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The Top 5 Ways to Get Through College
Having visited my older siblings' colleges and having the image of the 'Classic College Experience' partially live up to the expectation, I began planning my own college experience. I couldn't wait until high-school graduation in June 2009 so that I could officially become 'A College Student'.
Unfortunately due to financial discrepancies and lack of support, I began my never-ending, dreary, self-depreciating, mentally-homicidal college experience in January 2010, after working overnight shifts at World-Renowned fund-sucker Target to save up enough money. (This, boys and girls, will become very important soon).
Having only enough funds saved to afford community college, I attended my first day as a college student - or so I thought. The school I spent my hard-working money on (which shall remain nameless...for now) gave me the understanding that community college was just extended high-school - easy! "If this is what college is like, I can't wait to transfer!", I thought. I worked myself ragged for 3 semesters gaining a 3.5 GPA, filling out countless applications to 4-year colleges, and continuing to struggle-work at Target until finally, in August 2011, I was officially a transfer student at SUNY Potsdam (woot-woot!).
With the same falsified image of college still embedded in my mind, I walked into my first dorm room with a huge smile plastered across my face. Soon enough, that smile deteriorated.
With the reality of financial aid, living with other girls, requirements for classes and keeping your grades up, finding a campus job, and fighting to keep sane, I'm not sure how I made it to graduation in May 2014. But! I appreciate my experiences now because they showed me what college was truly about and equipped me with useful information to provide you all with my Top 5 Ways to Get Through College.
Did/Does your college experience live up to your expectations?
1. Become a Familiar Face in the Financial Aid Office
Make sure that at least two (2) financial advisers, the receptionist(s), and the chair of the department know who you are BEFORE the semester even begins - at least 2 months ahead of time. This will work to your advantage by you gaining a relationship with them, familiarizing them with who you are, and giving them time to assess your financial needs. I suggest 2 months prior to the start of the semester because come August, they are absolutely swamped with financial information for over 4,000 students and those offices are typically understaffed. Give them and yourself enough time to get everything figured out.
After the semester begins, visit the financial aid office within the first week to give a face to your financial aid package. Make sure all of your paper work is squared away. Do this within the first week before your classes and homework become over-whelming.
After the first week, pop-in every week or so during your free time just to remain a priority and make sure you are on top of your financial aid requirements. If you follow these steps, chances of receiving surprise bills at the end of the semester and having to scramble for funds will be non-existent.
During my college experience, I believe I spent 75% of my free-time in the Financial Aid office. Though these women were phenomenal, I did not go to their offices to gossip about the latest in pop culture. Making yourself present and taking your financial responsibilities seriously will make the financial advisers take your financial situation seriously. Trust me, you want them on your side.
2. Have A Discussion with Roommate(s) about...Everything!
Roommate assignments are not always horror stories. Sometimes, you get lucky and are matched with someone you get along with wonderfully. Even in those situations, I advise you to have a discussion with them during the first week of living together.
Most colleges provide you with your roommate assignments, your roommate's phone number, and the whole nine so that you can plan out who's bringing what to the dorm. During that conversation, get a feel for your roommate but do not have a serious 'rule-thumping' conversation with them at this time. It will turn them off and you will have created an issue where there wasn't one to begin with.
During the first week, hang out with your roommate. Then, have a discussion about things you're comfortable/uncomfortable with, things you are used/not used to, food/items that are free-for-all/private, and everything that may become a concern down the line. If you keep an open line of communication with your roommate(s), you will eliminate one out of a million stresses you will encounter during your college experience.
I've had my share of roommates from Heaven and roommates from Hell. Despite our differences, I made sure to keep 'home' as a peaceful place. No one wants to be stressed in class and then come back to a stressful living environment. [Prepare for cliche affirmation] Communication is key!
3.Map Out 'What You Have', 'What You Need', & Find People to Help!
At some point or another, you will run into my personal arch-nemesis - General Education Requirements. These vary depending on the school and state requirements but ALL colleges have General Education requirements i.e. Freshman Math, Writing Intensive, World History, Cultural Studies, Modern Language, etc.
