It's officially that time again...back to school! A year ago I was getting ready to go off to college and I really didn't know what to expect, I remember being so filled with emotions. I was very excited but I was also nervous, just like all things in our future we never truly know what to expect. But having been there and having finished my first year in college I wanted to share what I learned to help incoming freshmen prepare for this amazing new journey that they are about to embark on.
The first thing to know is that College is completely different from high-school
As an incoming freshman the only thing you can do is to approach college the way that you know from high school. But the truth is that college is very different from the structure of high-school, some of these changes are easy to adapt to and other take time. There's a lot to talk about...First let me touch on the classes and academics.
I remember doing school shopping for college and being unsure what to buy, you don't get a school list like you used to! I wasn't sure how classes would be structured so I just based everything on what I knew from high school and thats how I approached my classes in the beginning.
Here's what you need for your college classes:
Pens + Pencils
Textbook (sometimes- don't let them waste all your money college is expensive but I'll touch on that later).
Lab/Course dependent materials (calculators, lab coats, etc)
Here's why: Most of your classes will be lectures and some also include discussion sections. Lectures are usually in a big lecture hall and depending on the size of your university include a few hundred students. This larger size makes the learning experience pretty different from high school. Depending on the teacher there may be some interactions, at my university we use clickers which give you participation points. During lectures the professor will most likely be using Powerpoint or their chalkboard and it's up to you to take your notes and digest the material.
A big difference between high school and college is that there are basically no handouts. You get a syllabus the first week- and even then sometimes the professor only puts it online and it's your responsibility to find it and read it. There are no packets or handout of notes (except for some discussion sections) , which is why I found the folders or binders weren't that necessary. You're going to use your laptop A LOT which is again very different from high school where technology wasn't really allowed in classrooms. I would say that basically everything except for exams are done online.
Just because things are different doesn't mean that it's worse, I actually prefer learning in college way more than high school but it may be something you just need to get used to at first. One tip that I would give and I actually learned this in my psychology class is:
Do NOT take notes with your laptop
You'll be tempted to do this because frankly your whole school life will be on your laptop, and about 50% or more of your classmates are doing it, but please fight the urge. First, it is very easy to get distracted, not only by social media sites that are just a click away on your screen but also by other school work. It's also psychology proven that students retain more information when using pen and paper. Your best bet is to leave your laptop in your bag during lectures.
Another thing that you have to get used to is the large class sizes, it can be very easy to feel distant from your teachers when before they used to know your name and talk to you. Although it might seem this way at first it is NOT impossible to have a relationship with your professor. Here are some tips to make the most of your learning experience in large lectures:
Sit in the front! - As close you can get to the front is the best, it is so much easier not to get distracted from students around you and actually makes the room feel smaller.
Ask questions!- It can be really really intimidating to ask a question in front of 200-300 people, I mean none of us want to look stupid in front of that many people. But I promise, everyone is there to learn and the professor are there to help. During my first semester I was a little shy but by second semester there wasn't a lecture that went by when I didn't ask a question or answer questions!
Go to office hours!- you're going to hear this a lot but I can't stress it enough! Office hours are the perfect time to clarify things with your professor, get to know them, and ask questions. It really pays off to create a relationship with them.
Go to discussion! -They make discussions for these large lectures for a reason so take advantage of them! Ask the TA your questions or work through problems with them.
Make study groups! - I don't think I would have done as well as I did without my study groups last semester, if anything they just keep you sane through all the hard work because you have people to struggle with lol. But really, you can learn so much from your peers so don't wait until finals week to make some groups.
College is expeeeensive
You'll quickly learn that everything in college cost something! I am blessed to be on a full academic scholarship and I STILL feel the struggle of the college life. You're going to really have to manage your money more than you ever did in high school.
So textbooks, in some cases you just need to get them and they can easily run you $100-$200 EACH. I found that for all my classes I ended up using the textbook as a study resource so I'm not gonna say not to buy them but I would say to look at your options.
When I first started college I couldn't imagine myself without a physical copy of the books but as time went on I found myself using online versions all the time! The truth is that I didn't want to walk around with my heavy books and sometimes I would be studying for three exams at the same time, thats three textbooks! It's much more convenient to have them on your laptop.
You can also rent your textbook or buy them used or from former students which are all great options to save money.
