I wrote “Dean’s List” partly because I worry that families are investing staggering resources into a college experience that is not all it should be. But let me be more explicit here.
As the costs of tuition rise through the roof, we have begun an important debate on whether America’s higher education is worth the investment. Politicians wonder whether their state university’s faculty focus enough on teaching, for example. Since debate may never be resolved, consider a couple of ideas to get your money’s worth now:
- Open Up. The key to college success is finding a course of study that deeply interests you, tapping into your talent and natural curiosity. That might mean exploring new areas, even those that seem “impractical,” so that you get the good grades that come of wanting to learn. Do not let someone else tell you what you like. But do more than that. Go find what you love.
- Expect the New. The academic experience in college is profoundly different than in high school, even at a small college. Your professors are not teachers; they are more than that. No one is going to spoon feed you. So you need to take ownership of your studies. If you expect a new environment, you are more likely to celebrate the opportunities and thrive.
- Get Help. Since you now know that learning is your job, you will also need to take charge of finding the help you need. That begins with good academic advising, as advisors can make sure you’re ready for what you’re studying, and continues with tutoring and, when needed, counseling. Getting help is a sign of strength. Be strong and get help.
- Buy Smart. Federal law now requires that universities post information about books you’ll need to purchase, so that you don’t have to buy them at the university bookstore. Armed with an ISBN number, or just the title and author, you can find bargains online or buy it used. You can also “buy” cheaper summer courses outside your college, then transfer them back. But do not cheat yourself of a full experience by graduating early. If you have no choice, shave off just one semester.
- Stick to It. Most American colleges and universities have serious problems with retention. Many places lose nearly half of their freshmen as they transfer or drop out. No matter how little or much you are paying in tuition, it is all wasted if you don’t complete your degree. That’s why getting good help and advising is so crucial.