College move-in days are happening all across the country, despite school at all levels looking different due to COVID this year than it has in the past.
Yesterday, I repeated the same three pieces of First Day advice to our son as he begins his first semester at the University of Cincinnati. It’s the same three mandates I’ve shared with students for years as they begin their first days of college. In reflecting on this advice during our 8-hour drive home, I realized two critical things:
- These three keys are as relevant now in the midst of a pandemic than they’ve ever been. In fact, they are more important now than ever before.
- These three keys are just as important for high school students as for college students. These three keys can help high school students start strong this school year, even though school looks different due to COVID. However, the way you apply them looks different this year than in the past.
Three Keys to A Strong Start in College and High School This Year
The three keys to a strong start for you this year, whether you’re a college student or high-school student are these:
- Start something.
- Join something.
- Say something.
Start something on Day One of College or High School
The long version of this mandate goes something like this. On day one of school, you’ll get something called a syllabus from your teachers. This outlines what you’ll cover throughout the semester, key assignments, due dates and more. Most if not all of what’s on that syllabus isn’t due today. Ignore that. START IT TODAY. Start SOMETHING today. A HUGE part of becoming a Student is taking responsibility for moving your own stuff forward. That will be more important for you this year than ever before. For most students, there’s not a bell moving you from room to room this year. So take initiative. Start something. Read your syllabus on day one (this is one key that surprisingly few students actually do.) Then commit to the plan to do the work. This means transferring the contents of the syllabus into whatever planning tool or calendar you use. Plan the work. Work the plan. It starts today.
Then, start the first assignment. Read the chapter. Read the rubric. Give some intentional thought to what the assignment is all about. Take the first step day one.
Start something on day one of the school year this year. Do not let your head hit the pillow on day one until you can say that you took the first step in at least ONE thing that you will need to complete this semester.
Join something on day one of the school year
Engaged students are invested students. Colleges host events to boost engagement among students in the first few weeks of the school year. They’re called Involvement Fairs, Engagement Fairs or something similar. Colleges will do the same thing this year, but quite possibly these engagement events will be virtual or look different than they have in the past. No matter. The goal is the same. Get students engaged. For most college students, the easiest way to track down your school’s upcoming engagement fair is to check your student email. If you don’t see it there, Google “[name of college] + student organizations”. There will likely be the details of the event listed right there on the Campus Life page. Worst case, there will be information for contacts you can reach out to in order to get information.
If you have not already, spend some time researching your school’s student organizations and activities online. Pick 2-3 opportunities that light your fire. Then track down how to reach out to them and get involved.
Not ready to sign on the dotted line? Okay, join something more informal, whether it’s a pickup basketball game happening at the rec center, a game of frisbee on the quad, a conversation in the hallway of your dorm where you start by introducing yourself. Or simply JOIN your roommate for lunch or dinner in the dining hall. Extend yourself to others. If you have your eyes peeled, you will see folks all over campus walking around doe-eyed, waiting to be invited to do something, anything.
Will this feel strange? Yup. Unnatural? Totally. Do it anyway. Will it always result in success? Nope. You will face rejection, poor fits, changing your mind, full rosters, lack of response by folks you reach out to, and more. Doesn’t matter. Keep doing it. By the 21st or 25th time you do it, you will start to develop a habit of joining, engaging, reaching out, extending yourself. You are the new kid. This is what new kids have to do in strange situations to form community. More importantly, this is what ADULTS do to get involved. You are now a young adult. It is on you to get involved. Join something today.
For high school students whose activities have been severely impacted or cancelled by COVID, reaching out may be more important for you than ever before, and probably requires more initiative, guts and gumption on your part than ever before. The opportunities are still there if you look for them. Non-profit organizations need volunteers. Your nearby neighbors need help. Your church needs assistance. Your peer group needs community now more than ever, and so do you.
If you’re really in doubt about what’s available to join that is of interest to you, ask someone. Ask your guidance counselor. Ask a school administrator. Ask your parent. Ask your neighbor. Ask your coach. Google local organizations whose views you support, and ask them how you can help. Look up. Look out. Join something.
Say something on day one of the school year
The long version of this mandate sounds like this. College students, your professors hold office hours for a reason. They expect you to reach out to them when you need help. Go one step further. Reach out before you need help. Reach out day one of college.
Even though classes will be held largely online, many or most college professors are on campus and available for student appointments. On day one, schedule one with each of your professors. Worst case, this takes place via Zoom.
The purpose of the visit is to see and be seen. Having read your syllabus (see step 1), you now know what will be expected of you in this class. Let the professor know what you’re looking forward to about the class and how it fits into your overall goals. Ask them how they prefer to be contacted if and when you have questions. Ask them what steps they’ve seen students take who are committed to being successful in this class. Ask them how you can help support them as a student. Ask them what they love about the campus and the school. Chances are, you’ll learn a lot of valuable insights during this conversation. No doubt, you’ll make a positive first impression on your professor. Most importantly, you’ve established a connection that will be easier to continue when and if you need help during the semester than if you waited until you’re in need to reach out to them.
Say something also looks like this: Participate in class discussions starting day one. No one’s dreading online classes more than teachers. It’s hard enough to stare out into blank stares when the eyes are right there in the room. It’s even more daunting for teachers and professors to try to manage a one-way monologue via Zoom when no one participates. Be the student who makes the job of facilitating a discussion EASIER for your professor. Come prepared to class. Engage. Ask questions. Respond. Raise your hand. Say something.
High-school students, this goes for you, too. If you cannot connect in person with your teachers, make sure you send EACH OF THEM an email on day one or at LEAST during the first week of class to introduce yourself, let them know you’re looking forward to the class, offer your help and build a relationship. You have no idea how grateful your teacher will be that you took the initiative to reach out to them.
Start something. Join something. Say something. These are the three keys to a strong start to this school year, and every year. Good luck!
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