One of the best things about working at a college is the chance to mentor students. College is such a pivotal time in a young adult (emerging adult if you want to be technical on the developmental lingo) and having good mentors is crucial. While I never feel like I’m old enough to qualify as a mentor, being over 25 seems to declare it. One of the pieces of advice I’m really passionate about is encouraging students not to coast their way through life or college but to apply themselves 110%.
The reason I care about that so deeply is because someone cared enough about me in college to call me out on it.
School has always come pretty easy for me. I don’t mean to sound arrogant about that. For some kids sports or music came more naturally and I like those things. Academics, however, was the area I really did not need to try hard because I enjoy all components of it. Even the transition to “real school” from being home-schooled as a high school freshman wasn’t difficult academically. It took me a while to learn the process of learning at someone else’s pace, but without realizing it, once I got a hang of the process of real school, I began to coast. With minimum effort I would get As and Bs in most of my classes so while I did my homework and assignments, I never pushed to do more than the minimum. I didn’t need to and no one ever said anything to me about it.
I did not realize I was coasting until I was in college. Most semesters I handled a hefty academic load without doing much more than minimum. Somewhere along the way I figured out that I could probably get all As if I just tried a bit harder. However, I was ok with As and Bs, so I kept doing the minimum expectation so I could allocate more time elsewhere. I thought this was my little secret.
That secret blew wide open my senior year.
I had to interview with the dean of my school about an internship. When I walked into meet with him what was supposed to be an interview was a conversation where he offered me two pieces of advice specially tailored for me. I will never forget Dr. G. looking me square in the face and saying “Sarah, you really have to quit coasting. We all know you do it. It’s really obvious. If you would just try a little harder, you would do extremely well and coasting is really doing yourself a disservice. I would really like to see you try harder.”
I was shocked. I think I smiled, but I was astonished. I thought I was getting away with doing the minimum required of me and would have described myself as a hard worker. What I didn’t realize is that my approach was far more transparent than I realized. I was also pretty embarrassed to be caught in the act.
As I left that meeting I took his advice to heart. He was right and I knew it.
I pushed myself a little harder the next semester and really applied myself in graduate school. Now as an almost 30 year old, I wish someone told me that earlier. The honesty of that conversation was a game-changer for me. Its wisdom I have carried in every part of my life since then and have shared time and time again with students.
I see students coasting and not applying themselves fully all the time. I know it’s hard to stay focused and sometimes you just want a break. But knowing that trying a little harder in high school might have meant better scholarships (i.e. less student loans), I really could kick myself. It’s especially hard for me as a people pleaser to know that those around me saw through the act. As someone on the other side of college I know how easy it is to spot those students– the ones who don’t try hard, who do the minimum required. I often find myself getting frustrated when they don’t respond to my advice to try harder. The reality I know is that I feel frustrated because I regret doing the same thing when I was their age.
Students- take it from a reformed coaster. Sure, you can do the minimum and get by, but you will be much happier with yourself if truly do your best. A new academic year starts this month and it’s the perfect opportunity to turn off cruise control and start full speed. This is the one time you won’t regret putting the pedal to the metal.