College: It’s All About Relationships

In a conversation with my husband one evening, he remarked, “Everything revolves around relationships.” He’s absolutely right. And this is especially true of your college experience. The role and function of relationships is obvious in family, social, and work life. It’s college life where this is less obvious–and more complicated.

Before we get into the complicated role of college-life relationships, I would like you to make a quick list of the kind of relationships you currently have, or think you will have, in college. List as many as you can in 2 minutes.

So who’s on your list? Classmates? Check. Professors? Check. Your advisor? Check. Yourself? Ch . . . wait, what?

“What? A relationship with myself?” you ask. Absolutely! Self-awareness and how you relate to yourself is crucial for college success. But first, let’s take a look at the other relationships you have or should have during your college experience.

Your Classmates: Forging mutually helpful and respectful relationships with your classmates is vital to a successful and fulfilling college experience. Such relationships can diversity-1034160_1280benefit you academically, socially and emotionally–especially if you’re away from home for the first time and feel a bit homesick. Hopefully, at least one of your classes is taught by a professor who understands the importance of building community in the classroom and thus provides you with opportunities to get to know your classmates and to work with them during class. If not, you’ll need to take the initiative.

  • Introduce yourself to those sitting around you before class starts.
  • As you’re leaving class, strike up a quick chat with a classmate about the day’s lesson or a university event or organization you’re interested in.
  • After a few classes, ask someone who sits near you to trade contact information in case either of you misses class or loses class notes.
  • Form study groups in each of your classes.

If there’s an older student in class, make it a point to get to know him or her. There’s much to gain from forging a relationship with an older student. As a college professor, I know that many older students are unsure about their place in a classroom full of 18-21 year-olds and appreciate connecting with and learning from their younger classmates. Yes, you, as a traditional college student, have something to offer non-traditional college students. This can be a very mutually rewarding and enlightening classmate relationship.

Your Professors: teacher-702998_1280Taking the first step to establishing a supportive relationship with your professors can be nerve-wracking. But leaving your comfort zone is necessary to growth, and you can’t enjoy college success without changing some core aspects of yourself (more on that later).

  • Introduce yourself: This is a fairly painless way to establish a relationship with your professors.
    • Do this before (if you’re there early) or after class on the first day. Shake their hands as you do this. Also, it’s best to say more than your name by asking about something he/she talked about or making a sincere comment about the class. An insincere comment will be obvious and will ruin the positive impact of your introduction. Don’t worry if you’re too shy to say more than your name. Your professor will likely respond to your introduction with questions that will spark a brief exchange and put you at ease. At the least, he/she will of course say “Nice to meet you.” You will naturally respond and can easily and politely close the interaction with, “see you on [next class day].”
    • This simple act will go far with your professors–I promise. I’ve been teaching college English classes for 16 years and can count on one hand the number of students who have done this. It’s a rare gesture and one that leaves your professors with a very positive impression of you. And don’t worry if your nervousness shows. Your professor will recognize that you stepped out of your comfort zone and will appreciate the gesture even more--I promise.
  • Schedule visits: This is a productive way to maintain this relationship–just make sure you’re aware and respectful of your professors’ office hours. If you’re struggling with the class, scheduling visits is absolutely necessary. If not, schedule a visit to have a brief chat about the class–your interest in it, a class-related concept or skill, etc. Or simply pop in to say “hi” and to wish him/her a good day, weekend, etc. I absolutely love it when a student does this! Sadly, it doesn’t happen often enough, but when it does, it’s a welcome interruption.
  • Be respectful of the class: An indirect way to maintain a mutually respectful and supportive relationship with your professors is to attend class regularly, be there on time, stay off your phoneturn in your work on time, and to generally conduct yourself in a way that lets him/her know you’ve read the course syllabus. Always review the syllabus before asking your professor about late work, make-up work, etc. You certainly don’t want to provoke this reaction:

Yes, we get that frustrated with questions that are answered in the syllabus (By the way, I have that shirt.).

Your Advisor: Typically, your advisor instigates this relationship–but you need to nurture it throughout the semester. Don’t wait until things get really bad or until registration begins to visit with your advisor. Maintain contact with him or her regularly throughout the semester–even if it’s just to say “Hi” and “Thank you” for the work they do for you and your fellow students. Advisors were once college students and some not all that long ago, so they can be helpful with a variety of academic and social problems. Not sure how to approach your professor about a particular issue? Talk to your advisor. Wondering how to handle a problem classmate? Talk to your advisor. Need study tips? Talk to your advisor.

Now, advisors are very busy and, in some cases, have overwhelming work loads. Therefore, you should always email or call your advisor to schedule an appointment. If you show up at your advisor’s office unannounced, he or she may not be able to help you right then. This may make you feel like your advisor doesn’t really have time for you and may discourage you from maintaining regular contact with him/her. But your advisor does have time for you–not always immediately though. So be respectful of your advisor’s time by scheduling appointments and keeping them. If you absolutely cannot keep your appointment, contact your advisor ASAP to reschedule. Don’t simply say or write, “I can’t make it.” Offer some potential times to reschedule.

“A healthy relationship with your academic advisor can make your college life more successful and more connected at your university. Your academic advisor wants you to succeed and can provide you with information, resources, and guidance to help you make the best decisions regarding your academic career. ” Ms. Rachel Klauss, Academic Advisor Senior (Lamar University-Beaumont, TX)

You: Yes, you. You must grow and change to make it through college successfully, so there will be a new you to get to know and nurture. Relate to yourself in a way that shows you have self-confidence and self-respect. Interact with yourself through regular moments of self-reflection. These “conversations” should center on your actions, their effects, ways to adjust ineffective/negative behaviors and habits, and ways to capitalize on your effective/positive behaviors and habits. When you experience some successes–no matter how smallcelebrate yourself!

Elvis Presley, celebratory dance move
Woo hoo! I rock!


Developing and maintaining relationships with the key people involved in your college education will ensure a fulfilling, rewarding, and less intimidating experience.

Who would you add to this list and why? Please share your insights!

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