The Best College Survival Guide
"What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as who you become by achieving your goals."
Henry David Thoreau
1. Set Goals
The first thing you do after unpacking should be to develop goals for yourself and your college career. Be sure to include short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals. Keep them somewhere so that you constantly see them. It will help in reinforcing the issue and consistently make you aware of where you are and where you want to be. It could be something as simple as "Make 3 great friends" to as serious as "Get a job and save 20% of every paycheck."
I have my goals memorized by now and every decision I make is now based on whether or not it will bring me closer to achieving my goals. By doing this, you will be more likely to stay on the right track and avoid making costly mistakes down the road. While you're in college is a good time to start making good habits, especially financial habits! You will be thrilled at the end of year to look back at your list of goals and realize that you've actually stuck to your own plan and succeeded in doing whatever it was that you set out to do. The feeling of satisfaction and the confidence you'll receive once you accomplish one of your goals is priceless!
"It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves - in finding themselves."
2. Explore and Adventure
I see so many people who wake up, go to class, go home and do it all again the next day. What a waste of this experience!!! Go out. Wander around town without knowing where you are going. Visit with friends and plan a little trip. Ponder the idea of joining an intramural team. Gather with classmates and discuss a possible future research project. Discover the little things around campus that not many people know about.
I personally tried to make my around campus by strictly taking indoor routes as long as possible just to make it an exciting adventure. You won't believe how many students NEVER go into multiple buildings throughout their entire time in college. Of course there is no reason to, but it's the small things like that keep you from making your experience in college a full one. Another thing that I do is to try all the small owner-operated restaurants around town. It's nice to be able to give reviews to curious people and to try something unknown. Who knows? You might just discover your new favorite hang out.
My point is: don't turn yourself into a hermit just because there is "nothing to do/see." Be sociable. The only time you should be in your room alone is while you're sleeping or sick. You can study in groups. In fact, I encourage all to study in groups. You are able to gain much more input and a variety of different ideas/ways to think about a certain topic. So make sure to get up and out and do something valuable with your time.
“Our strength grows out of our weaknesses.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
3. Learn Your Strengths & Weaknesses
This is a very general tip but it also one of the most important. You're in college because you're preparing yourself for adulthood. You're learning to become a responsible and well-educated person. You're also wanting to be employed at the end of all of this.
Use your time in college to develop yourself into who you want to be and into the best person you can be. Know what you exceed at and know what you struggle with. From there, devise a plan that allows you to challenge yourself at becoming stronger in your areas of weakness and that maintains your level expertise in others. Some areas might include public speaking, note-taking, attention span, writing, creative thinking, manners, one-on-one conversations, being fit, etc.
Don't be afraid to ask for help! Your friends and classmates are more than likely happy to help you if you ever need it. Let's say Johnny is always working-out and is obviously staying fit, well ask him if he has any helpful tips or would be willing to make you a work-out plan to help you get started. You can ask Kate how to take good notes in class because she is always filling up her notebook papers and seems to be doing pretty well in class. Always strive to be better tomorrow than you were today; that applies to any and all areas.
"Procrastination makes easy things hard, hard things harder."
4. Do Not Procrastinate
Just don't do it.
The single worst thing that you can do as a full-time student is to put off doing something thinking you can just make it up later. The single best thing you can do? Do it ASAP. You never truly appreciate free-time until you don't have it while your friends are out having the time of their lives and you're stuck inside frying your brain because you chose to take a nap or watch a stupid TV show instead of being productive.
Power naps are fine. Just-because naps are evil. Don't believe me? Okay, get back to me after the semester and let me know how many headaches you've had, how much hair you've pulled out, and how low your GPA has become.
A thing that I do every now and then is to treat myself for getting ahead or doing well on an exam by having a nice dinner or that one dessert I'm always craving. You have no idea how relieved you will become once you have finished all of your work and you realize you still have the whole afternoon to do whatever you want. Trust me on this one.
"Communication - the human connection - is the key to personal and career success."
Paul J. Meyer
5. Make Strong Connections
Knowing people in high places is so valuable these days. Especially in college. When the day comes that you need a internship, job, scholarship, etc., it is nice to know whom you can go to in order to receive a good recommendation.
Inevitably, you will need a reference letter or two. So start making relationships and connections with your professors, TAs, RAs, and Deans. Make a friend in student government, student relations, frats/sororities, etc. These will all come in handy. The saying "It's not what you know, it's who you know," has never been more apparent than now.
Most jobs expect you to have experience in your field before they even consider hiring you. But if you know somebody in the industry who can pass along your name, it increases you chances of being hired and adds a great deal to your reputation. If you become good friends with your professor, maybe that one time you didn't get around to doing your homework he or she will let it slide and allow you to turn it in at a later date. Using your good buddy's employee discount at the local retail store proves to be very cost-effective.
“Don't bite off more than you can chew because nobody looks attractive spitting it back out.”
6. Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
How much is expected of you will soon grow. Your time and efforts will be spread thin due to the fact of your ever-growing responsibilities in college. While I do encourage everybody to take on challenges, don't commit yourself to doing too much that it becomes highly stressful and takes a toll on your health.
The good part is that others will understand that. Don't be afraid to tell your friends that you can't hang out tonight, or to deny one of your classmates who is asking for help, or to de-commit from an organization/team/etc. if you have to. When you sign yourself up for stuff you might overlook the realities that come with it. After a couple semesters, you'll know what you can and can't handle and how much you can take on.
So much of doing well in college is about time and resource management. Actually, that is single most important tool you should develop in your college career. Learn when to say no if you just can't commit the necessary time it takes to do something well. It won't be the end of the world and it'll save you from many headaches and causing many disappointments. I advise gradually taking on tasks and when you think it's too much it probably is, so let off the gas a little bit and coast it out.
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