Advice for Incoming
College Students:
A Grinnell Planpoll

All entries


If you can save money, start a Roth IRA. Traditional IRAs are tax-exempt on the front end and Roth IRAs on the back end, so young people are better off with the Roth.


Life is like looking at a cabbage through a kalidescope. you don't know how now, but...you will by the end of college!!!!


Visit your friends at other colleges some time your first year. It will likely make you love Grinnell, no matter how much you thought you were indifferent.


o not go home for the whole summer after college. It will be pure hell. YOu do not need another summer at home just to teach you that you don't want to work at a menial job your whole life. If your parents disapprove (mine did) get an intership, research position, or work anyway--either in Grinnell or some other city.


Be assertive about getting into classes that are difficult to get into. Visit the professors who teach them an explain your interest (or at least write them an e-mail if you're too afraid of rejection to talk to them in person).


Don't let fear keep you from taking a class. Now that I graduated, I regret being too afraid to take more math/science. In retrospect, even if I definitely would not get an A, that would have been okay. It would not have affected my future career and graduate school opportunities to have another B or C or two, and I would have had more choices.


Use your professors' office hours!


Some of the very best friends I made at Grinnell were professors/staff. While it wouldn't be applicable to all professors or work for all students, you shouldn't be too frightened to interact on a more human level with people other than your fellow students. This was probably one of the most significant choices I made while at Grinnell, and I'm endlessly thankful that I did so.


Don't be scared of the independent major. If there is something you want to do but would have a difficult time doing within the confines of an already-existing major, consider making your own.


One thing I wish I had been told/thought about is to be more pragmatic and thoughtful in my course selection. If I had been more thoughtful about my post-Grinnell plans, I think I would have been far more well-rounded and a better candidate for grad school. I ended up wasting a lot of classes my first two years, and I had to take all major requirements my last two years. By the time I was a junior and I had given some thought to the non-major courses that would have been good for me, I didn't have room left to take them.


A lot of the most rewarding classes that I took outside of my major seemed to make no sense when I had to explain why I was taking them at the time. So, what would I tell to incoming students? Follow your gut. There's a lot to consider, and sometimes the only way for it to make sense is to see it as one big beautiful mess.


Get to know the administrative assistants and your hall's FM person. Professors are important, but these people usually handle the important pre-steps (making appointments, accepting your $$, faxing your transcript, cleaning your living space, etc.). If you can establish a good relationship with them, it will be a huge benefit to just completing everyday tasks, getting an early heads-up about upcoming opportunities, and provide you with an instant connection to the town of Grinnell. Without Retta Kelley at the CDO, my Grinnell experience would be glum.


Listen to KUNI (90.9 FM) as you get ready in the morning. Professors like to incorporate current events into discussion, and what's more current than NPR as you walk out the door?


Writing lab, writing lab, writing lab. It's amazing. My first year, i completely had the impression that the writing lab was only there for "bad writers." So completely untrue. These people are skilled editors, and their advice is essential to improving and challenging your writing style in college. Also, make your appointment for finals week during the very beginning of the semester--even if you have no idea if you'll even be writing a paper. This little painless step accomplishes three things: a) you get your favorite writing lab instructor during the busiest part of the year (essential), b) you have the appointment (trying to get one at the last minute is impossible), and c) you have a deadline for the paper before its due. First drafts during finals week are golden.


There is no shame whatsoever in taking a semester off. Don't be afraid to do so if you feel like you need to. Boy, do I wish someone had told me that.


There is no shame whatsoever in taking a semester off. Don't be afraid to do so if you feel like you need to. Boy, do I wish someone had told me that.


Do not hesistate to go to academic advising for help if you need it. Getting and using a tutor well will save you a lot of anguish.


Lean on others for support, particularly upperclassmen. Anyone who has been through with this can help you do the same.


Starting math or science problem sets early is obviously a good idea, and gives you the all-important opportunity to ask your professor questions on particularly tricky problems. But even more important is to have a buddy system. Work with a classmate or a group of classmates. I would not have made it through my physics major without a little help from my friends. That’s not to advocate copying solutions (which is cheating), but discussing problems, trying out different approaches and filling chalkboards with notes are all acceptable and helpful. The further along you get in the courses, the more helpful it is to have a group of colleagues to work with.


