10 College Questions + Advice for Freshmen (answered by a professor!)

When I started writing about college life, I was stuck. I didn’t know what to cover! I wanted to talk about something that isn’t a popular topic – I didn’t want to just dive into how to organize your dorm, balancing your budget…the typical college talk. Instead, I decided to reach out and talk to a professor and one that I know very well – my mom! My mom has her PhD in Geography from UNC Chapel Hill and went on to become a professor in the department. Here are the questions I asked her, and her great answers.

Why do you teach? Why do you teach at a college level?

This is a difficult question to answer.  I teach for many reasons.  I enjoy engaging with others in the field of my research, I enjoy teaching undergraduates, teaching allows me to be creative… and the list goes on.  One of the most rewarding moments for me is when a student emails or returns to see me and says my class expanded or changed their perspective on how they view the world around them.  That is the biggest compliment.  I feel I’ve made a huge impact to a person’s life – to change or broaden how they see their world. That’s big.

I enjoy teaching undergraduates the most, from the freshman 100 level seminar courses to the upperclassmen in 400 level research courses.  The period of undergraduate education is one of the most transformative periods in a person’s life.  People are beginning to experience and engage with the world independently from their parents or their home communities.  They are shaping who they will become as adults.  Because of this, undergraduates are at this edge of enormous possibility.  It is exciting, and it is contagious.

Describe a day in the life of a professor.

Most mornings I arrive at my office well within an hour of my first class.  I like to have that hour to look over my lectures for the day, read over the news to see if anything in the headlines pertains to course concepts, drink coffee, and just reflect for a few moments.  Since I teach a full load, the remainder of my day is spent in lecture or in office hours visiting with students.  When I arrive home, after I’ve taken care of family business, I usually spend about an hour or two reviewing for the next day.  Standing at the front of a room full of people (sometimes 150 or more people) is a daunting experience.  I give a lot of energy to my students during the day, and because of this, I am usually exhausted in the evening.  It can also be a bit intimidating to stand in front of such a large group, knowing that anyone can ask any random question.  The pressure to think on my feet, so to speak, is a lot of pressure.

What is the hardest thing about teaching/what has been the most challenging?

The hardest thing about teaching is understanding that I cannot reach everyone.  There are going to be those students who are in my class to simply get the credit hours they need, and they are not interested in the topics of the course.  They are checking off a box, so to speak.  I have to be ok with this and teach for those who are present.  The most challenging aspect to teaching is to create an environment wherein students are learning, but learning doesn’t feel like a chore.  My hope is that students leave my class having learned something without feeling like they are in school.  I want them to feel as if they just left an entertaining and engaging conversation.  That is by far the most challenging aspect to my job.

What do you see college students struggling with the most and how do you help them with this struggle?

One of the biggest challenges for college students is making that jump from “high school learning” to “college learning.”  The big difference is critical thinking.  In high school student do well with memorizing material and giving that material back on a test.  In college, students are asked to not only know the material, but be able to apply that material in a variety of contexts.  This is an important step, and I would argue probably the biggest benefit to a college education – learning how to think, learning how to critically analyze material, learning about complexity.

What is your #1 study tip for college students?

I don’t think I have a single piece of advice.  Instead, I think it is more of an approach.  Be present.  College is about many things – learning to be independent, learning to interact and negotiate in many different social situations – along with study within a major.  There isn’t another time in a person’s life quite like the college experience.  This can be both exhilarating and exhausting.  Therefore, it is important to be present.  When in class, be present in class – take notes, think about what is going on. Last night’s sports reel can wait for 50 minutes, right?  When studying, be present in that moment – learn to determine what you know and don’t know, learn to connect course concepts with what is happening around you.  Go to office hours and get clarity about concepts that are challenging. Find the balance so that you can gain the knowledge necessary for success and also enjoy this very exciting time in life.

In your opinion, what is the most unappreciated campus resource?

The research librarian.  Hands down, the most underutilized resource on campus.  Research librarians help students find the information and data they need to complete assignments.  These people know so much about how to find information.  Go to them.  Learn from them.  Being able to find information – knowing where to look and how to determine good sources from bad sources – will serve you well in all walks of life.  In fact, I believe the most intelligent, most successful people in life are those who are good at getting the information they need to accomplish their tasks.

The most popular campus resource?

Maybe the coffee shop?  I know that’s one of my most popular resources.  Caffeine is a savior to me on many days, and from the tired looks on my students’ faces, they too worship the caffeine goddess.

If you could go back to college again, what would you do differently?

Wow.  There are so many options here.  I would take my own advice and be present.

What was your favorite class and why?

The Cultural Ecology of Disease, taught by Melinda Meade.  That class changed my life.  I entered university as a History and economics double major.  Graduated with a geography degree with an emphasis on medical geography.  I enrolled in that course because I needed the credit, it sounded interesting, and it fit my schedule.  I wish I could say there was a better reason, but alas there was not.  Melinda was a fascinating lecturer.  She was a true trailblazer in her field, and it showed.  She was captivating.  I had never considered an interest in disease ecology until that class.  She changed the way I view the world, profoundly so.  I changed my major, wrote an undergraduate thesis with her, completed my MA with her and then went on to complete the PhD.  All because of that class.  Never underestimate the last minute elective course.

