7 Successful students get involved
New college students may not immediately realize that they’ve entered a whole new world at college, including a world of other people possibly very different from those they have known before. This is a very important dimension of college—almost as important as the learning that goes on inside the classroom. How you deal with the social aspects and diversity of college world has a large impact on your academic success. Enter this new world with an open mind and you’ll gain many benefits.
You have many opportunities to get involved in campus life through social activities, clubs, sports and more. There are student led organizations that you should become familiar with on campuses. Most, if not all colleges, will have a student government, student athletics association and student clubs.
The college social experience also includes organized campus groups and activities. Participating in organized activities requires taking some initiative—you can’t be passive and expect these opportunities to come knocking on your door—but is well worthwhile for fully enriching college interactions.
The active pursuit of a stimulating life on campus offers many benefits:
- Organized groups and activities speed your transition into your new life. New students can be overwhelmed by their studies and every aspect of a new life, and they may be slow to build a new life. Rather than waiting for it to come along on its own, you can immediately begin broadening your social contacts and experiences by joining groups that share your interests.
- Organized groups and activities help you experience a much greater variety of social life than you might otherwise. New students often tend to interact more with other students their own age and with similar backgrounds—this is just natural. But if you simply go with the flow and don’t actively reach out, you are much less likely to meet and interact with others from the broader campus diversity: students who are older and may have a perspective you may otherwise miss, upper-level students who have much to share from their years on campus, and students of diverse heritage or culture with whom you might otherwise be slow to interact.
- Organized groups and activities help you gain new skills, whether technical, physical, intellectual, or social. Such skills may find their way into your résumé when you next seek a job or your application for a scholarship or other future educational opportunity. Employers and others like to see well-rounded students with a range of proficiencies and experiences.
- Organized groups and activities are fun and a great way to stay healthy and relieve stress. Exercise and physical activity are essential for health and well-being, and many organized activities offer a good way to keep moving.
Participating in Groups and Activities
College campuses offer a wide range of clubs, organizations, and other activities open to all students. College administrators view this as a significant benefit and work to promote student involvement in such groups. It’s a good time now to check out the possibilities:
- Browse the college and student government Web sites, where you’re likely to find links to pages for student clubs and organizations.
- Watch for club fairs, open houses, and similar activities on campus. Talk with the representatives from any group in which you may be interested.
- Look for notices on bulletin boards around campus. Student groups really do want new students to join, so they usually try to post information where you can find it.
- Consider other forms of involvement and roles beyond clubs. Gain leadership experience by running for office in student government or applying for a residence hall support position.
- If your campus doesn’t have a group focused on a particular activity you enjoy yourself, think about starting a new club.
Whatever your interests, don’t be shy about checking out a club or organization. Take chances and explore. Attending a meeting or gathering is not a commitment—you’re just going the first time to see what it’s like, and you have no obligation to join. Keep an open mind as you meet and observe other students in the group, especially if you don’t feel at first like you fit in: remember that part of the benefit of the experience is to meet others who are not necessarily just like everyone you already know.
Communication is at the core of almost all social interactions, including those involved in friendships and relationships with your professors. Communication with others has a huge effect on our lives, what we think and feel, and what and how we learn. Communication is, many would say, what makes us human.
Oral communication involves not only speech and listening, of course, but also nonverbal communication: facial expressions, tone of voice, and many other body language signals that affect the messages sent and received. Many experts think that people pay more attention, often unconsciously, to how people say something than to what they are saying. When the nonverbal message is inconsistent with the verbal (spoken) message, just as when the verbal message itself is unclear because of poorly chosen words or vague explanations, then miscommunication may occur.
Miscommunication is at the root of many misunderstandings among people and makes it difficult to build relationships. Remember that communication is a two-way process. Listening skills are critical for most college students simply because many of us may not have learned how to really listen to another person.
Here are some guidelines for how to listen effectively:
• Talk less to listen more. Most people naturally like to share their thoughts and feelings, and some people almost seem unable to stop talking long enough to ever listen to another person. Try this: next time you’re in a conversation with another student, deliberately try not to speak very much but give the other person a chance to speak fully. You may notice a big difference in how much you gain from the conversation.
• Ask questions. To keep the conversational ball rolling, show your interest in the other person by asking them about things they are saying. This helps the other person feel that you are interested in them and helps build the relationship.
• Watch and respond to the other person’s body language. You’ll learn much more about their feelings for what they’re saying than if you listen only to their words.
• Show the other person that you’re really listening and that you care. Make eye contact and respond appropriately with nods and brief comments like “That’s interesting!” or “I know what you mean” or “Really?” Be friendly, smile when appropriate, and encourage the person to keep speaking.
• Give the other person feedback. Show you understand by saying things like “So you’re saying that…” or asking a question that demonstrates you’ve been following what they’re saying and want to know more. As you learn to improve your listening skills, think also about what you are saying yourself and how.
