Dhaka, Bangladesh
To college, with Confidence

To college, with Confidence

The conversation among the teens was about stepping into college. Clothes were high on the list, as was transport. There were complaints about loss of freedom - restrictions on male-female student interactions, with one student ranting about an engineering college that mandates uniforms. Overall, there were positive sentiments about things that would change: more pocket money, a pair of motorised wheels, more freedom to mingle, free hours between classes, weekend travel, choice in study-subjects, practical work - a general sense of freedom. Freedom means you have to manage your time and bear the consequences of bad decisions, I pointed out. You have to set priorities, choose activities you want to participate in, follow your own study schedules, face questions on ethics as you log on to the Internet to prepare lessons. You have to make new friends, approach professors for solving problems and graduate to adult behaviour. You will be tested on self-control and motivation. "We can manage," was the chorus. The discussion moved to "What if?" What if professors don't check assignments and don't remind you of incomplete work? What if you're unable to follow the content and language of the lectures? Some lecturers provide the background, give examples and expect you to fill details through reference work. Are you ready to do independent work, as opposed to studying prescribed textbooks? Can you make personal timetables and amplify points discussed in class? Are you ready for that 'wake-up-call' first college test? New challenges "One problem stands out in this transition," said Aditya Ramamurthy, who has worked with high-school and final-year college students through SVASAS, a mentoring club. "They lack preparation for the world of work. While in school, the emphasis is largely on marks to get into a good college. Many students lose focus in college and find themselves faced with very few options when they graduate." Many students are baffled by the lecture mode and the way subjects are handled, said Geetha, who teaches English in a college. The subjects are also new. "It's transition at all levels," she said. "In my government-grant-in-aid-scheme classes, nearly 70 per cent are first-generation/Tamil medium students. They are deeply inhibited and a bit shy to speak in English. Students do not take part in discussions, some do not speak at all! It takes a couple of months of cajoling and coaxing to get them to speak in class." There are problems of ragging and being a hostelite. One student said, "I was prepared for the worst. In the initial days, I made sure I was never alone. I moved with a bunch of friends and was lucky to have a sympathetic roommate." Colleges have strict rules against ragging now, so it may be a good idea to find out what they are. At the first hint of trouble, complain to a college authority and talk to people at home. The scout motto "Be prepared" is the best way to tackle this, he said. As for the roommate, having a courteous, respectful, and somewhat professional relationship may be the ideal. See sharing space with a stranger as a life experience; you learn about your shortfalls, the limits of your patience, how to negotiate and compromise. If nothing else, you get to know about another family. "I managed by staying humble," said an ex-hostelite. "I asked the guy to help me adapt to the new atmosphere. I did that man-to-man, without giving the impression I was trying to please." Maintaining balance To offset loneliness, keep in touch with your high-school friends. You could meet at a public place during weekends, join your class Facebook page but be very careful about what you display in social networking sites. People remember "that stand-out kid" on Facebook. Employers view them as testimonials when they consider you for jobs. Pretend to be confident, even if you are not, said a third-year student. "I was a shy nerd in high school, but no one knew that! I remained cool, gathered a big group of friends and got invited to things. Eventually, I wasn't pretending any more." Get to know the teachers; there's no gain, staying anonymous. Establish an identity with self-confidence, self-esteem and assertiveness. Feel secure and proceed to make the most out of your college years. Acknowledge that attending college is an incredible opportunity, a choice that will lead to self-fulfillment. "The most successful college students started working on their resumes from the first year," said Aditya. "They seek experiences to develop critical skills that are sought-after by both recruiting companies and admission committees of postgraduate programmes." How do they do this? Practical exposure through projects and internships and interacting with people who have skills you want to develop, he said, rather than just hanging out with friends. Make use of the networking opportunities and the freedom to choose. Do you want to develop communication skills? Join a debate club. Do you want to start your own company someday? Join the entrepreneurship club, pitch ideas and get feedback. While most colleges lack counsellors to guide you on all these questions, you can very easily find mentors among your seniors to help. So, set goals, start building your resume, develop skills and find mentors.

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