I wish I had been encouraged as a first-year to go and talk with other professors about their work, about getting a place in their class, etc.


I would have really liked to know that I could change advisors without declaring a major.


Everything from Wednesday night drinking to all night studying can be less harsh on your body if you remain hydrated.


Eat at the Back Alley Deli. Decide to refer to it as 'Paris'. Ask people to go to 'lunch in Paris'. Eat there again. If they're disappointed, suggest the Chandlebaum.


If you don't get straight A's, make sure to have at least one prof who knows you well; doing a MAP is also important.


Pag's makes their own sausage and even now I crave their pizza. Eat as much of it as you can. This seconds everyone else's "Explore Grinnell". I discovered that town way too late.


"Keep your balance, know that you are greatly loved no matter what, and whether or not you see the light, it's there." -- Gail Gregory


I wish my Tutorial professor had talked to me about how picking courses in high school is much different than in college. At Grinnell, the best reason to take a course is "I thought it looked interesting." Not necessarily, “I'd taken math every semester in high school, so had to take a math class every semester in college.”


I think a Tutorial advisor should never say, "Don't take this class just because you think it's something you want to study in the future. You're a first year, so you should explore and take only classes you think you'll never get a chance to take again." Because if the student knows that it's a subject they like, and that they'll want to take more classes in later, this is a really stupid piece of advice, because it'll put them behind for the next four years.


Remind them to take all the cool sounding classes now even if they have to beg. I'm sad of all the cool classes I never took because I knew they were next to IMPOSSIBLE to get into, or because I was so focused on being "well-rounded."


Make sure that you take at least one class per semester that you either know will be easy or don't care as much about your grade. You (or at least I) can't take 16 "hard" credits in a semester.


To echo what everyone else is saying, get off campus and get involved in the community. I would recommend volunteering in the schools or interacting with kids in some capacity. When little Jimmy comes up to you with a huge grin on his face and says, "My daddy's getting out of jail tomorrow!" you get a jolt of perspective on that term paper you're struggling with.


For people who are taking out loans, don't forget about them for four years only to be broad-sided upon graduation by the monthly payments you're going to have to make after your six-month grace period ends. Making money obviously shouldn't be the priority while you're in college, although lots of us do have to work through college. Most of the money I made during college just paid for whatever "expenses" I had aside from tuition. (And by expenses, I mean both things that I needed and things that, looking back, I didn't.) But I think I would have done some things differently if I had kept in mind a longer-term idea of what my financial situation would be after Grinnell. I would have tried to save something. It's easy to live in denial in a low-cost place like Grinnell, especially when you're just signing pieces of paper and they're giving you money. That's my party pooper advice.


I'd like to echo the advice to get out in the community. Go to the library, go to the coffeeshop. Volunteer; not only does it get you out of the college bubble and mindset, it really helps those you're working with.


Carry your book with you if you have a chunk of reading to do. Then you can read if you get to your class early, when you're waiting to talk to a professor, or when you grab a cup of coffee in the Forum. I started doing this last year out of pure necessity, and it made my workload so much more bearable.


I wish my tutorial professor had told me to make a schedule. And stick to it, at least more or less, for a little while. That way, you have an idea of when you have time to work, as well as when you need to work ahead because you won't have the time later. I think this is something I didn't figure out for a good year or so, and it could really have helped earlier on.


For any class you do a great job in, or professor you get to know well, have them write you a graduate (or possibly job) recommendation letter to keep on file. It is really hard when, years after you graduate, you decide to go to graduate school and you don't have any recommendation letters.


I saved over $2,000 by taking the greyhound bus instead of flying. It took much longer, but it was worth it to me. Plus, it gave me about 20 hours to catch up on sleep in between school and vacations.


Vegan co-op food is healthy and delicious. The best meals I ever had were from vegan co-op!


To make yourself exercise, consider a PE class. My healthiest semester ever was when I took swimming and aerobics! They're free if you're under a certain number of credits.


