Advice From an Alumnus
I once heard Dr. Dudley say that the high school years are a time to fit in, but college is the time to stand out. For me, those words have always been more than just a phrase on how to survive the honors program, but a prescription of how to thrive in college. Building a successful college career is not an easy thing to do, but a position in the Virginia Tech Honors Program makes the process much easier.
I didn’t start out in the Virginia Tech Honors Program when I first came to college. My SAT scores were nowhere near high enough; my high school GPA was nice, but nothing to write home about. Lesson number one: high school is over, and you will never have to take the SAT again. You have entered a new phase of your life, and it is best to realize that fact early.
The majority of success in high school is built, first, upon the natural talents of a generalist, and on hard work and determination second. Success in college comes easiest for those who are willing to, first and foremost, exert heavy doses of will and determination into their education to complement natural ability. On this level, education is not spoon fed to a person, with an “A” handed out at the end. Put yourself in the mindset to work hard.
What about the debate on social life versus academic life (i.e. partying vs. studying)? A successful honors student realizes that there is a time for studying and a time for partying – but one must strike a balance between the two.
The social aspect of college is extremely important. Part of the experience of a school like Virginia Tech is learning to live within the richness of what makes our university, learning to live within the richness of a diversity of peoples, and learning to live within the richness of opportunities available. Locking up oneself and becoming the proverbial hermit with a 3.97 will not impress anyone. When I was applying to law school I was amazed at the statistics showing the number of people who had great GPAs but were not accepted to prestigious schools. I was later informed that these were most likely people with applications and resumes that had little more than mind-boggling GPAs and little else but tepid letters of recommendation. They had not combined in-classroom prowess with outside leadership experiences or involvement in the community. Make yourself a well-rounded person who can not only do well with the books, but can also mix well with your surrounding community. There are many extracurricular activities available at Tech. Search for something you would enjoy, and take full advantage of the opportunities that follow. Get out and meet people; you’ll make friends of a lifetime and build important future contacts.
That being said, never forget what your main purpose for being at Virginia Tech is. While there is a time for socializing in college, there needs to be more time when all the extra noise is filtered out and you get down to the business at hand. College is about education and learning above all else. Your tuition is not being paid for you to skip class, blow off professors or leave assigned work unfinished. You are at Virginia Tech to get something done and bring home the grades to prove it.
Going to some party may be great fun for an evening or weekend, but once the moment of “great fun” is over, it is gone forever. When you have achieved your maximal level of success in college, and have a grade point average that demonstrates your work ethic, no one can ever take that away from you. The self-respect and feeling of accomplishment will follow you for the rest of your life. There are many times I had to tell friends I was too busy to “go out,” and stayed in to do work. However, the feeling I got when I opened my grade report at the end of the semester was much more permanent and important than any temporary “great fun” from the evening “out.”
Another important aspect of college and surviving the honors program is developing focus and long term goals. You don’t have to have the next thirty planned out the day you move onto campus your freshman year. College is about the process of discovery. Discovering who you are, discovering what you like, discovering where you want to go. Discovering and developing are the keywords. To develop and discover one has to be active. Nothing is going to just fall into your lap. You have to get out and do something.
When I first came to college I had my mindset on becoming a college professor. I was interested in the law only peripherally. Following sophomore year, I decided to do an internship in the office of Norfolk, Virginia’s city attorney. My goal was to see if I would like it; what I found was that I loved it. The experience changed my life. I found I even enjoyed the mundane grunt work we had to suffer through. When I returned to Tech and looked around, I discovered the life of a professor was not for me. I would have enjoyed some aspect of academic life, but not the way I thought I would enjoy a career in the law.
Don’t be afraid to try something new. Search out different experiences, and test your talents. By junior year, you are no longer the youngster you were. You should have developed a sense of what direction you want to point your life, a sort of rough outline. If you get to third year, and still think you need help, begin a passionate search for focus. Here the people of the honors office can serve as a terrific resource.
Don’t forget that your professors and advisors are also there for support. If you need help on anything from finding focus to just getting a question from class answered, they are there for you. I found it helpful to visit every one of my professors every semester – even the huge classes. I gained much from my interactions with the faculty and staff of Virginia Tech. They are a resource of which every student should make full use. Most professors are willing, and often quite eager, to speak with students. Find out for yourself.
Never forget that you control your own destiny. Your time in college belongs to you. Build your own academic career. Don’t let anyone succeed at talking you into a course that you instinctively feel is not correct for you. No one else can, or should, craft a better collegiate plan of action for you than you.
Enjoy your time at Tech, and enjoy your time in the honors program – the best time of your life will go by so quickly. Challenge yourself, challenge others, and grow. This is your time. Embrace it.
Cordel Faulk is a 1998 Virginia Tech graduate who in 2001 received his Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia College of Law