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Advice for College Freshmen

Junior's settled in his dorm room, and you're done converting his old bedroom into your dream walk-in closet. Enough time has lapsed for your offspring to feel a smidge sentimental about you folks. Strike while the iron is hot. Go ahead and use that email umbilical cord to pass along some lessons that aren't covered during freshman orientation.

Some of the best advice from the pages of was imparted in 1998 by beloved Fool community member Jim Boa (handle: JABoa), who passed away three years ago. Jim taught in the mathematics department at the SUNY-Buffalo, where he watched countless freshmen adapt to life after high school. In response to a mother seeking advice for her college-bound daughter, Jim posted the following (excerpted below):

Dear Student,

...In your first couple of years you are bound to be in big classes. There's no getting around it, unless the schools devolve their lecture sections onto graduate students or poorly paid adjuncts. What can you do to be noticed in a class of 60 or 100 or 150 students? ASK QUESTIONS. You'll be doing everyone a favor.

If you're unclear on something, ask. You'll get the instructor to clarify his presentation, other students who were afraid of looking like idiots will be grateful to you, and you'll get the answer to your question. This is important. I taught the same course, two successive semesters. The first was a horrible disaster, the second was fairly successful -- the difference was one particular young woman who asked questions.

Maybe your personality is such that you can't speak up in class. I couldn't, I didn't raise my hand until my seventh year in college. If you're like that, ask after class, or go to office hours. Office hours tend to be poorly attended, so you'll become known to the instructor.

Another surprise to some new students is the increased pace of learning. I estimate it as three times what you were used to in high school. Plus, there's nobody to nag you about doing homework. Figure on spending about two hours reading, studying, and doing homework for every one contact hour. Your school week should be about 60 hours counting lectures.

Make friends with somebody smart. It worked for me. Study groups can work, but I found informal groups of three or four were better. Just copying doesn't work, though.

Then, there are the temptations. I won't say much here; you'll be strongly advised enough. Let's just say that spending 14 hours a day playing bridge, or any amount of time passed out drunk on a fraternity lawn, are not good ideas.

It certainly won't all be fun, and there will be times you'll be amazed how tired you can get from just studying. But, most people forget the miserable parts as the years wear on.

Best wishes,


To read Jim Boa's post in its entirety, click here. We've devoted plenty of cyberspace to college-related topics. Should you need a refresher course, here's the syllabus:

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