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The Undergraduate's Guide to College Part One

Updated on April 15, 2013

June is right around the corner and everyone knows what that means: time for graduation. There are two reactions from that single word; one is a surge of ecstasy tantamount to earning your driver’s license and the other is anxiety so severe they’re shaking like a addict going through withdrawal. For the former, good to see you have confidence, but you haven’t a clue what you’re getting into. For the latter, relax, it’s not like the Principal's last words on graduation day are going to quote The Divine Comedy: “Abandon all hope.” But it’s no surprise if a high school senior is feeling either of these feelings. You’re stepping ever closer to adulthood and this is the true test where everything you do does actually matter. Scared yet? Well you should and you shouldn’t be, because as a college graduate, I’m here to give you a list of things to do while you go to college, whether it’s the miniature and almost intimate community college or it’s the monolithic private university that makes up the entire town it’s located in. With a few tidbits of information for your usage, not only can you survive college relatively unscathed, but you’ll also have built an impressive resume for that job you want or that next level of secondary education.

The first section is about the basic and abstract rules of college, the kind that don’t really fit into a specific category other than miscellaneous but are absolutely essential to your survival. When I say survival, I mean the survival of your sanity and your emotional well-being. If you only to take away one section or at least one thing from any section, please let it be from here, because any one of these will serve you well in the long run (though I hope you try to utilize it all). So let’s begin with the basics that may help you out.

The first thing you should do is Know Your Campus. I put this at number one because knowing the geography of your campus is extremely important to the survival of your sanity. Like I said in the introduction, the size of the college campus varies from one to another. Community colleges, for example, are quite small; you can walk straight through the grounds without being winded. The average college campus varies from one to another, some being the size of a small town, like the usual public college or university, and others encompassing an entire city, such as New York University or Pennsylvania State University. Regardless of the actually dimensions of the entire campus, it pays to know where what building is and what would be the shortest distance between point A and point B. It’s not just about getting from one class to another when it’s in another building, but also about knowing the spots with the best Wi-Fi connection, the best food, and even the quietest area as the library may not be the silent sanctuary you would expect it to be. So what can you do to find it all? The two best ways to get the lay of the land is to first take a campus tour, where either a faculty member or an upperclassman will show you the physical landscapes and landmarks of the college, and then to learn through your personal experience over time. The first way is great to know where is where, but it doesn’t help you with the aforementioned details. Does it provide a decent Internet connection for studying? Is there food and if so, is it at least edible? Is a little spot to study with your music on to aid the studying or is the music a way to block out the noise pollution? Those details you will need to find out on your own through the arduous task of trial and error through your first and possibly second semester of college. It’s a pain, yes, but it’ll be worth in the long run, and four years is a really long run.

Next, it sounds like a cliche, but you’ve got to Manage Your Time Wisely. So you’re in college, but you also have a part time job, you’re a high-ranking member of your club (we’ll save that for another time), and, for the cherry on top, you’re in a committed relationship. Believe it or not, that’s not the worst-case scenario; in fact, it’s quite the norm nowadays. The average college student is not properly portrayed in the movies or television shows; those are the flunkouts and the dropouts who do nothing but drink and party all the time. If you go to a college campus on any given weekday at any time of that day, you’ll find a great deal of the student body either studying, practicing for their teams, or walking from one class to another or to a differing responsibility. If you’re going to be a college student, odds are that’s hopefully only going to be a small section of your life. Maybe you have that part time or full time job or even an internship. Maybe you have a family member to take care of, whether they are younger or older. Maybe you need to get organized for your club’s next meeting. Maybe a friend is in need of help and you have a small amount of free time to help them. Either way, your life is pretty divided up. The thought is scary, to know that you have only a limited amount of control and a limited amount of time for everything. This is referred to as juggling and every college student does it: some just do it better than others. The secret to that is they have budgeted their time. They look at the week ahead, see what assignments are due, what shifts are set, what appointments must be made, and so on. From there, they give an honest and realistic assessment of what they can or cannot do. The reality is with the schedules getting busier and busier; something may fall from the cracks and that’s okay once in a while, because everybody makes mistakes. It’s when you start getting lazy and slacking off does it become both an issue and a bad habit. Why is this important, you may ask: Because if one part of your life is out of balance, everything else will follow, and misery will be your primary company for each semester.

Now here comes the scary rule and that is to Remember It’s All On You. There’s no more safety net in the college world, at least in this part. Being admitted into college is no small feat by itself since rejection happens to everyone. However, the acceptance is the only easy part of those four or more years. By agreeing to the acceptance, you are saying to that college you are an adult, that you are able and willing to take responsibility for yourself. You can have help on the way, everybody needs a hand once and a while, but most of the journey is marked by your footsteps. Parents, friends, and especially faculty will always give you a hand if you really need it; they won’t do the work for you, but they’ll offer advice and support, which may be even better. At the end of each day, you have to make your own choices and from those choices come their consequences, whether good or bad. You can go to that party on the night before your midterm and you can even skip the midterm, but know from Isaac Newton that there is always a reaction to an action, whether positive or negative. You’re not going to be treated with kid gloves in this match; in this match, you’re going head on with some heavy weights and you’re only starting out at featherweight. Bring your A game and nothing less.

Last, but not at all least, you’ve to learn to Relax. After reading this section and only being about a third of the way through the guide so far, I’m thinking you want to grab me by the collar and scream, “What? After all this, how am I going to do that?” Ironically, what should be the easiest thing for us to do is actually the most difficult as you think the only time you have to really relax would be during the limited amount of sleep per night you think you’re going to get. The truth is if you really want to do well and survive college, you need to set a little time for you. It doesn’t matter what your “you time” is, but you need whatever amount you think you need. Sometimes you need to be alone and watch some TV in a near comatose state. Sometimes you need to go out with a few friends and drink some beers (if you’re of age). Sometimes all it takes is a warm bath and some soothing music. Whatever it is that makes you wind down, you have to do it; it is absolutely imperative that you find some time and some way to relax. A relaxed mind is able to handle anything thrown at it and a stressed mind will fold like a cheap lawn chair. Granted, it seems almost impossible to do after everything else you’ll soon face, but if you’ve budgeted your time, you can easily find what makes you unwind.

It’s clear now why these don’t belong in other specific categories because of general diversity. Regardless of the mixture of it all, it shouldn’t devalue any of the potential wisdom these words can bare. College is a challenge and they, being every professor and administrator, hardly ever talk about the tips that you can use to make sure you don’t regret going into higher educations and these are things that will pay off in the first week. That’s all for now, but only for now as there’s still more to cover in The Undergraduate’s Guide to College.

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