Retain Yourself: College Survival Secrets from a Higher Ed Insider
Ever find yourself wishing you could have a real insider’s perspective on higher education?
Introducing The EdMaster, your guide to a successful college experience!
If you’ve done your homework as a college consumer, then you already know that schools are judged—at least in part—by their retention rate. Translation: the proportion of students who return to the same school through graduation.
Since so much of the pressure to retain is on the schools and not the students, you may not realize that you’re still the master of your own undergraduate destiny. That’s the good news. The better news is sticking to two guiding principles can help you reach graduation day before you start collecting Social Security (read: before you’re older than dirt).
1. Study hard
It goes without saying that one of the best ways to succeed as an undergraduate is to do well academically. What does that mean exactly? The answer to that, grasshoppers, is different for everyone.
The definition of academic success isn’t straight As—although that would be nice, as I’m sure your grandma has told you before. But don’t listen to her. Instead, you should strive for continuous improvement. If you got a B- in chemistry last fall, then go for a B or better in the spring. Pit yourself in competition with your own past performance. See if today’s you is smarter than yesterday’s, and you’re likely to be very pleased with—and motivated by—what you discover.
So study hard, but also speak up. Raise your hand in class and share your perspective. Your fellow students may find your comments insightful or just plain awful—but believe me when I say both reactions have value. They’ll either reinforce your ideas or show you where your logic went off the deep end. Better to get schooled in school so you’re ready for the real world.
Part three of studying hard is to rub elbows with your professors. Take them up on an invitation to lunch to talk about the latest in neuroscience or the politics in Washington. Devour chances to work with them on original research—even if your role is minimal. Why? Because they’ll take you to the very edge of human knowledge for the sole purpose of pushing the limits when you get there.
Sound good so far? Believe me—it gets even better.
2. Play hard (but not too hard)
Ask any current or former college student and they’ll tell you that the buttoned-up bookworms who lived down the hall got less out of the undergrad experience than the balance beamers who also made time for fun. Balance beamers, as I define them, aren’t the shiftless drunkards who haven’t been to class in two weeks; instead, they’re the masters of time management who get their philosophy papers done in enough time to play Ultimate Frisbee and watch MTV.
They’re the varsity swimmers who write poetry for the college literary magazine. They’re the a cappella headliners who qualify for Phi Beta Kappa. They’re the beer pong players who use their table as a desk. Balance beamers are fun seekers—who smartly look for recreation in moderation.
But as I’m sure you already know, not all fun is good and clean. College is a time for embracing the filth and getting dirty. So go to a frat party and have some beer, but don’t drink yourself to the brink of death. Go to bed with the cute jock, but be sure to protect your junk. Smuggle a sandwich out of the cafeteria, but leave the industrial waffle iron behind. The truth of the matter is most colleges will tolerate a certain amount of bad behavior, but are guaranteed to crack down—as they should—when that behavior turns dangerous.
So, if you want to succeed, here’s your homework: Strike a balance between school and cool, be reckless without wrecking yourself. Take it from me, but do it for you.