What You Should Know Before Starting College
So, are you ready to dive into college? While many readers might be responding “yes!” the overwhelming truth is probably… “no.” Who ever is ready for something so new and different? This is the beginning of your adult independence. For most people, it’s the first time they live away from home, the first time they determine their own schedule, even the first time that they’ve cooked for themselves.
Experience is the best teacher, and there’s not a chance that I’ll be able to prepare you for what’s coming in a single blog post, but hopefully, as someone who’s been there, I can provide some welcome advice. So, here goes: a college crash course to help your freshman year go a little bit smoother.
Keep Your Grades Up
It will seem like a simple enough thing at first, but many freshmen soon find themselves drowning in college classes. College curriculum can be much more rigorous than you were expecting. However, the real challenge is managing your own schedule and staying disciplined without any external forces. Your mom won’t remind you to finish homework before going out; your teacher doesn’t really care whether or not you show up for your classes, and you’ll need to discipline yourself in order to get grades that really reflect your abilities.
So, my first item of advice is simply to find ways to keep your grades up. Look into scholarships that can motivate you to keep your grades high. Schedule time every day for studying (and nothing else!) And take all those reading assignments seriously. In High School, a reading assignment for homework usually feels equivalent to “no homework.” In college, it’s a different story. Get creative to stay motivated. This link has some great ideas.
Talk to a Counselor about Money if You Need Help
If you’re in charge of handling your own finances for school, you’ll quickly learn that college costs really add up. It’s not just a matter of tuition. You have to worry about books & supplies, housing, food, transportation, etc. Since you’re probably a beginner in juggling these expenses, and since it can feel pretty humiliating to raise the white flag when things get to be too much, many college students make stupid money mistakes during this time.
If you need help handling finances, utilize the many resources available to you. Every college has a counselor who can help you navigate scholarships, federal aid, student employment, loans, and all those other factors that can get really confusing, really fast. There are protections that you can put in place to keep college expenses and loans from hurting your financial prospects. Go talk to somebody, and then make sure that you have a budget set, and a schedule to stay on top of your bills. For anything that falls outside of the counselor’s jurisdiction, you can hire a financial advisor on the recommendation of the counselor, or your parents.
Speaking of utilizing school resources, remember that college will also have other resources available for you, including student health insurance and services, mental health counseling that doesn’t cost you anything, academic and career advice, etc.
Be Flexible about Housing
Freshman housing is usually a very different story from any other year of your college career. Most freshman choose to stay in dorms, since it’s a great place to meet fellow freshmen, it’s cheap, close to campus, and it takes the burden of finding your own apartment off your shoulders. It’s a great way to minimize those first-time moving stresses.
Those are the pros, but there are also plenty of cons to the dorms. Often, you’re in closer living quarters with strangers than you’d like. Sometimes, you’ll find that most of your classes are actually on the opposite side of campus, and some dorms require a sense of humor in order to deal with old construction and outdated inconveniences.
That being said, I still recommend going the dorm route for your first year. After you get your feet under you, you’ll be able to find a better place to live. You’ll have friends who you can buddy up with, more familiarity with the area, and perspective about the costs, and what you’ll be able to afford.
Say Yes to New Things
Few times of your life will give you as much opportunity to try new things as this era. (Guess what: This is where the phrase “the old college try” comes from!) You’re not going to love every new thing, but you honestly never know what’s going to click and set you on a certain course for the rest of your life. Learn to identify what is and is not good for you; what you do and do not like. But don’t be afraid to be adventurous. Try classes that you didn’t think you’d be good at. Meet people outside of your usual social circle. Embrace opportunities to travel (there are more opportunities for students to travel than any other stage of life combined!)