Things You Should Know Before You Start College

Since many people will be going off to college for the first time in about a month, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to make this post. I recommend you read everything, but you can certainly skip around if you wish. Also, just because this post is geared toward people who haven’t been to college before doesn’t mean returning students won’t find any good advice here. I encourage all college students to check out this post, and if you’ve been to college before feel free to share your own insight too!

Academics- Building A Good Schedule

  • Get familiar with the logistics of course selection. Many colleges have specific websites or platforms used to pick classes. Each school does it a bit differently, so make sure you know what to expect.

  • Know the exact day and time you can start picking classes. You want the best chance of getting into your classes, especially if you’re a freshman with little to no credits earned.

  • Have backups for your classes. Since you probably have few credits earned, you might not get into all the classes you want, but you still need to take at least 12 credits per semester to remain a full-time student.

  • Use RateMyProfessors wisely. Sometimes you must take a certain class for your major and/or the only person teaching it has bad reviews, but for gen eds and/or classes where there are multiple instructors it’s always better to choose someone with good reviews.

  • Don’t be afraid of early class times. Dragging yourself to an 8 or 9 am might be miserable in the moment, but you may dread a night class more. If you couldn’t take a class during prime midday hours, would you rather take an early class (one starting at 8-9 am) or a late class (one starting at 5-6 pm)?

  • Map out the classes you plan to take each semester during your freshman year. To do so, get familiar with general education requirements and the required courses for your major. Many advisors will be happy to help you with this if you ask them. However, it never hurts to double-check with an upperclassman because I’ve heard some advisors give advice that forces people to take summer/winter classes to graduate on time or stay an extra semester.

 Academics- How To Succeed In Your Classes

 

  • Read the syllabus. First, you avoid wasting your professor’s time because you asked a question outlined in the syllabus. Second, you get a sense of course expectations, assignment descriptions, and due dates early on. Sure, you won’t memorize every single detail or due date by reading it once, but you can always refer to the document as needed.

  • Spend money on textbooks wisely. Unless your class requires the use of a textbook with an access code, try to find a cheaper version of the book. Amazon is a great way to get inexpensive textbooks, especially because they often allow you to rent e-books, which tend to be cheaper than physical ones (bought or rented).

  • Don’t skip class. Not going to class once is like a gateway drug – after that, it’s easy to justify not going whenever you’re tired or just not feeling it. The only exception is when you’re really sick and can’t focus on the lecture anyway.

  • Sit in the front during class. This is partially an image thing, as professors think positively of students who sit up front since they tend to be more studious. Also, sitting in a spot where the professor can easily see you will make you more likely to be attentive.

  • Go to office hours whenever you’re struggling. No matter how small your question is, it’s better to get it answered early instead of letting everything pile up right before an exam.

  • Figure out your note-taking style(s). Will you take notes with a pen and paper, a laptop, a tablet, or a combination? There are many factors to consider, including but not limited to:

    • Will the class involve calculations or diagrams that require pen and paper?

    • Can you handwrite quickly and neatly enough?

    • Can you type quickly enough?

    • Can you avoid the distractions of a laptop or tablet?

    • Can you afford a tablet?

  • Study your notes after each class or review the notes from all your classes at the end of each day. Doing so reduces the stress brought on by cramming the night before, and it helps you retain information better because you’re reviewing it regularly.

  • If you have assigned textbook readings, read them after the lecture. It’s like a review and the context from the lecture can help you understand the material better.

  • Avoid using your phone or other distractions until your work is done. The more time you spend on distractions, the less time you have to do work. Also, even if you “only” spend 10 minutes doing something else, you end up losing more time than that because it takes time to refocus on the task at hand.

  • Start projects early. You don’t need to complete the whole project the day it’s assigned; just work on a bit each day to start, and as the deadline gets closer increase the workload.

  • Always do the extra credit. Even if you’re doing well in the class now, there might be a tough assignment or exam later in the semester that lowers your grade.

  • Make at least one friend in your major. That way you can study together and support each other academically. Who knows, you might even become best friends!

  • Check out academic support resources offered by the university. Depending on the university you attend, there may be centers that provide general study tips, math help, writing help, and so on. Ask your advisor what services your college offers. They’re “free” because you pay tuition – use them!

