College tips and advice for university students wanting to make the most of freshman year.
You’re finally ready to attend college. What things should you know to be successful? I lived on campus throughout college and learned a lot about navigating university life. Here are my best college tips and advice:
COLLEGE TIP: COLLEGE SUCCESS IS GUARANTEED: Think about it . . . If you take all the classes specified by the university (and get acceptable grades) you will graduate with a degree! Few things in life come with such a guarantee. Graduating college is simply a matter of knowing what classes you need to take, then laying out a plan that ensures you have them all by the date you want to graduate.
COLLEGE TIP: GOOD GRADES COME FROM GOOD TIME MANAGEMENT: Gather all of your class syllabuses during the first week of each semester. On a calendar write down all the deadline dates for papers, projects and tests. Then “back time” each project (break the project down into 2-3 mini-deadlines). For instance, if a paper is due October 30th make a note on September 30th that it should be half complete. Many freshman make the mistake of not breaking their assignments into manageable chunks. They wait to the last minute, get buried and bomb the class.
COLLEGE TIP: ADDRESS CHALLENGES EARLY: College is loaded with safety nets to help you work through problems. Tutors, counselors, health professionals and peers are all there wanting to help… if you will let them. Many students are too proud to ask for help, wanting to do everything on their own. Many times they wait until a problem has grown into a crisis before seeking assistance. Don’t do this. At the first sign of a problem (academic, social, physical, technical) reach out for help.
COLLEGE TIP: DON’T BATTLE A BAD FIRST SEMESTER: It’s common for freshman to have “a little too much fun” during their first semester. They end up with a critically low GPA. The problem with a poor first year GPA is that it’s remarkably hard to raise it during sophomore and junior years (when grades count for staying in your major). All As and Bs later do little to raise the Cs and Ds of freshman year. Conversely, a solid GPA freshman year is easy to maintain and will give you confidence throughout college.
COLLEGE TIP: SIGN UP FOR THE PROFESSOR, NOT THE CLASS: Find out who the good professors are by checking online and with other students. Take the class when it’s taught be the best professor. This will greatly increase your learning and enjoyment of college.
COLLEGE TIP: ENGAGE YOUR PROFESSORS: Sit towards the front of the class. Make sure your professor knows your name. Go to your professor’s office hours to ask questions, get advice and socialize. Do extra credit assignments. A professor who knows you is more likely be generous when grading. They may also provide some great connections for internships, special programs/events and be willing to be one of your references when looking for your first professional job.
COLLEGE TIP: COLLEGE SUCCESS IS IN DIRECT PROPORTION TO COLLEGE INVOLVEMENT: There are an overwhelming number of organizations of which to be part, but you only need one or two to make your school your home. You need an ecosystem in which to exist in college. It can be sports team, music program, academic club, fraternity/sorority, student government or religious organization. It doesn’t matter so much what organization you are part of, just so long as you are part of something. Having just a few friends is all we need. Finding those friends is a numbers game. You have to get out there and shake hundreds of hands before you find the right few. Be patient . . . it can take months before you finally find the right social group.
COLLEGE TIP: YOUR FRIENDS DETERMINE YOUR ALTITUDE: Friends either build you up or take you down. Find out where the good people are and make them your friends. Friends who study and make wise choices will encourage you to do the same. Good college friends can be a blessing for a lifetime.
COLLEGE TIP: TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE EXPERIENCES: The university campus is a smörgåsbord of diverse experiences. There will never be a season in life where you can try new things like you can in college. Read your university news and check bulletin boards for upcoming events. Take in plays at the drama department and concerts in the music department. Go to a political rally. Hear a famous speaker. Participate in a sports tournament. Check out exhibitions in the art depart. Take a class in something outside of your major, just for curiosity’s sake. Personally, I discovered that I like jazz in college . . . and I’ve enjoyed it ever since.
COLLEGE TIP: LIVE ON CAMPUS: If you are able, live in the dorms during your first couple years. There will never be a time when you can live so many people your age and in your situation. Many life-long friendships are made in university residence halls.
COLLEGE TIP: ATTEND LIVE LECTURES FOR ONLINE CLASSES: Some online classes have recorded lectures. Email the professor and find out when they are recorded, then attend the live lecture. The professor will notice and you’ll better understand the material.
