Five Decisions Every Freshman Needs to Make

As a new school year launches, it dawned on me that first year students are about to enter an entirely new experience, and meet peers in a new environment for them.

It’s decision time.

During the first month of the fall semester, routines are established. It’s then that so many students default to making poor decisions, even stupid decisions, due to pressures they feel from the outside. If you’ve ever asked a student why they made a “bad choice,” they’ve probably said something like:

  • I didn’t stop to think about it.
  • I was bored to death.
  • It seemed like a good decision at the time.
  • I wasn’t thinking about the consequences.
  • It was fun at the time.
  • It didn’t seem like a big deal.
  • My friends talked me into it.

Psychologists performed studies at Temple University, using functional magnetic resonance imaging scans on dozens of teenagers and young adults to determine if there are differences in brain activity when adolescents are alone versus being with their friends. According to a report in the New York Times, “The findings suggest that teenage peer pressure has a distinct effect on brain signals involving risk and reward, helping to explain why young people are more likely to miscalculate and take risks when their friends are watching.”

At the beginning of any endeavor, it’s important to lay down tracks and establish the most advantageous routines for the coming year. Routines can become habits or ruts, so students will want to insure they’ve established good ones. Whether that student is a first-year student or not, here are five important decisions I suggest they make at the beginning of the school year:

1. Choose to invest your time, not spend it.

While college life should represent fun times, I’ve spoken to many students who wish they would not have “wasted so much time” on campus. I suggested to both of my children that they take time to laugh, play and let their hair down while in college. Just as important, however, I recommended they view time like money—to be invested, not just spent. Spending money means exchanging it for something we want right now. When we invest it, we expect an ROI (return on investment) later. Every decision will pay us something—good or bad. I recommend students look out into the distance and make decisions like future investments. Will this class pay off in the long run? Will this meeting offer dividends? Will this food or drink I am consuming have a positive or negative effect?

2. Choose to guard who you associate with the most.

This social rule of thumb has been passed down for years: you will become the average of the five people with which you spend the most time. Wow. This made me choose my closest friends, accountability partners, mentors and classes wisely while I was in college. I led and mentored others, and I was mentored by others. This was one of the smartest decisions I’ve made over the years—not allowing my friendships to be accidental. And it began in college, as I found students who were ahead of me in maturity and experience, as well as others who were in a similar place as me. The books I read and the people I connect with most often determine my future.

3. Choose your destination up front.

It is easy for me to allow life to simply happen. By this I mean, I take it one day at a time and fail to see where my present activities are taking me. While I believe there is wisdom in living day by day and soaking them all in, having a target to shoot for prevents me from playing defense instead of offense with my life. When I have a bulls-eye to hit, I can make decisions that align with my chosen target. The students I meet today teach me the same thing. The one’s who’ve chosen a purpose, even if it is a general one, fair better than those who zig-zag toward graduation.

4. Choose your outside experiences well.

As I reflect on the students I know today, I see another pattern. Many students merely go to class during the day and to parties at night. But those who get involved in projects or work outside of the expected curriculum, are the ones who graduate ahead of their peers. They join clubs, take on jobs in the community, participate in service projects, study abroad, and sometimes even create service initiatives themselves. These students differentiate themselves from the mainstream college students in a job interview. Starting my freshman year, I worked three jobs, served in projects downtown and even found work that led to my future career. I later graduated with peers much smarter than me who had no job offers. Because of my extra-curricular involvement, I had five job offers.

5. Choose to own your learning and growth.

Don’t surrender to someone else anything that’s ultimately important to you. Be a driver, not a passenger in life. This is your education, not anyone else’s. It doesn’t belong to the faculty or the administration. They offer you what they know, but learning is up to you. You can waste your time in classes, libraries, on-line or in the residence halls, or you can soak up everything as a learning experience. It’s your call. Never give up what you want most—for what you want now.

(NOTE: These are all principles found in Habitudes For the Journey—if you want to go deeper)

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Five Decisions Every Freshman Needs to Make