The 'insiders' guide' to being a successful new student

August 01, 2006

University Park, Pa. -- In only a few short weeks, thousands of first-year students will be commencing upon their collegiate journeys at Penn State campuses statewide. Along with laptops, residence hall decor and a four-month's supply of toaster pastries, these rookies undoubtedly will arrive with a slew of advice in tow, as well -- Grandpa's instruction to "study hard," mom's suggestion to "call if you get homesick," big sister's reminder that "bad things happen when you eat pizza seven days a week."

Although loved ones' recommendations and admonitions are well-intended and often well-informed, Penn State faculty and staff "insiders" know some tried and true tips to help new students optimize their college experience.

"Students should realize that college is a great chance to start everything new," said Marce Pancio, assistant director of Residence Life at Penn State University Park.

Forge a connection

Everyone knows the very familiar isolation of being unaccustomed to a new place and new way of life. However, connecting with others is one of the fastest ways to acclimate oneself.

"Get involved with groups that are active in things about which you care and have an interest," said Davin Carr-Chellman, a lecturer in communications arts and sciences. "Developing this kind of social network contributes significantly to the quality of your university experience, correlates well with emotional well-being and genuine happiness, and forms the foundation for lifelong friendships and connections."

Pancio recommended investigating the many student organizations the University has to offer. New students can search their campus's Web site to discover what clubs and organizations are available, or, at University Park, they can visit to browse options.

Forming meaningful relationships with professors also will open doors for new students, in academia and beyond.

"Take the time to develop a solid, consistent and long-term working relationship with a faculty member in your field of interest or major," said Carr-Chellman. "This relationship will enhance your classwork and your out-of-class learning, and will make letters of reference for employment or graduate school much more relevant and effective."

Pancio recommended that new students make a concerted effort to meet their resident assistant (RA), as well. "They can really be a great resource when dealing with anything from roommate problems to class registration," she said.

Keep time on your side

Put some thought into time management, and realize that most professors invest a great deal of effort into giving students the time they need to effectively complete an assignment.

"Most faculty have a genuine interest in seeing students learn and succeed, and, thus, do not design assignments for students to fail," said Carr-Chellman. "The result is that, with enough time, effort and planning, you will perform much better than would otherwise be the case. These time-management habits also bode well for success outside of the classroom and in future employment."

Read, read and then read a little more

Telling a college student to remember to read might seem like telling any human to remember to breathe. However, many faculty and staff believe it bears repeating, as they see a correlation between student success and reading -- any and all kinds of written material, in and out of class.

When Russell Frank, associate professor of communications, and his class inventoried some of the most significant student-success tips to pen a "How to Be a Successful Journalism Major" strategy, it is not surprising that "read great writers" showed up on the list. This is a suggestion that Frank emphatically advocates for all students, regardless of their major. And being that Frank was teaching first-year seminar entitled "How to Read the Newspaper (and Why You Should)" at the time, it also is natural that "read the papers" made its way to the top of the list. Frank sees this as a way for students to become personally engaged in their world.

"As a great believer in the importance of being well-informed, I was pleased last fall when we steeped ourselves in Hurricane Katrina coverage and some of the students became aware that when people talk about Katrina 10 and 20 years from now, they'll know all about it because they were paying such close attention to the news at the time. This does my heart good," he said.

Another reading habit students should embrace is a careful perusal of the syllabus for each class, as it will outline the course's content and deadlines and the professor's expectations.

"Get into the habit of reading," said Greg Ziegler, professor of food science. "And this includes the syllabi of your classes, which you should review thoroughly by specifically scheduling time and finding an appropriate place."

Get out of your comfort zone

When new students arrive on campus, they may mitigate their nervousness by gravitating toward people and activities that seem familiar to them, but Penn State faculty and staff suggest students step outside of their comfort zones and take advantage of the diverse out-of-class experiences the University offers.

"I tell students to wander through the various galleries and museums on campus on the off-chance that something will catch their eye and make them glad they took the time, and to pick an activity happening on campus that they would never go to in a million years -- and go to it, just to see what it's like and what kind of a crowd it draws," said Frank.

"This all gets back to getting out of your comfort zone. I think we get locked into our own view of who we are and what we like, which reduces the chances of our discovering something new about the world and about ourselves."

Orient yourself

Penn State has put a great deal of effort into making its orientation activities interesting, entertaining and relevant to students, and Pancio urged new students to take advantage of as many events as possible.

"You will get a chance to meet many new students, take a campus tour, learn how to use the local bus system, and even learn how to use the dining halls," she said.

Included among the University's many fun and informative orientation events are activities for on-campus students during Penn State's Welcome Week, starting Aug. 30. To learn more, students moving into residence halls at any Penn State campus can visit online.

Also included on each campus's Welcome Week site are helpful links to important information that can help students and families make an organized transition to college life. The "Before Moving In" list includes reminders to get vaccinated, purchase a long-distance phone card, and review campus parking and unloading information, among many other tips. The site also includes tips to prepare for checking in at a residence hall.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009