There is so much to do on a college campus! Places to eat at, events to go to, it's all so great but just know that those little cost can add up quickly. I just suggest having a budget for yourself and sticking to it. I definitely had to learn my lesson...let's just say that I probably spent 1/4 of the money that I did during my first semester in my second semester...
Time Management is EVERYTHING
I think that the hardest part about college is just the fact that you have so much to do at once, once the semester starts there is never a moment where there's not something for you to do. In high school, the coursework was more spread out, we took 8 classes in the span of one school year. In college you learn all that material in one semester! Time management becomes more important than ever.
Schedule your classes wisely
Your schedule is in your hands! You have flexibility, choice, and independence which is so great but with it of course comes responsibility. You have to know yourself and know what will make you successful. Yes having no classes on a Friday might sound great...but can you handle instead having 4 classes back to back on Thursday? No classes before 11am could work for someone who isn't a morning person but that might mean that you'll miss your favorite organization's meetings at 5pm because you're still in class. There are pros and cons to everything and it might take you some trial and error to know what schedule works best for YOU.
Here's what works for me:
I am a morning person so I like starting off my classes in the AM. I also like to be able to go to office hours which is why I leave chunks of time throughout my days. I CAN NOT do late nights, I am simply not a "stay up to 3 am to study" type student, God bless y'all that do. My cut off time is around 10 or 11 pm so I make sure to have time in the evening to study! I also am not a big breakfast eater and so I make sure to have a good amount of time for me to eat lunch. So these are all the things I think about while making my schedule, it really has to be what work's best for you.
I was asked how do you manage having a social life while being so busy in college.
The answer is more time management! Having a social life is very important, so is having time to just relax but unfortunately this can be very stressful with the constant demands from your classes but if you plan out your time correctly it is more than do-able.
I advice planing out your time to study and complete assignments and for those blocks of time stay focused on those thought out goals. When that block of time is done, go on Netflix, meet up with friends, scroll through IG, whatever you need to do to relax until your next block of time comes. By doing this I was able to see how much time I had for socialization. For example if CSA was throwing an event Saturday then Friday I would schedule in more study times to make up for a free day Saturday.
Self-care and your mental health is extremely important! Create a healthy balance between what you need to be happy and healthy and what you need to be successful in your courses.
Living with other people is not always easy
A big part of the college experience is being in the dorm rooms which can be fun but also challenging at times. Maybe you've never shared a room before or you've never met your roommate before or your roommate is your best friend and everything is great until suddenly it's not....whatever the situation is there are going to be some bumps in the road when staying in a dorm room.
Having a good relationship with your roommate can greatly improve your college experience so don't take that relationship lightly. Have honest conversations about your expectations at the beginning of the semester. Be sure to be accommodating to their needs too, you can't take without giving! Try to give each other privacy from time to time, sometimes everyone wants a little alone time.
Personally I had a great relationship with my roommate, instead my struggles came with other people on my dorm who would leave messes in the bathroom and lounge. Please don't be that person who leaves a mess in the microwave and doesn't clean it! Lol, just remember that you'll now be sharing your home with many other students and there will be frustrations that come with that but try to make the best of it...it's college!
College might not be what you expect
We all have dreams and ideas of what our future holds, sometimes we think we have it all planned out but life will always throw you curve balls. Your college experience might start off and might just not be what you thought it would be like. You might change your major (I did) or even change your whole career plan. And that's ok! I would say to go in with a very open mind and to know that college is what you make of it! We can all give as much advice as we can based on our experiences but the truth is that everyone's college experience is going to be different.
That being said my last bit of advice would be not to conform during your time on campus. Be yourself and make college what you want it to be! These next four years belong to you.
Some last minute advice
Don't lose focus on your goals- remember that you're there for a reason
Look up your professors and ask upperclassmen their opinions
Don't procrastinate! It'll make everything much harder
Joins clubs and orgs - you'll make lots of friends these ways
Don't forget to call home every now and then :)
Keep in touch with your high school friends!
Listen to your advisor but don't let them make all your decisions- get some second opinions too
Don't do things cause it seems that everyone else is- be your own person
It's ok to sit alone at the diner or library, it's not like high school anymore and sometimes your schedule won't align with your friends, to be honest you'll be happy to have the alone time to
Be safe! Have fun but make wise choices especially if you choose to go out
I've blogged throughout my whole first year of college so if you wanna know more here are some more posts that can be helpful:
I hope this post was helpful! If you have any questions please feel free to ask, especially if you attend UMD.