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Tips for New College Students

July 18, 2008

If you’re about to start college, the chances are good that you have hundreds of questions, and you may not have anyone to ask. As a college student who is about to graduate, I’d like to pass along some of the things that I wish someone had told me before I ever got to college.


1. Go to class. It’s college, and no one is going to tell you to go to class. No one is going to yell at you, call your parents, or give you detention. However, many schools (and almost all classes, even large ones) have attendance policies. You can take a pretty big hit to your grade just because of absences. Also, every day that you miss class means that you have missed information, and this makes it much more difficult to do well on exams, as most professors do not teach solely from the book. Every time that you miss class, you are also more likely to skip class the next time, until you suddenly realize that you haven’t been to philosophy in a month and you have no idea if there were two papers or three due before Christmas. It happens, trust me. Go to class, and don’t skip unless you have a legitimate reason. I usually limit myself to one “personal skip” (such as the first nice day of spring) per semester, and I try to keep my “sick skips” to a minimum.

There used to be at least one class every semester that I skipped every single day with the exception of the first day and tests. I managed to get at least a C in all of these classes, but I would have done much better even if I had just sat through the class and not taken any notes. You’ll notice that your classrooms, especially in large classes, will be nearly overflowing on test days, while they might be nearly empty most of the time. The people who only show up for tests will not do well in the class, so don’t join them.

 2. Arrange your classes in groups. I usually plan my school day from about 10am-5pm, and try to put as many of my classes back to back as possible. Unless you were a morning person by choice in high school, you probably won’t be one in college, and you should plan your classes as late in the morning as possible. People usually recommend scheduling your college classes just like a high school day, and I agree, to a degree. I don’t particularly care for an 8 hour day, but it’s much less likely that you’ll go to your classes if they’re really spread out. I’ve also discovered that after your first year or so of classes, you can usually work out your schedule so that you only have class a couple of days a week. Try to plan as many of your classes in groups as possible, and you’ll be more likely to go to classes and you’ll also find yourself in a more academic mood.

My first year, I thought that it was a brilliant idea to spread out my classes as much as possible, and I even scheduled several of them for late in the evening. It was nice, because I got to come home between classes, and I had plenty of time for lunch or for running errands. I also didn’t have to sit through three hours of lecture in a row, which was no problem in high school but somehow seemed to be an excessive amount when I was scheduling classes. The trouble was that I had to be close to campus all day during the week, because I would have class later in the day. Later on, I realized that I could sit through three or four classes back to back (I don’t suggest more than three if you can help it), and I am now done with class completely by 5pm almost every day.

3. Meet people. Without friends, college will be pretty boring. However, in most colleges, there are thousands of other people who would simply love to meet you. I suggest joining a few clubs. The best mix, probably, is as follows: one recreational activity sort of club, such as ski team or poker club; one educational sort of club, like a poetry reading group; and one political or issue-based club, such as Student Government, College Democrats, or a women’s rights group. You can obviously join more clubs than this, but it’s a delicate balance. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself, but you want to provide yourself with lots of different people to meet and you want things to put on resumes. There are a lot of other ways to meet people, but most of them can be summed up simply by saying “Walk up to people and say hello. Don’t be shy.”

One of my major regrets in college has been not meeting enough people. I’ve never been super shy, but in college, you don’t spend all day, every day, with the same people for four years. Most colleges have so many students that you might not have more than one class with someone even if they’re in the same major as you. You really need to get out and put effort into meeting  people, something that I am just now working on doing.

4. Get to know the people in charge.Talk to your professors, your RA’s, your hall director, and the members of student government or the resident student association. If people know you, they are more likely to help you. Your professors will be more likely to help you with difficult concepts or give you the benefit of the doubt when your grade is in the balance if you’ve stopped in at their office and talked with them. Your RA is less likely to write you up for a noise violation if you’re on friendly terms, and the same goes for your hall director. If you don’t intend to join something like student government or the resident student association, make friends who are in these groups. These sorts of groups are the ones who make decisions about things like what bands will perform at your school or what student fees will be, and they usually have a lot of money and power at their disposal. If you have an idea for something that you would like to change on campus, these groups might be able to help you, and having friends will be a great advantage.

The more people that I am on friendly terms with who have some kind of authority, the easier that I find my time in college to be. If I need an extension on a paper, a reference, or help obtaining some kind of University resource, I now have a number of people that I can go to for help. This has been one of my smartest moves so far.

