Go to class. It seems obvious; it seems simple. Nevertheless, I had to give that advice to many students over my long career in higher education. Students would arrive in my office upset, stressed, crying, scared, withdrawn, or confused. Once they started talking, students would frantically explain that they were failing a class (or often, just not currently getting their typical A). I would let them vent and then simply ask: “Are you going to class?” No, they would admit. The professor is unfair. The course is too hard. I’ve been sick. I’ve been busy with other “more important” classes. The professor doesn’t take attendance. The class is too early. If you can think of an excuse, I heard it.
As part of our conversation, we would review graduation requirements and develop an academic plan. I referred students to campus resources, such as the learning or counseling centers. We would discuss strategies for success. Yet before they left my office, I always got a commitment that they would start going to class. We would agree that they would attend class for an entire week, and then come back for another appointment to check in on their progress. When students came back, they often felt much better. To put it in philosophical terms, going to class is necessary, but not always sufficient for success at college.
Therefore, the title of the book — and the first tip — is “Go to class.” In this book, I’ve tried to distill all of the advice that I’ve been giving to students for 20 years. Comprehensive personalized advising is not always available to students, and even when good advising is readily available, sometimes students don’t take advantage it. Yet good advice is essential to success. With this book, I want to help all students everywhere succeed and make the most of their college education.
I did not leave college until I was 49. I went to my first school, Colgate University, in 1987 and left my last school, Rutgers University, in 2017. Before leaving Rutgers to write this book, I spent 10 years as an Assistant Dean for the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program. Some of the advice in this book originates from my interactions with this amazing group of students. I advised over 400 students each year, watching them adapt to college, struggle, succeed, and launch into careers, graduate programs, and post graduate fellowships. Of course, my bright and motivated students deserve the credit for their achievements. Although they did the work, I know that my advice helped them make the most of their college experience. Throughout my career, I’ve experienced small private schools, large public research universities, and a school in the Ivy league. I’ve spent time at colleges and universities that are rural, suburban, and urban. I’ve been an undergraduate student, graduate student, academic adviser, student affairs professional, policy maker, and teacher.
I am also a wife and mom of a first-year college student. Throughout my daughter’s college search, I saw the admissions process from the other side. After speaking at countless recruitment events, reading hundreds of essays, and reviewing numerous transcripts, the shoe was on the other foot. Over the past two years, as my conversations with other parents inevitably turned to college, I realized that I have a unique perspective. I see and hear things during campus visits that other parents and kids don’t notice. As a parent with a background in higher education, I know that it isn’t just what the admission representatives say, but how they say it and which statistics and programs they chose to highlight. On the tour, it isn’t just what the student tour guide showcases, but also what the tour leaves out. Of course, each school puts its best foot forward, but I see the nuances between each school’s approach to education and student life. My hope is that my career has prepared me to help my most important advisee, my daughter. Before she left, I gave her a copy of this book.