Special Guest Writer–Ellie Cahill: Wear Your Letters, Earn Your Grades: Balancing Greek Life and Academics

So you’ve made it. You moved in, said goodbye to your parents, joined an incredible Greek organization, and now you’ve survived your first few weeks of classes. While these first few weeks of school were new and exciting, reality will set in. You’re going to have homework, exams, chapter meetings, philanthropy events, social events, and not to mention meetings for other student organizations you want to be involved in. The number one fear we always hear from new freshman is that they are not sure if they can balance the obligations of Greek Life and their academics. What you don’t always realize, is that the number one priority of Greek Organizations is academics. We are all here to be college students first and members of our organizations second. These organizations exist to not only provide a sense of belonging here on campus, but to help you thrive in all aspects of your life. While managing all your obligations is difficult, here is some advice to help you learn important time management skills:

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1) Buy a planner! You can literally get one anywhere such as Target and Staples. I recommend finding one that has monthly calendars at the beginning and then breaks down into weekly agendas. In the monthly calendars, I like to write down major events like exams, important assignments, class projects, social functions, athletic games, philanthropy events, etc. This way I can see when all of my main events are happening in relation to one another. It is so important to know when you might have exams and important Greek events during the same week so you can plan your study time in advance. I then use the weekly agenda to write down all of my homework, such as notes or worksheets, and all of my minor weekly meetings. This allows me to understand what all I need to get done each day while also keeping in mind what I need done by the end of each week. Understanding what you need to get done and the time frame you have to do it, is essential to being successful. While it’s important to write all of this down, it is even more important that you actually use your planner every single day. Do not let it become just another notebook that takes up space in your backpack!

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2) Decide what is mandatory and what is optional. To quote my mom, “you have to do your have to dos, before you do your want to dos.” Look at all of your obligations each month and determine which are absolutely mandatory and what are things that you simply just want to do for fun. For example, weekly chapter meeting is mandatory, class is mandatory, your chapter’s philanthropy event is mandatory. Those are all of your “have to dos.” Going to a social event, grabbing lunch with a friend, or going to an athletic game are all of your “want to dos.” Realize that sometimes you are not going to be able to do it all. If there’s a social on a Thursday, but you have an exam on Friday morning, then you are going to have to miss out on the social. Saying no to the “want to dos” that conflict with those “have to dos” is totally ok. For every event you miss, there will always be another one.

3) Ask for help. One of the best parts of being in a Greek organization is that you are bound to have class with members of your chapter. Make study groups with them! It is a great way to meet and get to know other members in your chapter while still studying for your classes. Plus, you’ll never have to pull an all-nighter alone! Another great benefit with being in such a large organization is that there are older members who have been there and done that before you. There is bound to be at least one member (if not more) who has the same major or has taken the same classes as you. Use them! They are always willing to show you which classes and professors to take or how to take notes and study for the class.

4) Most importantly, use your chapter’s Academics Chair. This is usually a member who has high academic achievement and wants to help guide others to reach their own academic achievement. Their entire position is to help you be a better student! If you are struggling in a class, they will help you seek help whether that’s from someone in the chapter or from an on-campus tutoring place. If you are nervous to get help on campus, they will probably go with you! You are surrounded by opportunity to be academically successful, take advantage of it!

Your chapter wants you to be successful in all areas of your life, but especially in your academics. Chapters love to brag and boast about all of the incredible achievements in your life. Whether that’s getting an A on the exam you thought you failed or getting into the program you dreamed of, they love seeing you accomplish your goals and will help with anything in order to get you there. Yes, it will be hard, but college is hard for everyone. It isn’t supposed to be easy. Luckily in your chapter, you will be surrounded by people who will be there to help you through the hard times in order to make them easier and to celebrate with you during the good times to acknowledge how hard you worked.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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What Should You Do? Trying To Get Into A Closed Course

One of the biggest bummers at the start of the semester is realizing that you need a course, but finding out that the course is closed. You might think that if you need the course, you will find someone (Dean, Professor, Advisor) who will simply let you into the course (i.e., give you an override). However, as the expression goes Think Again! It is not a lost cause when you need a closed course, but getting an override into the course will require a certain way of approaching your dilemma.

