New book suggests relationships are crucial to student success in college

In light of a book published Monday that emphasizes the importance of interpersonal relationships to keep students motivated as they pursue postsecondary education, Boston University students agree that forming lasting bonds with other students and professors is essential to a successful college career.

How College Works, available on Amazon and expected to be in bookstores next week, looked at the factors that affected students’ learning, their ability to make friends, their reasons for choosing majors and their relationships with their professors.

The book’s authors, Hamilton College sociology professor Daniel Chambliss and University of Chicago PhD sociology candidate Christopher Takacs, found relationships often play a larger role in students’ experiences than academic programs, Chambliss said.

“College faculty and administrators spend a lot of time worrying about their programs, and we found that that matters to the students a lot less than who the people are who they meet,” he said. “Really, the punch line of the book is that it’s who you meet and when you meet them that really matters.”

Chambliss said the purpose of college is allowing students to learn from each other in a productive environment.

“For example, at BU, it means attracting high quality students so they can meet other high quality students, as well as hiring the right faculty so they can have an influence as well,” he said. “The major function of the university is to bring these people together in one place so they can find each other easily.”

Takacs met Chambliss as an undergraduate student in one of Chambliss’ classes. The co-authors set out to learn about the lives of college students, outside of the classroom.

“We found that social life was incredibly important and a kind of prerequisite for their [college kids’] success,” Takacs said. “Without a group of good friends and one or two good professors, students weren’t engaged and weren’t as focused on academic work and a lot less likely to succeed at college.”

Online resources have made information more accessible to students than ever before, Takacs said. The focus has shifted from availability of content to sources of motivation.

“Even the brightest, most successful students like to slack off once in a while,” he said. “Motivation is a variable factor, and for students who don’t have a really inspiring professor or a good social life or for students who just feel out of place at the college, motivation just goes out the window and the entire college endeavor loses its legitimacy.”

School of Management sophomore Nathalie Langlois said her friends have provided her with the support and motivation she needs to be successful at college.

“[Having a group of friends] really provides a base for people,” she said. “You have people to turn to. It’s a support group. And being involved in extracurriculars really let you to develop that sense of self, that personal leadership and take opportunities that you would have not taken otherwise.”

Kelly Roche, a School of Education sophomore, said friendships at college provide you with an education out of the classroom that is unlike any classroom curriculum.

“My friends have shown me so much because they’re from all over the country and some are from all over the world, they’ve given me a new outlook on life and culture and things I would have never gotten just from a classroom experience,” she said.

College of Communication junior Cassidy Bissell said relationships between students and professors don’t come naturally, but if students make the effort, professors can be huge sources of motivation and information.

“[Professors] have helped me out with getting internships and career advice, so they haven’t had a huge impact, but they’ve definitely helped” she said. “It’s kind of up to you to determine how much impact the professor has on you. They can be a great person and really want to help you, but you need to seek out that help outside of class.”

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