Note: This post was submitted to Student Caffé by Kelsey O’Malley. We would like to thank her for her submission and credit her as the author of this blog post.
When you hear the word “college”, what’s the first word that comes to your head? Stress? Aside from stressful, your college years should be full of fun and adventure. Though shifting from high school to college can be mind-boggling, there are ways to make the most out of your college career. The following tips can help you have a smooth transition and build a foundation for a prosperous year:
Just be yourself. Many first year students are so determined to make friends that they lose track of who they are as a person. Always stay true to yourself, after all, college is all about figuring out your passions and who you are. As cliché as it may sound, if you are meant to have someone in your life, that person will like you for who you are as a person. Don’t spend time hanging out with people who don’t understand you. Instead join that club you always wanted to join. Who knows, maybe your tribe is there after all.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. College consists of coming to terms with the fact that it’s okay to ask for help. Think about it this way, on move-in day or the first day of classes, or even the day of the first home football game, you may need to ask for help to get around campus. Don’t be one of those students who has no idea what they are doing (and it’s obvious) but still decides to not ask for help. Go out there and ask for help if you need it!
Go to class! You will spend a big chunk of your time contemplating whether to sleep in or go to class. You and/or your parents are paying a lot of money for your education. Take your academics seriously and show up to class.
Establish a relationship with your professors. Getting along with your professors can make the difference between having a good or bad semester. Not to mention that getting to know your professors can actually help your grades by encouraging you to go to class—it’s a lot harder to justify skipping when your professors know you by name and face. Let’s not forget about recommendation letters!
Don’t waste your money buying brand new textbooks. Most of the time you won’t use the same textbook twice (unless the same textbook is required for multiple courses within your major). Even if this is the case, buy or rent used textbooks instead. Used textbooks are much cheaper than brand new ones. If you want to save even more money consider buying or renting digital versions of the textbooks online. Chegg and Amazon provide amazing textbooks deals for college students.
If you have a meal plan, use it! Try to eat as much as you can in the dining hall. You’re wasting money otherwise, and any decent dining hall will have enough food options to keep you healthy. (Just don’t go for pizza every single night!) Also, if you have credits or vouchers for the school store or cafe as part of your meal plan, they’ll disappear faster than you think; conserve credits early on so you still have some left at the end of the semester.
Be ready for a lack of sleep. Whether you were out partying late on Friday or stayed up late studying for a final exam, you’re going to be tired. Lack of sleep can lead to physical and emotional health issues such as a weakened immune system, more stress, and increased weight gain. To avoid any consequences related to a lack of sleep, consider maintaining a regular sleep schedule and tracking your sleep patterns. If you need help tracking your sleep cycles consider using Sleep Cycle or Calm.
Join a club. Joining a club is a simple way to step out of your comfort zone and meet new people. Early in the year, try to join as many clubs as you can. Maybe you will reveal an interest in a new area you’ve never explored or master a skill you didn’t know you had. Don’t forget that extracurricular involvement looks great on your résumé!
Take your housing and class enrollment seriously. Often students find themselves doing last minute tricks to try to get into a particular class or dorm. Nothing sucks more than getting stuck with a class you know you will hate or don’t need. Make sure you meet with your advisor well ahead of the registration period and register for classes on time to avoid extra stress. And definitely show up for housing selection. If you want to live in the “good” dorms or find on-campus housing that has room for all of your friends, you need to be ready as soon as the time comes.
Check your student account when you get on campus. Make sure that everything is in order with your student account at the start of every semester. If you check your account and you still have a balance due, make sure to address this by contacting the bursar or financial aid office as soon as you get settled in. Carrying a balance may lead to problems during registration or when you go to buy your textbooks. Services like Frank can help bridge the gap until your aid arrives.
Get a part-time job. Most schools provide work-study opportunities for students who seek to work while in school. Even if you don’t qualify for work-study as part of your federal financial aid package, you may still be able to find a job on or near campus. Campus jobs usually provide flexible work hours, but do be extra careful that you make sure your work schedule doesn’t interfere with your classes or study time. Your grades shouldn’t suffer for a bit of extra cash. On campus, you may be able to get a position in your school’s cafeteria or recreation center, but if you’re interested in something more academic, reach out to your professors about other opportunities.
Get organized now to avoid pain later. Don’t let your first round of midterms sneak up on you! Staying organized can make all the difference your first semester. When you start classes, make sure to read all of your syllabi and write down all of the most important deadlines for the class either in a planner or somewhere you can easily see them. The deadlines may seem light years away when classes start but they’ll come quicker than you think.
Another key aspect of staying organized is prioritizing your time. In high school, it’s easy to procrastinate and still get a good grade. In college, the bar is higher, so cramming very well may hurt your grades. Don’t wait until the last minute to start a research paper or complicated problem set.
Be careful with your money. Although your family may have sent you to college with some spending money and you may be looking at getting a part-time job while you’re in school, money seems to go as quick as it comes. When it comes to getting started with managing your money, consider using a budgeting app. It can help you get a clear sense of how you’re spending.
Also, around your freshman year, you’ll start getting credit card offers. Don’t fall into credit card debt early on in school; you’ll struggle to pay the debt off later. Being mindful with your money now will give you peace of mind and a much easier ride when you’re an upperclassman.
Find your perfect quiet spot. It may be tough to get alone time when you’re living in the dorms. Finding a perfect quiet spot, whether it is for studying or some much needed alone time will help you keep a sense of balance. Look for nooks and crannies in the library, unused classrooms in academic buildings, or cozy chairs in the student center that will give you a good environment for reading, problem sets, and studying.
Remember that your college journey doesn’t end after freshman year, so don’t let your first year get the best of you. You have three more years to figure things out and have fun! Good luck!