Any advice for incoming freshmen? 

1.  Sleep.  I know, I know.  But do yourself a favor and make sure you put sleep as one of your priorities.  Your brain doesn’t function well without it.

2.  Eat and eat well.  You are asking a lot of your body – treat it well and it will treat you well.

3.  Go to office hours.  No kidding.  Your relationship with your professor will be one of your first professional relationships.  These are the people who will write your letters of recommendation for study abroad, for graduate school, for that summer internship…give them something positive to say.

4.  Go to class.  Be present in class.  I know it is tempting to surf or text during class.  But if you can’t put aside Snapchat or Twitter for one hour, you might want to rethink your priorities.  Snapchat won’t get you a college degree or get you a job.  Doing well in college just might.

5.  Soak it up.  Enjoy every minute.  Don’t get so caught up in the small things that you lose sight of the journey you are on.  It really isn’t a big deal that you made an A- instead of an A on that paper.  Read the feedback, learn from it, and move on.  Watch what other successful students do – and mimic those behaviors.  But don’t beat yourself up about it.  It is college.  It is supposed to be harder than high school, yes?

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  • These are wonderful tips. I teach college freshman and I’m always harping on them about sleeping and eating properly. Although, I struggle with the latter myself.

    • Savannah Ward

      Hey Danielle! That’s so cool that you’re a teacher as well! I think a lot of college students including myself get so wrapped up in homework and social stuff that our health is put on the back burner, and two things as simple as getting enough sleep and eating when you need to make a HUGE difference! Thanks so much for commenting! 🙂

  • Wow, your mom has some great insight on things.
    I definitely appreciated the professors who showed they cared about students, so I believe your mom would’ve been one of my favorites if I went to UNC Chapel Hill.
    xoxo, Jenny

    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks so much for commenting! Hope you’ve had a great week!!

  • I love these tips! Also love the “day in the life of a professor” — I used to think about going back to school to be a Spanish professor so it’s nice to see what a day in the life would be like.


    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks so much for commenting! I loved hearing her day in the life too! 🙂

  • Tiffani Grosser

    What a fun interview! I loved all of the tips, especially sleep! I’d loose it without sleep! Clearly I’m one of those super nerdy people because I ALWAYS use the research librarians when I have a research topic!

    • Savannah Ward

      Same about the sleep thing! And I’ve never visited my research librarians but I feel like I definitely need to!!

  • Miss ALK

    What a great post!! Reading this almost makes me a little sad that my college career is ending in the spring!

    I totally agree on the sleep thing- SUCH a necessity! Haha!

    xoxo A

    • Savannah Ward

      Sleep is SO important hahaha everyone around me can tell immediately if I don’t get enough.

  • Love this! You’re so full of wisdom and advice. I didn’t start really going to office hours until my junior year and I wish I had done that more my first two years. There’s a HUGE difference between high school learning and college learning. I was an English major and had a whole class on critical thinking. I hated that class but it paid off SO much later. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks so much for commenting! I hope that getting an early start with office hours by attending them the first week of class will set me on the right track with my teachers next semester.

  • Kayleigh

    Such great tips, especially the one about being present. It’s so much more than just showing up for class.


    • Savannah Ward

      I 100% agree. Thanks for commenting!

  • Courtney Dunsmore

    This is such an amazing post! I love all the answers being by a professor. Definitely agree on the be present front and the office hours- I don’t know many that take advantage of that resource!

    Courtney//As We Stumble Along

    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks so much for commenting! 🙂

  • “Be present.” That gave me chills. I was often waiting impatiently for class to be over so I could get to the next thing. It showed in my grades later on!

    • Savannah Ward

      I agree, your dedication to the class definitely shows in grades! Thanks for commenting!

  • Savannah, this is so darling! I love that you got such personal and genuine answers from your momma. I agree with all of her points, if I had her as a professor I would have loved to visit her during office hours!


    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks so much! She always tells me that her office hours are PACKED. One thing I love about that is she tells me students sit and talk to her for so long because they have political conversations or conversations about other parts of school and I would really appreciate that thoughtfulness in a professor.

  • Sara Kate Steadman

    Love that tip about going to the office hours. It really does help make sense of assignments, get perspective on future courses, etc.

    Sara Kate

    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks for commenting! I agree, its something I try to do within the first week of classes so my teachers put a face to my name and know that I’m serious about the class!

  • Such great tips-so many students don’t go to class!

    with southern grace,



    • Savannah Ward

      Its so hard to go to class if its early in the morning and/or the teacher doesn’t take attendance, but going to class makes SUCH a difference!

