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Tips for college success to first-year students

Proactive first-year college students who chop up credit cards,join study groups and welcome new friends will succeed

ANN ARBOR—Dubious parents across the nation are watching their offspring get ready to enter college for the first time this fall and thinking, "Yikes! Can this child survive?"

The answer is, "Yes, they sure can, with a little planning and guidance," according to Mary Hummel, associate director of housing at the University of Michigan. The critical areas for parents to stress—gently—are money management, time management, and being proactive, she says.

With the deluge of introductory credit card offers that swamp college students today, managing money requires a particularly proactive mindset, Hummel stresses. "Plan out a budget ahead and chop up credit cards with scissors," she says. "Many college students wind up with two or three credit cards and run the balance up to the limit immediately. Others are astonished by their first phone bills. Some forget to list their checks in their check register or write in their ATM withdrawals. Then they get a bounced check notice, sit up all night trying to balance the checkbook, and worry about finding a job, or a second job, to pay off the bills."

So avoid credit cards, maintain checkbooks, and use e-mail rather than long-distance phone calls to connect with friends at other schools, she advises.

First-year students have to be proactive about academics, too. If they are having difficulty even before the first test, they should see the professor quickly.

"Take advantage of the professor's office hours and go to talk to them. That is why they have office hours. Professors really do want to engage with you about their topics. And sit up front in class. It helps you concentrate."

Hummel also urges that first-year students join study workshops or study groups right away. "Many course- and skill-related workshops are offered in residence halls, and bright students use these as resources. Computer workshops are invaluable for students at all skill levels," Hummel adds.

Similarly, be proactive about roommate issues. Before or soon after roommate problems crop up, "talk to a residence hall adviser, ask about roommate starter kits and consider drawing up a roommate contract or set of ground rules. The kits, which include a series of questions roommates can ask each other to get acquainted fast, are very common and helpful," she adds.

Also, be ready to make new friends proactively. "I learned to ask other students rather complicated questions when I was a first-year student," says Korey M. Miller, a junior in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. "That way they couldn't just answer with a 'yes' or a 'no' and it got the conversation rolling."

"But learn to tell your friends when you need to study and be quiet," adds Hummel. "You must protect your time and set your priorities to succeed."

Another proactive step: "First-year students should ask parents to check out their personal property insurance coverage to find out if it covers the student's property at college, and purchase renters coverage if it doesn't," says Alan J. Levy, director of public affairs for U-M Housing. Spokesmen at the U-M Department of Public Safety and Security say students also should etch their stereos, computers and other significant property with their drivers' license numbers, and make a list of the items for insurance purposes, just in case of theft, fire or loss."

And to reduce possible losses, "pack light," emphasizes Miller. "You really don't need to bring everything you own, and you just won't have room for it. I really wish someone had told me that." 


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