Saturday, August 24, 2013

My Off To College Advice

It's the second half of August which means some people will be heading off to college for the first time or heading back there. There's plenty of advice to be given for those entering into their first year; I'm sure most of what I can offer on the matter will be similar to what other people have to say. After graduating last spring I can say I had little regret for my time in college, but there were a few things I wish I had done differently.

1. If you decide to stay at home and go to a community college for the first few years, don't be ashamed of that decision. I did my first two years at Northwestern Michigan College, living in my parents house, taking a light load of classes, and getting my first job. I was debt free for those first few years and it gave me time to really figure out what I wanted to do next. Yes, it sucked having to be home when all my friends were away and having independent adventures, but I met one of my best friends during that first year here. I also think I was better prepared to live away from home when I was 20 rather than 18. I'm not saying it's a smarter choice to wait and transfer to a university after a few years, but that's just what worked out better for me and it's certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

2. Get to know your professors. Seriously, this is the one thing I completely regret not doing. I only went to office hours a few times over the years and hardly ever asked questions or spoke up in class. If you're shy like me, you don't have to make yourself known in front of the entire class, go up to the professor afterwards and introduce yourself. They will really appreciate your enthusiasm and when you do have a problem it will be easier to approach them. Plus in the long run you might be able to use them as a reference for grad school or internships.

3. a) It doesn't hurt to think ahead. I'm not saying you need a five year plan. It can be really hard and overwhelming trying to make decisions at this point in your life that will affect so much of your future. Often we get stuck just trying to pass one semester without thinking of the next one. If you can, talk to an advisor and set up what classes to take and when over the next few years. Don't just follow up with your advisor when you're forced to. I got stuck needing five credits my last semester because I didn't ask the right questions. I could have taken more classes during the summer and graduated a little earlier had I been more aware. 

3. b) Just remember, you have options. I know plenty of people who switched their majors multiple times while in school, and some people that are going back to school for something different now. It may seem like once you pick a path you're stuck on it, but you can always find your way to a different destination.

4. Make friends. Make friends with people in your dorm, make friends with people in your classes, make friends with your friends' friends. Hopefully you'll stay close with a few friends from high school, but don't expect to stay tight with everyone you already know, especially if they're going off to a different school. Making friends isn't only important for social reasons but academic as well. Get to know at least one person in each of your classes. A few of my professors forced us on the first day to exchange contact information with at least one other person in class, this way if you ever missed a lecture you had someone to ask for notes. One thing that I always failed to do was follow up with that person before desperately asking for their notes. You know how hard it is to remember exactly who you exchanged information with after only interacting with them for a few minutes the first day. Seriously I awkwardly walked down a row of chairs one day sort of nervously staring at people wondering who I had emailed because I couldn't remember what they looked like... it was embarrassing.

5. Try to get along with your roommate. I was lucky enough to get a single person dorm room my first year at Western. I lived in the transfer dorm (which was a great way to make friends), and everyone there had their own room for the same cost as a double. My second and third year I lived in a four person apartment with three other girls. The apartment complex paired me up with people, so I didn't know any of the girls ahead of time. The first year and a half I was living there, I became friends with two of my roommates. We hung out, had study parties, and went out together. There was plenty of drama and awkward moments, but we managed. When new girls moved in I tried to be friends with them, but gave up and spent most of my time in my room or at my friends' apartments. You don't need to be friends with your roommates, but it helps if you can be friendly. If you have a problem with their dishes or the amount of noise they make in the morning it's best to confront them. If you don't like confrontation your best option is to let your negative feelings about the person and their habits go. There's no point in being angry with someone if you aren't going to say anything about it.

6. Go to class, when necessary. I wasn't always great at attending classes. I went most of the time, but if I woke up late, or too late for the bus, I just wouldn't go (granted this never happen on exam/major test days). Unfortunately, certain professors will have attendance policies, make sure you know them well (see bonus advice below!) The more classes you skip the harder it will be to return to class, and the deeper you'll be digging yourself into a hole. Go to the classes when your grade depends on it; this includes times when you'll be taught information that is important for you passing the class (which really is most of the time.)

7. Go to the Student Rec Center. Western has a really nice Student Recreation Center that was free for students. Even after I moved off campus and had a gym at my apartment complex, I still occasionally went to the Rec Center to workout. Working out not only helps you ward off the dreaded Freshman fifteen, but it can also give you a much needed energy boost and help you stay focused and stress free. Studies also show that people who exercise regularly fall asleep faster, which can come in handy. Despite the annoying meat heads and girls who show up wearing a full face of makeup, the Rec Center can also be a great place to stay motivated to workout. Maybe I'm weird but I liked the atmosphere of the gym, plus there was always hot guys around.

Also don't be embarrassed to go, if you actually make time to go to the gym you're already a winner. Just avoid doing the above when you're busy trying to impress someone.

8. Buy used books, or rent your books. Self explanatory. It will save you money and you don't need a fancy new textbook anyways. You'll be spending enough on college, save where you can.

9. Have fun, but not too much fun. Remember that you're paying to go to college, and if you yourself are not paying, someone out there is. Do not waste your time and resources taking classes if you aren't going to commit yourself to learning. College isn't for everyone. If you'd rather spend every night partying, don't pay $400 a credit for a class you've committed to failing. Search for that balance between having fun and getting your work done.
10. Say yes to things. Really this is the greatest life advice I could give anyone. I know from experience that I've never regretted a night of going out, a football game, or even just meeting a friend for a study party. As much as I like to be alone, the best memories I have from college are times I spent out with friends. If you're feeling apprehensive about doing something always ask yourself, "will I regret not doing this?" Then even if the answer is maybe/maybe not, get your butt up and go anyway. Even bad memories turn into stories you can laugh at later on in life. Just say yes.

*Bonus advice: READ THE SYLLABUS! I know they're the most boring pieces of paper you'll ever be continually forced to read through during every first day of class, but they are also super important. Most of them will contain information you already know, but things like the attendance policy, exam rules, and extra credit information can vary. I got myself into major trouble in one of my art classes at Western because I would often leave early. I'd leave when I was frustrated, or when I felt like I had nothing more to work on for the day (and I was not the only person who left early). My professor handed me a slip two weeks before class was over saying my grade was being greatly affected by my absences. At first I was mad he waited so long to bring it up, then I realized it was right in the syllabus all along; it was completely my fault. I waited until I was calmed down enough that I wouldn't start crying in front of him (seriously, don't do that, it's not very professional) and then I explained that I had been unaware of the policy, apologized for my behavior, and asked if there was anything I could do to make up my grade. Luckily he told me he had only marked my most recent absences and that I wasn't in any danger of failing. After that incident, I always double checked the syllabus and never left another art class early.

**I am not, and will never claim to be, an expert on anything in life. This post and all other ones on here are of my own opinion and based off personal experience. Hope you enjoy!


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