  • Cristina on Campus

    Love number 3! I always tell everyone that the secret is to go to office hours. It really helps to talk to your professors for a better understanding on tests/assignments!

    • Savannah Ward

      I agree 100%! Thanks for commenting!

  • So fun that you did this! And solid advice- what I wish I knew when I was in college 🙂

    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks Shane! 🙂

  • These tips are wonderful! As my college career has gone on I’ve tried to make sure I’m taking care of myself first! You only have one body!

    Lauren | The
    Arizona Prepster

    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  • Lauren Ashley

    This is amazing! Her answers to all of the questions were so great! I definitely don’t use the research librarian but might start!

    • Savannah Ward

      I’ve only been to my schools library twice…oops. Thanks for commenting!

  • These tips are great! Students–freshman and beyond–definitely underestimate the power of office hours.

    xo Alexis

    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks so much Alexis! Hope you’ve had a great week!

  • I absolutely loved this, amazing post! Students definitely don’t utilize office hours enough (I know that I didn’t until this year, my senior year) and now that I do utilize them I have made great professional relationships with my professors that have opened doors to many opportunities!

    xoxo, SS

    The Southern Stylista

    • Savannah Ward

      Its amazing how much of a difference attending office hours can make and it really strengthens the relationship between teacher and student, especially at big schools where its easy to just be another number. Thanks for commenting!

  • Such great advice! I definitely could have used this info as a college. I thought that I wanted to be a professor for awhile, so I loved hearing your mom’s perspective on her career!

    XO, SS || Seersucker Sass

    • Savannah Ward

      I thought I wanted to be a teacher too but I think I can combine Public Health with that. Thanks for commenting!

  • Carolina thelovelylina

    I’m so glad you posted this! I’m going to school as an English major and want to become an English professor, does your mom have any advice on being a teacher?? I’d love to hear that, I’ve heard nothing but negative advice the past couple days and teaching at the college level is really what I want to do.
    Awesome post! Your mom sounds like an amazing woman 🙂

    • Savannah Ward

      Hey Carolina! I’ll contact you through your blog w my mom’s answer to your question 🙂 I just passed it along to her!

  • Ashley

    What a fun interview filled with wonderful, insightful tips! I wish I had this to read when I was in college!

    xo Ashley

    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks so much for commenting!

  • Wow great insight and tips! My friend just started college and she is stressed the crap out, so I will be passing this along to her.

    • Savannah Ward

      Yay! so glad you could pass this on to her. I hope it helps! 🙂

  • Wow your mom seems like one of those professors who actually loves teaching. I’m sure she’s a pleasure to have as an professor. Love learning little bits and pieces about her life as an educator

    • Savannah Ward

      Maybe this is said with a little bias, but I think she is a great teacher!! Thanks so much for commenting!

  • This is such fantastic advice. I’ve always wondered what it’s like to be a professor. I think the advice about being present counts for everyone. It’s definitely something I could work on more!

    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks so much! I agree, mindfulness is something that can be practiced in so many areas.

  • It’s interesting to see things from a professor’s perspective. Great post!

    Diary of a Debutante

    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks Stephanie! 🙂

  • I loved reading this perspective! Being a college freshman is stressful in SO many ways!

    How 2 Wear It [] http://how2wearit.com

    • Savannah Ward

      It is!! I called mom at least once a day and asked her 1,000 questions. Its so bittersweet that I’m not a freshman anymore!

  • I love this post Savannah. Your mother is such a great fountain of knowledge, her advice for college is spot on. Thank you so so much for sharing her insight!

    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks so much for reading! 🙂

  • I loved reading this post! You’re lucky to have someone in your life who is so knowledgable and willing to offer up great advice! She seems like she’s a great professor 🙂

    Kayla | kaylablogs.com

    • Savannah Ward

      Thanks so much! I’ve been to lots of her lectures and I think she’s pretty great 🙂

  • When I was younger, I used to want to be a college professor. I later learned that I’m horrible at explaining things verbally, so I moved on to writing and working in hospitality. I love the insight that the professor gave. The advice for incoming freshman is spot on! I wish I would have been given that advice before going to school. My two biggest regrets – not taking advantage of office hours/not talking to my professors enough and not going to the free counseling!

    • Savannah Ward

      Its so hard for me to take advantage of office hours because so many things can get in the way – timing or conflict with other classes and whether or not I want to walk alllllll the way across campus to the teacher’s office hahaha.

  • I miss college so much. 😭

    Nicole // Chronicling Home

    • Savannah Ward

      I’m not a huge fan of it right now because of finals, but I’m sure I’ll miss it too when I graduate hahaha

  • Wish I would have had this when I was a freshman! (And so cool to hear it from down the road from me at UNC!)

    Pick Your Beau

    • Savannah Ward

      Hey! Thanks so much for commenting! 🙂

  • Allison Ellzey

    This is such a great post! Pinning !

    • Savannah Ward

      Yay! So glad you liked it! 🙂