Here are some pieces of advice:

1) Keep in mind that in most cases the only person who can let you into a class is the faculty member teaching the course. That means, at some point you are going to have to have some communication with this person. It is very rare that the faculty member will let you in to a closed course simply based on the recommendation of another person (e.g., an Advisor). For the rest of this post I will assume a faculty member must give an override into a class, but it may be another person (e.g., chairperson, advisor) who makes this decision.

override1-university-105709_12802) I feel that you should talk to a faculty member in person. Contacting them initially via email is OK, but for something like this I feel a face-to-face meeting will work to your advantage. For one thing, I believe a faculty member will be more impressed with your desire to get into the course when you show up in person to talk compared to reading an email from you. I’ll be honest, in my close to 30 years of teaching it is doubtful I ever gave or would give an override to a student I did not talk to in person.

3) Be persistent. Getting an override for a course can be hard work that takes some time. Don’t try once and then just give up. In my view, you should try several times. You need to realize that ultimately you may not be successful, but I feel that if you really want the course you need to keep going for it.

4) Have clear in your mind why you need the course. This is critical for when you talk to the person teaching the course. Don’t just say to the faculty member that you need the course to graduate. Lay out in a very systematic manner why you need this particular course at this particular time. For example, maybe you need the course right now because your plan to graduate does not allow you to take this course during a later semester. Or, you need the course now because it serves as a pre-requisite for other courses that you need to graduate on time.

There are two quick things to keep in mind when you talk about why you need to take the course. First, needing to take a course immediately versus needing to take the course at some point in your college career are of course two very different things. Be prepared to answer why you need the course right now. If you do not have a good answer to why you need to let into the course right the Instructor may not be swayed to give you an override. They will simply say you can take the course later. Second, a faculty member may ask you why you did not pre-register for the course. Again, you need to have a good answer. Just saying you forgot or were not really sure you needed the course are sure ways to have a faculty member say no to your request.

override-school-book-1560339_12805) Be civil. The worst thing you can do is to approach your discussion with a faculty member in a combative manner. If a student did this with me I would tell them to come back when they have calmed down or simply deny the request for an override on the spot. Before you talk to a faculty member it is important to calm down and be prepared to talk about your request in a mature manner. Getting angry will not help your cause at all.

6) Don’t beg. In my opinion, having talked to hundreds of students needing an override, I do not feel any student should be begging (cajoling or whatever you want to call it) to get into a class. You need to approach your situation in a mature manner and be prepared for the outcome—good or bad. I just do not see any place for begging, and quite frankly I can see it work against you in most situations.

My hope is that all of the advice I have just given you will get you the override you want. However, if there is just no way to get a faculty member to budge, keep in mind that you might need to (a) take another course at your school, (b) consider taking a summer course (c) try to take the course at another school (including online), (d) find out if there is any way to have another course substitute for the course you want, (e) keep checking to see if a slot opens up for the course—during the first week of the semester there is usually a drop-add period and someone may simply drop the course, leaving a slot open for you, and (f) put your name on a wait list if your school uses one. With regard to the wait list, that can work. However, I feel you should still see the person teaching the course regardless of whether you are on the wait list.

As always, good luck as you continue to navigate the ins and outs of college life!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Smart Move—Take a Summer Class!

I know what you’re thinking. The semester has just ended and the last thing you want to hear about is taking a summer class. But, hear me out on this one. I want to make the case that taking one or more summer classes may be a great move if this option is available to you.

teacher-702998_1280In making my arguments I realize that some of you will be unable to take summer classes due to financial considerations. Also, your summer schedule may be really busy and you just do not feel you are able to commit to taking a class. Keep in mind however that you might be able squeeze in a summer class with a busy schedule if you take an online summer class. Finally, a summer class may not be ideal for you if you go away to school and you would have to take a class at a different school near your home. For example, say you go to the University of Kentucky, but live in Chicago. You could take a summer class at the University of Chicago. Taking this class at Chicago would be great, and you can usually earn credit hours toward your degree as long as Kentucky has a similar existing course. However, the actual grade you earn at Chicago will not be included into your Kentucky grade point average. A related situation occurs if you go to a smaller school that does not offer summer classes. You can take a class at a school that does offer summer classes—you earn the credit hours, but the grade does not get worked into your grade point average at your smaller school.

