Starting Well at BYU
Students get better grades, learn more, and feel more successful at the end of the year if they get accurate information, listen well to experienced advisors, follow university recommendations and expectations, and seek help when they need it.

Personal and institutional support systems—mutually reinforcing help

BYU freshmen need a strong support system. Parents, siblings, friends and others provide social and emotional support students need as they transition to living independently. One clear distinction between freshmen who thrive or struggle is the support received from important people in their lives.

Students almost always look for guidance and support from family and friends first. It is natural—and very important—for them to turn to those they know and trust. However, it is also important for students to seek counsel from university advisors. BYU changes over time, and sometimes does so very rapidly.  New buildings arise. Departments and support offices move or get re-organized. Policies and procedures (e.g. registration) change as do best practices relative to student success. Parents and even siblings who recently attended BYU may be unaware of current policies and practices. Sometimes those with the best intentions struggle to tailor support and guidance to students’ needs—even their own child or sibling.

For all of these reasons, we encourage freshmen to talk with—and listen to—the experienced professional advisors on campus. They will provide your student with current, accurate information that will help them make informed decisions and avoid many common freshman pitfalls. (Learning to seek and follow advice from knowledgeable people is also an important part of developing valuable independent living skills.) 

These people include faculty, academic and career advisors, dorm hall advisors and resident assistants (RA’s), and Freshman Mentoring peer mentors. As parents, you can help your student immeasurably by encouraging them to seek out these advisors.

What kind of help is available?  Some examples: 

  • Schedule planning: Creating an effective schedule is easier if you pay attention to MyMap and current General Education requirements. Talk to an academic advisor in your major or the University Advisement Center if you have not yet selected a major. They are eager to help you make a good start.
  • Course planning: Taking courses in the right sequence (i.e., making sure prerequisite classes are taken) is critical in preparing for intermediate and advanced classes.
  • Getting the most from AP classes: Don’t assume that AP classes are equivalent to BYU classes. Looking at AP classes as preparation for BYU classes—rather than as substitutes—can help you build a strong foundation and keep you from getting into advanced classes before you are ready.
  • Study habits: Developing effective study habits (e.g., spending at least two hours studying outside class for every hour in class) will vastly increase your chances of succeeding academically.
  • Finding balance: Taking an appropriate credit load (especially first semester), and not overdoing extra-curricular activities will greatly decrease your stress level.

Help-seeking as a lifeline

Students who thrive academically prior to BYU often succeeded without much help.  Some assume this will continue and that seeking help indicates inadequacy. While some students can and do manage on their own, many struggle alone during their freshman year when getting help from the right person could make a big difference.

Harvard professor Richard Light describes a situation like this. His research team interviewed forty Harvard undergraduates who were struggling academically. Twenty of these students discussed their challenges with Harvard’s trained advisors. With their help, all twenty developed strategies that improved their academic performance. Those who did not seek help became less engaged, and found themselves trapped in a downward spiral of poor grades, discouragement and isolation. Struggling alone, it was almost impossible to make the changes needed to turn their semester around.*

Bottom line: Students get better grades, learn more, and feel more successful at the end of the year if they get accurate information, listen well to experienced advisors, follow university recommendations and expectations, and seek help when they need it. 

* Note:  Professor Light’s very insightful recommendations about college student success are found in “Making the most of college: Students speak their minds”.

Steve Wygant earned his PhD in Psychology from BYU in 1993.  He taught Psychology at Fort Hays State University, Eastern Oregon University and BYU before joining the office of Institutional Assessment and Analysis at BYU in 1998.  He enjoys time with his family, photography and a good jazz trio.

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