Wednesday, July 27, 2016

24 Pieces of Advice I wish I had known as a College Freshman

 This list began as a way to collect some advice for my sister who is going to enter her first semester of college this fall and it ended up turning into a long list as I started going back and thinking of how every semester has come to reshape my mindset.  Although some of these things seem silly and others simple, I genuinely wish I had someone to remind me of these things.

I didn't learn all of these things at once, and some of these I learned through tears and mistakes. So, while I wouldn't consider myself an expert on the college experience (probably never), I hope one of these tips can resonate with you and make you better prepared.

Below Is a list of advice I wish I had known in my first semester at college.

 1. DON’T buy your books from the bookstore
At all! This is easily the first lesson I learned as a college student. In my experience my labs were the only ones that required a manual that was specifically tailored to the course, but other than that there is no reason to pay full price for a text. If you really want to save money you can:

  • Compare prices online across different websites (some of my favorites are amazon, campus book rentals and alibris).
  • Find online coupons
  • Consider renting
  • Consider borrowing the text from a friend who took the class last semester
  • Check if it is available at the library
  • Purchase older editions

2. DO try out different types of classes
Most majors give you an opportunity to try out different subjects through their electives requirement so take the chance to round out your skills. I don’t regret any of my "weird" electives. They allow you to branch out and as a perk they can be great GPA boosters. Also, if you are still in between majors take an intro class in that subject and see what route you want to continue. It's okay to not be completely sure about your major. It's not okay to not do anything about it. 

Plus, if you decide to switch majors it is best to decide earlier on to save time.

3. DO get the scoop on the best professors on campus
Regrettably I was the skeptic, and didn't believe friends when they told me that a certain professor was subpar. I just thought that if you tried hard enough it didn't matter. Turns out that’s not true! Your best bet is to use and talk to people who have taken their class before. If both resources tell you a big "NO!" then choose another professor

4. DON'T pile on too many classes at once
You don't want to spread yourself too thin and hold yourself back from doing the best that you can. This may be especially true for new college students, but keep that in mind as you continue your college career. 

5. DON'T let who you were in high school overshadow your new college experience
You might have been an excellent student in high school or you might not have done as great as you wanted to, just don’t let this be your mindset when starting out college. You are here with a clean slate and along with everyone else, you are in the process of learning and growing. Don't mentally limit yourself.

6. DO take care of yourself and your health
Being sick can knock out a lot of your valuable time. It goes without fail that a lot of students get sick at the end of the semester when there is simultaneously a lot of stress with exams and slacking on personal health. Make your health a priority.

7. DON'T forget about safety
Now I don't meant to sound like a mum, but more than likely you are going to find yourself in a larger city at your new college hometown so keep in mind that you should take precautions for certain situations. Have a general idea of what to do in an emergency situation and don't walk out late without a friend if you can help it and always let your roomies or someone else know where you are going. Unfortunately there are lots of cases of domestic violence, not to mention the ones that go unreported. 

Also, don't forget to carry some extra cash with you, just in case you need to take a bus/taxi or forget your lunch.  

8. DON'T prioritize anything else over school
This includes your job and or boy/girlfriend. I know there will be a ton going on, but it is all in your best interests to stay focused on what is important. It costs too much time and money to not take your classes seriously the first time around. Make plans around your class schedule, not on top of it. 

9. DO set goals
Set some specific goals at the beginning of the semester on how you want to conquer it. For example this semester mine look a little like this:

  • continue getting up by 8:00 am every (week) day 
  • obtain Bs minimum but mostly As
  • study (almost) everyday for organic chemistry 
  • pass organic chemistry
  • be consistently on time to class
  • boost my GPA

Just thinking about them helps keep me focused and if I don't obtain them it's just a chance for me to see what worked and didn't work for me during the semester. 
It is just so much easier to adjust a goal than to start from scratch. and to avoid that unorganized mid-semester scrambling when you realize that maybe your habits are not getting you the grades you want. 

10. DO put your best foot forward
I remember when I started my first semester, to a degree I wasn't sure what to expect. I think my biggest fear at that time was wondering if my classes would be very difficult and more time consuming than I was used to in high school. I also wondered how I would make friendships on a large campus and between all my classes and commitments. 

