Meet the Scholars

First-gen college journeys: Rahim’s 5 tips to thrive as a freshman

For first-generation students, college can seem like a far-away land. Sure, it looks great in a glossy brochure. Smiling students stroll across campus. Fall leaves turn golden and red. Stately looking buildings surround pristine lawns full of study groups gathered.

But real life on campus is less shiny and neat – especially for first-generation students, most of whom arrive on campus without much guidance. Their parents can’t prepare them for what to expect and many feel disconnected from students who arrive with a better understanding of the challenges ahead.

So how can these students find their way? By connecting with those who’ve already travelled the same path, the ones who can speak from experience on campus life for students like them.

The Dell Scholars Program, which supports low-income and first-generation students, recognizes the power of peer mentoring. Since 2008, we’ve trained Dell Scholars to provide peer-to-peer support as Dell Scholar Ambassadors.

As new freshmen are learning to adjust to life on campus, we asked our current Dell Scholar ambassadors to share some advice they learned from the Dell Scholars Program that helped them navigate their way to and through college. We’ll feature their thoughts in a series of blog posts aimed at addressing key factors in helping low-income and first-generation students navigate the transition from high school to college, and in helping them stay on track to graduation once they get to campus.

[quote]If you’re going to spend time on extracurricular activities, make an effort to meet new people and try new things.[/quote]

This week, current Dell Scholar ambassador Rahim offers incoming freshmen practical advice that can apply to any student.

Based on my own college experience, I have 5 key pieces of advice for all incoming freshmen:

1. Take enough credit hours to maintain full-time enrollment, even if you have to drop a class. I made the mistake of taking just 14 credit hours my first semester. I encourage everyone to enroll in at least 15 hours; you’ll want to take 16 hours if you have one class that is four credit hours.  Then, even if you have to drop a class, you’ll maintain full-time student status.

I learned this by experience with a difficult, early morning calculus class. I attended tutorials and TA sessions twice a week and had a plethora of resources to tap into to help me pass, yet things fell apart as the semester moved along. When the drop period approached, I was failing the class and there was no way to recover. It put me in a tough spot. I had to remain a full-time student to be eligible for financial aid, but I couldn’t take the hit to my GPA. So I dropped the class. Luckily, my full ride scholarship forgave my first enrollment offense.  Others aren’t as fortunate and lose their financial aid when they drop below the required 12 hours.

2. Expand your horizons. My first year of college, I joined the organizations that all of my friends from high school were joining even though I wanted to diversify my interests and friends at my new school. If you’re going to spend time on extracurricular activities, make an effort to meet new people and try new things.

And only join things you’re proud to be associated with.

3. Use your freedom wisely. Your parents won’t be around to control your life at college. Of course, you’ll make decisions that you wouldn’t normally make at home, such as staying up late or trying new things. But you have to balance time for fun and time for school. This sounds pretty basic, but I have to admit that I didn’t know what campus life would be like when I began my freshman year. I learned the hard way that staying up late at night made it tough to attend—let alone pass—my 8 a.m. classes on the opposite side of campus.

4. Build good study habits. Complete assignments two days before they’re due. Don’t wait until the night before an exam to cram.  That behavior can begin a downhill slide: Cramming can cause undue stress that can lead to testing anxiety. Testing anxiety can contribute to poor grades. Poor grades can cause you to drop classes. Too many dropped classes delay graduation.

5. Stick to a four-year plan. College is not easy or cheap, nor is it your end goal. Unless yours is a major that requires additional schooling, adhere to a four-year academic plan. Of course, circumstances arise that can delay graduation. [tweetable]But the sooner you graduate, the sooner you can begin your career, graduate school or next adventure.[/tweetable]

A current Dell Scholar and sophomore at the University of Texas majoring in finance at the McCombs School of Business, Rahim was born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised in Carrollton, Texas. With a commitment to voluntary service, he hopes to one day excel in social entrepreneurship ventures.