William Fulton

17-year-old Oronoco High School student taking PSEO classes at Rochester Community and Technical College

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone looking at colleges right now?

Don’t go to a college just to go. What I mean by that is there is a huge stigma around going to college—however it’s not for everyone and I would strongly recommend figuring out what you want to do with your life before you decide to go to a college.

How do you choose the right college?

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If you have a clear career or path for life and you know you would be happy going to work every day in that career, then you can easily search the web for colleges that teach that pathway the best.

What’s something freshmen should be sure to do in their first few weeks of school to help with academics?

Find one thing they love: math, science, writing, coding, acting, drawing, photography, athletics, or anything they have a passion about. Stick to that passion and focus on getting beyond great using passion to drive you. This will help students focus and not be “okay” at a lot of things. The world already has a lot of “okay” people; what the world needs is great people to push the boundaries.

What’s something freshmen should be sure to do in their first few weeks of school to help with their social life?

Be genuine to everyone regardless of status. Be very careful to listen to people and care about what they are saying regardless of whether you agree or disagree with them. Too many people talk too much, and if you can be the person to listen everyone will want to be closer to you.

What was one of your big college fears that you now realize was overblown?

Fear of losing focus. I have known a lot of people that use college to take it easy, and to use freedoms as an opportunity to lie back and relax. This is something I know can be easy to do, so finding friends that push you can really help to keep you focused on your goals and dreams.

What’s the biggest mistake you see from new college students?

Similar to the answer above, a lot of students take the chance to lie back and not study or exceed their own expectations. Keep in mind that between parties, friends, and activities, school can easily be lost in the mix. So be careful.

Carrie Bowler May 10, 2021. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
Carrie Bowler May 10, 2021. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

Carrie Bowler

Saint Mary’s University student who is “20-plus years out of high school.”

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone looking at colleges right now?

What I would tell my younger self and my children is education sets you free. It is because of education, determination, and motivation that I can credit where I am today. Because of my experiences, I want my children to be able to pursue post-secondary education.

We are so fortunate that anyone can pursue further education, but finances are often a barrier. I faced this situation and looked at it as an opportunity to say ‘What can I do?’ I applied for every scholarship and grant that was available to me. My parents might not have been able to pay for my education for me, but they were there helping me fill out the applications and apply for my first student loan.

How do you choose the right college?

Great question for which I am not sure there is a right answer. Every person is unique and will approach this choice with their own set of limitations and desires. I think writing these down and then assessing what I could control or not were what helped me discover what/where I would succeed.

What was one of your big college fears that you now realize was overblown?

For me, what held me back was finances and the fear of being in a big city. As a first generation college graduate, my educational path was a bit non-traditional. Financial burdens were the biggest obstacle for me when selecting a college and education path. In order to be able to further my education in an affordable manner, I attended a community college for the first two years and earned my associates of applied science degree for Medical Laboratory Technician while living at home. ... After two years I had a great job at a community hospital and was able to work and save up money in order to transition to a four-year college to earn my bachelor’s degree. I moved to Grand Forks, N.D. to attend the University of North Dakota to earn my B.S. in Clinical Laboratory Science. ... I continued to work weekends at the hospital all while attending school full time. I graduated with my B.S. in 2003 and had been recruited to stay on as a Teaching Assistant while I attended grad school at UND. I graduated in 2006 from UND with my Master of Science degree and had five years of professional work experience under my belt. This experience allowed me to land a job at Mayo in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology within Transfusion Medicine.

I had been out of school for 10 years when I felt the need to pursue a terminal degree. The motivation for this came from being a first generation college grad and the desire to attain something that so few earn, a doctoral degree. My life had changed considerably in these 10 years … I was married, had a family, and a career that I did not want to give up. As a result, I chose SMU because I was looking for a doctoral program that provided the flexibility to complete a degree online yet also had a face-to-face component to it. I am excited to say that in 2021 I earned my EdD in Leadership and my formal education journey is complete.

What was one of your big college fears that you now realize was overblown?

That I wouldn’t be able to do it.

What’s the biggest mistake you see from new college students?

Time management and commitment. I see a lot of today’s college students wanting an ‘experience’ from college. College in itself is an experience but it should also be taken seriously.

Any other advice?

I just want prospective students to know that you are in control of your outcome. The attitude you approach each day with will get you through the hard days and the motivation will come from the many firsts experienced on this new journey. Also, be open and curious about what ‘could be’. We are living in the era of such advancement. Don’t be afraid to take a risk on pursuing a degree in an emerging field or changing your degree mid-way through.

