I write this as I prepare to take my oldest son back to campus for his sophomore year of college. My youngest son is beginning his junior year of high school, and I’m getting ready for the classes I’m teaching at Princeton this fall. For most of my life, I’ve looked forward to the beginning of the academic year with excitement. But in recent years, I’ve been a bit anxious in September. I blame it on the pandemic and its effects; I worry about all of us, especially when we separate from loved ones.
As a professor, I’m frequently asked to dispense advice to new and returning college students. Despite my own frazzled state, I find myself eager to offer it. Admittedly, this guidance is primarily geared toward the students I teach: people who are having a full-time college experience. But I believe some of it is also useful for part-time and nontraditional students for whom college is generally more taxing yet still personally transformative. This advice might even be useful to those of us whose school days are far behind us, for whom September offers an annual invitation to build new habits.