Sunday, July 30, 2006

Advice for the Freshmen

In a little under a month, a new cohort of freshmen will appear on my campus. Here's what I would tell them if I had a speaking slot at orientation.
  1. You don't need a shiny new computer. Save your money. Many of the programs at our university will require you to buy a computer that matches their specific requirements before you begin your junior year. Wait until then to buy something new. For now try to pick up something being cast off by a relative or family friend.

  2. If you follow the standard advising program, few of the courses that you take your first year or two will be taught by professors. This is especially true in your required English and math courses. Most of your courses will be taught by grad students, temporary faculty, and long-term non-research faculty. The first two groups tend to be fairly mobile. If you do really well in a class and expect to ask for a letter of recommendation, be sure that you stay in contact with your instructor so that you can find him/her after he/she moves to another university.

  3. Often your instructors will tell you exactly what to do. Pay attention to these directions and follow them. Even if you learned a different citation style in high school. Even if you prefer a different format for writing up a problem set. Listen up. In class I often give a list of exactly what is going to be on the test.

  4. I know a lot of people who've gotten into academic trouble by playing too many computer games.

  5. The low-level math courses stick with the same textbooks as long as the publisher will allow it. Probably the same is true for other departments. Once you know your schedule, you can scour the department web pages (or call the department) to find out what texts will be used for your courses and buy them online at a discount.

  6. Dress in layers. The University Center is never above 70 degrees; the math building is never below 80 degrees.

  7. About a quarter of you won't come back for a second year. If there is any chance that you might be part of that group, don't take any classes that you think are stupid requirements just to waste your time. If you're only going to be here for one year, make the most of it, and only take classes that are important to you and your interests.

  8. Get a paper copy of the Undergraduate Catalog, and keep it forever. You can win all sorts of battles by citing Catalog.

  9. Joining a Greek-Letter organization takes about the same about of time and money as taking a two credit-hour course. If you decide to join, be sure to plan for the commitment.

  10. There is more to taking notes than merely writing down the glyphs that appear on the board. Decide why you're taking notes and how you are going to use them. Then be intelligent about what you choose to write down.