Pay bills on time. (Failure to do so will follow you forever and affect your credit rating.)


Professors and staff are there to help you and want to see you succeed. They are human beings who can be approached and talked to. In fact, most Grinnell professors actually enjoy helping and teaching students! Many professors care about you - as a person and not just a student and want to help you if they can and/or you need it. Also, there are entire offices at Grinnell, namely Student Affairs, whose purpose is to help students.


This has been echoed throughout many other plans, but it bears repeating: write drafts of your papers! You can turn them into your professors for early review (if they have time and you ask them ahead of time) or you can use the writing lab (if you have an appointment). One student I know thought it was cheating to turn in drafts when she started Grinnell.


I think the most important piece of paper anyone ever handed me in college was the sheet Professor Simpson gave our Brit lit class on how to pick a thesis and write a paper. It's simple, but priceless. Laminate those things.


I wish my Tutorial professor had talked about how college students can really really *&%! up their futures by getting into credit card debt!!!!!! This article talks about the problem (there could be better articles, I just googled and found this one). Students can get into trouble with credit cards due to financial inexperience and the perception that because everybody uses credit cards, it must be no big deal to have credit card debt. If people are going to use credit cards, they should at least get into the habit of paying it off in full every month, not just paying the minimum. Please Please Please put the Fear of God into your tutees about credit cards!


Take full advantage of ExCo. It's the coolest thing.


Fareway is way cheaper than McNally's and only a block further away.


Don't buy your books by using your p-card. Instead, use cash or credit card so that if you find the same books cheaper from somewhere or someone else, you can get a return and your money back versus money just being refunded to your account that you can't use.


Start an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).


It's really expensive to fly out of Des Moines. If possible, Cedar Rapids and Omaha are a lot cheaper. (Ed. note: so is Moline/Quad Cities, and it's closer than Omaha.)


Get to know the people on your hall, especially upperclassman. They have great advice on life and school and will often sell or lend you textbooks. The fact that Grinnell mixes up classes and majors in their residence halls makes student life really fun.


Students should get to know their RLCs.


Go to Harris parties. Dance your ass off.


Don't think you have to be married before you turn 22.


Don't be afraid to move out of your first-year room placement.


I wish my Tutorial professor had pointed out that on such a small campus, every person you meet will impact you in some way. Teaching us to think about first impressions might have been nice. I'm still friends with people from my Tutorial, but I also have ex-friends from that semester.


Go on lots of walks. I'd recommend walking north past campus, through Merrill Park and up to the road that runs north of the golf course (17th Street?), then east along that road all the way to Penrose, south on Penrose until about 8th, and then west back toward the college. There's a little school with a playground right around 8th and Summer that's just great for swinging.


Go to Rock Creek. Hike over to the dam, and stand on the bridge beneath the falls. Take a group of friends and have an autumn bonfire on the lake at the campgrounds.


I wish someone would've told me to get out of Grinnell once in a while. Take a few hours on the weekend to drive to a nearby farm to go horseback riding. Explore the town, do some community service. Don't let the College consume your existence.


Something I've figured out on my own is how rewarding it is to join a community outside of the college. For example, I joined the choir at St. Paul's church, which helped me get to know professors and townspeople (grown ups and children alike) much better. One of the hardest things about going to a small college is the feeling of being in an artificial environment--someplace where everyone you meet is within the same age bracket or is a professor. When you join a community outside the college, you broaden your horizons and feel less trapped.


Students shouldn't be terrified to find a church in town. You might be surprised that other students are there and there are also cute old ladies, adorable kids, and usually free food at least once a month.


Go into town and spend some time there. Make it a goal to somehow get involved in town activities be it church, schools, community theatre, working in town, getting to know people, whatever. It wasn't something that my professors stressed as important, but it became one of the very best things about my five years in Grinnell.


Explore the town, go to the library, the farmer's market, etc. Grinnell is a really neat town, with really neat stores and really neat people. It's a great way to connect to the greater community.


I echo some of the other comments on Tutorial advisors encouraging students to explore the town. Introduce them to the farmers market or rock creek or that park over on Penrose. It's entirely non-academic, but helps students escape once in a while while also exploring the entire town, not just campus.