I also want to state that, in general, my thoughts about summer class hold true for face-to-face and online class. Although I typically favor the former, if you can motivate yourself to do the work in an online course that’s great. In fact, taking an online course may be a real advantage if you have other things going on this summer (e.g., work) and need greater flexibility.

 Now to what I see as four big advantages to taking summer classes:

1) Summer classes are usually much smaller than classes during a regular semester. This means you will typically have more contact with the Instructor and your classmates. For example, when I teach Introduction to Psychology I have 500 students in my class. That same class in the summer may have between 25 and 40 students.

2) The logistics of summer classes allows you to focus more attention on your classwork. In general, summer classes usually last only 4 to 8 weeks. What this means is that you can only take a small number of courses. For example, at the university where I teach students can only take one course during a 4-week session and two courses during an eight-week session. Of course, this is way less than the number of courses taken during a typical semester. It is true that you get the same amount of information in a shorter time frame, but you are able to focus so much more on this information. I will add that because the courses are short, they seem to fly by.

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3) Summer courses allow you to play catch-up with your courses and credit hours. Although everyone would like to move through college taking the exact number of credit hours each semester in order to graduate in 4 years, this doesn’t happen that often. Things take place during college that may set you back. For example, you may have stumbled with a course and now have to repeat it. Whether you repeat it in the summer or during a regular semester, repeating the course means you will get a new grade but you do not get the additional credit hours. Just to clear about this, when you take the same course two times, you only earn credit hours one time. That means you essentially “owe” credit hours, and need to earn back these credit hours somehow. Taking a summer course allows you to earn back these hours, and get right back on track as far as completing your credit hours.

4) It is my experience (probably 25 years of teaching summer class) and that of colleagues and students I have spoken to that summer class have a more laid-back atmosphere compared to a typical semester. It is the summer, and everybody seems just a bit calmer about things. I can’t say this is always true and clearly my “study” is unscientific, but this is my impression of summer classes.

These big advantages will work in your favor as you navigate your way through your college career. I hope you will consider taking a summer class–there’s a good chance it will benefit you!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

 

Is Repeating a Course a Good Idea? Definitely!

In thinking about writing this post I had to do something that I had not done in a long time—think back 35 years to when I was an undergraduate at Temple University in Philadelphia. Overall, I had a really positive undergraduate career, but I remember one time period when there was a course issue that left me totally clueless and stressed to the max. The short version is that I done relatively poorly in my statistics course in my major of Psychology and was in a frenzy about what to do. I probably should have dropped the course soon after the semester started—I think I was a freshman, the size of the class was relatively large (over 50) and the Instructor’s teaching style (don’t worry, I still remember the Instructor’s name!) was just not best for me. I thought I could just plow ahead and get an A or B, but in the end that wasn’t going to happen. In the end I got a C, and spent a number of sleepless nights trying to figure out what I should do top deal with this grade. Luckily, I started doing some reading about university rules and realized that I could repeat the course.

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Repeating a course is just what it means—you take a course a second time—and there are some real advantages to using this option. Keep in mind that almost all schools have some type of repeat option. Of course, some options are better than others, but the fact that you can deal with a grade you were not happy with in a positive manner is a real plus. With this in mind, it is critical that you read through the official policy of your school to make sure you understand exactly what the policy allows. In addition, make sure you understand what steps you need to take in order to use a repeat option (e.g., filling out a repeat-option form).

Also, if you are going to use a repeat option, take it very seriously and make sure you are prepared to put maximum time and effort into improving your grade from the first time you took the course. My point here is that if you are just going through the motions and do not think you can improve your grade it might not be worth using a repeat option.

With all of the above in mind, here are 4 primary advantages to a repeat option:

1) Not only do schools have repeat-option policies, most schools allow you to repeat more than one course. But you have to repeat a course that had a letter grade for the same course with a letter grade. That it is typically not the case that you can initially take a course for a grade, do poorly (e.g., get a D) and then you can repeat the course on a Pass/Fail basis. The repeat option is designed to keep things equal with regard to the re-taking of the course.

