Tips for a Successful First Year

Students choose different paths to academic success and campus involvement—and even their definition of what success is may vary. Regardless of time, path chosen, and goals for success that are set, Westminster’s faculty and staff know that there are universal behaviors that will help every student move closer to success in all aspects of student life.

Show up

One of the obvious differences between high school and college is that you have more choice and autonomy at Westminster than you did in high school. With autonomy comes responsibility. Sure, it would be easy to silence an alarm clock, play video games, or spend the day in Pittsburgh rather than go to class. Most Westminster courses meet two or three times each week, so missing even one class can significantly hamper your success. Absences also can affect student-athletes’ ability to practice or compete with their teams.

Westminster’s faculty members notice when their students are absent because most of our courses have 25 or fewer students in them. We will get to know you well, and we expect you to show up for classes, labs, rehearsals, and appointments. We also expect that for every hour you spend with us in class, you will spend another two hours studying and preparing for the next class or assignment. College is a lot of work (it is your full-time job!) and being present is important.

Speak up

Merely being present is not enough. Your faculty expect you to be prepared for each class by reading materials and working on assignments ahead of time. In class, we expect you to be active, engaged learners who share your knowledge, experience, and insights. Sitting quietly at your desk and never contributing to class discussions deprives us of your perspective. Similarly, being present but holding side conversations, using electronic devices for purposes unrelated to the course, or catching up on missed sleep is discourteous to your faculty and fellow students. Every time you come to a class, lab, or studio, be prepared and ready to learn. If you have an opinion, share it. If you have an answer, give it. We want to hear from you.

Ask early

Faculty and administrators often find students wait too long to ask for help. The request comes just before a big exam, or after a number of poor grades. In some cases, students say they didn’t realize they were having problems until too late; in other cases, students suggest they didn’t know who to ask for help.

Westminster faculty members will evaluate your progress in courses through exams and quizzes, lab reports, rehearsals and performances, and so on. Many of them post your grades on our learning management system (D2L), so you will know your grades throughout the semester. Even if your professors do not use D2L, you can always ask them to let you know how you are performing in their courses. You do not need to guess at how you’re doing; your faculty will tell you exactly how you’re doing.

But don’t wait until an exam to visit your professors. Instead, visit each professor during the first week to introduce yourself, ask questions about things in the course that you don’t understand, and hear advice for succeeding in her/his course. Every faculty member sets aside time to meet with students (called “office hours”) each and every week of the semester. This is the ideal time for you to visit with your professors to learn how you are doing in their courses; to discuss strategies for improving; and to ask questions that were not addressed in class or textbooks.

In addition to the faculty teaching your courses, you have a dedicated faculty member who serves as your academic advisor. Advisors help you plan and register for your courses, but they can also help you find the resources you need to succeed. Those resources include the Academic Success Center, the Disabilities Resource Office, and the Professional Development Center. You should stay in touch with your advisor, especially if you are struggling in your courses.

Own up

When students have trouble in their courses, they sometimes think the professor does not like them, is disappointed in them, or that other factors are preventing their success. However, we often find that the reasons students struggle (or the solutions to their problems) are within their control. For example, they may be studying in ineffective ways, or not managing their time wisely. A part of succeeding academically is taking ownership of your education and making choices that help you meet your goals. If your grades suffer because you are staying up late to peruse social media rather than to study, then you can change your behavior to bring about a better outcome. Blaming others for not succeeding is easy, but it doesn’t lead to success.

Get involved

Westminster students are well-known for being incredibly active and engaged in the life of the campus—from student organizations to music ensembles to athletics to study abroad and more, students stay busy. Take advantage of the many lectures, performances, sports and cultural events offered on and off campus. Because engaged students are far more likely to manage time effectively, earn good grades, and persist at higher rates, we recommend you try out at least one organization or activity in your first semester. You must learn to balance out of class activity with academics—an important life skill. Your goal at Westminster is to earn your academic degree, and that is where your primary focus should be.

Take care of your health

It is important you plan for your physical and mental health care needs while attending college. No one plans to become ill, but if it happens, know that our Student Wellness Center is available for you. Being prepared and becoming familiar with the services available can help you manage illness much easier when it occurs.

Represent well

Westminster College was founded in 1852, and we are proud of our history. We are pleased that you have decided to join a community of scholars and alumni who care about your personal and intellectual development. You are a Titan, and we expect you to represent the College professionally and positively in all that you do. We want you to enjoy your time at Westminster, but also to appreciate that decisions you make today could have lasting consequences on your future careers—especially in the practically permanent life of the internet and social media.