5. Get a job. Even if you don’t think you need one, get a part-time job. There are an awful lot of jobs in college that will work around your schedule, require minimal hours, and not actually require you to do much of anything. Working in college gives you a more serious mentality about your life, gives you extra money to spend, and makes you feel much more self-sufficient and confident. Perhaps most importantly, almost all college jobs will hire people with no experience. It will be a lot more difficult to get a “first job” away from the university, especially if you want that “first job” to actually be a career.

I have had several jobs in college, some better than others. While the dining halls are the biggest employers, I hated working for them. The best choices, for me, have been working as a desk clerk. I worked as a night desk clerk, where I had to do virtually nothing and could watch tv or do homework all night, and I currently work as a summer desk clerk, doing essentially the same job but with more responsibility. These jobs have enabled me to pay my own rent without taking out loans. I also suggest working as a tutor. I am a tutor for the athletics department, which gets me free printing and photocopying, and is a lot of fun. Working on campus is one of the easiest ways to make friends, as well.

6. Don’t fall in love. I know, it is impossible to ask someone not to fall in love. You’re probably going to want to date in college (and I actually think that it is a good idea), and a lot of people want/expect to get married in college, or immediately after. However, falling in love can be one of the worst possible things to do in college, because you will miss class more, spend less time with your friends, and spend more money. Overall, falling in love is a terrible idea.

My sophomore year, I fell in love with my roommate’s best friend. I went out every night on late-night walks with him, and I stopped going to my 9am class. If I skipped it, I discovered, I could have breakfast with my new boyfriend before my second class. I also stopped calling several of my new friends and turned down a travel opportunity. Granted, I’m still dating the same guy more than two years later, so it was a success of sorts, but I failed my 9am class that semester. I’ve never failed a class before or since, and I retook the class a couple of semesters later, but falling in love was the culprit and I’ve never forgotten it.

7. Take care of your body. Take up some kind of exercise, even if it’s just walking quickly to class. Eat well (in fact, just make sure that you eat in your first few weeks). Get a decent amount of sleep. Take vitamins. Wash your hands. If these suggestions aren’t comprehensive enough, ask your mother.

My first month at college, I was pretty proud of myself. I didn’t skip classes. I didn’t stay up all night every night. I didn’t drink much (or really, any, for a while) alcohol. I didn’t subsist entirely on hot pockets. However, within a few weeks of starting college, I simultanteously came down with a sinus infection and a bladder infection, and learned, when I went to the health clinic, that I had lost twenty pounds (almost a fifth of my body weight, which was pretty significant) . When I looked back on my first weeks in college, I discovered that I wasn’t really eating or drinking much of anything unless someone else was. I had almost never, in the past, needed to decide when I was hungry enough to eat. Someone else always told me when it was time. In college, you suddenly take responsibility for your own health, and it’s something that you need to be aware of.

8. Use the resources of the university. Most universities have a gym, a health clinic, a career center, and sometimes even counseling services. Colleges and universities also set aside money for student organizations, as well as scholarships for invididual students. Use all of the resources available, because I assure you that you are paying for them. Every time you see the word “free”, consider whether you need that service. My school has even recently put in a free air filling station for bike tires. This is the sort of thing that your tuition and student fees are paying for, and you should be aware of such opportunities.

I’m sure that I’ll be adding to this list, because I have had a lot of suggestions for the soon-to-be freshmen that I see wandering around campus this summer. In the meantime, consider the suggestions above, along with my post 5 Ways to Save Money in College. Also, check out this blog post, with a lot of the same suggestions that I have, and some that I hadn’t even considered. The author also has a wicked sense of humor.

If you have suggestions or questions, please leave a comment. Also, if you like what you see here and would like to see more in the future, please feel free to subscribe to my RSS feed.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 21, 2008 2:46 am

    I added this post to my links for college students and parents. You have some good, practical advice.

  2. September 18, 2009 3:49 pm

    My son is in his freshman year at Beloit College, and even with their wonderful Orientation Week, it got me thinking about who would have real-life tips to help even more. The answer, of course is other college students who have been through it, like yourself. I love your advice about getting a job – to have extra money to spend and to feel more confident. Taking up some exercise is another great point, as well as taking over the responsibility for their own health. Thank you so much!

  3. Sheethal permalink
    November 9, 2009 2:39 pm

    very practical and sensibly written. Nice work!

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