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How To Maximize Your College Experience

Updated on August 27, 2013
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College is expensive in America, and even if you manage to rack up a lot of scholarships and other financial aid, it is still an approximately four year investment. More than that, it is one of the biggest points of your life, a transition between school and pursuing a career. Not to mention, college is one of the times in your life where you will probably make your best memories and even best friends.

But college, like anything in life, is what you make of it. It is an opportunity, but long gone are the days of everything being spoon-fed to you. If you ask an alumni what they wished they had done (or not done) during their time at university, they will probably admit a regret or two. What can you do to make the most out of your college experience? Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your time and money!

1. Live in the dorms at least during freshman year. If your college has dormitories on campus and you can afford the steep price, do it. This is one of the best ways to integrate into the social life of your school, make friends, and stay involved. In fact, don't stop at freshman year - many colleges can accommodate upperclassmen with apartment style buildings, and if nothing else, see if you can't find a place near school. The other benefit, of course, is being able to get to and from class quickly. There's nothing like rolling out of bed, getting dressed and walking two minutes to get to your 8 AM class!

2. Don't rely on high school friends - try to meet new people! Going to college and being surrounded by strangers is scary, so it's understandable that you want to rely on the people you already know, such as high school classmates. But if you don't push yourself to meet new people, you might end up missing out on making friendships. Not that you should put your old friends to the side, but get out there! Add people on Facebook! Each friendship is another resource in real life social networking.

3. Join clubs. Now, meeting new friends can be tough. You might be able to make friends with the people who sit by you in class, or the people who live in your dorm, but the best way to meet people is going to a group that has similar interests or hobbies as you do. Like sports? Music? Video games? Movies? Or maybe you're passionate about politics or social issues? Is there a religious group? Most colleges have a wide variety of clubs. Don't overload yourself, but attend as many as possibly interest you when the school year starts. The longer you wait, the more likely it is that other people solidify their social circles.

4. Don't skip class.
As preachy as it sounds, in general, there isn't much better advice. Yes, you probably will skip class sometimes. I imagine the percentage of students that actually do attend each class is very low. But think of it this way: you're a customer. Unless your university is free, you are paying for this, and you probably will continue to pay for it for another ten years at least with the amount of debt you'll likely rack up in student loans. One missed class could be the equivalent of trashing a hundred-dollar-bill or more. Then there's the obvious: you aren't going to understand the material as well if you don't go to class, and you'll probably not "study extra" to make up for it.

5. Do the work. Similar to "Don't skip class." You might be a really smart kid, and you breezed through high school just by cramming for tests the night before and blowing off assignments, and still pulling off an A average because your teacher granted you a plea-bargain at the end of the semester. But in college, your teacher probably

6. It's okay to be undeclared for awhile, but actively and aggressively consider your options from the start. Among young high school graduates, it's more surprising to find a student who already knows exactly what she or he would like to do than a student who doesn't. It's absolutely okay to go to college undeclared! But here's the catch. College is, as I said, expensive and time-consuming. You don't want to stall your decision too long. Start undeclared by taking your generals, or core classes - Math, Science, History, English and whatever else is required for graduation. Reach out in those classes, and start thinking about what areas excite you the most. Take electives to further consider those areas. Then, you'll want to research possible careers available in that field and push from there. It's a tough decision, and probably most college students switch majors at least once or twice, but just because you don't know what you want to do doesn't mean you should be lazy about figuring it out.

7. Make use of your college's counselors and career centers. Lots of colleges have resources to help students make career plans, and plan out what they need to do to reach their goals. In fact, it's in a college's best interest to help you, as they often advertise post-graduation employment rates to prospective students. Some colleges even contact alumni who are doing what you want to do, who can potentially give you advice. Also, make use of your counselors! Go to them for advice on how to plan your courses to finish in four years.

8. Ask questions when you don't understand. If you're really having trouble, get a tutor! It's easy to get overwhelmed by a difficult class, and meekly settle for a low grade. But remember, college isn't supposed to be easy. Always ask questions, be it in class or after. Get things that you don't understand explained to you. Professors are paid to teach you and help you understand, after all, so don't think that you're overstepping boundaries or being intrusive. If the topic is really challenging, sign up for a tutor - your college probably organizes that sort of thing, and there's no shame in it at all. It's much better to get a tutor than get an F!

9. Study abroad.
In college, you're young and free. If you have even the slightest interest in seeing the world - and I hope you do - now is the time to do it. It's easy to say you want to go somewhere someday, but the longer you wait, the harder it becomes. I firmly believe that traveling abroad, and if you can, living abroad, is one of the best things you can do in college. You can see a world beyond the one you live in, and experience a new way of life.

10. Buddy up to those professors.
Having a good relationship with your professor is extremely worthwhile. Not only will it help you integrate in the class more and make you more comfortable with asking questions, professors could help you down the line with career choices, academic advice, and of course writing those valuable reference letters! Of course, this is easier to do at a small liberal arts college in a class of twenty than in a lecture hall of two hundred, but try to make a point to introduce yourself at least and stand out. If the professor is hosting any events, attend! If he or she invites you to coffee, do it!

11. Be conscious of your finances. If you can, work a job on or off campus, but don't let it get in the way of your academics. If you're like most college students, money will always be an issue, so think of ways you can get the most for your buck. One huge money-saving tip is buy textbooks used online. Textbooks are absurdly expensive, but it's possible to get a two hundred dollars textbook online for just a few dollars if you scour Amazon, Ebay, and other textbook stores. Your campus probably won't sell used books for as cheap as you can get them through the Internet. Of course, if you get a previous edition of a textbook, check with your professor to make sure it's okay. Other tips are walk or bike to save on gas, plan your groceries or eat at the cafeteria if you already have a meal plan instead of going out, and try not to buy extra things that you don't need.

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12. Look for internships and other opportunities to pad your resume. Internships are a great thing to put on your resume and help you get experience as well as a good reference for when you go job-hunting. If you're lucky, you might find a paid internship, but it's more likely it'll be unpaid - that sucks, but stick with it for awhile. Volunteering is also a great thing to include on your resume, especially if it's at a place that is relevant to your career - for example, volunteering at a hospital if you are pre-med. Clubs can also serve to give you that edge in the job hunt if you can say you had leadership positions, planned events, organized people or something else. Joining a student council type club definitely won't hurt.

13. Keep an open mind. For many young students, college can be a culture shock. With the sheer amount of young people in one place, you are bound to meet people of all races, religions, sexual orientations and social and political viewpoints. Your classes will - or should - push you to challenge the things you thought you knew and constantly raise questions, and examine new methods to find solutions. Here's the thing: you're not going to get much out of it if you close yourself off and stay stubborn. You're not going to agree with everyone you meet, or everything you see, but the very essence of academics is learning to understand the things we don't know. Question yourself, appreciate the differences and cherish the things you have in common.

14. Take your academics seriously. Shoot for those As. Do your assignments. Study, study, study. It is common sense, but the fun, convenience and "first time an adult" atmosphere for college can make it difficult to do the thing that you're at college to do. Try your best not to develop bad habits. If you pace yourself with studying and getting large assignments done, not only will college be much less stressful, but you will probably do better and remember more, too.

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    • Molly Layton profile image

      Molly Layton 

      3 years ago from Alberta

      This is a great article. I can use everything I've read here. Thanks for writing this!

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