Find and explore the quirks of Grinnell and also explore and take walks in the area outside of town, particularly to the north of town. When there is some good warm weather, taking a walk on the roads north of town (the ones that warn you to enter at your own risk because of minimal maintenance). It's very peaceful, and gives you a much different view of where Grinnell is than if you just stay in town. As for the town and college itself, find some of the quirks. Answer questions such as 'Where in Grinnell are there alpalcas?', 'What word is written on Burling in several foot high letters?', 'Where is there a lighthearted totem pole in someone's front yard?'


Do something to remind yourself that there is a world outside of students aged 18-23 who live in Grinnell, IA. Go to Community Meal, a play in town, work at the preschool, babysit, volunteer, work, talk to senior citizens, etc, etc.


Get out and explore the town of Grinnell. There's really a lot more than people realize at first, and if you don't start early you'll find yourself with in my boat, with only one year left and not nearly enough time to see and do all that you want to do.


Grinnell has a lot of secret money for neat opportunities (my husband got a scholarship to spend fall break doing research in England for his MAP). Getting to know your profs well is a good way to clue you into this money.


The internship grants are amazing opportunities to get paid to do what you're interested in.


The writing lab is the coolest thing ever.


Form study groups with classmates. It's a great way to learn, meet people, and it's a great release to crab about a prof/class to people who know exactly what you're talking about!


Save your old papers. Reread them when writing a new one (especially for the same prof/class) to remind yourself of errors or problems you had the last time, so they don't get repeated.


Talk to your profs about anything you don't understand. I once had a prof change my grade on a paper without even having to rewrite it, just because I went in and talked to him about it and further explained some of my arguments.


Don't be afraid to contact alums - sign up for the on-line alumni data base and use it!


It's OK to take time off (as in, a semester or two). In fact, I HIGHLY recommend it. If you can't find the perfect volunteer or study program through the CDO or study abroad office, don't let that stop you. There are lots of Grinnellians who've done interesting things around the world, or know people who have; use these connections to your advantage! (For example: I took a semester off and worked on an organic macadamia nut farm in Guatemala for a month, then I traveled in Guatemala and southern Mexico for 2 months and took 1-on-1 language classes for 2 weeks. I came back from this experience excited to dedicate myself to studying for the first time since I'd entered college.)


Broadening horizons is important, but so is planning. Hands-down the best experience of my undergraduate education was the time I spent abroad (a summer in China and the year-long program at the London School of Economics). I couldn't have done these things without taking a lot of pre-reqs. As another comment notes, knowing the registrar/department's policies is important, which requires investigation.


Get to know your profs. Talk to them about non-class stuff. Not only do you form really neat relationships this way, but you also get offered the better research assistant positions that bring in the $$$$ and resume prestige.


I'd like to share that I made three best decisions in college: the first was studying abroad, the second was doing the spring/fall break service trips, and the third was living off campus in a house with my friends senior year.


Understand how great the study-abroad experience can be... and then point out that some of the programs have recommended fields of study. I managed to study abroad in my chosen program, but only by striking some unappealing bargains involving my post-abroad curriculum. If I knew about the program's coursework guidelines while planning my first year's courses, I would have made some different choices and would have had a more well-rounded course load senior year.


I wish my Tutorial prof had told us that internships aren't just for the business-type of individual.


Beginning at the end of the fall semester, take advantage of the CDO (Career Development Office) for summer internships. They have lots of great internship opportunities. They will also pay us for unpaid internships that we find on our own provided that we write a proposal and it meets certain requirements! Other interns at my job this summer were constantly amazed that my school was paying me to go and work for someone else.


Study abroad, but make sure you have everything taken care of in terms of major requirements. I could not major in Chinese becase I spent a semester in China.


You don't have to do EVERYTHING. It's OK to miss out on a potentially amazing meeting, conversation, talk or book to get some sleep and quality alone time. If you've slept enough and are centered, you'll be able to more thoroughly enjoy the things that you do participate in.


