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Students today are looking for meaning in their lives – to feel that their lives matter and to see how they fit in their communities. Jesuit education, which is rooted in more than 450 years of tradition, encourages a process of discernment that can help students as they go through their college experience.

College is full of new and exciting opportunities, experiences, ideas and people. But it doesn’t last forever. Those four years (sometime more) fly by!

As college students nationwide begin the fall academic term – and high school students and their parents consider college options – Creighton University experts offer five things every college student should do to get the most out of their collegiate experience and prepare for future success.

1. Find a mentor

College is the perfect time to learn how to find, engage and develop relationships with mentors, says Jeremy Fisher, director of the John P. Fahey Career Center at Creighton. “Having a mentor while in college allows students to develop both personally and professionally,” Fisher says.

A mentor is someone who shares knowledge, advice, ideas and information, and for many college students, professors and faculty advisers can naturally fall into this role. Alumni, community contacts and professionals can also be  sources of mentors for students.

And while formal mentoring programs offer tremendous value, the best experience happens when the relationship is relaxed and not forced, Fisher says. These relationships can grow out of many events, such as networking, shadowing and internships.

“For example, pre-health and pre-law students at Creighton gain valuable mentors through shadowing experiences,” Fisher says.

Other examples of mentorship programs at Creighton include the Haddix Ignatian Advising Program and peer-to-peer relationships in the School of Medicine.

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While formal mentoring programs offer tremendous value, the best experience happens when the relationship is relaxed and not forced, says Jeremy Fisher, director of the John P. Fahey Career Center at Creighton. These relationships can grow out of many events, such as networking, shadowing and internships.

2. Engage in academic service-learning

What if we told you college students can increase their critical thinking skills, create connections with community members and address their awareness of social and cultural biases by taking one course? With academic service-learning, these outcomes are expected and more.

Academic service-learning is an educational strategy that integrates community service and reflection with academic content.

“Creighton students learn in multiple ways from service-learning,” says Thomas Kelly, Ph.D., director of the Office of Academic Service-Learning and professor of theology. “They gain hands-on experience by applying their course learning to the real world.”

Students who take these types of courses report they are more interested and engaged with class materials, and demonstrate high levels of self-awareness and personal growth.

Creighton has more than 60 courses with an academic service-learning component spanning a variety of fields, including business, social sciences, performing arts, dentistry and health sciences.

“In these types of classes, students have learned French language skills by working directly with refugees; developed public relations skills by creating communication plans for public health nonprofits; and applied business and technology solutions to address poverty,” Kelly says.

And, the benefits of academic service-learning don’t stop with the students – they greatly impact communities. In the last academic year, Creighton students partnered with more than 120 community organizations.

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Participating in research early on in a college career gives students experience in communication, problem-solving, ethical decision-making and critical thinking skills.

3. Participate in undergraduate research

“Undergraduate research is a high-impact educational experience that requires deep-level processing in which students must acquire information and understand the underlying meaning of that information”, says chemistry professor Juliane Strauss-Soukup, Ph.D., who also serves as director of Creighton’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship (CURAS). 

“It has been shown that students involved in undergraduate research experience this deep approach to learning and in turn are more engaged in their research projects, as well as in the classroom,” says Soukup.

Beyond lab policy and procedures, participating in research early on in a college career gives students experience in communication, problem-solving, ethical decision-making and critical thinking skills. Being involved in research also demonstrates a firsthand example of perseverance and dealing with failure, “since things rarely go precisely as planned,” Soukup says.

“We tend to think that research is something that only experts do, but the truth is, research is for learners,” Soukup says. “Research allows students to apply the knowledge they have learned in the classroom in novel and interesting ways that enrich their learning. It is also an empowering experience that builds confidence.”

But remove the notion that research is only for students involved in “lab sciences” such as biology and chemistry. Students in the humanities and social sciences also have plenty of opportunities to get involved in research with dedicated faculty mentors. At Creighton, CURAS helps facilitate research opportunities for all students.

Creighton University

Students who study abroad gain language skills and a sense of independence from living in a previously unfamiliar context. Other areas of growth can be navigation skills and new perspectives on a field of study.

4. Explore the world

Studying abroad is a transformative personal experience that is hard to put into words, says Lizzy Curran, global programs coordinator in the Global Engagement Office at Creighton University.

Students who study abroad gain language skills and a sense of independence from living in a previously unfamiliar context. Other areas of growth can be navigation skills and new perspectives on a field of study.

“Students (who study abroad) usually return to Creighton’s campus having learned a great deal about the world around them, and even more about themselves,” says Curran.

Though a semester-long period is often what comes to mind when considering studying abroad, Creighton students have the option of going on trips that range in length from one week over spring or fall break to an entire academic year. Faculty Led Programs Abroad provide students with personalized instruction.

And when it comes to choosing where to study abroad, the sky’s the limit. Creighton has partnerships with fellow Jesuit institutions to provide opportunities for students to study abroad from Belgium to India to Japan, as well as the International Student Exchange Program, which offers more than 150 additional programs to students, says Krista Cupich Wingender, also a global programs coordinator.

Creighton’s focus on global engagement, which can occur with or without a study abroad experience, is creating graduates who are flexible and collaborative and can quickly adapt to the ever-changing work environment and economy.

“While abroad, negotiating differences, challenging assumptions, learning through challenges, working in cross-cultural settings, and gaining insights from peers with different backgrounds are opportunities that contribute to profound global learning,” Wingender says.

5. Find your passion

Self-discovery is an important component of the college experience. But it can be an overwhelming process, especially for freshman students who are adapting to a new environment. And we all are making constant decisions – some big, some small.

The Rev. Nicholas Santos, S.J., a marketing professor in the Heider College of Business and rector of the Jesuit community at Creighton, advises students to take a deep breath when the stress of “what do I want to do for the rest of my life” becomes too much. “Take a step back, relax and feel that it is OK to be overwhelmed,” Fr. Santos says.

The process of elimination is also key for students – you may not know what you want to do, but you probably have a good idea about what you don’t like.

“I also advise freshmen to be in tune with what excites them about the various courses that they take,” Fr. Santos says. “This helps them to discover what they are passionate about.”

Students are looking for meaning in their lives – to feel that their lives matter and to see how they fit in their communities, Fr. Santos says. Jesuit education, which is rooted in more than 450 years of tradition, encourages a process of discernment that can help students as they go through their college experience.

“Discernment in the Jesuit tradition helps Creighton students to make decisions that move them closer to God, to others and to themselves,” Fr. Santos says. This can enable them to find a deeper sense of fulfillment in their lives – not just as students, but as they transition into life after graduation as well.

In the process of applying to college? Read “8 things every college applicant should know.”

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