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How to Thrive in College

Updated on October 1, 2016

Be Your Own Advocate

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1. Understanding the System

A very important thing for any student, Freshman to Senior, Undergrad to Doctoral Candidate, to understand is that academic advisers are both your friend and foe although not necessarily on purpose. Here are 4 simple steps to understand the system and become your own advocate:


  1. The Major you chose was for a reason, and you want to finish college with a degree that makes you not just employable, but sought after. You can do this by understanding your major, not just walking through it.
  2. Read your degree plan, see what the requirements are, and understand how they fit together
  3. Find a focus area you would like to excel in. For example (Computer Science~Major Data Analysis~Focus) Do this by combing the catalog of your major AND like majors. Your major is likely NOT all inclusive
  4. Read the course catalogs for majors that are similar to yours or might have items in common. Not all relevant courses are cross listed. Due to new courses and new programs, colleges don't always have everything possible up to date. This leads into my next section. Ask Questions. To advisers, instructors, and even upper classmen. Juniors and Seniors have been through the courses already, and if they are not in the required core curriculum, students that have taken them already can give you a good idea of what to expect, and if it fits what you are looking for.


Remember, no-one has more to gain or lose by your education than you.

2. Ask Questions

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Ask them even if you think they are dumb. Here's a hint:

THERE ARE NO DUMB QUESTIONS

If you have a course in mind you want to take but don't quite meet all of the prerequisites for, ask if there is a way to get the pre-req waived. Normally this only entails emailing the professor.

Ask if you can have a focus area.

Ask if any other courses could fulfill the requirement, and offer suggestions of courses you have in mind.

Don't be afraid, don't be afraid, don't be afraid.!!!!! This is your education that you are paying for, or that you have to perform for (in the case of scholarships)

Have you met with your advisor?

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3. Don't Slack off (sounds simple, right?)

Being successful in college will not entail taking the minimum full time units. Course load to your abilities, not to your personal life.

**Hint for Freshman Students**

You just got out of High School, you are used to school from like 8-4(ish) Schedule your classes just like High School. You still start off on the right foot and you wont even notice the difference.

  1. If full time is 12 units, most colleges don't charge for overloading. TAKE MORE!
  2. Freshman year, take 16 units, it's only one more class but it prepares your for the future.
  3. Sophomore year, take 18-20 units. This will allow you to complete requirements faster, allowing more upper division courses, (you know, the ones that are actually about your major)
  4. Plan multiple semesters ahead. Analyze your degree plan, and build a path to your ideal degree, including courses that both fulfill your requirements and add to a focus area.
  5. Don't procrastinate on large projects, a well executed project can be added to your LinkedIn account as an example of work. Similar to a portfolio, well.... exactly like a portfolio.

4. Get a Minor, or 2 (that are relevant)

Minors are often overlooked by students as an option to have fun. In reality, Minors should add to your degree. For example:

  • Computer Science(data analysis focus)~Major
  • E-Society~Minor
  • Linguistic~Minor

These minors allow your to build a better understanding of your major and focus area, and are noticeably relevant to potential employers and allow you to STAND OUT above the field.


Also, by course-loading, you will still graduate on time, or early, even with a couple relevant minors.

5. Get a Job, and set up an Official Email, and LinkedIn

Don't just party on the weekends, get a part-time job. Work the unwanted hours, nights and weekends. This shows on a resume that you have real world experience as well as the schooling.

  1. If possible, get an internship if your field of study

Set up an official email for ONLY job related items (ex... First.Last) This keeps a potential employer from overlooking you based on an email from 10 years ago that is not appropriate (ex... theawesomesauceplayeroftheyear etc...) It also allows the employer to become more familiar with your name, embedding the thought of you over other candidates with less than perfect emails.

  • Make a LinkedIn account
  • Professional picture
  • Only include pertinent information to your career field
  • Fill out everything, make sure your profile is complete.
  • List important upper division courses you have taken that are relevant (ex. for a CS major with a Data Analysis focus..... Course ### Natural Language Processing)

6. Apply for EVERY scholarship you qualify for

This may seem like common sense, but scour every part of scholarship universe and apply to everything that fits your situation. Writing a paper and filling out some forms are worth not going 10's of thousands of dollar in debt if possible.

7. Don't exceed your limitations

If you make it up to 20 units and find its just to hard, scale back to 18 and try that. Don't overstretch yourself.


Study when you need to, even if you don't want to.


This is especially important for students in 'heavy' degrees, Music, Medical, Bio, etc... Some of your courses can be 1 unit, but be several hours long. For example (1 lab credit for a 4 hour lab twice a week for a Bio student)(1 credit for a Music course that meets 3 times a week)


Extending yourself is fine, great actually. But OVERextending yourself is not, and will only make things progressively worse. Be careful, and get to it!

8. Lastly, Have fun, Safely

College is an experience you should remember, but be safe.

While it may seem like fun to have the kegger every weekend, it is not the best idea and can damage your future.

  • Be smart
  • Be safe
  • Have FUN
  • Make friends

Lets see what you Learned

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