Taking Ownership of Your Learning
If I were in charge, things would certainly be different.
We’ve all had that thought before.
The reality is, as you transition to college, you get to be in charge. Starting from scratch, you can make your life and learning experience whatever you want it to be. Really!
You can decide what kind of person you want to be, how you want people to perceive you, and how people think about your work.
In other words, transitioning to college means you are starting a new adventure with an entirely clean slate.
So, who are you going to be?
The key to making a successful transition to college is realizing that you own the experience. While that may feel empowering, it can also be challenging. Owning your life and learning experience means making lots of decisions.
To help with that, here’s a list of life zones that you need to be ready to own.
1. Owning your agenda — Owning your schedule is perhaps the biggest adjustment you’ll have to make. In college, your days do not consist of the same block of scheduled classes and activities that you experienced in high school. You’ll probably take between three and five courses; individual courses may be long sessions one day a week, or many shorter class sessions each week. You may have entire days where you have no classes until after lunch, or no classes at all. This is a good adjustment. You will have to learn how to “fill in” the rest of your schedule on your own, balancing study time, social activities, and other responsibilities.
2. Owning information — In college, instructors often have the expectation that you will “figure things out on your own.” From the beginning, be prepared to hear terms, concepts, or ideas that seem important but don’t come with full explanations. Your job is to write them down and learn about them on your own. It’s a good idea to think of yourself as a detective or an explorer: someone who enjoys finding new pieces of information and putting them together for yourself.
3. Owning your friends and your social life — As pointed out in one of Aesop’s fables, we often judge and are judged by the company we keep.1 As you begin your new experience in college, it’s important to think about who you want to be and how you want others to think about you. The friends you choose are a big part of this. You should also be mindful of the time you devote to social activities. They can be fun and worthwhile experiences, but you should be intentional about choosing the ones that you truly enjoy and that make sense for you and your life goals.
4. Owning your relationships — Early in our lives, our relationships are managed for us in many ways. We have relationships with parents, brothers, and sisters because we live together in the same house. We build relationships with friends often because we are with them every day at school. These relationships are generally structured by someone or something else.
In our adult lives, we choose who we want to have relationships with, as well as the kinds of relationships we want to have. As you transition to college, realize that you are now responsible for the quality of your relationships with family, friends, and significant others. Good relationships require an investment of time and energy, as well as frequent and authentic communication.
5. Owning your responsibilities — A big part of transitioning to college is taking personal responsibility for your life and commitments. It is now your responsibility to get places on time. It is your responsibility to complete work according to established deadlines. Taking care of yourself and your finances is your responsibility. Get in the habit of making lists of the things you need to do each week. Make sure you prioritize your lists — putting the most important things at the top in bold letters — and keep your lists in a place where you can always see/find them. And, whatever you do, don’t forget to do your laundry!
6. Owning your technology — Technology will play an important role in your living and learning experiences. You will likely use your smartphone for scheduling, research, and study. You will have accounts on multiple university software platforms — a student information system, a learning management system, etc. — and have access to other online learning aids.
You should become knowledgeable about all of your technology and the technology available for you to use at your college. You will want to conduct regular checks to make sure your devices are functioning as they should. Also, take time to develop a solid network of technology support. This includes learning about different services at your college, as well as leveraging the experience and expertise of your friends.
7. Owning your physical and mental health — Your health will also be your responsibility as you move into a more independent stage of life. You will own how much sleep you get. You will own what you choose to eat and when or how much you choose to exercise. When you feel yourself getting sick (not after you are already sick and can’t get out of bed), you will be the one who must decide to visit the health center. You are also responsible for monitoring your happiness and taking steps to keep yourself mentally balanced and positive.
8. Owning your spiritual life — Choosing whether and how to develop a personal, spiritual awareness is something that requires deliberate reflection and effort. Each person must decide how important it is to cultivate a spiritual life and what, exactly, that looks like, especially in your new environment. For those who decide this is important, there are many resources available — religious organizations, spiritual study groups, and books. But, it is up to you, as an independent adult, to explore, discover and take advantage of those resources.
9. Owning your identity and character — Stephen Colbert tells the story about changing the pronunciation of his last name while flying to Northwestern University in Illinois. “I didn’t know Chicago. Nobody knew me there. And I thought, “Well, if I’m ever gonna do it, it’s gonna be now.”2 His story is a good reminder that we are all in control of our identities, from how we dress to how people address us. For successful flourishing in your personal life, you will want to think about how to cultivate character traits such as integrity, respect, resilience, humility, and compassion.