Back when I was a journalism professor teaching Seton Hall students how to understand and write the news, I gave them little tidbits of advice that I alliteratively dubbed “Tips from Tracy”. I used to make the students write them down and spit them back at me as extra credit throughout the semester. Little tricks of the trade – when to use “which” and when to use “that;” how to figure out what the lead is in a complicated story; how to estimate the size of a crowd; or, how to find a story on a slow news day. I didn’t realize I had made any impact of the students until 25 years later when a student from back in the day called me to ask about one of my Tips from Tracy.
His call made me nostalgic for those good old days in the classroom, but it also got me thinking about what my “Tips from Tracy” would be today, now that I am the vice president in charge of so many aspects of student life. I’ve been working with college students for 30 years and for the last 16 I’ve specialized in 18 year olds, so I think I have a pretty clear picture of what works and what doesn’t. I actually fancy myself an expert on the topic.
My advice is pretty simple and guaranteed to work. If a student follows these simple rules for success, a college degree is sure to follow. Feel free to share it with your students.
1. If students are only going to listen to one piece of advice, this is the most important: go to class. As Woody Allen said, “Ninety percent of life is merely showing up.” At Seton Hall, there is a direct correlation between showing up for class and extracurricular activities and being successful. Students from big universities will brag that they never go to class and it doesn’t make a difference, but here at Seton Hall, professors know when you aren’t there. And it matters.
2. Stop Multi-tasking. Yes, yes, this is the generation that thinks they can do more than one thing at a time, and they probably can. But they can’t do it well. If a student can write a B paper while they are texting, listening to Spotify and streaming House of Cards, imagine what success they could have if they turned all that stuff off.
3. Ask for help. The biggest hurdle our students have to success is their pride and their inflated confidence in their ability to study and learn difficult material. College is hard. We have the support students need, but our tutors don’t knock on doors and force their way in to provide assistance. The students need to come to us and seek help before they are in dire straits. We have tools and techniques that can help students thrive. Their first stop should be our Academic Resource Center. Our first-year students need to think of their Peer Adviser and their mentor as their safety net.
4. Bumps in the road are a part of life. The successful student is the one who is being resilient enough to pick up the pieces and move on. Yesterday, I sat down with a junior who was struggling. She had a lousy spring semester. In the last three years, she had meandered through several different programs and majors and hadn’t found a good fit. Her GPA in her major was dismal and she was beating herself up about bad decisions and roads not taken. My message to her was simple: this transcript doesn’t have to define who you are. Grit your teeth, steel your shoulders, pick up where you left off and move on. Life throws us curve balls. The students who learn to cope with the hard reality they encounter in college are learning life skills that will make them strong.
5. Practice the etiquette of adulthood. Students need to be on time for class, turn off their cell phones, learn their professors’ names, write formal emails that use correct spelling and grammar, and act appropriately. All of this is training for the world of work.
6. Sleep. Dr. Oz tells us to power down our devices two hours before bedtime. I would be happy if students just moved their phones away from their heads and didn’t check their feeds during the night. This is a generation fueled on caffeine who are clueless about down time. Students are more productive and more successful when they are well rested.
Just six little tips from Tracy. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll probably ignore you. But share this with them anyway. It actually could make all the difference.