Monday, August 22, 2011

11 tips for a fearless freshman year

The first semester of freshman year can set the road map for the rest of your college career. Within the first few weeks you will learn the quickest route to the dining hall, decide that maybe you're not an engineer after all, and start making lifelong friends.

It's hard to prepare for what that first semester holds, so here are some tips that every freshman should know to kick-off college right and instantly get you into good habits.

1. Embrace the college transition. There is no doubt your life is going to change once you enter college. You'll be thrown into a new environment, encountering new experiences around every corner. Some of these changes will be challenging, such as being away from home, sharing your room with a stranger, and using communal bathrooms. Go with it. The more open you are to new things, the more you will gain from the whole college experience. Make goals for yourself, such as meeting one new person every day or eating dinner in a different part of the dining hall every night. Embrace the new.

2. Learn how to manage your time. One of the biggest differences between high school and college is the amount of free time you'll have. Instead of spending 35 hours a week in school, you might only spend 15 hours in class -- without a curfew. It might seem like you have a ton of free time, but this is where many freshman falter. Learn to structure your out-of-class hours to optimize your study and leisure time. By creating and sticking to your own schedule, you won't fall victim to the constant wave of distractions that are often part of college life.

3. Hit the college club scene wisely. The college club and activity scene is bustling with possibilities, but how do you know which club is right for you? I always recommend checking out the yearly activities fair. It sounds cheesy, but this is the best way to see all of the available options. Although I think it's important to get involved with school activities, there is such a thing as being too involved. As a freshman it's hard enough managing classes and homework, but once you start piling 15 clubs on top of it, it ends up being too much, even for the best time managers. Determine how much time you have to commit to each club and then choose the few that you are most interested in. It's always better to be fully involved in one or two clubs than to half-heartedly join 20 clubs just for résumé fodder.

4. Keep up your GPA. With all the hustle and bustle that comes in the first month of school, it's important to not let your grades take a back seat. You might be taking a lot of introductory-level classes, but that doesn't mean they're not important. Doing well in these classes will help your GPA, which you'll thank yourself for later when you take quantum mechanics. Remember, it's easier to maintain a 3.0 than it is to climb out of the hole of a 2.0. Go to class and hit the books hard to set yourself up for success.

5. Go to class. I can't stress how important it is to go to class. Going to class not only helps reinforce the information in the textbook, but gives you a chance to get to know your fellow classmates and your professors. You'll be able to ask questions and set yourself up for success when it comes time to ask professors for help landing an internship or even a job after graduation. As an added bonus, some professors give credit just for being there. These are the easiest points you'll ever receive in college and all you have to do is get out of bed.

6. Call home. College might give you a sense of new-found independence, but to your parents and family, you will always be the kid who needed help tying your shoes. Throw them a bone and give them a call every so often to let them know you're OK. They'll appreciate the updates and you'll score points for being their thoughtful child. Remember, college is new for them too, so ease their worries with a chat to catch up.

7. Budget your money. When you first get to campus, you'll likely burn through your summer earnings pretty quickly. There are the necessary expenses, such as books and supplies, but the social expenses also start to rack up. Can you say 3 a.m. pizza deliveries? You have to learn to budget your money so that it'll make it all the way to May. If cash really gets tight, there is the option of an on- or off-campus job. This is a great way to earn some extra dough and also build your résumé.

8. Build a support system. I have seen many confident freshmen enter college and end up finding the transition more difficult than they expected. Within the first few weeks they start missing home and find themselves having trouble adjusting to their new life. This is not uncommon. Many students struggle with their transition into college life and I'm here to tell you that it's OK! It's normal to feel this way. The best way to handle this is by creating a support system at school. Look to see if your school offers counseling or mentoring services where you can go to discuss your concerns and get advice. These services are the key to making a difficult transition smoother.

9. Leave your car at home. No cars for freshman might seem like a silly rule, but there is logic behind it. A freshman with a car is mobile, meaning you'll spend less time getting adjusted to your new campus and more time going home or visiting friends at other schools. A car becomes an unnecessary distraction and additional cost. It's a crutch that can tie you to another life. Leave the cars to the upperclassmen and look at your walks to class as a way to fight the freshman 15.

10. Co-exist with your roommate. One of the biggest worries about entering college is the roommate situation. Most of the time roommates don't have many problems, but wrong matches inevitably happen. If you find yourself at odds with your roommate, don't panic. There are ways to cope. First, you have to remember that you just need to co-exist. You don't need to be best friends, but you should talk to each other about any issues and then agree to take a neutral stance with one another to release any tension. If that doesn't work, try talking to your resident assistant or even your resident director. These people are trained to act as mediators and come up with solutions to make living together easier. Finally, if all else fails, you can request a room switch. So if you're stuck in a boxing match over whose turn it is to vacuum, just know there is an escape plan.

11. Don't commit to a major. Well, at least not right away. In my experience, between 40 and 50 percent of all college freshman have no idea what they want to study when they start college, and most change their mind a couple of times before finally deciding on one. So if you're going into school undecided, don't sweat it. Take a variety of classes to figure out what you're interested in. Most schools have requisite courses for graduation, so freshman year is a good time to take them and experiment in different academic areas.

My final words of wisdom are that you're not alone. Many freshmen have come before you and more will come after you. Your classmates feel the same anxiety and fear that you do. This is the great thing about college -- everyone's in the same boat. All you have to do is reach out to your classmates, open yourself to new experiences, and prepare for a great four years.