Possibilities of four years at UND

In the blink of an eye, I went from stepping through the stone arches of the University of St. Thomas to walking across the stage and shaking hands with President Robert Kelley at the 2013 commencement of the University of North Dakota. In reality, that blink covered the span of four years at two different universities under two different majors and one Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program. I did all that, and I still graduated in four years.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 55 percent of students enrolled in a four-year program will graduate from that institution, and shockingly, it will take them approximately six years.

But, I am here to tell you that graduating in four years is incredibly easy if you do it right.

But before I dive into that, I’d like to first and foremost welcome you to my alma mater, the University of North Dakota. I am the former Editor-in-Chief of this fabulous newspaper and, if you continue to pick it up on a bi-weekly basis starting in the fall — and I hope you will — it will keep you updated on all UND-related news throughout your four years here.

Some of you might be terrified about leaving high school and beginning your collegiate adventure while some of you are likely delighted about leaving your parents’ house and living independently for the first time. Some of you might be bringing along your favorite stuffed animal ­— don’t worry, everyone does — or that trusty blankie that you hide under the covers and secretly can’t sleep without. Some of you might be totally freaked out about how to access the dining halls and use your meal plan for the first time or arriving on campus and knowing no one.

Well, I can tell you from experience that it’s not as scary as it sounds. In fact, the first weekend on campus is my favorite each year because everyone is open to meeting new people and trying new things. Hell, I’ve been the new kid on campus — twice.

College is where you become the person you’ve always wanted to be. It’s the place where you’ll discover what you want to do for the rest of your life and, chances are, it won’t be what you set out to do. You will meet lifelong friends, and if lucky, perhaps your future wife or husband. You will also likely experience pain, heartbreak, loss, and embarrassment — its part of growing up and its part of life.

But the teachers still give out candy, you’ll spend far less time in classrooms than high school, and the food at UND is phenomenal because its all homemade and fresh.

So I lift my arms and bid you welcome to your next four years at UND. It will be the time of your life.

Starting out

Taking classes in college is not random. If you open the course catalog and close your eyes to pick your class schedule, you will fall so far behind that even your advisor will not be able to get you on track.

Some majors require different general courses than others. Some departments will require specific Essential Studies courses than others and if you take the wrong one, you’ll be forced to pay another grand and another semester.

 To avoid these issues, simply open the course catalog and look at the requirements for your specific major. Take the generic ones first — the courses that all UND colleges require — because if you decide to switch majors later, you won’t lose credit. Then, when you are registered, make an appointment with your advisor and make a four-year plan. The AFROTC program requires this of all cadets and I can say that it single handedly helped me stay on track to graduation. I always knew what courses I needed to take.

Each semester following, meet up with your advisor to update your four-year plan. He or she can help you get on track in case one of the courses you need is full or you happened to fail a course — its not good, but it happens.

Note: Some courses are only offered in the spring while others are only offered in the fall. Don’t fall into the trap of hoping that a course is offered when you need it, because it might not be available and you’ll fall behind.

Get involved

 Staying busy is the best way to make the most out of college and meet new people. Joining a club that shares your interests or an organization that matches your career goals can give you real world connections and will introduce you to other students who work and think like you.

 My first week at UND, I applied at “The Dakota Student,” and I met many of my closest friends, discovered what I wanted to be and the job itself gave me responsibility outside of academics. Future employers love seeing how well you can balance academics, employment and involvement.

 Sporting events are an incredibly fun way to pass time and hang out with friends on campus and none are more attended than men’s hockey. For those who haven’t yet stepped foot into the Ralph Engelstad Arena, you must cross this experience off your bucket list. Buy a student season pass for $100, and you can attend as many hockey home games as you want and you’ll be a part of the greatest atmosphere UND has to offer.

 Football games in the Alerus Center are also incredibly fun. Many organizations host tailgating events before weekend games and there is endless free food and camaraderie. Don’t be that student that sits in their dorm room on weekends playing World of Warcraft alone.

Tips for new scholars

There are a lot of ways to experience college, and a lot of them are the wrong ways.

In order to succeed, you have to be able to tell the difference on your own. No one is going to hold your hand across campus. Your parents are likely hundreds, if not thousands of miles away, your fellow students are just as busy as you are, and it’s not the faculty’s job to remind you to do your homework.

Many of the exams will now be essay-based, late papers are no longer accepted, and not showing up to class is still included in your final grade — and that isn’t including participation.

You must stay in contact with your professors. If something comes up in your life that sets you back in your schoolwork, they can help you out. But if you keep it to yourself, they’ll never know you are struggling. An associate dean here once told me that professors are here to help you succeed, and it’s in their best interest to do so. Professors know this, and many of them are incredibly understanding to their students’ needs. Keep this in mind the first time you hit a tight spot. Just a quick visit to your professor’s office can often give you an extension or gain you a lifelong ally. I have several faculty members in the English department who would happily write me a recommendation letter, and that relationship is invaluable to my academic career.

 My experience

I can hardly believe college is over. I feel like I just started — a lowly freshman with high expectations for my life that turned on a dime during my sophomore year.

I spent two years at a private university with a full-ride scholarship only to find myself without it my junior year and forced to transfer to a more affordable school. I met friends that I could not envision my world without and I watched myself bloom into the person I am today.

I had the ultimate college experience: I transferred schools, changed my major, spent two years in AFROTC, worked three jobs, and still managed to graduate with my undergraduate degree in only four years. I have friends who did it in three.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. I have no student loans to pay off and I have parents willing to support me until I find my dream job — which will hopefully only take a few months.

I am incredibly sad to leave college, but I’m also satisfied with my experience. I have no regrets. I did what I set out to accomplish and I accomplished it on time. Along the way, there were bumps, setbacks, great friends, and a lifetime of memories.

All of you will have fantastic memories at UND. I guarantee it. And if you heed my warnings and use my tips, you’ll be crossing that same stage in four years. Its possible, my friends; you just have to make it happen.