Imagine a person who walks up to a counter at the airport to buy a plane ticket for his next vacation. “Just give me a ticket,” he says to the reservation agent. “Anywhere will do.”
The agent stares back at him in disbelief. “I’m sorry, sir,” she replies. “I’ll need some more details. Just minor things—such as the name of your destination city and your arrival and departure dates.”
“Oh, I’m not fussy,” says the would-be traveler. “I just want to get away. You choose for me.”
Compare this person to another traveler who walks up to the counter and says, “I’d like a ticket to Ixtapa, Mexico, departing on Saturday, March 23, and returning Sunday, April 7. Please give me a window seat, first class, with vegetarian meals.”
Now, ask yourself which traveler is more likely to end up with a vacation that he’ll enjoy.
The same principle applies in any area of life, including school. Suppose that you asked someone what she wanted from her education and you got this answer: “I plan to get a degree in journalism, with double minors in earth science and Portuguese, so that I can work as a reporter covering the environment in Brazil.” The details of a person’s vision offer clues to her skills and sense of purpose.
Discovering what you want and having a plan to get there helps you succeed in higher education. Many students quit school simply because they are unsure about what they want from it. With well-defined goals in mind, you can look for connections between what you want and what you study. The more connections, the more likely you’ll stay in school—and get what you want in every area of life.
By design, you are a learning machine. As an infant, you learned to walk. As a toddler, you learned to talk. By the time you reached age 5, you had mastered many skills needed to thrive in the world. And you learned all these things without formal instruction, without lectures, without books, without conscious effort, and without fear.
Shortly after we start school, however, something happens to us. Somehow, we start forgetting about the successful student inside us. Even under the best teachers, we experience the discomfort that sometimes accompanies learning. We start avoiding situations that might lead to embarrassment. We turn away from experiences that could lead to mistakes. We accumulate a growing list of ideas to defend, a catalog of familiar experiences that discourage us from learning anything new. Slowly, we restrict our possibilities and potentials.
However, don’t let this become your journey. You can take a new path in your life, starting today. You can rediscover the natural learner within you. Each module in this course is about a step you can take on your journey to becoming a successful student.