows.

– More than once a prof gave me the benefit of the doubt because he knew me personally.

7. Have A Regular Schedule

– The monastic religious orders and the military share a penchant for routine because it’s effective at training your mind to remember things, and to help develop habits of “life-balance” for your mind, spirit, and body.

– You don’t have to be rigid about it, things come up, but having “reveille” and “taps”, “morning and evening prayer”, “workout time”, meals, and “study time” at regular intervals helps you stay balanced, fresh, and focused.  Also, practically speaking it’s also much easier to deviate from a plan than to attempt to form a new one from scratch at short notice.

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