2) At many schools only the grade and credit hours for the second completion is used in computing your GPA and credit hours. This is HUGE! It means that the first low grade you earned is wiped from the calculation of your GPA. When you are talking about going from, for example, an initial grade of D to a new grade of A the impact on your GPA can be significant. It is important to keep in mind, however, that not every school follows this rule. Some schools will calculate your GPA based on BOTH grades. Of course, this is not great, but it beats the alternative of having only that first grade worked into your GPA calculation.

repeatcourse23) A repeat option offers you the chance to overcome any obstacles that you encountered when you originally took a course. This might have included medical issues, personal problems, difficulty managing your classes, difficulty managing work and school, not being mentally prepared to take the course, not realizing you should have dropped the course, etc. Regardless of your past situation, a repeat option allows you to show that the problem(s) that may have been present when you originally took a course will not impact you now, and you can be free to do really well in the course this second time. I will add that in my 28 years of teaching I am pretty sure that every one of my students who did a repeat option improved their grade. This likely the result of students having already had some experience with the course material (even if their grade was not great), but also due to students being highly motivated to prove that they could do better.

4) Repeating a course makes a positive point to those who may evaluate your record that you are a highly motivated individual. You make clear that there were problems with a course in the past but you were committed to earning a higher grade by taking the course again. I personally do not believe repeating a course makes you look “weak” in any fashion.

I am sure you can tell that I am very big on repeat options, but I want to close by discussing a few points that should think about before moving in this direction. First, if you take a course over you must decide whether to take the course over with same Instructor or someone different. The same instructor gives you maximum overlap but you again dealing with someone who you likely did not mesh well with. A different instructor gives you less overlap, but their style may work better for you. My advice is to find out something about the different instructor before you make your choice. Second, it is almost always the case that when you repeat a course that the original grade still appears on your transcript. It will show the original course and note that it has been repeated. Your transcript will typically make some mention of how the original grade is not calculated as part of your GPA. Then the repeated course will appear with your new grade. Third, when you repeat a course you end up paying for these additional credit hours. It is not as though your school is going to let you repeat a course for free. Fourth, if you repeat a course someone could argue that you wasted time the first time you took the course. I disagree with this position, but you will have to decide exactly what value the original course had for you. Finally, keep in mind that you must repeat course at the same school to have it count toward GPA–if your school allows for the repeated course to be calculated in some manner into your GPA.

In the end, I feel it is well worth using a repeat option if you need it. I think you will find it is an option that has a greater benefit than cost.

Getting Sick In College: What Should You Do?

Many students think that when they go to college they will never get sick or suffer any medical condition that might make them miss class. Sadly, this is almost never the case. Whether it is the common cold or a broken leg, there are times when you will have to face missing class due to some medical condition. What can be tough when this happens, is figuring out what you need to do as far as your classes.

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To begin thinking about all of this, I feel that there are several critical questions you need to get answered. First what is your school’s policy concerning excused absences and medical conditions? For example, many schools will excuse you for a medical condition, but you need official documentation of your condition. This documentation is some letter, memo, etc. from a doctor or school health clinic—it is not a note from your parents. To find out your school’s policy on this point and other issues I will discuss you need to check an official school document. This is a case where you don’t just ask a friend or even your Instructor, you need get the official information yourself. I am sure that a quick search of the Internet, using keywords like “excused absence” and your school’s name will lead you to the information you need.

At this point, it is important to note that your school’s policy will typically not distinguish between different medical conditions. This could mean that a cold is typically viewed the same as have mono—sick is sick. The problem with your school thinking this way is that you are probably like most people and think that only some medical conditions are worthy of going to a doctor. That is, if you wake up with a cold it probably does not seem worth taking the time to visit a clinic or paying a clinic fee. Unlike a more serious illness, the cold will likely go away regardless of going to the clinic or not. You can also argue that it is better to hang at home for a minor illness because (a) it will be tough to pay attention when you feel so bad, (b) you want to get better quickly by resting and drinking plenty of fluids, and (c) you don’t may spread your germs to others.

Second, if you are miss class due to an illness are you required to inform the Instructor? Typically, the answer is yes. The reason for this is that being excused from class does not excuse you from the work you missed. Thus, if you do not make sure your Instructor knows why you missed class you will not get to make up any work and your grade of course will suffer. Remember, that just because you have an excused absence does not mean you get a free pass and a score of 100% on whatever graded activity you missed. I will add that (a) your schools probably has a time frame for informing your Instructor and (b) it is a good idea to contact your Instructor (e.g., via email) when you miss class.