Get involved, but not too involved. My first year I did absolutely nothing outside of classes, my second year I did way too much. Pick a couple of things you're really interested in. If there's not a group on campus, start one.


Get involved on campus--join a club, be in a dance ensemble, whatever. You meet people with common interests, and as long as you balance it with school work, it's a great way to ease some stress. it gives you great memories of something other than the library, the forum or your dorm's lounge.


After a certain point, you really will do better if you sleep instead of studying.


One of the main things I learned first year is that it is good to care about your friends, but if/when they start going crazy, it is important to take care of yourself too.


Go to Burling or (especially) Stewart Library, and get some non-academic reading. Whether it's magazines, comic books, movies or fiction, you will need a break from textbooks.


My Tutorial professor should have encouraged us all to get a furry pet for our dorm rooms. Or at least I would encourage everyone who can to get a furry pet. Or scaly, too, I guess.


Find a baby to love and help take care of. Or just hold every now and again.


If there is one thing that I wish someone had told me at Grinnell, it was to go to bed.



Listen to KDIC.


Don't expect that you'll have your career all planned and your life all figured out when you graduate.


Grinnell is full of dirty hippies, so the PEC isn't nearly as intimidating as normal gyms. Go get your buff on.


Do one soul-satisfying activity a semester. Whether it's taking art or singing in the choir or dragging your ass to church or working with kids or even arranging your schedule so you're done at noon on Fridays and promising yourself that you don't have to do anything academic from then until Saturday morning (one of the best things I ever did... an entire afternoon and evening when I didn't even have to worry about school!!!)


Burling has the Smith Collection, 2 bookshelves of rotating fiction (completely nonacademic... this is where I got Bridget Jones!) it's near the jungle gyms.


Spend all warm, sunny afternoons lying on Mac Field or someplace similar. But wear sunscreen when you do.


Rewrite your papers. If you don't get a grade you are happy with, meet with your professor and ask if you can work on it with her/him or in the writing lab. Do it even if the professor won't change your grade. Ideally you would have met with your professor and showed her/him a draft BEFORE it was due, but that's not always possible. In any case, it's more difficult to survive academically at Grinnell if you don't feel confident about your writing ability. In my Tutorial we were required to rewrite every paper no matter what grade we received. I learned a lot about how to write in that class, but more importantly, I learned how to rewrite and to treat the writing process as a true Process.


Procrastination will kill you.


I wish my Tutorial prof had told me: Kids, don't be intimidated by your professors. They really are there to help you learn, so don't be scared to go to them for help. If it helps, just think of how much tuition you're paying. (Don't mention that directly, just think of it.) They may be intimidating, but most of them are really nice people once you get to know them. A simple lesson, yes, but one I didn't figure out until my last semester... which really makes some things seem like a waste.


The best thing my Tutorial prof did was that she was very frank with me about the classes and profs that she thought weren't very good or useful. Though of course these were only her opinions, I appreciated her honesty and based on my own experiences later or those of my friends she proved to be spot on.


I wish my Tutorial prof has not pushed me so hard to take a foreign language. I also wish I'd had an earlier heads up about the many cool interdisciplinary concentrations at Grinnell. I missed out on the one I would have liked (which has turned into my career) because I didn't heard about it until my junior year when I'd already missed the prereqs.


Music lessons are a quick and dirty way to raise your GPA, plus they're fun and low time commitment.


On a similar note, take the placement exams for languages, but don't feel pressured into actually taking language classes.


If you have an idea about what you'd like to major in -- especially if your idea involves science or foreign language -- tell your Tutorial prof about your interests, even if you're not too sure about it. Enlist him/her in finding a specific prof in your intended department to talk to. Try to talk to that faculty member before registration, or at least before the end of add/drop.


I wish my Tutorial professor had encouraged me to get advice from other people when the questions I asked were outside of her realm of experience. She seemed to not have a very clear idea what kinds of classes I would have to take to be a biology major, which is what I wanted to do, and as a result I ended up having to scramble to get in all of my classes in later semesters, and had deficiencies I had to make up in grad school.


If you're at all interested in education, take the intro course by the first semester of your sophomore year, at the very latest.


