Getting accepted is just the beginning: what you do and how you adapt to college is most important.  College life is very different from high school, whether you’re from the USA or not.  Expectations are less structured and clear, and you’re expected to manage everything on your own, from time management to organizational skills to waking yourself up on time.  Professors typically are not there to guide you every step of the way or provide extensive academic supports.  It’s sink or swim, even in the smaller colleges, because you are considered to be an adult, and because many professors are focused less on teaching and more on their subject matter.  

Furthermore, what you’re NOT asked to do in college- all the non-academic activities that would greatly enhance your personal development and future career marketability- are even more important for your future.  This could include paid jobs, volunteer activities, student clubs and leadership activities, internships, informational interviews, professional organizations,and networking events.  All of these activities build the social/communication skills, character, grit, professional network, and emotional intelligence that is so important in the real world.  Moreover, if you focus on activities that both build skills and help you further clarify what you want, you will graduate with a clear sense of direction with a stronger resume to back it up.

Jeffrey Selingo, a leading expert on higher education, wrote in his book “College Unbound:”

“You don’t need to be looking for a college as much as you need to look for what and how you want to learn and decide what you’re preparing for afterward.  On campus tours, colleges emphasize the bells and whistles: the fancy dorms, climbing walls, and technology-filled classrooms….Schools have increasingly tried to sell an experience on the tour rather than simply convey information, which is often easier to do on the Web anyway… Don’t let them distract you. Smart students should focus their attention on the quality of teaching, the portability of their credits, and the value a degree or other credential will provide them in the job market.”

On college tours, students should be asking the right questions- such as: How many students work on research projects with faculty?  Do students receive prompt feedback on academic performance?  How often to students talk with advisers or faculty members about their career plans?  How many professors are adjuncts, who will have less time and investment in their students, and how many are full-time faculty?

Recent research also demonstrates that students are spending less time in college on what’s important, like studying, internships, and enriching volunteer activities, and more time on socializing and recreation.  As American schools and higher ed institutions are increasingly teaching for the test, students are very comfortable with learning that way.  In general, college is often failing to prepare students for the “real world.”   An example is that in the 2011 book “Academically Adrift,” it claims 45 percent of students in the study made no gains in their writing, complex reasoning, or critical-thinking skills during their first two years of college.  As a result, colleges are graduating a generation of students less prepared for the rigors of the world, but still saddled with debt.  To make matters worse, plenty of students end up dropping out because they got off track as a result of poor advice.

On the same thread, employers often complain that today’s graduates are lacking in interpersonal skills, problem solving, creativity/innovative skills, written and oral communication skills, the ability to work in teams, work ethic, and critical and analytical thinking.  Most of them prefer that their employees have an education that specifically prepares them for the workplace as well as a having a well-rounded background, yet many graduates are lacking in at least one of these.   Furthermore, companies now expect recent graduates to have the skill for the job immediately, instead of offering paid corporate training and apprenticeships as in the past.  They increasingly support the “depth and breadth” model: employers increasingly want college graduates to have a “deep” skill in one academic subject, while also being well-rounded and balanced with other knowledge.  The most successful students on campus take deep, active, rigorous approaches to their learning and other activities while in college, combined with broad exposure to knowledge across the board.

Here are some more examples of “high-impact” practices in higher education that prepare you for the real world, also indicated by Jefferey Selingo:

  • Reach out to and develop relationships with passionate faculty mentors (who tend to be full-time).
  • Dive deep into a research project
  • Study and/or volunteer abroad
  • Be creative, take risks, and learn how to fail
  • Seek out internships, apprenticeships, volunteer work, and on-the-job-training related to your major or passion
  • Learn study skills that work for you and that help you with the transition from the high structure of high school to the loose structure of college campuses.

Through our holistic approach to the student, we feel it’s important to not stop once you have chosen the right major and been admitted to the desired college- we support you throughout your college years, to keep you on track and make sure you are taking advantage of other beneficial volunteer and paid activities that improve your skills, enhance leadership skills, help clarify goals, offer networking opportunities, and beef up your resume to boot- all things that transfer to the real world and that future employers desire.  We not only help you find what you love that works for you, but we help put you on the path to being better, clearer, more self aware, and a skilled human being even before you graduate.

If you are an international student, you may arrive in the U.S. with very different expectations than what you actually encounter.  Culture is so more than just the “6 F’s” commonly represented in movies and social media: food, fashion, festivals, folklore, films, famous people.  You’re not only adjusting to a major life transition, but also unfamiliar values, ways of seeing the world, patterns of communication, and a non-native language.  Culture shock can be very real, and some students have significant challenges overcoming this hurdle, and struggle with feeling like an “outsider” no matter what they do.  We can do many things for our “new culture” kids both pre-and-post-college placement, including education on the realities, idiosyncrasies, and other less-known aspects of the culture in a variety of contexts.  Contexts include academic, language, and career-related.

Amy Quinde is the owner and founder of Head & Heart International, a unique educational consulting & curriculum company with an overarching goal of preparing students successfully and authentically for their future.  They aim to enhance students’ social-emotional, life, & language skills through creative and purpose development endeavors with a cross-cultural emphasis.  In doing so, they strive to fill the many gaps left by our traditional education system.  Head & Heart International currently offers enrichment curriculum programming for K-12 schools as well as consulting services focused on career and college readiness for high school students and their families.