Organization & Time Management

 

  • Use Google Calendar and Google Keep. Use Google Calendar to mark times you have class, assignment due dates, and exam dates; and non-academic events like work or clubs. Use Google Keep to make a variety of to-do lists, such as daily tasks, weekly tasks, and tasks that break a big project into chunks.

  • Use a reminder app to keep track of small things you want to do. This is great for smaller tasks that we tend to forget if they aren’t written down, such as making a phone call. I know iPhones have a designated Reminder app, and I’m sure other smartphones do too.

  • Avoid listing too many tasks to complete on a given day. It’s better to put fewer items on your to-do list and add more, rather than add too much and get upset if you can’t get everything done.

  • Organize your computer. Make sure you have designated folders for emails instead of letting them pile up in your inbox, make folders for each class you’re taking, and so on. Even though there isn’t physical clutter, having a disorganized computer still makes productivity difficult.

  • Find out where each class is located in advance. Instead of scrambling to find your class in the morning, try to walk the campus the day before to ensure you know how to get to each building and room. This is especially helpful if your campus is big!

  • Get around campus efficiently. If your dorm is far from most classes, don’t come back until the end of the day; instead, find spots to study close to your classes. This is particularly useful when the weather is bad and you want to spend as little time outside as possible. Also, even if your campus has buses, actually using one tends to be inefficient because you’ll probably spend more time waiting for it than it takes to get to your destination. Save the bus for bad weather when it’s truly a miserable experience walking to class.

Dorm Life

 

  • Be a respectful roommate. Even if you don’t do unequivocally bad things like bringing unannounced guests or turning the room into a pigsty, your habits may still annoy someone else. For example, if you like calling friends or family in the room often, some people find it distracting. Ask your roommate what they don’t like and try your best to accommodate their needs within reason.

  • It’s okay not to be best friends with your roommate as long as you get along. In fact, it’s better not to be BFFs so you have the motivation to branch out and make new friends.

  • Always try to sort out conflicts with your roommate before escalating things to the RA. Many roommate disagreements are minor enough to be sorted out between the roommates. By doing so, you learn how to deal with interpersonal conflict, which is an important life skill.

  • Don’t be obnoxious to your RA. Most RAs don’t want to make your life miserable because they’re busy students and don’t have the energy to write people up. As long as you avoid doing something that’s obviously not allowed, such as having visible alcohol, they probably won’t care.

  • Don’t sit in your room all day. It might be easy to spend time in your room whenever you don’t have class, but it prevents you from exploring all that campus has to offer. Also, your roommate may need personal space sometimes and that isn’t possible if you’re always around.

  • Do laundry when things aren’t too busy. Laundry rooms tend to be pretty empty when most people are sleeping (early in the morning), afternoons at the start of the week (Mon, Tues), and when people are going out (Friday or Saturday night). On the other hand, afternoons at the end of the week and Sundays are generally busy. It’s also a good idea to scope out your specific laundry room to see when it’s the most or least busy. Another tip: stay in your dorm while you do laundry to catch up on homework or perhaps tidy your room since you’re already in the cleaning mindset!

  • Always take your keys and lock the door. Do this whether you’re going to the bathroom for a few minutes or will be gone the whole day. The people on your floor may be perfectly trustworthy, but you never know for sure.

  • Decorate your room at least a little bit. Even putting up a tapestry or some fairy lights will help make your space more cozy and relaxing.

Extracurriculars

 

  • Start making connections with professors as soon as you can. You can do so by participating in class, asking follow-up questions after class, and asking them about their research. Knowing at least 2-3 professors well can provide you with quality job references and strong recommendation letters for grad programs and/or scholarships.

  • Get involved in a professional and just-for-fun experience – at least one of each. Professional experiences include research or a job/internship related to your major. Having this under your belt allows you to obtain valuable experiences and soft skills you can discuss in an interview. Just-for-fun experiences include clubs or intramural sports. These allow you to take a break from school while doing something enjoyable and making friends.

  • Sign up for a bunch of clubs at the start of the semester. Join the email list for each club that sounds remotely interesting, and then you can decide whether you truly have an interest in that activity or are free when meetings are held.

