College: a new world full of endless opportunities, an investment for your future, and for many of us,our first time being completely independent. It can be a bit daunting at first and exciting at the same time. How do you know how to avoid the classic mistakes and starting off on the wrong foot?
How to maintain balance and attain blessings in college
Reflect and Focus
Like any other step you would take in life, it’s important to begin by reflecting and focusing your intentions. What do you hope to achieve? How can you best utilize this time to maintain a balance between your academics, your personal and spiritual growth, your social life, and your family? Safia Khawaja, a University of South Florida sophomore, says a big part of collegiate success is holding onto your faith.
“College is the first step into the real world and as young Muslim students, there will be many tests of our iman. It is important to stay true to your Muslim identity. Ensuring we keep our faiths strong and firm will help when it comes to succeeding in college in all aspects, including academics. You should surround yourself with the right crowd and meet other Muslims… to stay connected to yourdeen and to protect yourself from getting involved in any fitnah.”
Set Clear Goals
Before you begin college, set your goals very clearly. What do you want to have accomplished at the end of these four years? If your goal is to pursue graduate school immediately after graduation, then consider what you need to be the most attractive candidate for that graduate program. Look at the requirements for your undergraduate institution; outline what courses you’ll need to take and write a four-year rough draft of your courses so that you can balance more difficult classes with less challenging ones. Just make sure to keep your schedule a little flexible.
“One of the best things about college is having the ability to choose your own schedule. For the most part, your classes work around your life. This added flexibility is truly liberating, especially when we have five prayers a day to think about,” says Ala G, a senior at the University of South Florida. “This may sound obvious, but plan your class schedule around salah; avoid class times that may consistently make you late for prayer, or conflict with the Friday prayer.”
Don’t forget to take advantage of the resources on your campus. You have an advisor, professors, graduate student instructors, and many others who are eager to help you.
Use Your MSA
The MSA can be a great resource on campus as well. Look at your MSA for older individuals who have majored in your field or have reached goals similar to your own. MSAs often have a wealth of knowledge and advice ready for incoming MSA students. You can access old study guides, borrow textbooks, gain helpful advice on who the best professors are, and so forth. After all, who better to ask for advice and guidance than someone who had similar goals and went through your same undergraduate institution just a few years before you?
Seek Professional Opinion
If you have a specific occupation in mind, connect with individuals who are already in that field. The MSA or your campus alumni association, advisors and professors can all act as resources in this area.
“Make connections in college. These days they’re worth more than degrees,” advises Abdelfattah Nimer, a University of South Florida senior. Even if you don’t intend to pursue graduate school in the near future, it’s very important to maintain a strong relationship with your professors. Your professors are a hidden treasure that surprisingly not many students take advantage of. If you struggle in a certain area, reach out to your professors; make sure you attend office hours, and communicate with them regularly. They can help provide you with connections and information about other courses, fellowships, scholarships, and programs that would best suit you.
Have a Plan
Pre-planning is essential. Even if you change your mind partway through college, it’s good to revisit your outlined goals and coursework schedule. It’s much easier to make adjustments to your written plan than to start from square one again. And when setting goals, don’t be afraid to aim high.
“Take advantage of your youth. Be a visionary, follow your heart, and get active. Don’t ever think you can’t do something,” says Omnia Joehar, a University of Maryland senior. “If it hasn’t been done, set the standard, for amazing things have only been established with a dream, good intentions, a million [tries] and hard work.”
Keep the Faith
Another key struggle many face in college is balancing one’s identity. College is an opportunity to start fresh, to really establish who you are. It’s very easy to get sidetracked and distracted. There are so many options out there in terms of social groups to join, extracurricular activities, and even directions that you can take in your career. It’s key to always keep a focus on what your priorities are. At the end of the day, the person that will benefit or suffer most from your decisions is you. Having a good core group of friends who share similar values and aspirations is central to helping you hold yourself accountable for your actions.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of having good company in college. Your friends will either make or break you, so always think twice about the company you keep and the types of people that you attract,” says Wiaam Yasin, a junior at the University of Mary Washington. Independence can be exciting yet also misleading as the limitless possibilities can often throw you off balance and you can easily go astray from your goals. Such a group can help reinforce and strengthen your beliefs, values, and goals and keep you in check. The MSA can facilitate in finding other Muslimswho share similar values and most importantly support you just as you are.
It’s important to remember that the MSA is not your major; your focus in college is personal growth, academic achievement and spiritual balance. It’s very beneficial to be involved within the MSA, but being caught up only in the MSA can be limiting. There are many opportunities available when you become involved in other organizations as well, but it’s important to remember that a key contribution you bring is your unique background and identity.
“Most of what I’ve learned in college has been from different experiences outside of the classroom,” says Mariam Saifan, a fifthyear student of architectural engineering at the University of Kansas.
“Get involved in unique activities and take time to get to know people. The key is to maintain a nice balance between schoolwork and having fun.”
Balance and Blessings
College is not simply the “next step”; it is the most critical investment for the rest of your life. The key to success in college comes down to two things: balance and blessings. Keep balance in everything you do; keep balance in your personal and spiritual growth while keeping a strong focus on your academics. Keep a balance in your life and remember to do actions for the sake of God; even when you study, make your intention for God. When your intention is to do these actions as a form of worship to God, it will bring blessings to your life to aid you toward greater success.
Sometimes we may suffer from potentially great failures, but it’s important to see those failures as a learning opportunity and to grow from them, not to let them inhibit you from success in the future. Ali Baluch, of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, says flexibility is necessary.
“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable… meaning, you’re gonna be in a lot of situations where you will not be comfortable with: new school, not knowing anyone, being in a new town in a new community, new masjid, etc. Don’t let being uncomfortable hold you back from going to events, introducing yourself to new friends. Being uncomfortable is natural, but you have to become comfortable with it,” Baluch says.With proper planning, maintaining balance, and engaging in actions that bring barakah (blessings) to your life, college can be the beginning of a very rewarding future.
Iman Sediqe, president of MSA National, is a graduate student at Harvard University.
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