In order to beat these demons, meet with your assigned Academic Adviser during the first week of classes (Or call them a month beforehand if given their contact information) and map out a plan of attack. Make a list of classes you need for your major and a list of general education requirements you need to fulfill. All classes have a certain number of credits and all schools have an allotted amount of credits students must take per semester i.e. 1 class = 4 credits; Allotment: 14 credits. Break down each class into a puzzle piece and put them together based on your preference.
In regards to finding people to help you this refers to Academic Advisers, Personal Advisers/Mentors, friends, classmates, professors, tutors, etc. The possibilities are endless! During college, you will need as much support as possible, academically.Take some time out during the first two weeks (before your school work gets hectic) to get to know your professors by visiting their office hours, faculty and staff in resource buildings by dropping in to introduce yourself, tutors in Student Support Services (*May be referred to by different name varying by college), and learning about your friends' academic strengths and weaknesses. You will rely on your support team on more occasions than one, so make sure your team is a strong one.
During my college experience, I had a strong team of supporters ranging from professors, advisers, and friends who without them, I would have definitely not graduated. We all need support. Don't be afraid to ask for a little help. [Prepare for another cliche affirmation!] It takes a village...
Did/Do you have work-study?
4. Finding A Campus Job (& Living on a Budget!)
Remember when I said: "This, boys and girls, will become very important soon" ? Well, won't you look at that! It's soon!
Finding a campus job could sometimes take up more time than academics and meeting new people, depending on your situation. Most schools provide a program through Financial Aid referred to as 'federal work-study', where students work on campus to help pay for their tuition as well as make some extra cash. Unfortunately, not everyone is eligible for federal work-study (I wasn't) and you have to fight it out with other non-eligible students for on-campus jobs.
Before you move into your 5-month vacation home on campus, look up Student Employment opportunities on your college's website. If that doesn't strike gold for you, during the first 1-3 days of the semester, walk into business offices on campus and ask for a job application. I advise you do this within the first 3 days because you are not the only student searching for some pocket change and if there are any open positions, they tend to fill up very quickly.
Living on a budget could be hard for some while in college; having personal responsibilities to tend to on top of everything else and wanting to be frivolous with your hard-earned money. When I attended community college, I had to factor in tuition, travel expenses to and from school, as well as money for textbooks and food. Budgeting soon became a part of my everyday life. Thankfully, budgeting is not as hard as some will assume.
Before you receive your first check, write out things that need to be paid for, if any, and provide price values i.e. Phone bill: $40 - 'Party Tools': $30 - Transportation home for vacation: $75. Add up those values ($145; courtesy of calculator app) and subtract that from your overall paycheck value ($200; wishfully thinking). You now have $55 to play with! Also, if you are helping pay for your education, factor that in to your expenses as well.
With budgeting, you learn how unimportant most things are and while at first you feel as if budgeting is taking away from your happiness, think about how unhappy you will be without phone service, 'party tools', and money to visit Grandma for Christmas.
5. Find What Makes You Happy When School Isn't Enough
Finding ways to keep sane during college had to be one of the hardest challenges for me. With academics piling up on top of my shoulders, personal life issues banging on my forehead, and financial worries piggy-backing, I proclaimed that I was just going to give up on numerous occasions - but I didn't. What I did was find something that made me happy in order to take a break from reality for a moment because, truthfully, we all need a moment away from real life at times.
For me, it was taking walks around my college's town which had breath-taking, beautifully natural sights. Taking walks showed me that the world is bigger than just me, with amazing scenery that if you just take a second to look at it, you will see the beauty all around you.
When times get tough and you're being jumped on by your life, struggling not to hit the ground, take some time out to find what makes you happy. Whether it's joining an extra-curricular activity, playing sports, reading, making music, making art, dancing, writing, acting silly, going for a run/exercising, sleeping, or taking time out to speak to someone - whatever it is, make sure you fit it into your schedule as a necessity at least once a week.
Without sanity, you're just roaming the campus like a mindless freak counting the days until graduation.
My college experience has taught me that these 5 ways are extremely effective and necessary for success. Hopefully, these 5 ways of getting through college will do the same for you.
© 2014 Chaunice Benton