If you had watched me during my first semester in college you might have been worried about my chances for success. I lived on an honors floor in a twelve story tower. I had a roommate who must have looked like the perfect match on paper. We even had a class together – five hours worth of Beginning Russian. Hard to believe there were two of us and two different faculty members who thought that was a good idea. I was there because I was going to major in languages, so I guess it made sense to him. We met for less than 30 minutes so there was no in depth discussion. He also signed off on 5 hours (two courses this time) of intermediate French, Honors English and according to my transcript Honors history. Sixteen hours in total. I was a good student in high school, but really! No wonder I didn’t do much besides study that fall.
Luckily for me, I had to ‘consolidate’ second semester when my roommate moved out. I ended up with a roommate who was probably my complete opposite, but my suitemates were great and through them I began to get more involved in the activities on my floor and it was an active floor. Because of them I began to understand the power of community. When added to my mother’s push to become an RA, I started down the road that would lead to my career.
Another friend from that first floor encouraged me to get involved in the Oklahoma Model United Nations. I was part of OMUN for three years, not because I was a pol-sci wonk, but, I know now, it was because I was a budding administrator. Not really a road to success, more of a wandering exploration which continued through my first year in law school when I finally understood what I might like to do for a career. Oh and of course, I changed my major in there. I’m a word nerd, but not really a linguaphile.
My experience was almost exactly the opposite of what we recommend today. Find a direction and head toward it. Get involved quickly. Find an internship. Have a full resumé before you graduate. I’ve seen high school seniors with longer resumés than mine when I looked for my first job after law school.
Now the fact that my first resumé was typeset and printed tells you that this was a long time ago and a lot has changed, not the least of which is the cost of higher education. We know more about student success. We are much better at providing guidance, direction, and options than when I was in school. The preparation of entering students is more varied than when I started college, the population of college students is more diverse. All of these are good reasons for the process to be different and for there to be more guidance and direction.
And yet, there’s something to be said for following a less direct path, about allowing for exploration and time to change one’s mind. It seems to me one of the paradoxes of student success is that the students who traditionally benefit from guidance are also students who don’t know all that the collegiate experience has to offer. They might be well served by both direction and the freedom to wander a bit. I wish we were better at finding ways to have both clear markers on the road to success and encouragement to try a “road less taken”. I’d love to hear about your journey and what fruitful detours or wandering paths you might have taken. I’d love to hear your thoughts about ways your campus has explored this paradox.