“If it was easy, everyone would do it.” – Unknown
Most of us have spent our entire childhood envisioning ourselves completing high-school, going into college, graduating in four years, landing a prestigious job, and ultimately achieving the American dream. Creating this checklist in our heads was never a difficult task because these things were deeply ingrained not only in our heads but our souls. Our parents were gurus at helping us laid out this master plan for happiness and success. As little kids we were determined not only to follow this path but to be the best at it. College was the epitome of success. We were more than ready to tackle these items off our bucket list!
However, many experience at the age of 18 this dream crumbling before their eyes and in fear of grasping onto this canvas of success. Few return after the first semester of college and end up working a full time job in a fast food chain restaurant. Statistics show only 14% of Hmong Americans hold a Bachelor’s degree, but why? Why are we failing after 14 years of planning endlessly at the dinner table with our parents? Why are so many not ready when the American dream they’ve dreamt all their lives is now less than five years within their grasps? WHY?!
I don’t know! However, I would like to know. I’ve spent at least 20 years of my life chasing after this dream. I’ve spent about seven years working for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I am still seeking to continue my college education and during my pursuit of this dream, I’ve met many people from all walks of life. I’ve met so many of our brothers and sisters who are exceptionally intelligent. We have so many remarkable individuals who are living this dream as politicians, doctors, educators, artists, free lancers, engineers, etc., but yet we have TOO many, too many, I repeat TOO MANY who have given up! Still I do NOT know why. The least I could do is to educate and share my experience with our youth who still have that illuminating light inside of their eyes.
I will not deny it and admit during my first year of college, I was absolutely bewildered–confused! Even during my third year I was still searching for how to achieve my American dream; not only to achieve it but to be the best at it. Being the best meant I was the best version of myself. Being the best meant I was doing my best in everything I was doing. Fortunately, I was blessed and guided. I achieved my American dream. There are still so many things I can learn and so much room for growth and improvement, but I achieved the plan my parents worked so hard to help me on as a child. I did it!
So, what can I do now to bring up that 14% of college graduates among our brothers and sisters? I can share my experience on how I know what being successful in college looks like. My story is different from everyone else’s story, just as your story will differ from mine but my hopes are that my experience will help you to overcome the obstacles I did or at least be more prepared than I was. Before we jump into my how to be successful in college tips, I do want to emphasize the tremendous change in opportunities for millennials and how success is pursued differently for everyone. It happens to be my success story involves experiencing higher education. So, how can YOU be your best in and succeed in college?
1. Road Mapping
Ever heard of “begin with the end in mind”? One of the biggest mistake many first year college students make is taking random GE courses, failing them, and retaking them over and over again. You want to AVOID this mistake. I understand college is an opportunity to explore your passion–finding out what you love to do–but you cannot afford to waste over four years trying to find that passion. You probably will discover your passion spending over five years exploring, but you will also quickly discover the number of loans you will owe following your degree.
An effective way to explore what your passion is and to strategically finish within four years and minimize your number of loans, is to begin with the end in mind–road mapping. Meet with an academic advisor who will help you to lay out a map of all the courses you need in order to graduate. Your advisor will gladly help you to plan these classes in a specific order that’ll ease your workload and stress. Having this road map will allow you to see where you are, where you are heading, and where you will be at the end of the map. Essentially you are not going with the motions, but you are going against the tide. You will reach the end sooner and more effectively.
2. Meet With Your Academic Counselor
As a first year college student, I was intimidated by the enormous campus, the number of people, the professors, and pretty much everyone and anything. High school was no where close to being similar to college nor was I really prepared; although my public school district emphasize “college and career ready” high school students. I avoided having to engage with anyone at all cost unless it had to do with life and death–presentations, buying food, paying fees, etc. However, I quickly learned how ineffective and harmful this was to my growth and success. After my first year of going with the motions, I decided to suck it up and went online to set up an appointment with my academic counselor. I will tell you right now, without boring you with all the details that took place in the meeting, that it was one of the best decisions I made in college. Speaking with my counselor helped me (and it will help YOU) to plan my courses strategically. She prevented me from taking courses I’ve already taken and courses nonessential to my success. She helped override courses I was required to take but would be a waste of my time–although I was told to leave this secret in her office–and excused poor grades from my first year in college. Now, I’m not saying this will be true for everyone and that you should view your academic counselor as someone who will rig the system for you to quickly finish college. What I am saying is meeting with your counselor will help you to be more successful, more efficient, and more effective in completing your college degree. This tip also applies to talking with your professors and classmates, as there is a saying “everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t”.
3. Be A Smart Consumer
This last tip entails multiple “sub-tips”. Being a smart consumer in this context is not about shopping for items which will cause you to spend the least amount of money in college, although you will have to practice being a smart consumer in that context. Being a smart consumer in college is about shopping around your college campus–not literally with money–for resources which will help you to be successful. There are multiple ways you can do this and if you do at least three of these items on my list, I guarantee you would be more successful than you would have been without them.
- Join campus clubs or organizations: Your social skills will improve, your time on campus will be fun, your knowledge will grow not only in terms of school subject matter but life in general, and your leadership skills will grow. If you grow in these areas, then you will succeed in your classroom and classwork because these skills are applicable in the classroom.
- Use the Library: The library is a great place to study but it also is a great place to rejuvenate. You can sneak in a 30 minute nap every day and those naps will help you to be more successful. How? When you nap, you will be more alert during the day. If you are more alert you are more likely to be performing at your best, and being your best is what we want! Besides taking naps, the library was one of my favorite place during my college years. I spent most of my days in the library completing my classwork and studying. The library also has all the resources you need available to you at the tips of your fingers. If you don’t find a book you need or the answer you need from the internet, turn to the person next to you because again “everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t”. The library has played a huge role in my success. I would not have been able to study efficiently and complete my work on a timely manner without the space the library has provided for me. You will find the least distraction and the most focus in the library.
- Writing Center: Not every college student wants to ask for help, but asking for help is probably one of the best way for you to succeed in college. Whether you are in your first year of college or writing your thesis for your master’s program, the writing center will be your best friend. No one will share with the world how poorly your grammar and spelling is, but they will share with you tips and tricks that’ll change the entire design of your essays or research papers. You will come out of the writing center each time as a better writer and if you continue to use the writing center, you will be an exceptional writer at the end of your college career. I only wish I would have known sooner because it wasn’t until I was struggling on my thesis that I discovered the power of the writing center.
- Buy an agenda: This one is probably one of the most important tips (I might have already said that)! Knowing how to organize and prioritize are probably some of the most important skills you need as a college student to really succeed. If you do not know where to start in organizing your college life, begin by walking into your campus’ book store and buy an AGENDA! Your second step is to start writing down all the work you need to have done in that week. Start writing down everything and prioritize those items on top of everything else. “Play when you can, hunt when you must, rest in between”.
There it is: how I successfully completed college! There are many ways to be successful in college and I can go on forever with this list, but these were my top three. It was extremely hard to try and pin point the ones I wanted to share, therefore I hope these will do! Before I go, I want to reemphasize how these strategies were ways which helped me to keep my sanity intact and at the same succeed in college. What may have been helpful for me may not be for you, but I encourage you to at least give it a try. If it does not work for you, then you work hard to find out what will help you! If you do not plan to attend college, because maybe it is true, college is not for everyone, make sure to never give up on the dreams you’ve created as a little child. However ways you plan to pursue those dreams, do it! You are as capable as your brothers and sisters before you, during your time, and those who will come after you.
Best of luck in all your endeavors,