For 35 years as a faculty member and administrator, I have helped students start college. Here are my ABCs of getting started.

A. Ask questions. And then ask more questions. What a wonderful opportunity you have for at least the first few weeks, if not the whole year. No one expects you to know everything, and everyone is pleased when you ask questions. Imagine you are a detective trying to figure out the mystery of your university, or an anthropologist trying to understand a new community, or a journalist writing an exposé on why your institution is such a fantastic place. Find out what makes the place tick! Ask questions of everyone. And if you need help (and we all do), ask staff and faculty. Please, ask them. Their passion—and this is true on whatever campus I have been—is to mentor and help you. I believe that leadership is the art of asking and listening.. So be a leader now: ask but also really listen.

 

B. Balance. I grew up with the good midwestern phrase, stand on your own two feet. But after I had four surgeries on my left foot and ended up on crutches for 6 months, I learned a new phrase that is equally important: keep your balance. Keep your balance when you are learning to navigate your new place. Take things in, but don’t get overwhelmed. Go at your own pace! Don’t just do sports or arts or politics: get some balance. Find friends you are comfortable with, but for the sake of balance and growth, try to make friends with folks who are different from you. And keep your health in good order through balancing nutrition, exercise, academic, social and spiritual or reflective time. Find YOUR balance—not that of your roommate or friend or anyone else. By the way, the first 100 days can be the riskiest period of time in terms of unsafe behavior, so be especially careful with your balance. Take it slow—you have four years to experience it all.

 

C. Connect. One of the things I love about undergraduate education is that all of you can learn if you have the grit or resilience and if faculty and staff provide the right support. Connecting with a few people whom you trust will make all the difference. A book entitled How College Works argues that students who are successful in college do two things: 1) engage with faculty and 2) connect with friends. A recent Gallup poll shows the happiest people are those who are engaged at work and in their communities. Those people, in turn, were almost always connected during their college years. So I suggest you connect with at least three: a person who seems like yourself, a person who is different but whom you trust, and a faculty, coach or staff member who can mentor you and help you begin to navigate your new place.

 

Remember the ABC’s. Ask questions. Keep your Balance. Connect with others.

 

 

Rebecca Chopp, PhD, is chancellor of the University of Denver, where she is leading community-wide strategic planning effort focused on the 21st-century transformation of knowledge, the holistic education of students, and the University’s impact in the world. Chopp has emphasized the importance of creating an intentional and inclusive community.

Previously, Chopp was president of Swarthmore College and Colgate University. She also served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Emory University and as a dean at Yale University.

Chopp is a widely published author and editor, including Remaking College: Innovation and the Liberal Arts.


The start of a new school year is upon us, and our authors have taken to the blog to discuss the past, present, and future of the education landscape in the United States and abroad. From administrative imperatives, to advice for parents, to student mental wellness, our authors will examine education from every angle. Check back with us for more from our JHU Press back-to-school series.