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Advice to Help Your Kids Get the Most From College

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A recent family party celebrated a first-born child heading off to college. As the evening wound down, relatives gathered around the picnic table and offered advice to the college freshman, ranging from “Study hard but have some fun” to “Call your mom occasionally.”

These suggestions were especially interesting in light of the “Is college worth it?” debate that has developed post-recession. Last spring Gallup released the result of a survey of 30,000 college alumni that found six elements common to successful — and happy — grads. The experiences included a professor who excited them about learning, a mentor and involvement in extracurricular activities.

In search of some expert advice on how to maximize the return on the college experience, we turned to our colleagues who are both professors and parents of past and present college students. While obviously not scientifically based, these suggestions come from professors with hundreds of hours of teaching experience, all of whom take a deep interest in their students. They offered advice for both students and parents. First, their tips that you can  pass along to your children and grandchildren.

Sissel McCarthy:

  • Get to know your professors. It completely changes your college experience and can turn into a lifelong relationship.
  • Participate in class, even if you are shy. When you are engaged in the discussion, you will process and own the material so much more fully.
  • Internships have never been more important for any field. In my experience as a parent, the internship during the summer before junior year is key and can lead to a job offer.

Betty Ming Liu

  • Take at least one course where the classroom feels like community. The belly laughs and frank conversation that goes on lead to enduring life lessons, marvelous memories and lasting friendships.
  • Take a class that scares you because it's totally beyond your comfort zone. Dare to feel less than completely competent. I've had students who hate business, math and politics discover how wonderfully relevant these subjects are.


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Vivien Orbach Smith:

  • Read the syllabus! Most profs take pains to list the course's key elements, expectations and deadlines, and don't take kindly to students' inquiries that make it obvious they never bothered to look.
  • Don't be casual about attendance. Becoming a part of a class's synergy will enrich your learning. Plus, a professor is much more likely to go the extra mile for a student (who misses or does poorly on an assignment, etc.) whose attendance has demonstrated dedication and interest.
  • Don't select the farthest possible seat at the back of the classroom when seating is available closer to the front. The "first impression" made by students who do this is that they prefer to fly under the prof's radar and aren't geared up to engage fully in the course.


Mary W. Quigley’s blog, Mothering21 ,  tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.

Photo: PeopleImages /iStock

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