Ensuring success in college will depend on family collaboration and understanding and a strengthening of Islamic values.Congratulations! You have now graduated from high school and are ready to enter college. You have a lot to celebrate, as you will now enter the “freedom zone.” For most young adults, this represents the end of parental supervision – legally, socially, and academically. Although most parents would like to supervise and guide their children until they graduate from college, this is not the norm in the West, where a majority of children do not welcome their parents’ continued supervision.

The independence and unlimited freedom from parental supervision associated with college life can be detrimental to your college success especially if you are not grounded in Islamic principles and etiquette. You can easily fall prey to the social ills and sexual promiscuity so prevalent on college campuses. Research supports the fact that while more students lose their moral values during high school, most Muslim students are sidetracked after high school and at college.

Parental Supervision. Such supervision should not end at the doorstep of your college. Instead of being supervisors and controllers, parents can become mentors and facilitators. They have to allow you more freedom and give you more responsibility, thereby strengthening a relationship of trust as you take charge of yourself. You can say that you are going to the library to study, instead of studying, can mislead by group socializing or online chatting. Trust yourself!

Choosing a College. This decision should be a joint venture between you and your parents. Your parents should familiarize themselves with the colleges or universities to which you are applying, so bring them along during campus orientation. Make sure that there is an active MSA, and find out the local Muslim community’s size and where the Islamic center is located.

Ask questions. You need to ask yourself many questions: Are there any friends or relatives who can help me out, if necessary? Do I want to stay close to my parents or go out of state? If I choose the later, am I ready to lead an independent life? Am I disciplined enough to live in a dorm with students of other faiths, or should I live off campus with a Muslim roommate? Should I go to a community college, a small private college, or a large state university? Your answers will be instrumental in deciding which college or university is the most suitable.

Cost. Tuition and related costs also must be considered. Will you be working part-time, or do you have tuition assistance or a scholarship? Sit down with your parents and ask how to make a budget for food, rent, and other expenses.

Selecting a Career. Parents should be able to help their children select a career. Most immigrant parents provide only two options: medicine or engineering. However, the United States offers a vast variety of careers. If parents pressure their children to follow a particular profession, the children may change their minds in the middle, causing them to lose time and money, or fail. Even if they are successful, they will not enjoy their work and may change careers.

Students are well-advised to do a short field-experience or job-shadowing in order to better understand their career options, and to avoid getting confused and lost when choosing a career path. Work experience help finance and enhance your college degree, develop interpersonal and leadership skills, enhance practical insights, teach teamwork, and build professional work habits and traits. Engage in personal networking about career options and job opportunities, and examine your values and how they link up with your career choices. Among the useful books to refer to are Enchanting and Financing Your college Degree through Work Experience, by Diana Delker (2003), and Your Guide to College Success, by John Santrock and Jane Halonen (2002).

Develop Meaningful values. Values are the beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes that shapes one’s life. We attach values to all sorts of things: politics, religion, money, sex, education, family, friends, and self-discipline. Strengthening your Islamic values will give much meaning and direction to your college life. It is always helpful to be among other students who have a strong sense of value and are faith-based, for they can influence you positively.

Set Goals, Plan and Monitor. Setting goals is important, for “goals determine what you are going to be.” These goals need to be challenging, reasonable, and specific. Whether short-term (e.g. preparing for an exam) or long-term (e.g. training for a medical career), they can help you overcome obstacles and manage your time. Establish a time line in consultation with your college advisor, parents or mentor ( either a senior colleague or a relative. Monitoring success is an important aspect of fulfilling your goals and helps you stay focused, as much of your future depends upon success at college.

Think and Learn. Focus on your talents and skills, and explore your learning styles and interests. Success requires “self-discipline and good work habits … and many work skills, such as knowing how to take good notes, participate in class, collaborate with other students, and interact with instructors. You also need good study and test-taking strategies and good reading, writing, and speaking skills. Updating your technological skills will be an asset to your college life, but also may cause you to lose focus. For example, it is easy to start a research paper and then get sidetracked by browsing the Web for entertainment purposes or chatting online.

Build self-esteem. Self-esteem, also known as self-worth or self-image, “is the general evaluation of yourself – how you feel about yourself, the image you have of yourself. Many things in your life contribute to your self-esteem: how much you have succeeded or failed, how much you have succeeded or failed , how much the people around you ( parents, friends, peers, and teachers) positively evaluate or criticize you, whether you tend to be optimistic or pessimistic…” It is important to receive family support or seek out supportive friends who can provide a network of emotional and social support. Participation in extracurricular activities, community service, and such organizations as MSA can help promote positive self-esteem and develop leadership skills.

Ask for help. Talk to your parents, advisors, or professors when your grades fall below a B, for no one is going ask you if you need help. College is more of a “buffet” style of studies for you can take whatever you want. Parents or other adults can be great help in giving advice and support when things go wrong. You should fix any such problems immediately!

Management. Time, stress, and money all need to be managed effectively. Time management can help you control your life, and having a daily planner or a weekly planner can guide you step-by-step in life. Time management can reduce your stress and make you better prepared for tests and exams. Stress can cause burnout, so make sure that you pace yourself with assignments and prepare in advance for tests and exams. Also, do not take more than you can handle. For example, if you are involved in extracurricular activities or work, register for courses that you can handle. Managing for your financial affairs is also a great challenge – too much partying and extravagant shopping can lead you astray.

Your college experience can be memorable and very rewarding if you make the best of it. Your parents and other experienced adults can be an asset to your progress in college, rather than a hindrance to your independence. Muslim teenagers should ensure their success and reach the highest level of excellence. This is the best form of da’wah, and the best hope for a brighter future of the Muslim ummah.

Yasmeen Qadri. Republished with permission from ISNA
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