One question you should ask yourself at the start of freshman year | Ask Kelly

A young woman carries a microwave in a box
A new student carries a microwave as she moves in for the Fall 2020 semester.

Dear Kelly,

I am a new student here at Mercer. I’m so excited to start this journey, as the end to my high school year was quite challenging. I just found The Den, and I am really enjoying reading all of the articles! What would be your best advice for someone who is beginning their freshman year and is away from home for the first time?

Starting your freshman year can be very exciting, especially when it is your first time away from home. You’ve got your own place, and you’re more in control of your choices. But with that freedom comes responsibility. The decisions you make during this first semester can affect the rest of your journey. Therefore, I am going to answer your question, not only as a student but also as an educator and a parent of two sons, one that has graduated from college and one that is a currently a college junior.

My first advice is that I want you to make a list. This list will serve as a reminder about what you hope to accomplish over the next four years. Begin by answering this question, “Where do I plan to be by the time I am 25?” There are many of you who may have no idea, but this is a very important question to begin pondering. For some, you may know your major and exactly where you want to be, while others are undecided but know you want to have it figured out by then and in your future career. When you are answering this question, I want you to really contemplate it. What kind of house do you hope to have? What kind of car do you hope to drive? Would you like to be married or still single? How much income would you like to be making at that time, and where do you hope to live? After answering these questions, I want you to post this list in a prominent place where you can see it every day. When new goals come to mind, write those down. If your goals transform, then make those changes, but I want you to know each and every day where you see yourself in your future.

The reason I want you to think about these things is that you are at a spectacular time of your life! You have the ability to dream and make goals for yourself, and you have plenty of time to complete those goals. You have already taken the first step; you’ve enrolled in college. Wherever you want to be and whatever you want to do depends on how dedicated you are to making the best of your college experience. Trust me, this is something I have witnessed for myself. There are some individuals who go into their college years with determination and tenacity; they know what they want, and they’re ready to do what it takes to earn it. Then, there are others who go into their college years ready for the “experience.” They want to go to parties and stay out late. They care more about the friendships and memories they will make than about what they will learn or how they will grow. You get to decide now. Why you are here? And what do you want to achieve while you are a student?

I’ll be completely honest, for students whose priority is “to have a good time,” it will be much more difficult for them to achieve the things they hope to accomplish one day. They will struggle with attending class regularly, turning assignments in on time, and passing quizzes and exams. Their grades will reflect their choices, which will also affect their GPA. Not only does your GPA determine what scholarships or grants you are eligible for, but it also determines your ability to get into the major you want to study and to get internships later on. This is why I said at the opening of this column that the choices you make now, this first semester, will have lasting consequences. You get to decide by your actions what those consequences are and whether they will reap benefits or challenges.

Now, let’s go to my next piece of advice, which centers around relationships. College is all about relationships! The people you choose to surround yourself with can have a profound effect on your future success. I encourage you to find those people who are as goal oriented as you and build friendships with them. By doing this, you will have a friend group where each of you shares in each other’s success. You will be each other’s support during challenges and will inspire and push each other to reach your goals. These are the types of friendships that last a lifetime because you all know that you are more than friends; you helped each other through the good times and the bad. You will always have that time to share with one another.

Also, form relationships with your professors and advisers. How? Get to know them, and allow them to get to know you. This doesn’t mean I want you to stay for hours after class trying to share with them all your stories from high school, but I do want you to greet them at the beginning of each class. I want you to talk to them after class about the course content and how you can apply it to what you hope to do one day. If you are struggling to understand what is being taught, ask if you can discuss this during their office hours. Sit in front of the class, ask questions and be a part of the discussion. Don’t be the guy who comes in five minutes late, wearing his bath robe and slippers, thinking it’s funny because it is an 8 a.m. class. Get to class early, and don’t jump up and run out the door as soon as it’s over (unless you have to get to another class, and in that case, make sure your professor knows why you do that). Your professors invest their time and talent into helping you succeed. If they see you have a desire to thrive in class, then when challenges do occur, they will want to help you. Also, I want you to remember: One day, your professors will make excellent references if they remember you and your efforts and know you were a hard worker dedicated to succeeding.

Finally, I want to leave you with this. My brother, Todd, and I both entered college at the age of 18. Todd was focused and determined, worked hard, and made superior grades through high school. He was accepted to Mercer University with a full scholarship. I, on the other hand, struggled through high school and wasn’t interested in graduating with honors — just graduating was good enough for me. I was accepted into the local community junior college. Todd graduated from Mercer after four years and was immediately employed by a computer software company. I dropped out of the junior college and then tried to go to a technical college a couple of years later and ended up dropping out of it as well. Todd went from working at that first computer software company to working for a Fortune 500 electronics retail company. In 2004, he was hired by Walt Disney World and has been there for the past 16 years. He is now a lead software engineer for cast and guest solutions. I began working in a day care, teaching preschoolers for 17 years, barely making above minimum wage. I finally got the courage to go back to school at the age of 44. I am now finally on the path I once could only dream of, but it’s because my priorities are finally in order.

Focus on your goals now, and work to accomplish them while you are young and have the time to adjust and transform your goals and still reach them. Now, I do want to reiterate that redemption down the line is absolutely possible. I’m proof of that. I have worked hard and stayed focused, and as a result, have maintained a 4.0 GPA and plan to graduate with honors. But I do wish I could have harnessed the focus and dedication that I have now about 30 years ago. How much further along would I be had I found the tenacity and commitment to succeed when I was in my early 20’s?

Focus on and defend your future goals by utilizing your time as a Mercer student to learn all that you can and be all that you can. That is absolutely the best advice I can give!

For more tips about being a new student at Mercer, check out my previous column.

As always, I wish you health, happiness and continued success throughout your journey!

Do you have a question about Mercer or coping with school in these challenging times? Each week Kelly Browning, an early childhood education/special education major and student ambassador at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.


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