(Photo by Matthieu Jungfer on Unsplash)
(Photo by Matthieu Jungfer on Unsplash)

Soon it will be time for the college students to pack up and spread their wings. There will be phone chargers, dorm fridges and last-minute Amazon deliveries. I’m not that old, but I can’t believe we didn’t have cell phones in college. We were all excited about this thing called email.

As someone who spends a lot of time with college students, I wanted to share some advice for first-year students.

In my freshman year of college, I enrolled in my first studio art class.

Growing up, I was not a stranger to the arts. I performed in school musicals and local community theater. When we chose electives, I always enrolled in chorus. I never chose studio art. I’m unsure if I was scared to try something new or conditioned to stick with what was familiar. I’m not sure that even matters now.

I’m still unsure how I actually got into this class. From day one, it was clear the class was filled with future studio art majors and me. Let me put this another way: I was in a class with all the kids who wanted to study art and were literally the best artists in their high schools. I, on the other hand, could not draw in perspective.

In the beginning, I felt like the worst student in the class. Actually, I WAS the worst student in the class, but the professor took a liking to me and never made me feel bad about my work.

Recently I emailed the professor to say I was writing about my experience in her class for a local publication. I don’t know if she remembered me specifically (not a big deal!), but her email indicated she absolutely recalled this group of dynamic students.

I recently checked my official college transcript because I couldn’t remember my grade in that course. I didn’t actually do as poorly as I thought. I was awarded a B. Reader, before you make a stink about the B, you should know that the average grade in that class was an A. So there’s that.

I always assumed this professor knew how much I was struggling with her assignments. But I’m not sure she did. At the end of the quarter, I revealed to her how overwhelmed I felt working on multi-panel large-scale drawings. She looked at me and asked why I didn’t speak up earlier. She said she would have adjusted the assignments for me—allowing me to work in a smaller space. Granted, this was one of my first classes in my first year of college. I’m not sure many students would have advocated for themselves. But looking back on that class, I think it was a success. Perhaps I didn’t get the grade I wanted, but I pushed myself and learned that charcoal is very, very messy. I learned something new, and I did manage to create a few decent pieces. More like two, but who’s counting?

I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t the only time I struggled academically in college. There was an amazing art history class where we spent hours dissecting Kandinsky, Klee and Magritte. I loved that class. But once again, I found myself playing JV with the varsity kids. I showed up. I did the work. But I was not performing well. Thankfully my friend Beth stepped in to coach me through. It’s not that I wasn’t capable; I just didn’t know the formula for academic success in that class. But I knew I was learning, and that made me happy. But it was hard for me to accept that I could work hard, retain a lot of information, be inspired, and still not perform at the level I desired. Kind of sounds like my tennis game.

Looking back on my time in college and graduate school, there are so many courses I wish I could have taken. I still think about my classmates who took narrative writing with Kevin Coyne. I missed that one!

And now that I am an educator, I love watching students discover new interests in academia and beyond.

Here’s my advice: carve out space to try something new in college. But be prepared that you might struggle. In fact, you will likely struggle. But that’s ok. It’s more than ok. It’s a sign of growth. You still have to do the work. You must put in the prep time. You must show up for class. On time. Please don’t skip class, then email the professor asking what you missed unless you’ve had an emergency appendectomy. But if something piques your interest – say a class in studio art or coding or modern dance, go for it. You never know what you might learn when you try something new.

Jaime Bedrin is an adjunct instructor at Montclair State University, where she teaches courses in journalism and media ethics.

Jaime Bedrin is an adjunct instructor at Montclair State University, where she teaches courses in journalism and media ethics.