Uncommon Success Tips for Your First Semester

Published on August 9, 2017 by David Beutel  

What are "Uncommon Success Tips?"

As a rising senior, I love Samford in many ways that won’t make sense to incoming freshmen until they, too, are seniors. I have many positive memories of Samford’s campus, and I place tremendous personal value in my Samford education. However, no student comes to Samford already knowing all the correct decisions to make during their undergraduate years. With three years under my belt, I still don’t, but I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade that may help you reach your desired collegiate destination with fewer regrets along the way.

I don’t remember seeing all of these tips in any “How to Succeed in College” book, and I certainly think your need for these tips depends on your specific personality, learning style, and study habits. However, these tips became obvious to me as I navigated my own way through Samford classes, life away from family, and career planning.

Academic Tips

1. Be the Last to Leave Class

Professors love to be approached after class by students who want to ask questions, make relevant comments, or make connections between class subjects. While professors can’t stay around forever, they appreciate genuine student interest in them, their teaching, or their academic specialty. If you are consistently the last student to leave the classroom, you are more apt to have a recurring conversation with your professor and get to know them better.

2. Participate in Class

Duh, right? Be the student who breaks up awkward lapses in class discussion humbly but assertively. Do your reading. Do it well. Take notes and ask questions to clarify your notes. Your classmates probably have related questions, and your professor will thank you later for making his or her job easier.

3. Go to Convocation (the weird ones)

What is Convo doing under the Academic Tips section? For starters, it’s required to graduate. That means you will probably attend Campus Worship several times, but what about other Convo events? Attending Convo events dedicated to “obscure” or “boring” topics can broaden your interests, better answer the lingering questions you had after class, or stimulate new questions to ask your professor. Convo can also show you why what you are studying is important. Maybe there’s a culture war going on in the U.S. about one of your class topics and Samford invited one of the major participants to speak. I’m always surprised at the issues I didn’t even know were being debated.

4. Drive "Over the Mountain" (but not just to Five Points)

This is Birmingham, for goodness’ sake! If you want to see the effects of how people have applied what you’re learning, just drive around and look. I recommend taking a few friends and driving through some of those “unsafe” neighborhoods (but drive safely and be cautious). True education begins when you educate yourself.

(Be on the lookout for a later blog post about exploring Birmingham!)

College Adjustment Tips

1. Explore the Website

Perusing Samford’s departments, professor bios, and calendars can keep you informed of who’s who and what’s going on in the Samford community. This is valuable information as you interact with more and more parts of Samford or hear about Samford’s people in the news.

2. Explore the Campus

Nothing takes the anxiety out of going to a class like seeing the classroom used in a different way or being in the classroom when class is not in session. This is your campus, so take a detour through another building as you are walking to one of your usual destinations. Anything you can do to “pull back the curtain” of academia will help you know your place in the college hierarchy and see the human side of Samford’s career employees.

3. Explore the Neighborhood

Many Samford students remain in Birmingham after they graduate because of career choices or financial convenience. Some Samford students spend summers in Birmingham doing research or internships. Make sure you can locate the supermarkets, government buildings, gas stations, parks, and other resources that Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, and Hoover (among other cities) have to offer.

4. Get an On-Campus Job

Besides making some extra cash, being a student worker exposes you to the tremendous amount of effort Samford expends to help students succeed. (It seems almost absurd at times.) This also helps you learn to manage your time and get a sneak peek of the work world after college. (You can find opportunities online here.)

5. Get Involved Off Campus

Broaden your circle of Birmingham friends and acquaintances to more than just “Samford people.” I suggest finding a church with a college ministry as a place to start. You might also ask around about weekly volunteer opportunities or off-campus Bible studies. (Come on, this is Birmingham, there are Bible studies everywhere.)

Tips for the Future

1. Keep Your On-Campus Job

While working in several on-campus roles is beneficial for the broad exposure to people, ideas, and work settings, employers like to see that you’ve earned and kept the trust of a supervisor for a long period of time. This speaks highly of your abilities to communicate and work in a team.

2. Find an Advocate

By the time you leave Samford, make sure at least one professor or administrator knows you well enough to talk about you in their circles, recommend you, or hire you. Achieving this relationship may require that you research with them, take several of their classes, or work in their office or department.

3. Take a Business Class

Thus far, it’s one of my few academic regrets that I only made it through high school economics. (And I actually liked Econ too!) No matter what career path you ultimately pursue, having any exposure to the business world helps you win entry-level jobs and understand your actions once you get there. (For full disclosure, I’m a humanities major. I think the humanities are super valuable too, but it’s all related.)

4. Visit the CDC

I’m not talking about the CDC in Atlanta that handles the world’s most dangerous diseases. Our CDC, the Career Development Center. (Find them online here.) My first serious visit was as a junior, but I wish I had gone earlier. The kind CDC staff can direct you to resources that help you learn about yourself, majors, career paths, graduate school, and more. All the same, you are the best judge of what your skills and goals are, and it’s your job to explore what you’re interested in.