For many students, going off to college is the first time they are truly independent. My freshman year I was thousands of miles away from home and had never managed finances, had a job or a roommate, or even done laundry on my own. I was lucky in that my parents supported me through these changes and virtually taught me how to "adult." I know not everyone is fortunate enough to have parents, grandparents, and siblings who have been to college and can prepare them for what it will be like.
Despite all of the support, one of the main changes of starting college is one that is difficult to prepare for: self-discovery. Before the start of my freshman year, I was one of 50 first-year students chosen to go on a leadership retreat with the university. At this retreat there were upperclassmen that taught us how to get involved on campus and gave us advice for our freshman year. The most valuable part of this retreat however, was what I learned about myself. We were challenged to dig deep into our personalities and our pasts to discover how we communicate, learn, and interact. We went through self-reflection exercises to understand how our past experiences affect our future, make us stronger, and connect us to those around us. I went from knowing no one in the state I was going to school in, to having 50 peers that I truly felt connected to. I felt empowered to tackle my freshman year.
I know it isn't financially practical to send every college freshman on a retreat like this, however, I propose that all college freshman take a lifestyles course once a week as part of their first-year experience. My university required a similar course that was one credit and met once a week for 50 minutes. The course was suppose to teach how to apply for jobs, register for classes, and navigate our way around campus, however, a majority of the time was spent reading a book that matched my professors political views.
I believe that this course should have a similar structure to the one my university offered: meet once a week for about an hour and be taught by a professor in the same field as the students in the course, so that this professor could also serve as the students’ academic advisor. There would also be an upperclassman co-teaching the course so that the students would have an older peer to look up to for advice. The curriculum for this course would include topics such as:
- financial literacy-budgeting, taxes, credit, and paying off student loans
- leadership building activities- personality tests and discussions that bring students to understand how to interact with their peers of different strengths
- self-reflection on their freshman year as well as on their past experiences
- career advice- resumes, cover letters, interview tips, finding a job on/off campus
- student engagement- how to get involved on campus and information about events occurring each week
- college relationships- how to deal with roommate, boyfriend/girlfriend, professor, and friend conflicts
- campus secrets- where to eat, how to register for classes, housing selection process, and what to do outside of class
- physical/mental health- student health benefits, fostering safe drinking habits, balancing school and social life
- study and research skills- library resources, study tips, exploration of learning styles
Through this course the students would have the opportunity to gain the skills needed to be independent as well as form a strong relationship with their professor, peer mentor, and fellow students in the course. The community and skills built in the program would help the students be successful during their freshman year, college experience, and beyond.
*The course is modeled after the University of Tampa's Gateways Program required for all first-year students to take*