Make use of the writing lab! Even (or especially?) if you're already a good writer. I didn't discover the wonder that is Judy Hunter until the second semester of my senior year. What a loss. TALK to your professors. Do not be afraid to ask for help, or admit that you're confused/lost/terrified. Many Grinnell freshmen have never encountered real academic challenge, and I think many are afraid to admit just how confused they are. Remember that you are not alone, that every single freshman is freaking out on some level, and that it will be much, much easier if you simply ask for help.


Take a fine arts class your first year even if you don't think your arts are particularly fine.


Don't be afraid to take three classes in your first semester.


I have to second the statement about dropping classes. It wasn't something that occurred to me and it meant that I wasted a lot of time not learning and feeling oppressed by learning instead of inspired. Other than that, I wish someone had told me the first day at Grinnell that the topics of classes don't matter half so much as the professors. I wish someone had told me to start right away taking classes with the professors that people really love. Those are the only classes that ever made any difference in my life. I had many fantastic profs, and there should be a database where students can find out about profs. At Sarah Lawrence you have to interview your profs before you sign up for classes ... not a bad idea. I was wasteful with my time and money by staying in uninspired classes and letting them stifle my learning, and now there are so many classes I wish I had taken instead, so many people I wish I had learned from while I had the time there.


You deserve to be at Grinnell. The people who sound really intelligent in your classes probably don't know what they're talking about, especially if they're upperclassmen. I spent my first semester wondering why I didn't go to UW, because I was obviously an admissions fluke. Then I got to know some of the people who I thought were really intelligent. They weren't any smarter than I am. A few years at Grinnell just makes you really pretentious.


Don't be afraid to drop a class!! if you don't like the feel of it or the professor or the classroom, DROP THE CLASS! My first two years, I thought dropping a class meant giving up or quitting. It took me a while to realize that the first week or so of classes is about shopping around and finding the right fit for you. Believe me, getting out of a bad situation early can save a lot of pain, and maybe your GPA.


I think it's important for first years to know that getting their first choices of classes is not that important first semester. I know they have a new system this year but people with crummy draw numbers probably will be more stressed then they should be. There is always an alternative class!


I wish my Tutorial professor had made it clear to me that undergraduate education is about learning things that you find intriguing and not about following any sort of career track or getting good grades or anything.


I do wish my Tutorial professor had encouraged me to broaden my horizons a bit and explore all the options that Grinnell had to offer. Hindsight says I should have taken a wider variety of courses, for fun as well as for practical reasons, but I was very set on my English/French major path from Day One and my Tutorial prof let me have my own way (as well she should have, but, you know, little entering first-years sometimes need a bit of tough love).


I wish my Tutorial professor had emphasized that pretty much every kid coming into college starts off at the same point. When classes first start it seems like every kid has something to prove to their peers. So for the first few weeks of school I hopped on the bandwagon just to cover how inadequate I felt.


Form a(n academic) relationship with a professor or two. - Actually getting to know professors reminds you that we're all human beings and can make Grinnell seem more manageable.


Grades aren't the be-all-and-end-all of the world. Sleep and happiness are important. However, grades are extremely important when looking to apply to PhD programs. - I haven't run into this problem because I'm not looking to get my PhD, but I've heard from several people that they didn't even know that they basically needed straight A's to even be considered for elite (or not so elite) PhD programs. These points are completely contradictory, but that's OK.


Small town public schools' teachers and guidance counselors often try to “prepare” students for the “shock” of college. I wish my tutorial professor had told us point blank that where we went to high school would not necessarily have any effect whatsoever on our success at Grinnell. I got so many “big fish small pond” comments my senior year of high school that I came into Grinnell with a ton of entirely unnecessary/unjustified academic anxiety. I got over it, of course, but it made my first semester much more stressful than it needed to be.


Start early to try and tackle those habits of procrastination. It was a bitter battle between me and my term papers and tests, but finally I learned to manage my time, work ahead, and not not not to put things off to the last minute. That was the only way I discovered the wondrous Writing Lab and the wonders of peer editing. You actually have to have something already written to make use of them.


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