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Third, is there any school policy that limits the number of excused absences you can have? You might think that if you have a serious illness and must miss a third of the semester, that’s not your fault and you should be able to make up the work you missed. It is likely, however, that your school has a policy that limits your excused absences to a certain percentage of classes in a semester. If you go beyond this limit you might be able to withdraw from a course or the Instructor may ask you to withdraw.

Fourth, are you always allowed to make up work you missed due to an excused absence? In general, you have the right to make up any graded work (e.g., a quiz or exam) you miss due to an excused sickness in the semester you are taking a course. However, there may be specific rules about this and certain circumstances (e.g., getting sick right before a final exam) may make this impossible. In addition, there is a real problem if the course you are taking has a participation requirement. If you are missing class due to an excused absence you of course cannot participate and your grade will suffer. Your school may have rules about how you can avoid losing points, but it may be that there is no reasonable way to make up participation points; you may lose these points.

Let me add one other very important point about making up work. Having an excused absence does not mean you have the right to receive notes from the Instructor because you missed class. Although your Instructor may give you notes you miss, don’t count on it and make sure you have some alternate plan for obtaining notes from a classmate.

Finally, be very clear what your Instructor has to say about excused absences. It might be that you have an Instructor who is pretty rigid and follows the school policy on all aspects of excused absences. There is really nothing you can do about this, because they are simply following the rules. However, you might have an Instructor who shows more flexibility. For example, I do not require documentation for every illness. However, I expect my students to contact me before or right after class when they are ill. In addition, I keep track of these undocumented excused absences so that I am not allowing students to miss a lot of classes—there is a point where I will need to see documentation.

Related to how your Instructor thinks about excused absences, always make sure you check the syllabus for each of your classes to see if anything is stated about excused absences. Your Instructor may or may not list their unique policies. As always, it is important to keep in mind that your Instructor is not required to list all of the school’s policies on excused absences—you are expected to be aware of these policies.

In closing, let me say that getting sick in college is a drag. It can put you behind and force you into playing catch-up. Still, I hope reading this post will get you thinking about how to deal with any sickness and help you figure out the best way to keep up with your studies.

Dropping a Course: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

One of the toughest decisions you might have to face in college is whether to drop a course or not. The fact that you have this choice makes clear that college is a time when you have a lot more say over your education than in the past (e.g.., you can’t just drop courses in high school). However, it also shows that as you go through colleges there seem to be more and more decisions you need to make.

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Why would consider dropping a course? Believe it or not there are many possible reasons for dropping a course and they really range quite a bit in the circumstances surrounding the course you are in:

          You don’t like the Instructor 
          You feel the course is not meeting your expectations (e.g., too hard)
          You are not doing well in the course
          You are spending too much time on this course
          You are feeling stressed and anxious because of the course
          You have had significant life changes and can’t spend time on the course

Regardless of the reason, I feel it is very important that ultimately it is you who takes the responsibility for making the decision about dropping or not. Sure you should talk to others about your situation—an advisor, friends, family members, and/or the Instructor–but in the end you must be the person who decides to stay or go. Also, do not think that if you drop the course that it indicates some weakness on your part. To the contrary, this decision is a sign of strength, that you realized something was wrong and you took steps to deal with the situation and move forward with your college career.

As you consider your decision, here are a number of critical questions to think about:

1) If you drop the course, can you take it later? When you take a course you typically need it to fulfill some requirement. But, dropping a course does not mean you cannot take it another semester. If you need the course, check with your advisor and see when it will be offered again. It is likely that the course will be offered soon and you can retake the course with a better outcome.

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2) Should you just hang in there and hope that things will get better? In some cases this might be a worthwhile strategy. Perhaps you had a something relatively minor come up that set you back and you can overcome this “hiccup in the road” with renewed effort. However, this can be a risky strategy and all the work in the world may not overcome certain factors that indicate you should drop. For example, if you feel that you do not mesh with the Instructor’s teaching style it is probably best to drop and move on. It is unlikely the Instructor is going to change their style to suit you any time soon.

