Most experts agree that the key to thriving in college is putting academic stuff on the very top of your priorities list. Quite a bummer, I know. Yet prioritizing studies doesn't mean all work and no play! That would only add anxiety on top of all the stress you already have with going through so many changes. How to keep a healthy balance between learning and socializing? I have a few tricks up my sleeve, and I want to share them with you to wish you a great first semester. This is the time you are going to remember, so you better make it happy!
Go to all your orientations
Orientation activities usually begin several weeks before classes start. However, some of them are held online rather than as campus tours due to COVID-19 restrictions. Regardless of the format, I strongly suggest you attend all of them. The faster you will learn your way around the campus, the better: library, canteen, financial office, labs – all of it. Orientations are a great way to acclimatize, meet new people, ask questions, and connect with your college community.
Don't forget to get out and explore the campus on your own – as well as your new city. This is your environment now. The more familiar it is, the safer you will be. Explore, make friends, find safe routes – settle in.
Make classes your priority
This might seem like a self-evident one, but many students just let it slide once they feel the first whiff of their newfound freedom. Also, I must stress that you should aim for perfect attendance. It might be an impossible goal, but at least set it as a general direction. Most of the instructors have optional attendance policies and leave it entirely at your discretion. Don't abuse this freedom, though.
First of all, attending lectures and taking notes is one of the best ways to absorb and retain information. Second, you never know when your instructor will drop a big test-related hint or other important information. Finally, showing up no matter what demonstrates diligence, dependability, and overall good work ethics, which will definitely work in your favor. By the way, class attendance is one of the best predictors of college GPA (better than SAT scores, for example). You also should keep in mind that you (or someone else) have paid a handsome sum for this. Don't waste it.
Get involved with at least one extracurricular activity
Of course, balance is key, and you need to branch out to take full advantage of the rich opportunities college offers. Explore your interests or try something entirely new and exciting – whether a drama society or debate club. Research your options and draft a plan of action before you arrive on campus. This way, you will make sure that you don't miss any sign-up dates.
Glen Geher, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York, advises freshmen to get involved in at least one extracurricular activity during their first semester. Moreover, you should also take at least one leadership position (for example, secretary for a student club) while you are in college. This will give you vital organizational skills for your future career and look good on your CV.
However, be careful not to overdo it. As excited as you are about all the opportunities, try to keep a cool head and assess how many obligations you can take up without getting overwhelmed.
Know where to get academic help
You might not be aware of it as a new coming student, but colleges usually have entire offices dedicated to helping you with a load of your college writing: brainstorming topics, structuring your essays, suggesting scholarly sources for your research, citing them properly, and so on. Find out where the writing center is, whether they assign tutors, make friends with library staff, and, of course, bookmark the best paper writing services before you start sinking under the slash of assignments.
Meet your academic adviser
For bigger strategic things, you will be assigned an academic adviser. This person is a crucial resource for you. Their job is to consult you on adding and dropping classes from your schedule, resolve course conflicts, suggest extracurricular activities, study-abroad programs, and other opportunities you could take advantage of.
If you have any concerns about your academic load – go and see your academic adviser. When deciding your major, minor, concentration, or scheduling classes for the future semester, they should be your first port of call.
Master planning and time-management tools
In high school, your schedule was made out for you. If you slacked, your parents and teachers were there to keep you on track to graduation. College is completely different. It gives you more freedom, but with it – responsibilities tenfold. Keeping on top of your assignments, extracurricular activities, and social obligations can be tough even on the most diligent of us.
It's time you started using a calendar app or planner to manage your time, keep track of your deadlines, and budget for many independent studying hours. The last part is vital. You should study and revise for exams twice as much as you think you should. Cramming before a test might give you a good grade, but it won't give you reliably retained knowledge.
Katie Parks, an admission administrator with more than a decade of experience in counseling, stresses the importance of working with the course syllabus and understanding what is expected of you from the first day of the classes.
Cultivate strong relationships with your instructors
Being respectful and mature in your communication with instructors doesn't mean you must keep the distance and feel intimidated by their authority. Yes, they have all those degrees, publications, and cabinets full of books, but they are there to help you succeed! See them as your advocates and build relationships with them.
First of all, once you have selected your classes, email your instructors or arrange a call in the summer. Second, make a rule of meeting each of your instructors at least twice a semester during their office hours. Office hours are the time professors must set aside specifically for answering students' questions. Finally, don't hesitate to ask your professor for clarifications if you don't understand anything during lectures. You will be doing yourself (and likely the entire class) a huge favor – not to mention demonstrating interest and engagement to your instructor.
Take control over your finances
Take this opportunity and start managing your own finances. Learn how to file your FAFSA application and do your taxes yourself. Get an account in a local bank, so you won't have to ask your parents to send you cash every time. Get a credit card and start building your credit history, but don't let your monthly purchases creep up over 20-30% of the card's balance.
You might consider taking a part-time job in your freshman year, but make sure it doesn't create scheduling conflicts and disrupt your studies. Ideally, it should be something related to your major. This way, you are not only supplementing your budget but also building your CV. However, a "warm-body" job that allows you to study while on duty is also a nice option. A desk clerk at the library or a gym receptionist are among the most popular choices.
Also, stay in touch with your school's financial aid office to learn if you are eligible for additional funds. This is vital in case your family's financial situation changes, and you will need more support.
Respect your body
You won't necessarily gain weight during your first year in college, but you are likely to. Those 'freshman 15' don't come out of thin air. They are the combined result of the stress of the new environment, hectic schedule, late-night studying sessions, an abundance of fast food, and lack of parental care and basic household skills (as in when and what to cook to feed yourself). Knowing about all this beforehand should help you stay on the right track and make healthier choices.
Easier said than done, I know! However, try to be more mindful and treat your body with respect. Get enough rest. Keep healthy snacks like nuts and apples on your desk when you study. Drink more water than other fluids by a large margin. Find a way to exercise that brings you joy – yoga, dances, or just brisk walks around the campus. Benefit from college amenities. Most schools have well-equipped gyms that are free or heavily discounted for students.
Cultivate connections from day one
You might feel shy during your first days on campus, like the new kid on the block, which in a way, you are. But guess what? Everyone here is. Your entire class is here for the first time, and everything is just as new and confusing to them as it is to you. Don't be afraid and reach out to other people – everyone here has something to offer you and teach you.
You are going to meet a dizzying diversity of people. Students from your town, students from big cities, students from farms, students from foreign countries, students with different religious beliefs – all kinds of backgrounds. That's the beauty of campus life, but here lies a challenge as well because all these people will seem dramatically different from you. However, people are people, and everyone is here because they deserve to be. Focus on things you have in common and meet others with an open mind. You don't have to be friends with everyone, but seek out those interesting to you. Build your small, tightly-knit community – your new family away from home. With such a support network, you will be fine no matter what!