COLLEGE TIP: MASTER YOUR PHONE, DON’T LET YOUR PHONE MASTER YOU: If phones distract from driving, they also distract from studying. Multitasking is a myth when it comes to studying. Get in a quiet place and have a singular focus. Turn off your phone and you will find your studying gets done much faster and more effectively.
COLLEGE TIP: POLITICAL CORRECTNESS IS A FACTOR IN COLLEGE LIFE: Many universities were founded on the premise that ideas should compete. University students were presented with a variety of viewpoints and challenged to think critically about them. The best ideas would rise to the top. This is why college professors received tenure . . . to protect them when they spoke a wide variety of ideas in an arena of competitive thought. However, a recent study shows that the majority of university students feel that they cannot explore their views if they are outside a politically correct norm.
Generally speaking, colleges take a more liberal and more politically correct stance than does the rest of the world. Expect this and don’t let it bother you. Continue to listen to all intelligent sides, think critically and evaluate ideas on their individual merit. You will find a more balanced and reasonable world after you graduate.
COLLEGE TIP: UNIVERSITIES THROW THEIR STUDENTS UNDER THE BUS: To most, a university simply looks like a school with teachers and students. In reality it is a complex machine competing for prestige and funding. It can prioritize research over teaching. It can be a battlefield for politically-minded administrators and ambitious faculty. Universities can have obscene levels of income and endowment. Athletics can compromise the school’s integrity. Monopolies in on-campus services can keep prices unfairly high.
In this dynamic environment many times it’s the students who come out on the short end. Are book prices fair? Should parking really cost that much? Why are so many assistants teaching classes of 500? Regrettably, getting thrown under the bus is common during the college experience. Be patient with the nonsense. It’s part of the cost of getting your degree . . . and a microcosm of the real world life that awaits after graduation.
COLLEGE TIP: WORK THE SYSTEM: Attending college means you have to crash classes, negotiate with professors, balance finances, make deadlines and deal with bureaucracy. While it’s a pain, these are valuable skills to learn. You are navigating the world. Part of your college degree says to employers, “This person knows how to make things happen despite adversity.”
COLLEGE TIP: MAKE A PRIORITY OF KEEPING YOUR FAITH: About 80% of students quit going to church between high school and college. Don’t let this season of life rob you of something valuable. When you first arrive at college, make a priority of finding a church with a good campus program. There are usually one or two churches in the area that specialize in reaching students at your school. You can also connect with groups like Cru, Intervarsity, Young Life College and Navigators. Seek out a Christian roommate. Additionally, expect there to be hostility towards religion. Some university professors/administrators are famous for their contempt of faith and for challenging their students’ beliefs. Don’t be intimidated or drawn into an argument. Simply live out your beliefs and gather people around you who share them.
Note that shady churches and cults know to prey on college freshman. Don’t just assume that just because someone is friendly and says they are a Christian means that they are safe. Check out the reputation and theology of any religious organization before joining.
COLLEGE TIP: CREDIT CARDS CAN BE A TRAP: Credit card companies actively market to college students. You will see their booths with giveaways and brochures offering easy acceptance. Credit companies know first time customers generally don’t read the fine print, check terms and ask tough questions. They know that students will keep their cards for years into the future… potentially giving the companies favorable terms for decades. Be extremely critical of credit cards offered on campus.
It’s better to get recommendations from family and friends . . . then to comparison shop terms on the Internet. College is a time when many people get themselves in financial trouble ($15,762 is the average debt for a household carrying a credit card balance). Approach credit card use with extreme caution. Do not have a credit card unless you can consistently pay it off in full each month. How to avoid college credit card mistakes.
COLLEGE TIP: CALL YOUR PARENTS WHILE WALKING TO CLASS: This is an efficient time to make contact. Call your folks a couple of times a week. You are going through an adjustment by starting college, but so are they (their nest is empty). These calls are a great time to start relating to your parents as an adult. It sets the stage for your relationship in the years ahead.
COLLEGE TIP: WILL SOMEONE MARRY YOUR STUDENT LOAN? Nothing compares to the good feeling of getting into your first choice university. Before you commit, have you considered the total cost of attending . . . particularly if it involves student loans? Loans seem like an easy solution to expensive tuition. However, student debt is now the number one form of indebtedness (well over $1 billion is owed by Americans, with 7 million of them in default). You pay tuition (loan principle) plus annual interest expense over many years (thus multiplying the original tuition cost).
