It’s almost time. You’ve been to freshman orientation. You’ve contacted your new roommate on Facebook. You’ve decided who will bring the TV, who will bring the mini-fridge. You’ve begun to pack. You’ve started the round of goodbyes with high school friends. In only a few short weeks you will be entering a new chapter in your life. You’re excited. You’re a little scared. You are about to start your freshman year of college.
Make it Happen or Let it Happen
Making the most of your college experience means taking charge of it. It’s your four years. The decisions you make early on can establish the momentum for social and academic success. I’ve watched how my most capable and happiest students negotiate the important first few weeks and they do seem to have a few things in common. Here are some things to consider:
Major and Course Selections
- Choose a preliminary major. Yes, you can change your mind. More than 80 percent of students do, at least once. But you’ve got to start somewhere. Do you have many interests? Choose the major with the most rigid requirements as your starting point. It’s much easier to switch from engineering to English, for example, than the other way around. Majors that involve many science and math courses tend to require courses in sequence. Changing into a major in the sciences later than the second semester of the freshman year often means adding a semester or two.
- Make an appointment with your advisor. This person is your new best friend. He or she is there to guide you through the mysteries of required courses, prerequisites, and course selections. Most take that job very seriously and want to help. If your advisor seems uninterested or clueless, talk to the dean of your school about making a switch.
- Work with your advisor to make a preliminary game plan for the whole 4 years. What are the graduation requirements for your major? What would each year ideally look like? Balance “hard” classes with the not so hard. Make sure to build in time for extracurricular activities and summer internships.
- Do not believe what other students tell you about what is required. Do not go it alone. Talk to and believe your advisor and write it down. Requirements are different for different majors and requirements often change from graduating year to graduating year. You don’t want to get to the last semester and find out that, oops, you haven’t done the prerequisite for the last course. Keeping a written record protects you if your advisor moves on and a new advisor disagrees with your original plan.
Academics: How To Do Your Best
- Consider your course work as your full time job. Like any job, it will take at least 40 hours a week with some overtime. Get a calander and map out a daily schedule of your “job.” A good rule of thumb is two hours of study for every hour of class. (This is college, not high school. Studying means going over material, doing reading, and thinking hard about what you are learning, not just churning out homework assignments.) Do you have blank spaces between classes? Make a choice whether those slots should be study time or whether you would rather do studying at night. Whichever you choose, write it down and stick to it for at least two weeks to see if it works for you.
- Show up to class! At many colleges, teachers leave it up to you to be responsible for showing up. It’s a freeing feeling. It can also be a trap. Just because you don’t have to go doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Exams and papers will be based on what is presented in class as well as what you read.
- Buy the book and read it! Yes those books are ridiculously expensive! But they are part of your education. Read assigned material. Think about it. Write down your questions. Use class time and teacher office hours to get those questions answered.
- Be a consumer. Figure it out for yourself. What are you and your parents actually paying for each hour of class time? It can cost anywhere from $50 to $150 per class (depending on the total yearly cost for your school). It’s a lot of money. Probably you or your parents worked hard for it. When you are tempted to skip class, remind yourself that you might as well be burning up the money. Instead, work hard to get every penny’s worth. Listen to professors. Take notes. Get those questions answered. You’ve paid for it.
- Don’t kid yourself. If you find you are having trouble with a subject, get help right away. It’s almost impossible to turn a failing grade around with the final exam or a fantastic final paper. As soon as you get less than a solid B average in a class, make an appointment and ask your professor how you can do better.