Youth Voices: Teaching a Course on College Success

Samantha Cahill
October 23, 2013

A first-generation college student helps teach a course for first-year students in navigating the challenges of college.

I am a co-instructor for an “intro to college” seminar for first-year students at Columbia College.  The course covers topics like study habits, college wellness, budgeting, time management, and the do’s and don’ts of social media.

As co-instructor, I am constantly sharing what I learned in making it through my freshman year. I act as a mentor and sometimes as an older sister, helping students with personal problems that occur both on and off campus, and encouraging them to set goals and take steps toward achieving them. I also act as a liaison between my students and other campus resources.

“Intro to college” courses like ours help students in several ways. Even if students feel that they are familiar with some of the topics discussed, taking an intro to college course reaffirms those abilities. Such a course also introduces new, practical skills that are valuable beyond college. For example, we cover how to plan healthy meals on a budget and the importance of presenting oneself as a professional.

Our course also exposes students to essential campus resources like tutoring facilities, counseling services and even stress-busting events.  Many of the students who participate in our class feel they are gaining the tools to succeed. When students are better informed, have the knowledge and tools to succeed in college, and understand what is expected of them at the college level, they are more likely to persist in school.

I believe that participating in this course increases the number of positive student-faculty relationships on the Columbia College campus. Our course provides a safe environment to discuss personal matters with faculty. This shows students that faculty have a human side and lessens the anxiety present when students are interacting with faculty in other settings.  When students are less intimidated by faculty, they are more likely to ask questions, and even form bonds that reach beyond the classroom setting.

Courses like ours are essential for first generation students. Those of us who are the first in our family to go to college have a strong desire to succeed in college, but have often had little exposure to the skills needed to do so. Gaining these skills early on through an introductory course helps students adjust to college life sooner. These types of courses also provide freshmen with an opportunity to get to know each other better, combating some of the social isolation that comes from being the new kids on campus. It offers them a chance to work together with members of their class who may have different backgrounds. In such classes, students realize that everyone is going through the same challenges and that we are all on this college roller coaster together.

This realization helps students understand that they can be each other’s greatest support system.

Resource info:

The following are books that Samantha finds helpful to use with students in her course.

  • Making College Count by Patrick S. O’Brien
    A quick read about how to transform you into the perfect applicant for any job or grad school, and a resource to help you make the most out of your time at college.
  • Study Less, Learn More: The complete Guide for Busy Students by Michael M. Wiederman, Ph.D. (Columbia College)
    A helpful guide about how to make the most of studying and ways to be successful in preparing for classes and exams.

Samantha Cahill is a sophomore at Columbia College, a small women's college in Columbia, SC, and a member of the inaugural class of the NeXXt Scholar's (Mentoring) Program through the New York Academy of Science. In her free time, she likes to hang out with friends and family and go to the beach.

 Follow her on Twitter at @WeBSalmon.




This blog is part of the joint Demos and SparkAction project, First to Finish College.