Excessive student loans mean you are more likely to move back in with your parents after college and that you will be forced to take a first job for income (rather than one a lower-paying one for professional experience) thus limiting future professional potential. Getting married, purchasing a home and starting a family may be put off for several critical years. Student debt is the only kind of debt that can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Your loans could be carried into a marriage.
Have you considered less costly schools or doing two years at community college before transferring to the big name school? Can you work for tuition dollars rather than borrowing them? What college programs is the military offering? While these options may be less attractive on the front end, graduating with little or no student debt is very attractive on back end.
COLLEGE TIP: HOW TO SURVIVE COLLEGE PARTIES: In high school, there can be a lot of peer pressure whether or not to drink. Everyone pays attention to your choice and it can be a big deal socially. In college it’s different . . . it’s more adult. Most people don’t really care whether you drink. You don’t have to drink to fit in at most college parties. Here’s how to do it:
> Show up early. Everyone will see that you are there. Plan to stay an hour or two.
> Get a cup in your hand. Fill it with water, soda, energy drink or coffee. Socialize. People will notice that you have a cup in your hand, you’re talking with everyone and that you aren’t hung up on what’s in their hand. If asked about what you’re drinking, simply say something like, “I’m just doing soda tonight.” No one will care.
> Leave the party midway . . . before the drunk stuff gets out of hand. If asked why you are leaving, simply say you have to be at work in the morning (or that you are working on a project, or have to be up early, etc.) People will be glad you came and they won’t care that you left early.
Many students are exposed to alcohol for the first time during college. Some know nothing about alcoholic drinks, which can be a personal safety problem. While I don’t suggest you drink in college, here are some tips that will help if you do:
>Always attend a party with a friend. You travel to- and from- the party with that person. Keep an eye on each other and do not allow the other to leave the party with someone else or do stuff you’ll regret.
> Eat before and during the party. Food evens out alcohol absorption.
> Always open a sealed drink yourself. Don’t allow others to get you any kind of drink (even water or a soda). This way you know that nothing has been added to your drink.
> Never drink the punch (there’s a reasonable chance someone has added too much alcohol to it.)
> Understand the differences in alcohol and how it is served. One drink is considered to be 1 ounce of hard liquor (a shot of vodka, rum, tequila, etc.), 4 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer. Obviously it’s easier to control your night if you choose beer instead of shots.
> Alcohol dehydrates. Consume one glass of water between every drink you have.
> Generally speaking, one drink every two hours will keep most people below the drunk driving limit. This varies by state laws, body weight and the true alcohol content of the drinks consumed.
>Don’t leave the main party area. Going upstairs or out back means just what you think it means.
> Judgment/common sense decreases with each drink. Others know this and may try to take advantage of you if you’ve had several drinks. Upperclassmen consider drunk freshman easy prey.
> Commit to never driving if you have had any alcohol. Get home by campus transit, Uber, walking, public transit or with a designated driver. Use the university’s walking campus escort program. This is a great way to guard against regret.
> Alcohol intensifies the effect of medicine. Don’t take any medications (even over-the-counter) if you have been drinking.
> Some people have more addictive personalities than others. If alcoholism or other addictions run in your family, don’t awaken them in yourself during college.
COLLEGE TIP: DATE RAPE IS MORE PREVALENT THAN MOST THINK: Not to be too much of a downer here, but you are going into the real world. As mentioned above, upperclassman see freshman as naive and as easy prey. You may not hear too much about date rape because it’s under-reported, but it does happen. Students get assaulted when they either drink too much or are unknowingly slipped date rape drugs. While fear of drug-facilitated sexual assault shouldn’t keep you from going out, you owe it to yourself to be educated. Click here for specific information. Click here for one person’s first-hand account.
COLLEGE TIP: BE GRATEFUL: While college is a lot of work, it is a very special season of life. It’s a time when you are investing only in yourself. It is a four year deferment from full adult responsibilities. Colleges provide adult experiences with a safety net. Not everyone gets to experience college life. Be grateful that you can.
John Maxwell likes to say, “Make good decisions early and maintain them.” Think through the things above before you get to school. Make good decisions in advance about your college experience, then simply live up to them each day.
I am so glad that you value education and are going to college. I hope that it will be a positive and life changing experience for you.
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