Here are additional guidelines for effective speaking:
• Be honest, but don’t be critical. Strongly disagreeing may only put the other person on the defensive—an emotion sure to disrupt the hope for good communication. You can disagree, but be respectful to keep the conversation from becoming emotional. Say “I don’t know, I think that maybe it’s…” instead of “That’s crazy! What’s really going on is.…”
• Look for common ground. Make sure that your side of a conversation relates to what the other person is saying and that it focuses on what you have in common. There’s almost no better way to stop a conversation dead in its tracks than to ignore everything the other person has just said and launch into an unrelated story or idea of your own.
• Avoid sarcasm and irony unless you know the person well. Sarcasm is easily misunderstood and may be interpreted as an attack on the other person’s ideas or statements.
• Don’t try to talk like the other person, especially if the person is from a different ethnic or cultural background or speaks with an accent or heavy slang. The other person will feel that you are imitating them and maybe even making fun of them. Be yourself and speak naturally.
• While not imitating the other person, relate to their personality and style of thinking. We do not speak to our parents or professors the exact same way we speak to our closest friends, nor should we speak to someone we’ve just met the same way. Show your respect for the other person by keeping the conversation on an appropriate level.
• Remember that assertive communication is better than passive or aggressive communication. Assertive in this context means you are honest and direct in stating your ideas and thoughts; you are confident and clear and willing to discuss your ideas while still respecting the thoughts and ideas of others. A passive communicator is reluctant to speak up, seems to agree with everything others say, hesitates to say anything that others might disagree with, and therefore seldom communicates much at all. Passive communication simply is not a real exchange in communication. Aggressive communication, at the other extreme, is often highly critical of the thoughts and ideas of others. This communication style may be sarcastic, emotional, and even insulting. Real communication is not occurring because others are not prompted to respond honestly and openly.
• Choose your conversations wisely. Recognize that you don’t have to engage in all conversations. Make it your goal to form relationships and engage in interactions that help you learn and grow as a person. College life offers plenty of opportunities for making relationships and interacting with others if you keep open to them, so you needn’t try to participate in every social situation around you.
Balancing Schoolwork and Social Life
If there’s one thing true of virtually all college students, it’s that you don’t have enough time to do everything you want. Once you’ve developed friendships within the college community and have an active social life, you may feel you don’t have enough time for your studies and other activities such as work. For many students, the numerous social opportunities of college become a distraction, and with less attention to one’s studies, academic performance can drop. Here are some tips for balancing your social life with your studies:
Keep working on your time management skills. You can’t just “go with the flow” and hope that, after spending time with friends, you have enough time (and energy) left over for studying. Make a study schedule that provides enough time for what you need to do. Study first; socialize after.
Keep working on your study skills. When you have only a limited amount of time for studying, be sure you’re using that time as effectively as possible as you read assignments and prepare for class, organize your notes after class, and prepare for tests.
If you can’t resist temptations, reduce them. If you are easily distracted by the opportunity to talk with your roommate, spouse, or family members because you study where you live, then go to the library to study.
Make studying a social experience. If studying keeps you so busy that you feel like you don’t have much of a social life, form a study group. You will learn more than you would alone by gaining from the thoughts of others, and you can enjoy interacting with others without falling behind.
Keep your social life from affecting your studying. Simply scheduling study time doesn’t mean you’ll use it well. If you stayed up late the night before, you may not today be able to concentrate well as you study for that big test. This is another reason for good time management and scheduling your time well, looking ahead.
Get help if you need it. If you’re still having difficulty balancing your study time with other activities, talk with your program coordinator a counsellor. Maybe something else is keeping you from doing your best. Maybe you need some additional study skills or you need to get some extra help from a tutor or campus study center. Remember, we want you to succeed and will try to help those who seek help.
When and How to Say No
For all the benefits of an active social and campus life, too much of any good thing can also cause trouble. If you join too many groups, or if you have limited time because of work and family commitments, you may spend less time with your studies—with negative results.
Here are some guidelines for finding a good balance between social life and everything else you need to do:
- Don’t join too many organizations or clubs. Most advisors suggest that two or three regular activities are the maximum that most students can handle.
- Work on your time management skills. Plan ahead for study time when you don’t have schedule conflicts. If you have a rich social life, study in the library or places where you won’t be tempted by additional social interaction with a roommate, family member, or others passing by.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. You may be active in a club and have plenty of time for routine activities, but someone may ask you to spend extra time organizing an upcoming event just when you have a major paper deadline coming up. Sometimes you have to remember the main reason you’re in college and just say you can’t do it because you have to get your work done.
- If you really can’t resolve your time conflicts, seek help. Talk with your program coordinator or a college counsellor. They’ll help you get back on track.
- You will have many opportunities to get involved in Campus life; it is up to you to inquire and participate in these social activities, clubs and sports.
- Attending a meeting or gathering isn’t a commitment. Feel free to explore. It will help transition you into your new college life, gain new skills, stay healthy and relieve stress.
- Once you’ve settled in at college, you may not have enough time for activities or work. Keep using your time management and study skills to help balance schoolwork and social life.