Columnist Jackie Brousseau-Pereira: Experts weigh in on how to ‘do college’

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst campus in 2016.  The Boston Globe via AP

Published: 8/20/2019 9:00:17 PM

It’s mid-August and colleges are getting reading for the arrival of new and returning students. Those of us who work on these campuses try to help the incoming first year class get acclimated to college. We also recognize that it’s challenging to expect students to listen to us when most of us haven’t been in their shoes for many years.

That’s why for this month’s column, I turned to a bunch of experts on the first year experience – current students and a few recent graduates – to ask them for their best advice for this year’s incoming freshman class. 

Jessica Williams, a communication major who graduated a couple of years ago and is now gainfully employed in television production, wants new students to remember, “There’s a fine line between challenging yourself and overworking yourself. Figure out where that line is and then push a little further to make sure you are always challenging yourself.”

She also advises that students get enough exercise and sleep so that they don’t have to rely on coffee too much.

Sarah Carroll, a legal studies major who managed the UMass Marching Band and was my awesome teaching assistant, now works for a commercial property management firm.

She says, “Freshman year is magical, but it’s also tough. Know that you are going to make friends and you might lose them, too. One student’s plan for college can be different than another’s. If everyone around you is making choices in a way that doesn’t fit who you are, that can be difficult. Try to remember that it’s OK to move away from friendships that are not working for you.”

Tenzin Thargay, who studied political science and international relations, just finished a Fulbright Fellowship in Korea after graduation. He credits mentors and advisors for helping him succeed. For students going to UMass or one of the other five colleges in the area, he recommends that they consider finding out about opportunities like doing research with a professor, participating in a study abroad program, or taking a class through the Five College Interchange.

Kassidy Jean-Charles, an economics major who works at a recruiting and staffing agency, wants first-year students to know that they don’t have to do everything according to some plan they have in their heads. College may work out differently than you expected. It’s important to build a support network that they can turn to if things don’t go the way they thought they would. Find friends, professors and advisors who can help you advocate for yourself.

Carol McCormick is going into her senior year as a communication major. She’s been a UMass tour guide, a peer advisor and was an amazing teaching assistant with me last year.

She says, “I think as an incoming freshman, it’s really important to be open-minded to new people and opportunities. Leave your door open and say hi to people as they walk by.”

She also recommends that students find one or two spots on campus to go to have “me” time – whether that’s the gym, a coffee shop, or the library. It’s important to have a place to go and unwind and check in with yourself. Her motto is: “Challenge yourself but stay true to who you are.”

Theo Schanz, a rising senior sociology major, spent much of the summer advising new students. He wants students to know that, “needing help doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong or are inadequate.” He encourages students to learn about the many resources available to them on campus and seek them out when they need help.

Mikayla Viscione, who studied political science and middle eastern studies, was a longtime teaching assistant for first-year seminars. Her advice to new students is that “it’s OK to feel overwhelmed at times. Remember that you are not the only one feeling that way. It’s important to reach out to others.”

She also says that sometimes students “think that if they are not having the most fun or best experience as a freshman that they are doing college wrong. That is certainly not true. People move and adjust at their own pace and that’s OK!”

Luwane Pipkins graduated with a degree in sociology. He was a student athlete, team captain and an excellent mentor to younger players. His advice to new students is “make sure you don’t stress yourself too much and try to enjoy college.”

There you have it, advice on doing college from the real experts. Of course, I would be remiss in my duty if I didn’t add my two cents here. College is one of the places where you get to figure out who you are, what you are interested in and who you want to be in the world.

To make the most of it, be sure to study things you enjoy. You will do better in classes if you are actually interested in the subject matter. Take chances and try new things. Join a club or two. Consider learning a foreign language and studying in another country.

Look for challenging internships so you can learn what you like and what you don’t in a workplace. There is so much that you can do in these next four (more or less) years. 

Jackie Brousseau-Pereira of Easthampton writes a monthly column. She is the academic dean and director of first-year seminars in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She can be reached at columnists@gazettenet.com.


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