Alicia Keys went to college yesterday ‘ and made a menschy appearance at New York University’s Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music.

Keys took questions from students ‘ aspiring songwriters ‘ and then put on a half hour show with her full band at NYU’s Skirball Center. Her set included two songs from her forthcoming December album, set to be called “The Element of Freedom.” The first single, “Doesn’t Mean Anything,” is great but sounds slightly like her other big hit, “No One.” That’s fine. But a new song, called “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart,” has all the earmarks of a smash. You heard it here first. Or rather, the 800 or so people at the Skirball heard it first. This is a song we’re going to be hearing through all of 2010 and right until the Grammys in 2011.

The other songs in her set were just the hits: “Fallin’,” “You Don’t Know My Name,” and “If I Ain’t Got You.” Keys is without a doubt the music star of her generation, a’ true phenomenon.

Keys told MTV interviewer Sway, who emceed, about her college days: “The only person you can shortchange is yourself,” she advised the students. “I will never forget trying to balance everything. It’s just about choices, you have to make choices.”

Keys said the making of her “As I Am” album two years was very difficult because she was dealing with personnel changes. “I kind of had to find the snakes in the grass,” she revealed ‘although she’s still with longtime manager Jeff Robinson and J Records, so the snakes, we surmise, were personal. “It’s hard to be the one to change, to end relationships you had for years. I was really trying to find myself. I tend to be a very optimistic person, but I was snappy, and mean. My grandmother was very sick, I was watching her pass away and taking care of her. I was just very, very confused. [Making the record] was very, very difficult for me.”

She overcame it, though. Keys, by the way, named writer-producer Linda Perry as one of her favorite collaborators. And she lavished praise on Stevie Wonder as her musical hero. When asked for tips about how to write a hit song, Keys sang a couple of lines from Bill Withers‘ classic, “Ain’t No Sunshine.” “Just keep it simple,” she advised. “Every time I go into the studio, I don’t know what to do. I say Alright, how I do this again? Part of songwriting is the journey.”

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