A letter to incoming baby Badgers

To all my incoming baby badgers, grab a seat and get ready to take some notes. Perhaps you were class president in high school. Or maybe you were a member of the honor society. You could have graduated in the prestigious top ten percent, or better yet, could have graduated as valedictorian. However, it doesn’t really matter what you did in high school if you can’t make the transition to college as smooth possible. High school success (or lack of it) doesn’t automatically apply to college. Here at UW-Madison, you start college with a clean academic slate, along with a lot of independence and a plethora of decisions as you begin the transition into “adulthood.” The decisions you make and the actions you take during this first year of college will have a major impact on the rest of your college experience.

Along with these adult decisions comes the opportunity to engage in the ever-so-present alcohol culture on campus. While these events may be fun and enjoyed in the moment, I think any upperclassmen will tell you they would have done better on a test, assignment or project had they not gone out the night before. I am not saying this to badger you—get it? Badger?—but as serious advice. I have personally seen what not attending class can do to grades, whether it be because of going out, taking an extra week of spring break to visit Ireland or from feeling under the weather.

So, I offer some very simple, yet crucial advice to the newcomers on campus: go to class! (I think my parents would be very proud to see this advice.) It is absolutely vital that you attend class regularly. Missing a class should be a rare occurrence, something that happens at most once or twice a semester. Going to class does far more than simply giving you credit for attendance. Class attendance facilitates learning in a variety of ways, including but not limited to the following.

Lectures and classes supplement reading assignments. Class gives you another perspective on the material you are learning besides what the textbook offers. Even if you think you already understand the material well, class always adds something new. The instructor may go over examples or applications you haven't seen, concepts in class may be presented in a different way than in the text and student questions and discussion may elaborate on the material or provide new insights.

Professors often use questions or class discussion to enhance critical thinking skills. Attending class can be an opportunity for you to engage with the material with the guidance of the professor and the help of your classmates. A professor may pose a question or lead a discussion in class that directs you to make connections between concepts and helps you to think about the material in new ways. If you pay attention in class, you may be surprised by how much you can cut your study time later on. No textbook can explain something to you like another person can.

Attending and participating in class shows the professor that you are a serious student who is taking responsibility for their education and making an effort to learn. This increases your interaction with faculty members, and raises the likelihood of finding mentors and role models who can help guide you in your academic, career and personal development. In addition, class time is a chance to meet and interact with other students in your class. This can help you to form study groups or meet other students in your major. Taking your own notes during a class is more useful than getting a copy of someone else's notes (even the instructor's). In a recent study, only eight percent of students reported that getting class notes from a missed class is as useful as attending class. Additionally, this eight percent who thought borrowed notes were as helpful as going to class had significantly lower reported grade point averages than those who valued class attendance more. The act of attending class and writing down your own notes will help you to learn the material and solidify your understanding in a way that is much more effective than when you miss class and read someone else's notes.

In short, we were all wonderful, qualified high school students—we are all attending this world-class university for some reason—but that does not mean we can breeze by college like we did high school. Even if you do not initially adhere to my advice on attending class, one day, when you are struggling with cramming information in last minute, you will remember this warning! College can be tough, but there are many ways to ease the burden. Unless you’re an engineering student, then you’re on your own (just kidding). Besides actually engaging in the material in multiple ways, a key point is to try and meet people in your major and work together to solve problems. As Badgers, it is one of our goals to help each and every other Badger succeed as much as we can—including ourselves.

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