You’re thinking about college. It will be new, challenging, occasionally frightening. Perhaps far from home; certainly among new people. Compulsory schooling is over; now you make your own decisions, and pay for them. What tools and skills, attitudes and experience do you need to bring with you from school?

I asked Julianna Chaszar, an experienced college adviser at Penn State. Her answer may surprise you. She didn’t emphasize reading, writing, maths, note-taking, etc., though they’re necessary. She said: “A characteristic of successful students is something like resilience or flexibility, whether it is not sweating the small stuff or being able to handle bigger challenges…”.

Dr. Chaszar sees the hard stuff: anxiety and depression, pressure from self or family, working far too many hours to pay the bills while also studying, illness… . Sometimes people tough it out. Sometimes they need to step away for a while. That’s not uncommon: useful statistics measure the bachelor’s degree graduation rate after six years. However, don’t just flee. Tell your college you’re going, and perhaps hope to be back. Get your records straight. Your old school, or a new one, will credit you with work done.

Hopefully you won’t prepare for college, and go through it, alone. Family, and trouble at home, can be stressful, but “A strong support network of family/friends …” can also be the best antidote.

Some things needn’t be as stressful as you think. Like choosing a college, choosing a major needn’t be forever. Transfer between subjects, or colleges, is possible, and common. Of course, it’s easier not to commit to the wrong choice in the first place. Inquire. For example, economics and business only sound like similar majors: the former is highly theoretical and mathematical, the latter more matter-of-fact (despite attempts to theorize). Of course neither major may get you the desirable job that goes to the French major whose proven mental discipline (and languages) makes her stand out.

Oh yes. Dr Chaszar is a realist: “I don’t think everyone can ‘follow their passion’ as their academic goal, but some interest in your major and a willingness to put in the effort would help.” Agreed!

As a student, David R. Jones often got good advice. Sometimes he took it.

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