Archive for the ‘public education’ Category

How to Succeed in College

June 6, 2008

Benjamin Franklin said it best when he wrote, “Well done is better than well said.” I maintain an open mind, but I have a few beliefs that are unshakable:

  • The human intellect has yet to reach its highest potential.
  • Free capitalism is vital to a free world.
  • Americans don’t read enough.
  • Great effort produces great results.

Today I’m going to focus on that last principle. Let’s repeat it — great effort produces great results. Granted, some people succeed by family connections, brown-nosing, and deception, but the vast majority of successful people are hard workers. And the earlier we begin working hard, the sooner we achieve success. Warren Buffet became an entrepreneur in high school; Donald Trump became a teenage leader at the New York Military Academy. If I could, I would list all the examples of this formula:

Effort x Youth = Success

Of course, success has no age limits. But young people have more energy, more opportunity to develop, and more choices ahead of them. There are countless ways to achieve success throughout college (grades, extracurriculars, jobs, etc.), but how do we achieve any of that? Let’s take a look:

  1. Understand the college ethos. All colleges and professors are different, but you will find one universal truth in every college – the student is responsible for their own destiny. In high school, teachers use more of the “spoon feeding” method of teaching; college professors prefer the laissez-faire style. Professors will tell you about an assignment during the first day of class and never mention it again until the due date. You’re in college now – you’re an adult. If you fail a test or miss an assignment deadline, it isn’t your professor’s fault. My #1 rule for college and beyond – from day one, you must accept full responsibility for your life. What you do now will affect your job prospect’s after graduation; it will determine your internship opportunities and – in the end – your career. Consider the consequences for your actions; you can no longer blame your parents, teachers, or friends. If you screw up, it’s your fault. Consequently, you get full credit for your successes.
  2. Push past your boundaries. Most college students take 15 credits, rely on their parents for tuition payments, and work part-time (if at all). I said earlier that the human capacity for intellect has yet to reach its fullest potential – this is the greatest example of that belief. When did five classes become enough to fill up a student’s schedule? There is no reason you can’t take 18+ credits. It adds a few hours of work per week, sure; but after four years of taking extra courses, you can graduate at least a semester early. If you throw in some winter and summer courses, you can easily get your diploma in three years. And it isn’t that hard! We come now to my second rule – if you aren’t busy, you aren’t succeeding. I’m not telling you to study on Saturday nights and give up your social life, but anyone can squeeze in a few extra hours a week. Take an extra class or get a part-time job. Do something to improve yourself! You only have four years to experience the relative freedom that college provides – take this opportunity to do original research, to learn under renowned professors, and to figure out what you want to do in life. Remember, great effort produces great results.
  3. Break through the bureaucracy. You will discover that colleges, business, and governments are set up as bureaucracies. This organizational structure is ineffective by nature and generally impersonal to the average consumer (you, the student). It’s your duty to break through the stifling inefficiencies of the bureaucracy to get what you want. One of my personal heroes is Randy Pausch – if you aren’t one of the six million people who have watched his “Last Lecture,” stop what you’re doing and watch it now. Disregarding Mr. Pausch’s personal story of pancreatic cancer, he has the most incisive and accurate saying that I have ever heard: “The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.” If you want to take a class but haven’t met the Junior Standing requirement, ask the professor for permission. If you want an internship to count for college credit, show up at your Registrar’s office and articulately argue how it applies to your major. Nothing makes educators happier than seeing motivated students. Be one, and break through the walls that are put up to keep out the other people.
  4. Don’t be afraid to be the “that guy”. The college community has a disturbing philosophy – too many students stay quiet in class because they fear the scorn of their fellow students. Yes, asking questions makes classes last longer, but you’re paying $20,000 for that class. Why are you trying to cut it short? My first economics professor was fascinating by this – in his words, “students are the only customers who hope to be ripped off.” Get your money’s worth! Questions inspire thought, which inspires debate. People learn more by debating, discussing, and arguing than by listening to a lecture. If you don’t understand a particular concept, speak up! If you still don’t understand it, follow your professor back to his office. Your professors should know you; they get paid to teach you, and you have every right to visit them during office hours. Ask questions and delve deeper into the subject at hand. This is how you demonstrate your passion for your major. You have access to brilliant minds; your professors have dedicated their lives to the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge. Use this opportunity to learn as much as possible.
  5. Stay healthy. I’m not telling you to go vegan or run a marathon during finals week, but you cannot succeed if you aren’t healthy. Avoid the freshman 15 and exercise regularly. Try to exercise at least four times a week – your campus should have a gym, some tennis courts, a pool, and a running track. There are no limits to what you can do; make sure you do something you enjoy, or else you won’t stick to it. I bike, play tennis, and run; I’m gearing up for a triathlon in the fall, and I routinely play competitive sports (football, basketball, rugby, etc.) with my friends. In addition to exercise, try not to poison your body with your diet. Colleges have a gravitational pool for sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Go ahead and enjoy yourself, but remember that your health habits now will stay with you forever. Start to acquire good habits now and you’ll be set for life.
  6. Constantly multi-task. Remember when I said that the human intellect was still underdeveloped? This is how you fight that. The modern world can’t tolerate inefficiency – let’s utilize this philosophy to better ourselves. Download lectures to your iPod and listen to them when you hit the treadmill. If your professor has wandered off onto irrelevant rabbit trails during a lecture, do homework for another class. The professor can’t see what you’re writing – he can’t tell if it’s Business Law notes or an essay for Western Literature. If you have an assigned book to read, carry is with you at all times – when you get a spare 30 seconds, crack it open and read the next paragraph. You can easily power your way through a book by using this principle, and it will take up little extra time. Fill your dead and dull time with other tasks and see your efficiency improve exponentially.
  7. Appreciate your life. I can’t stress enough that college is a unique opportunity that you will never get back. You have health, freedom, and the opportunity to create memories. Have fun, but always remember your goals. You should have no reason to complain, and you should never be miserable. Always remember that billions of people will never get the chance to go to college; you’re there, and you have a golden opportunity to make something of your life and do something good for the world. I don’t want to say that you owe it to yourself or to the world – it’s your life and you can do whatever you want. But do you want to be 70 years old and realize that you wasted amazing opportunities to do tremendous things? I certainly don’t.

Different strokes work for different folks, but these seven principles seem ubiquitous in most successful students, workers, and leaders. Read them, customize them to fit your needs, and run with them toward your ultimate goal – success. I’ll meet you at the finish line.

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Ocean City School Achieves 100% Proficiency

May 29, 2008

In Alexander Russo’s “This Week in Education,” he briefly discusses a Washington Post story about an elementary school in Ocean City, MD. The headline states, “School In Ocean City Nails Its Target,” referring to the No Child Left Behind goal of a 100% passing rates on academic proficiency tests.

What made this school different? How did it achieve such astounding success? Disregarding the flaws of the NCLB Act, let’s look at a few items:

  • According to parents and school administrators, the teaching is “relentless and consistent.” Huzzah for that!
  • The student population is 89% white, of course, but almost a quarter of the students qualified for low income meal subsidies. So how did this school do better than the quasi-elitist public schools of Montgomery County to my North? It inched it out by a few points, and I’m guessing it’s because of the “focus on getting children to speak” Class participation, discussion, and peer-to-peer learning (all of which of stressed at Ocean City Elementary) are exceptional learning tools.
  • One of the teachers said, “There isn’t anything magical about what we do.” They’re obviously doing something right, though.

Ocean City Elementary School, keep up the good work! One down, and only 1,454 public schools left in Maryland!