I would go back and tell my freshman self to do my best and keep school a top priority. And also study hardest for the first test ;)

I say this because when you try your best in your classes at the end of the semester instead of feeling regretful for sleeping in too much you can look back and adequately ask yourself:
  • Was I able to manage the workload from the number of credits I took this semester? Would less credits work better next semester?
  • What time am I most productive? Morning? Evening? 
  • What classes did I find most interesting?
  • Did I take mostly difficult classes or did I balance them out?
  • Did I get the grades I want? Why or why not? 
  • Was I very stressed trying to get those grades?
  • Can I take on a volunteer/intern position next semester?
Side note: College definitely makes you become more efficient with your time!  

11. DO connect with other freshmen + mentors 
It's not much of a secret that connections can give you an upper hand and while there certainly seems to be a push to make connections on campus I think it is important to view these relationships as a way to expand your college experience instead of a chore. Be friendly and helpful and others might just return the favor!

12. DO trust your gut
I mean this in a safety sort of sense, but also to trust where your heart is most happy doing. And knowing when to ask for help when the going gets tough. I look back at my first couple of semesters and I feel as though I did not take advantage of the resources out there. The opportunities and resources are there, you just have to go out and seek them. And don't be afraid to turn down opportunities if they don't feel right. 

13. DO take advantage of career focus fairs
...and other university hosted events. Great chance to make new connections, but also find new perspectives and insights. Best of all they are free and usually give out goodies. Sometimes there's even opportunities for free trips to company tours and other places. Be curious, it doesn't hurt to try!

14. DON'T overlook the class syllabus
Not all classes are created equal. And avoid surprises! take advantage of the first week to switch professors if you need to. Overall trust your gut on this one. 

15. DO stay as organized as you can
Easier said than done, but believe me! This one is hard when college life is throwing things at you from every angle. Having a way to organize it all lets me breathe though it all. If being organized is not your strongest suit, make the effort to at least stay organized at the beginning of the semester. It makes a huge difference. 

16. DO take a few steps out of your comfort zone
Attend university events, make connections, try new lunch spots. make this a fun memorable experience by trying things you wouldn't normally do. There's no telling what new things may inspire you or new friendships you may make. 

17. DO see your advisor often
On that note don't stick to a mediocre advisor either. There are the advisors that are dull and dry, and then there are the advisors who are genuinely glad to help you and feel more like a friend. Find the one that is like a friend! Also, If you ever have any doubt or lingering question, make sure to get it answered. When it comes to issues of class repeats and scholarship renewal and everything in between, the fine print can be confusing and it is important to have clear answers and stay informed.  You can't fly by with the "I didn't know" excuse since it's your job to be informed now. 

18. DO attempt your best effort
If you don't try your best, you won't know what you can accomplish. I mean this in terms of knowing what kind and how many classes you can tackle a semester plus other extracurriculars. It's great to be able to look back and know you put your best foot forward. 

19. DO search for opportunities (and resources)
College has a lovely way of opening so many opportunities. All you have to do is look and ask around! If you are unsure where to start, look at community postings for your college, check in at the career center or at the advising office and signup for their email newsletter to stay up to date.

20. DON'T slack on your personal finances
In fact now is the time to start (if you haven't already) to practice good money habits, no matter your financial situation in college. Consider budgeting out your income each month and tracking your expenses. It may be wise to acquire a flexible part time if you can manage it, but first and foremost don't forget that your education is an investment in yourself that will eventually pay off.  And also on that note...

21. DON'T spend your money freely
The college experience has definitely made me picky on how I spend my money. I prioritize quality and versatility in terms of many of my purchases and this is because I have bigger financial goals that I did not used to have like, owning my car before graduation and traveling to oversea countries, and paying off my school loan in 2 years after graduation. You might not yet be thinking of these goals or you might have even bigger goals! But what ever the case is, be wise about spending your money and pay yourself first by saving. I just think about it this way: the more I save now, the sooner I get to see my goals and i'm pretty darn excited about my goals.  It's going to take a few sacrifices, but it will definitely be worth it! 

Side tip: If you want to make a purchase wait at least a day to decide if you really want it/need it, especially if it is a large purchase

22. DON'T feel like you need to fit a mold
Another amazing thing about college is that you can have particularly unique hobbies and still find others who share similar interests with you. There is only one of you, and you should feel welcome to embrace that because you have your own talents and points of view to offer and that is valuable!  

23. DO follow your best interests
Remember that you are doing this for you. No one else. You'll have to make difficult decisions at times, but just remember to make the choices that reflect the best for you.

24. DON'T forget how lucky you are...
and have faith. It is a privilege to be attending college and to be able to make such a large investment in yourself. You are smart and so fortunate that your experiences have led you start this new chapter in your life. :)

Dani & a daisy

photo credit: Leonardo Wong

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