3) What are the financial implications of dropping the course? Now this gets a little more complicated because there are two issues to keep in mind: tuition costs and financial aid

a) Tuition costs. Most colleges have you pay tuition for a range of full-time credit hours. For example, you pay the same amount for taking 12-15 credit hours. Therefore, if you are taking 15 credit hours and you drop a 3 credit hour course, your tuition payment will not be affected. In this case, dropping a course is not going to set you or your parents back any money.

 b) Financial aid. For certain types of financial aid you must be taking a certain number of credit hours. Thus, if you drop a course you might fall below the threshold and potentially lose your financial aid—not good! For other types of financial aid, dropping a course is tied to financial aid dates. These dates indicate what percentage of financial aid you will lose—dropping early in the semester penalizes you less than dropping later in the semester.

4) Will your transcript reflect dropping a course? Maybe—it all depends on dates again. Whether you know it or not, there is an academic calendar at every college that indicates the deadlines for when certain things must get done, including dropping courses. For example, colleges allow you a short grace period at the start of each semester (typically a few days or a week) where you are allowed to drop a course and that course will not even appear on your transcript. However, as the semester moves on the “penalty” for dropping gets a bit tougher. This may include a grade of “W” (for withdraw) appearing on your transcript. Ultimately, there is a date where you basically cannot drop a course (and must accept the grade you are going to get) unless you have extenuating circumstances (e.g., an extended illness). The bottom line is to know your drop dates!

5) Does having a “W” on my transcript hurt my chances to be accepted to graduate or professional school or to get a job offer? Again, it depends. A student may worry that a “W” grade on a transcript will indicate to others that they were lazy or not able to deal with difficult material. However, it is typically the case that a “W” on a transcript does not give any indication for why a student dropped a particular course. Thus, a faculty member could infer something negative about a student who has a “W”, but it would be an inference with no actual evidence. Let me add this to hopefully make you feel better–in my 28 years as a professor, sitting on admissions committees every year, I never heard a colleague suggest not accepting a student because they had a “W” grade.

As you can see, dropping a course is not a very simple process. It requires a lot of thinking and ultimately a difficult decision on your part. However, with the help of others (especially your advisor) I am confident you will make the right choice.

Special Guest Writer–Dr. Diane Snow: Combine and Conquer – Using Peer Groups to Achieve

This past Spring, I had the great fortune of traveling to China with numerous UK faculty colleagues. There were so many interesting, yet unfamiliar and daunting experiences.

I was awed and amazed by the Great Wall, and imagined what life must have been like when people roamed the endless steps and towers through their normal daily lives. There were places where the slope of the steps was negligible and climbing was easy. I barely had to pay attention to where or how I was walking, and discourse with others was relaxed. However, there were places where the steps were not adequately deep, forcing me to climb with only my toes to progress. In some cases, the rise of step after step was enormous, and I had to use of all four limbs and a lot of attention to the task to make the trek—truly demanding work.

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It occurs to me now these steps could be seen as a metaphor for the transition from high school to college—an unpredictable and variable journey. Having been a “big fish in a small pond” in my high school, I found the workload unremarkable, and my effort was commensurate. Getting an A in each class did not make me winded. But all of a sudden, there appeared in college a much steeper climb. Courses no longer required just the reading of a chapter by the end of the week, but the reading of a book and a reflective paper in that same span. There was no longer an emphasis on introduction, but a focus on depth, breadth and integration.

While I found this challenge exhilarating, and stepped up my game, this new world view was daunting and presented a paradigm shift. Although early college days are long in my rearview mirror, I still remember the way I coped with this trial of increased volume and demand—networking and team-building. I intentionally reached out and met new people, studied with them, and learned with them. We tested the new waters as a team. We divided up the work, talked about each of our contributions, learned from one another, and solved problems together. We helped each other during triumphs and “face plants” as well, and somehow, we all made it—together. The task felt more manageable when others were facing the same challenges, had the same vision, and agreed to work through it step by step in a unified effort. Likewise, the accomplishments, when they came, were a shared victory and an award that made us stronger and more capable for the next challenge.

So as you’re climbing your Great Wall, don’t feel you need to be a weathered and independent traveler just yet. After all, in a tourist spot like that, there are thousands of friendships just waiting to be made, and so many worthy journeys to take!