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Freshman Frenzy: Tips for Success

Submitted by KenDrell Collins on August 20, 2013 – 3:28 pm2 Comments

The time of taking exams and making new friends has arrived once again.  For most freshmen students, this is their first encounter with the college experience. UALR students and professors have offered some advice to ensure all incoming students succeed, both academically and socially.

Dustin Rhodes, a junior Early Childhood Education major, suggests that the most important way to get off to a good start is by simply attending class.

“Don’t skip class,” Rhodes said. “I’ve been to a class where I thought I knew everything and could pass easily, so I thought I’d skip some. I skipped a few and ended up making not the best grade I wanted to.”

Professors agree that attendance is crucial. Sherry Robertson, director of first-year composition, insists that showing up for class is a necessary first step.

“You have to come to class even when you do not do your homework, you’ve got to come,” Robertson said.  “Sometimes, I think students feel hesitancy to show up if they are not prepared. And even if they are not prepared, we want them to come.”

But attending class is only half the battle. Getting to know the professor is a must, and Robertson says it is even appropriate for the student to let the professor know what grade he or she expects to earn in the class. Such conversations are sure to place a student on the professors good side because it shows the student takes education seriously.

“Come to me the first week of school and say to me ‘I’m really trying as hard as I can to get a B in this class, at least a B. I really want to do well and I want to have some type of action plan for me to do well.’”

John Kirk, professor of history, insists that getting to know the teacher can occur even before the first day of class.

“Go to the department webpage,” Kirk said. “Take a look at what they’ve published which will give you a good idea of their own background. Do your homework on a professor.”

Kirk also encourages students to declare a major early. He cautions, however, that one’s major should be chosen based on the student’s interest, as well as career considerations [editor's correction, Aug. 26 at 11:50 a.m. for clarity].
“The secret to success, really, at a university, is to do what you enjoy,” said Kirk.  “If you do what you enjoy, you will be more engaged in it and you will be more successful at it … Find out what you’re good at. Follow your interest. That can lead you to interesting roads.”

Even after discovering an academic niche, it can sometimes be intimidating to enter a classroom without knowing anyone. For this reason, it is important to reach out to classmates.

College algebra professor Rebecca Streett insists there are plenty of ways to break the ice.

“Realize that most everyone is in your same boat,” Streett said. “Ask someone to go get coffee with you.”

Streett understands that some subjects can seem difficult or even boring at first, especially those that have caused problems for a student in the past.

“Instead of just rolling your eyes, ask your teacher – not in a sarcastic way – ‘Tell me when can I use this?’ If we can make that connection, it makes it easier for you,” Streett said.

What about surviving on a social level? Getting involved on campus by joining an organization is one way to meet people who share your hobbies and interests. But beware of overcommitting.

Life in the dorm room can be just as challenging as life in the classroom. Gortrell Cox, a senior criminal justice major, is a third year Resident Assistant who has seen it all. His advice to residents is to embrace the opportunity of living on campus.

“Be open to the experience,” Cox said. “Be respectful to your roommates and everyone around you. Just treat them how you want to be treated.” He also recommends that students consider a room change in the first two weeks if there is a problem that seems unresolvable.

Another golden rule to social success is prioritization. Work must come first, and selectivity is vital when searching for friends. Hanging out with the wrong crowd can quickly turn a motivated student into a mediocre one, Cox said, and students should be wary of these individuals.

“They’re just here for the college experience, but they’re not really here to graduate,” Cox said. “They’re not here for the long haul.”

Physical health is equally vital to social and intellectual well-being. Spending an hour at the fitness center can be the perfect stress reliever during a semester filled with assignments to complete and deadlines to meet. Likewise, personal counseling is offered in the Student Services Center for those having difficulty adjusting to college. Expressing one’s feelings orally can be useful therapy for times when the inevitable case of homesickness arises.

Ultimately, keeping life in perspective is a great way to maintain a positive outlook throughout the school year. During the 2013 Freshman Convocation ceremony, Laura Smoller, professor of history, told students things she wish she had known at the start of her collegiate career – one of which is savoring these special years.

“You are lucky.  There are people around the world who will never have the chances that lay before you right now.  And even in our own state of Arkansas, only about a quarter of the population holds a college degree.”

UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson offered a nugget of wisdom at the convocation as well.

“The most valuable advice I can give you as you start freshman year is this: During your first semester, hit the books. Study hard. Go to class. Do your assignments. If you make good grades in your first semester, the odds are you will be on top of it all the way to the finish line.”


  • John Kirk says:

    I should point out that a more accurate translation of what I said would be: “Kirk also encourages students to declare a major early. He cautions, however, that one’s major should be chosen based on the student’s interests, as well as career considerations.”

    • Jacob Ellerbee says:

      Thanks for talking to our reporter, Dr. Kirk. We’ll post an edit in the story so people are not confused.

      - JE