  • Get a part-time job on campus. There are many benefits to working: You have money to spend on “fun” things like going out or ordering things online, can start saving for the future, and improve your time management skills by balancing work with school. I recommend doing no more than 10-15 hours a week, though it’s possible you have such a busy schedule that you can’t work at all. As far as getting a job, most colleges have a portal with on-campus job listings – find out how to access and use it. Many students end up at a dining hall or do some type of office/administrative work. Generally speaking, dining hall jobs are easier to get but require more hard work, while office/administrative jobs are harder to get but give you some time to catch up on homework. A few tips for getting a job: If you don’t get an invitation to interview within a few weeks of submitting your application and there was a contact person listed on the job description, follow up with them. Since many people don’t do that, it’ll make you stand out. Also, many colleges offer resume critiques and practice interviews that make you a better applicant, so find out how to access this help.

Social Life

  • Don’t let your past social life set you back. Even if you were socially awkward or disliked in high school, you now have a fresh start! There’s no way everyone can know each other, especially if it’s a big campus, meaning you won’t have the reputation you did back in your hometown. Even if you end up not clicking with someone, there are plenty of other people to meet!

  • Say yes if anyone offers to hang out. Even if you don’t like them at first, they might end up being really nice! This is particularly important if you don’t know many people yet.

  • Be prepared for unique opportunities to make friends. Being in the same major, class, or club are excellent ways to meet new people, but they’re not the only ones! To use a personal example, once I got locked out of my room and couldn’t text my roommate since my phone was still in there. I ended up borrowing the phone of a girl in my dorm lounge and we became friends.

  • Quality over quantity. This saying holds true for many things in life. In this case, a few friends who’ll be there for you in times of need is better than 20 fake friends.

  • Make plans with someone at least once a week. Whether you grab food, study, or go to an event, it’s important to have some type of regular social support. With that being said…

  • It’s perfectly okay to be alone in college. No one will judge you for eating alone at the dining hall or walking to class by yourself. In fact, spending time alone helps find yourself and ensures you don’t rely on others for all your happiness.

  • If partying is your thing, no judgment. Just know your limits and always go with people you trust in case something goes wrong. With that said, you don’t have to drink to have a good time!

Health & Wellness

  • Try to eat 3 balanced meals a day. If you don’t have time for breakfast in the dining hall, at least have snacks you can eat before you head to class. For lunch, eat a meal that includes carbs (ex. rice, potatoes, pasta, bread) and veggies. For dinner, eat some carbs and veggies, plus some protein (ex. chicken, fish, beans). I know it’s tempting to just eat grilled cheese and burgers, but that should be an occasional treat rather than a daily occurrence.

  • Stay hydrated. Drink something with every meal at the very least, and then anytime you’re thirsty. Water is best but tea, coffee, or juice is okay too. Consume sugary drinks like soda in moderation.

  • Work out when you can. Even if it’s hard to get to the gym 5 days a week, you can still incorporate physical activity into your life in creative ways. For example, walk as much as you can, do stretches in your room, run up your dorm stairs, go on jogs around campus, take fitness classes at the gym, arrange weekend bike rides with friends, etc.

  • Make your mental health a priority. Taking a few moments to take a deep breath, meditating, having social support on campus, and reaching out to family back home are a few ways to maintain your mental health. Learn what works for you, don’t be afraid to try new things, and get professional help if you’re seriously struggling.

Miscellaneous

  • Be smart with your money. Going out, ordering delivery, and buying things online is fun, but try to keep it as a reward rather than a weekly (or even more often) occurrence. Also, consider getting a credit card to start building credit, as long as you’re responsible with it and avoid debt!

  • Spend time outside. Most college campuses are beautiful and have lovely places to study or relax outside. It really depends on the specific college you attend, but simply walking around campus for a few weeks will help you discover some of the best outdoor areas to spend time.

  • Don’t go home every weekend or call your family all the time. College is meant to be a stepping stone to living completely alone. Make sure you can be without your family while you still have thousands of peers around you for support.

  • Find a good bathroom on campus. When nature calls, you want the process to be as smooth as possible. Since you can’t always return to your dorm, make sure to find another bathroom that doesn’t get a ton of traffic, isn’t too far, is clean, etc. I generally go to bathrooms on higher floors in buildings toward the center of campus.

  • Tackle your fears. Everyone is afraid of different things, but no matter what they are it’s important to face them head-on. For example, I used to hate calling on the phone, but then I got a job on campus where I had to call people regularly and my fear of the phone was greatly reduced.

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