If your student is heading off to college for the first time, both you and your student are probably focused on what she needs to take with her. Everyone is giving her suggestions. She’ll see lists from the college, lists from her friends, lists from major retailers (of all of their products that she needs to purchase), lists in books and lists on-line. You’ll overspend. She’ll overpack.
We’re not suggesting that some of the things on those lists aren’t important. Look at all of the suggestions carefully and help your student think about her lifestyle, her needs and her priorities. But amid all of the extra long sheets, the laundry bag or basket, the microwave, fridge, and matching comforters, there are four essentials that every college student really needs to be successful. Make sure your student heads to college with these four things and she’ll be equipped for a good start to her college career.
Essential #1 – A good alarm clock (or two!)
It seems simple. It seems like common sense. One of the most important keys to academic success in college is showing up for class. Some professors take attendance and some professors may not care whether you come to class. But being in class is how students learn the material. It is how students learn about the professor and what he considers important. It is where students have the opportunity to ask questions, make appointments with the professor, chat and get to know the professor – and for him to get to know the student. It is where students connect with other students – perhaps finding a study partner or study group. Yes, a huge part of success is simply showing up.
Make sure your student has an accurate, reliable alarm clock. If he has trouble getting up in the morning, get an alarm clock that sounds obnoxious, jumps off the table and runs around the room, or gets louder with each “snooze”. If he has a lot of trouble getting up, get two alarm clocks. Of course, you’ll have no control over whether your student actually uses the alarm clock, but talk to him about the importance of class attendance.
Note: Buy your student a good alarm clock, talk to him about the importance of using it, and then step out of the picture. Hopefully, he will use it. But if he doesn’t, he will need to deal with any consequences. Resist the urge to be your student’s alarm clock by calling him in the morning. Part of the college experience is learning to be responsible for yourself.
Essential #2 – A good planner.
Second in importance to class attendance (or perhaps competing for the most important position) is good time management. Encourage your student to think about how he will keep track of deadlines, meetings, and events.
Many students use their phone calendars to keep track of appointments. This makes sense and is handy because most students always have their phones with them. However, a good old-fashioned paper planner may be helpful for writing down every assignment due date, every test, every project. Then your student can break down the steps and record mini-deadlines that will help him accomplish his goals. He can cross out dates he will be off campus, away, or unavailable to study. He can visually see how much time he has to complete something and identify those times that three major assignments are due within the same week.
As soon as your student receives his syllabi at the beginning of the term, he can transfer all of the important dates to the planner, plan his own deadlines, and be organized for success. Almost all successful students, and their professors, will tell you that time management is one of the most important skills for success. It is not necessarily how much time the student has, but how he uses the time available to him. Of course, then your student needs to follow through with sticking to the plan!
Essential #3 – a usb, thumb drive or external hard drive
Your student may or may not be bringing his own computer to college. Most students do bring a computer, but it is possible, if less convenient, to use the school’s computer labs. Whether or not your student has his own computer, he should have some means of storing data separate from his computer. He should develop the habit of saving everything, including drafts, on the drive regularly. Computers develop problems. Computers occasionally don’t work. Professors are not particularly sympathetic when the student can’t hand in an assignment because “my computer is down”. Students are devastated when the work for the major research project is lost because “my hard drive crashed”. Your student should back everything up and be prepared to continue work or print it from another computer if necessary.
An external drive is also helpful for storing all past work. Encourage your student to save everything that he hands in – until after he graduates. If there is ever a grade dispute or question about a course, it may be important for your student to retrieve a paper. Students in senior seminar or capstone courses are often asked to reflect on their learning or include some of their work in a portfolio. Having access to all of a student’s college work is helpful.
While storing documents “in the cloud” is helpful as well, this still relies on the internet. In the event that your student needs a document but the internet is down, having physical storage is a great back-up plan.
Essential #4 – a filebox
In the same way that your student should keep all of his computer files on a drive, she should have a method of carefully keeping hard copies of essential college papers. Again, the student will never know what may be helpful. Keeping these papers in one place, in an organized way, may not come naturally to your student, but can make all of the difference if they are needed. Here are a few of the things that your student should be sure to save in her filebox:
- Syllabi from all courses. If your student should decide to transfer to another institution, she may be asked to provide a syllabus from a course to determine whether its content matches one offered by the new school.
- All papers handed in and returned. Your student may have a draft of his paper on his computer, but it is often helpful to have the copy of the paper returned by the professor, with comments and grade. Your student may want to refer to comments later to improve another assignment, or may need to produce the paper if there is ever a grade dispute.
- Major tests or assignments. These may be helpful for studying later or reviewing for a capstone exam. They may also be important for documenting grades.
- Copies of all forms handed in to college offices. If your student drops a class, changes a schedule, files an appeal, or completes another form, she should keep copies until after she graduates. College offices try to be efficient, but accidents can happen, pieces of paper can be lost, data can be mis-entered on a computer. Your student should keep all documentation.
- All correspondence from the college. Your student should keep all official letters or notifications from the college. He may need to refer to them later or produce them to substantiate some information.
We know that there are many essentials for your college student to consider taking as she packs for college. She’ll need to be comfortable, happy and well equipped. But she should definitely add these four essentials to her list – and give careful thought to why they are so important. The student who is consistently in class, well organized, unfazed by technological crises, and is armed with necessary documentation, is well on her way to academic success.