Foliotek Blog

Starting Strong

It's finally here … your first semester of college. Supposedly, the past four years of high school have been preparing you for this very moment. When it comes to starting college, chances are someone will say that you should start strong…maybe you're even telling yourself to start strong. Talk of 'strong starts' is everywhere: business, sports, diet, fitness, and education. For instance, when starting a new franchise or multi-level marketing business, there is almost always a 'strong start' program that encourages (and rewards) folks to build success quickly. Even sports teams talk about starting the season strong and how the first several games can set the tone for the rest of the season. Many people talk about starting strong, but is it really that important? Specifically, does the way we start our first semester of college really have an impact on the rest of our college career?

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Michigan State University dug into this exact question. It turns out that your academic performance during your first semester of college is a decent indicator of how likely you will graduate. Their research showed that students who have a GPA of 2.0 or lower their first semester of freshman year have a less than 40% graduation rate, compared to MSU's overall 80% graduation rate. That means if you do relatively well your first semester you are TWICE as likely to graduate than if you were to fall into academic probation. So, while you don't need a 4.0 your first semester to make it to graduation, there IS value in taking your first semester seriously.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

If starting strong is important after all, how do you have a strong first semester? In the famous words of Benjamin Franklin, "by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail". But don't only take his word for it (although you probably could … he was a pretty smart guy), a survey by Palo Alto Software found that companies were twice as likely to succeed if they had a business plan. The same concept can be applied to your college career. So, what should you include in your plan for the first semester of college? There is a lot of great information out there if you search for "Tips for college success". Here are several I found especially noteworthy that apply not only to college, but post-graduation as well:

1. Take Responsibility
You're not going to earn your diploma if you don't work for it. While other people do play vital roles and can influence your success, at the end of the day YOU have to put in the effort. This includes going to class, taking steps to build good study habits, and doing your homework. If you're struggling academically, take the initiative to seek out help. Reach out to other classmates, utilize online resources or campus resources like a writing center, and take advantage of professor's office hours.

2. Invest in Good Relationships
It's inevitable: you're going to face challenges. Surround yourself with people who will have your back and provide the encouragement needed to make it through the tough times, and do the same for them. When there is tension in your friendships, learn how to resolve conflict. You're not always going to agree with your friends and you will most likely hurt each other in some way. If they are a friend worth having, don't let pettiness win … address the situation and move forward. It's a good life skill to have.

3. Strike a Balance
While anything worth doing requires hard work, have some fun too. Prioritize your responsibilities so your academics don't suffer, but also carve out some time in your schedule for a little fun. Go to football games and social events, hang out with your friends and family, do something you like to do (walk, hike, read, watch movies, play music). Whatever you like to do for fun, just make sure it's balanced with your other responsibilities. If you can figure out how to find this balance in college, you will be well on your way to developing a good work-life balance for your future career as well.

Add a comment below to share your own tips for a successful first semester!


Redefining the College Admissions Process

What if we lived in a world that awarded young people for their contributions to others and their community? What if colleges and universities assessed these factors along with personal achievements when deciding whom to admit?

These questions have been on my mind ever since I went through the college admissions process. To me, the process seemed to only reward students with good test scores and grades. While those personal achievements are certainly important, I believe that the world would be better served if the admissions process also took a closer look at the contributions young people make to their communities.
alt The Making Caring Common Project is an effort to revise the college admissions process. It is sponsored by the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The basic idea is to promote ethical and intellectual engagement as major factors in the admissions process.

The report lists three challenges to be addressed:

  1. Describe how college admissions can motivate high school students to contribute to others and their communities

  2. Demonstrate how the admissions process can more accurately and meaningfully assess young people’s contributions to others and their communities

  3. Redefine achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce achievement process.

The report also recommends assessment practices that emphasize both contributions to one’s family and assessing students’ daily awareness of and contributions to others. Including contributions to one’s family can help students in low and modest income households. Caring for a sick relative or a younger sibling and helping to run a household while parents are working is certainly a valid contribution to society.

Admissions offices should continually seek to better assess whether students are kind, generous, honest and fair.

These ideas have not traditionally been a part of the admissions process. The Making Common Caring Project asserts that they should be.

The report makes the following recommendations for community service and engagement:

  • Promote meaningful, sustained community service for at least one year. This facilitates deeper reflection and commitment to a worthy cause
  • Promote collective action that takes on community challenges.This helps to develop problem solving and group skills that relate to job readiness
  • Promote authentic meaningful experiences with diversity
  • Promote service that develops gratitude and a sense of responsibility for the future.

To reduce the amount of achievement pressure in regards to community service, the report asserts prioritizing quality over quantity. This applies to taking advanced courses as well as the number of community service projects in which the student participates.

The report also asserts that students should not be over-coached while they are preparing their applications. Admissions offices should let students know that applications that are over-coached can be transparent and detrimental to admission.

The Making Caring Common Project is a great step toward having a better society. If students understand that their contributions to society are just as important as their personal achievements, they will be much more likely to engage in community service. My hope is that all colleges and universities will change their admissions process to assess the candidate as a whole rather than just looking at test scores and transcripts. I believe that this would be a major step toward creating a society that values ethical behavior and community service.