It’s that time of year, returning to school. For many young black women they are embarking on their freshman year of college. I remember my freshman year in college like it was yesterday. More importantly I remember the talks I got from experienced family members as I got ready to leave the nest. I wasn’t going too far away, just about two hours. But that was 120 minutes standing between me and freedom. As we know, or at least should know, freedom isn’t free. As a freshman you will encounter situations and people you never have. What you do in your freshman year can shape your entire college experience. According to the US Department of Education college graduation rates for black women is ~45%. Why are 55% of black women who are enrolled in undergraduate programs dropping out? A few explanations include:
- Black women and minorities in general aren’t always welcome on campuses with a majorly white student body. They face racist behaviors and even at times personal threats.
- Black women may not be as prepared for the rigors of college as their white counterparts and don’t get the attention or guidance they need to be successful.
- Black women tend to be the caregivers in their families, they may leave for personal family reasons such as to help with an ill parent or grandparent.
- Homesickness can be a driver as well for any student – however, black women may not be re-enrolling in colleges when they move back home
- Distractions such as partying, pledging or boys can also play a role
Even if you are not leaving home to attend school, there are some key things you need to do to ensure academic success your freshman year. These are the 13 things your college guidance counselor didn’t tell you before you graduated from high school.
1. You don’t actually need to know what you want to do with the rest of your life. Yes, when you applied to college you said you wanted to do a specific thing. Your freshman year is about testing that theory to see if it’s true. Don’t be afraid to course correct in your freshman year. One of my college roommates course corrected in our senior year, roughly four months before graduation. It was a big change that resulted in summer school and an extra year of school.
2. Stop the foolishness before it gets started. You are to absolutely have fun while you are in college. Learn about yourself and meet new people. This is your pre-adult learning period. Even though you can vote or be tried as an adult if you were to do something really bad, it doesn’t mean you have the mind of an adult. Do not take this learning too far. You still know the difference between right and wrong. Don’t allow anything to get too far out of hand that it’s beyond your control.
3. Look out for each other. My freshman year we had a simple rule – come together, leave together. We didn’t leave a friend behind at a party or in a situation unless we knew the guy and could clearly identify him in a court of law. We didn’t take drinks from strangers. We didn’t wander off and not tell the squad where we were going. And if you didn’t show up in class or wherever you were supposed to be, you got a phone call or dorm room visit to verify your whereabouts. By the way, this continued after freshman year.
We didn’t leave a friend behind at a party or in a situation unless we knew the guy and could clearly identify him in a court of law.
4. Be safe. This is not victim blaming, this is being smart. The college system has taken hundreds of thousands of young hormonal adults and placed them in a confined space with alcohol. While the school doesn’t provide or even condone alcohol consumption it is largely out of their control. If you’re under age, don’t drink. However, that’s like telling the sun not to rise. So, drink responsibly. Don’t accept drinks from strangers. Don’t get drunk and wander off with a guy. Stick with your friends, see number 3. And by the way, this all applies to men as well. Men, if you are reading this, don’t drink so much that you lose control of your mind. And everyone keep your hands to yourself while drinking, period! If you still like each other when you’re sober, go for it.
5. Your college adviser is probably overbooked. The adviser that we are assigned when we get on campus is probably a graduate student and this is part of their learning. Depending on the size of school they probably have 20 other freshman they have to see every month. They aren’t likely to remember you and they are not likely to cater to any special needs that you have. Seek out the black organization on campus, if there is one, and look for peer counselors or academic advisers who are more likely to understand your perspective and needs.
6. You have one job in college, to graduate. That is what my dad told me when I came home during a break my freshman year and the grades weren’t so hot. It’s simple and true. The purpose of going to college is to get out of college with an education and preparation for the rest of your life. Always keep that top of mind.
7. Yes, you are likely to say and do stupid things. Again, there are thousands of people who just left their parents’ home crammed together in a confined space. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind except yours that you will do or say something stupid. It’s okay. I look back on my entire four years there and smack my head against the desk sometimes. I remember the first interview I ever did, they asked me to tell them about myself. Not having taken advantage of the free interview and job skills resources I proceeded to answer the question with my family profile, where I live and my hobbies. I interviewed for jobs in high school, but no one had ever asked me that.
8. Your professor has likely never done what they are teaching. Many professors started where you are and studied their way to expertise. I was interested in trading, but none of my professors who taught my finance classes had ever worked on a trading floor. Imagine my surprise when I showed up for my summer internship and it was nothing like the text books. Your professors will have great insights and this doesn’t apply to all majors or even all professors. If you can, sign up for a course with a professor who has done what you want to do. They can come in very handy. You likely won’t have access to those professors until your junior or senior year, but be on the look out during freshman and sophomore year.
9. Neutralize distractions. You won’t be able to eliminate distractions. When I was in college I didn’t have to worry about a cell phone, internet or social media. Ironically, I went to the university that made the internet mainstream and developed the precursor to Microsoft Internet Explorer. Of course there were parties, trying to pledge, boys, roommates, etc. The key isn’t to try to eliminate the distractions, the key is to neutralize the impact they have on your life. If you want to pledge, don’t choose the most critical classes for your major that semester. If you date, set boundaries that will allow you to get your work done.
10. The freshman 15 only exists if you let it. The belief is that freshman put on at least 15 pounds because now that they’ve left home they aren’t eating as healthy as they were. I didn’t gain 15 pounds and neither did my roommate. Some others did though. You know what you should and shouldn’t eat. If you’re eating garbage it’s simply rebellion against your parents. You should be walking around campus far too much to gain 15 pounds.
11. People are nasty, wear shower shoes. This is pretty self explanatory. I still cringe at the things I saw in the dorm bathroom. Take some spray disinfectant with you too.
12. Do not under any circumstance room with your best friend from high school. I was given this piece of advice when we did our student college visit. This visit is after you’ve been accepted but before you officially sign on as a student. As you may be able to guess, I didn’t heed this sage advice and it ended in disaster by the end of the first semester and complete annihilation of the friendship by the end of the year. I never spoke to my freshman year roommate again, literally. You are both growing mentally. You will have different experiences and have different views of the same experiences. You have a much better chance of growing in the friendship if you have the freedom to do so. You are better rooming with your friend after the first year is over and the stress of this extraordinary life change has alleviated a bit.
13. You will want to quit, don’t. The first semester is hard. If it wasn’t, everyone would do it. The rigor is completely different from high school. In high school teachers, counselors, and your parents were always on you to get stuff done. In college, you will be allowed to fail. You are, for the first time probably, at the helm of your own ship. You must ask for help when you need it. And when the day comes, and it will come, that you find yourself curled up on your bed in tears or at the library in tears just don’t quit. There are resources available to help. There are mental health professionals, graduate assistants who can help tutor, etc. Lean on your family for advice and support. Lean on your friends, chances are they are going through the same thing. Don’t quit because it got hard. If you quit let it be because you developed an app that you believe can make you billions!
Any other tips to share with young black chicks on their way to school, comment below. Are you a young black chick on her way to college? Ask questions or comment below and share within your communities. We are here to support you. Many of us have been where you are, and we survived.
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