Today’s post is brought to you by Kevin Hernandez, a student at Williams College who has joined the Junction team for his summer internship. Look out for additional pieces from Kevin this summer.

Today is the day. You have received multiple reminders that you need to meet with your academic advisor today. Good thing, too, is that you have no idea what classes to take in order to graduate on time from this institution. The advisor tells you to meet her in 30 minutes; you have looked over the course catalog but all of the options seem interesting and you have no idea how to narrow them down. You go a little early because you think there might be a line but, to your surprise, the advisor is ready to help you decide what courses you should take. Instead of going in there and panicking, the advisor asks you questions about your major and what interests you. Next thing you know, you’re narrowing down the courses by what interests you and find a way to fit them into your major. The worry about whether or not you will graduate on time is no longer there. You are now looking forward to your classes because you are genuinely interested in them and all of your worries were fixed with just one meeting. “Send me an email if you have any questions or concerns. I will get back to you soon!” you hear the advisor say as you walk away.

Today is the day, you think? You are sure it is the day because you set a reminder on your phone, you do not want to sign up like last semester because then all of the classes are full. You anxiously get on the computer and check to see if today is actually “the day.” While on the computer you notice an automated email stating that in order to meet with an advisor you need to have signed up by the end of last semester. It is fine, you can figure this out. You open the course catalog and try to figure out what classes you NEED to take in order to meet your major requirements. It does not matter what classes seem interesting, what matters is not wasting the little time you have. Do I need to take Calculus if I am majoring in Biology? Why isn’t there a form or something online? You drive to the information office at the community college. You aren't the only one who is having problems, you are the 28th person in line. If you do not sign up by 5:00pm today you will need to pay a late fee in addition to all of the other fees you need to pay. After waiting two hours and calling in sick from work, you are able to finally talk to an advisor who signed you up for the courses that you haven’t taken yet without completely consulting with you. The good thing: you were able to find courses to make sure you graduate on time. You got lucky.

The first example was based on my experience at Williams, where I attended after two years at a well-known community college in Florida. While college life is filled with challenges - financial, job, family, friends, and learning - the support systems that are in place to help students vary widely across campuses. At the community college in Florida many of my classmates were having a hard time - not with academics (though some did) - but with figuring out how to translate an inch-thick course catalog into a clearly defined path towards graduation in 2-3 years (most of them first-generation students). From what I’ve experienced in both institutions, here are a few lessons that I wished I had when I was in school:

  1. Always ask for help. If you have any questions, ask. While this seems simple, it is much easier to pretend like you know something, when in reality you are as lost as everyone else. Some colleges have better resources, but there are always mentors in every college that you can grab onto and ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength.
  2. Venturing out of your comfort zone will help you discover new career paths. Even if you decide to only take one course outside of your comfort zone, it will help you grow as a student and might even show you a different major or job that interests you. It is easy to remain comfortable, but growth comes from discomfort.
  3. Just because you did not like a course in high school does not mean you will not like the course in college. While it might take more effort to get into the rhythm of a course you once thought you hated, professors find a way to make a course that might have been daunting into a course that is insightful.
  4. Find your support system. Surround yourself with a group of friends or family members who can not only help you in your times of need but who you can share your happy moments with. This is key to your own well-being and your success. This brings me to my next point.
  5. Self-care. You need to find hobbies, people, clubs, or even simply taking a nap when needed. Self-care can be either big or small actions, as long as you do what you need to feel rejuvenated. While these may seem like small actions, they add up to your general well-being.
  6. You belong in the school just as much as everyone else. It is easy to compare your weaknesses with other people’s strengths. Even if you do not get something as fast as someone else, don’t worry. Ask for help and find other resources to help you understand the material. You will succeed.

For today’s students, and I’m one of them, keeping an eye on the prize (that degree!) and figuring out which resources are available to help provide focus and minimize wasted effort and expense is absolutely critical to improving odds of successful and timely graduation. Stay tuned for other Campus View pieces throughout the summer. If you have any topics you’re curious about reply to us on Twitter @GetJunction and I’ll see if I can help.