This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
Confucius, the well-known Chinese philosopher, once said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is the noblest; second, by imitation, which is the easiest; and third, by experience, which is the bitterest.” After my first year in college, I found the first step, reflection, especially critical when it comes to transitioning from high school to the college learning environment.
In my high school, advanced courses, such as the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, were not offered. Unfortunately, not being exposed to challenging courses affected my academic performance in my first year at college. Also, since I am the first in my family to go through the college preparation process and enroll in college, I did not have anyone to ask about the possibilities of being academically challenged during high school.
For instance, I wish I had taken courses at a local community college to gain credits. In addition to saving you money, taking college-level courses during high school offers significant academic advantages. This was particularly well demonstrated in my Quantitative Methods for Business Analytics 1 and 2 classes, in which nearly everyone had already taken advanced calculus or statistics courses or were part of the IB program. On the other hand, I had to work hard just to learn the basics and struggled to keep up with the curriculum. This was a very stressful and frustrating year, and I became angry with myself for not knowing ahead of time how I could have prevented these difficulties.
However, the key to diminishing these anxieties and frustrations, which can be substantially greater for first-generation students, is to make a habit of reflecting. It is crucial to look back at the goals you established and determine whether they are still realistic and if progress has been made to accomplish them. Along with reflection, you have to be honest with yourself and maintain a positive mindset. Although seeing unexpected results may seem devastating, this does not mean that all hope is lost. More important, it does not mean that you are stupid, which is often how students feel about themselves when they receive a low grade. You just have to be smart about your strategy for how you approach college, such as time management and reaching out for assistance, even when you do not think you need it.
Although Confucius claims that reflection is the noblest step, it can be very difficult for those who have not developed this habit yet, such as me during my first year at college. However, as I entered my sophomore year, I learned to prioritize those goals that I knew I could accomplish and worked diligently to achieve them. Reflection allowed me to identify the skills I needed to develop in a healthy way without feeling overwhelmed.