UMR student Aliah Lymon. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
UMR student Aliah Lymon. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

Aliah Lymon

18-year-old soon-to-be sophomore at University of Minnesota-Rochester

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone looking at colleges right now?

The biggest piece of advice I could give to someone looking at colleges right now is to take your time and really look at your options. Take into consideration the opportunities for growth at each university and if you can see yourself there. I would also say, if you are stuck between a couple schools, make sure to visit them and ask questions. Talk to students on the campus and learn about what drew them to the school.

How do you choose the right college?

For me, choosing the right college came down to a few different things: a college with the degree I wanted, student life, and financial aid. Financial aid ended up being one of the largest factors for choosing a school along with the opportunities each school would offer. I really had to consider how much I could picture myself at each school and how I would thrive in a new environment. I also had to seriously think about the amount of debt I would like to be in in the future. There can also be a gut feeling when you visit a college campus. That can play a large role in determining the right college.

What’s something freshmen should be sure to do in their first few weeks of school to help with academics?

The first thing to do to help with academics would be to form connections with some other students in each of your classes. It is helpful to know students in your class so that you can all learn from each other. If you don’t understand something, it is possible that someone else you know might. I also found it important to go to office hours when school first started. Even if you don’t have any questions going into the office hours, most likely there will be other students there so you can listen to some of their questions.

What’s something freshmen should be sure to do in their first few weeks of school to help with their social life?

While my first year of school didn’t have many events due to COVID-19, something freshmen should do in their first few weeks of school to help with social life is to be involved. If your college does freshmen activities during your first week or right before school starts, I would encourage you to go to those and meet other students. My school in particular did different Zoom meetings and activities where I was able to meet some of my peers and recognize them more on campus. Even if going to events is out of your comfort zone, it can be really beneficial to see new faces and hear how other students are adjusting to college life.

What was one of your big college fears that you now realize was overblown?

My first year of college wasn’t a “normal” one, so it’s hard to really label any fears surrounding it. Originally my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to be on campus for my first year. Other than that, I had a pretty big fear of learning how to cook for myself and make meals. My campus doesn’t offer meal plans like other universities, so I had to figure out how to make my own meals. I am a very picky eater, and I don’t really enjoy cooking. But having to make myself meals helped me develop a taste for new foods that I really enjoy.

What’s the biggest mistake you see from new college students?

The biggest mistake I see from new college students is not being able to delegate their time. A lot of students struggle with using their time efficiently and wisely. It is definitely something that I am guilty of. During my first year I spent—what I would consider—almost too much time on my coursework. And while it ended up paying off, there were times I would look at my roommates on a Friday or Saturday night and say, “Why are we sitting here doing homework?” I think it is good to find a happy medium of spending time on coursework, but also to make sure you are able to have fun and enjoy yourself, too.

Any other piece of advice you want to add?

One piece of advice I have to add for incoming students is to remember that there will be a lot of adjustments moving into college life. Whether that is cooking on your own, harder courses than you are used to, or just learning how to be independent. It might take some time to transition and there is no shame in that.

Natalia Istrati May 10, 2021. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
Natalia Istrati May 10, 2021. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

Natalia Istrati

42-year-old enrolled in the Special Student for Graduate Studies at Winona State University.

What’s your background?

I am originally from Moldova [in Eastern Europe], and I live in Winona. I am a full-time parent of four children of all ages, a nurse at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and a business owner for over a decade.

How do you choose the right college?

Choosing the right college can be confusing for many. However, living in Winona, I have always wanted to attend WSU. It was my dream to have that experience, but I did not speak English at the time and did not think it would ever be possible. The advice I give my children and others looking to attend college is to have a checklist of what you “need” and “want” [in a school] to reach your goals. Also, your goals will change, and you might have to change your path. If you have no other commitments, look at what each college offers and choose what is right for you academically and financially. Another piece of advice is to apply for scholarships. As an immigrant, I do not qualify for any kind of financial aid or loans. Scholarships and working were the only way to pay for the tuition. Once you have chosen your college, my other advice is do not wait to study. You are given the tools to succeed, and it is up to you from there on. Allow yourself a healthy social life but remember what you want to accomplish.

What was one of your big college fears that you now realize was overblown?

The fear question is different for everyone. Personally, as an adult learner, my fears were my age, finding time to study, paying for school, and my biggest was overcoming the language barrier. Speaking multiple languages helped me learn English faster.

What’s the biggest mistake you see from new college students?

One of the biggest mistakes I have seen college students make is being content with the minimum passing grade. Many try to retake classes to save their GPA. Do not be one of them.

Any other piece of advice you want to add? Do not quit. Life happens and you might have to slow down, but DON’T QUIT. It will be the biggest favor you will do for yourself.