Advice to College Freshmen Before Starting Classes
As a recent graduate, there are lots of things that I wish I had done earlier on in college. Most people have expectations for the stereotypical life of a college student -- sleeping in, hanging with friends, eating pizza everyday, and sometimes going to class. If you're a parent or graduate reading this, you know that each of these should be taken in moderation (besides having friends, those are nice).
I'm writing this for my younger sister, who will be enrolling this fall, so that she can hopefully balance work and play to have the best possible freshman year.
GO TO CLASS
For God's sake, go to class! At some point, everyone thinks that it will be ok to skip class just once or twice. You're, like, crazy busy, right? Plus, you'll read your textbook later, and it will be like you didn't miss anything at all.
False. It's only an hour, and you've never been that responsible before. Why should this time be any different? Furthermore, skipping an hour-long class creates more than an hour's worth of work for you later.
ACTUALLY PAY ATTENTION
That's right. Contrary to popular belief, this class will probably have an impact on your life. Don't waste your time and tuition money.
Read (or at least skim) the lecture material before coming to class, try to sit near the front, and answer a question or two each week. That might not make you the valedictorian, but you'd be amazed how far it will take you. The lecture won't sound like complete gibberish anymore, and your professor will probably notice that you put in some effort. When final grades come around, professors always remember who tried to apply themselves.
STUDY WHAT YOU LOVE
After all, this is what you will be doing for the rest of your life. I've seen too many friends switch majors after a few years, because they just couldn't put themselves through it anymore. That's not fun, and it will likely set your graduation date back if you have to switch.
In most cases, it's worth pursuing a field that you love, even if your earning potential will be a bit lower. Try to picture yourself working in your field for 40 hours a week. If that sounds miserable, it's probably time to switch.
P.S. It is much easier to go to class and pay attention if you love what you're studying!
- College students tend to change majors when...
About 80% of college graduates change their major at some point.
FIND SOME EXTRACURRICULARS
You probably joined a few clubs in high school, but just to use them as resume builders. You've already gotten into college, so now you should use clubs to meet other people! A university is a huge place, and you won't like everyone that you meet. Get out and join one of the hundreds of student organizations on campus. Whether you're interested in politics, foreign languages, sports, or anything else, there's probably a club dedicated specifically to that. Odds are, you'll make some friends that you never would have met otherwise.
VOLUNTEER OR WORK PART-TIME
Sometimes, you need to get away from campus. You might as well be productive while you do that. Volunteering is a great way to help out a good cause in the community. I signed up at the local volunteer fire department, but there are lots of ways to get involved. Your university probably has an outreach program, where you can work on projects in the surrounding community. In lots of cities, there are also housing projects (like Habitat for Humanity) that are always looking for extra helping hands.
Maybe you'd rather make some extra spending money. You could tutor other students, wait tables at a local restaurant, or really anything around town. Whatever you choose, it should be a change of pace from your schoolwork -- you can de-stress while also broadening your horizons a bit.
APPLY FOR THINGS
Nobody will give you a job, summer internship, scholarship, etc. if you don't ask for it. As a freshman, you're probably not getting that internship with the FBI, so lower your expectations a bit. You may not realize it, but all of your professors do some sort of research in their spare time. At the very least, you can ask if there are any projects that you could help out with. They will almost always take extra help, and sometimes they can help you find interesting jobs in the future -- that's how I got my job for this summer, working in a physical acoustics center.
Having experience of any kind will be helpful later on when you're applying for more prestigious awards, internships, or even jobs.
Before you start sending out applications, check out my article on writing a resume or CV.
Nobody goes through college without a few hiccups along the way. You might change majors multiple times, take a semester off to work/travel, or even fail a class or two. The important thing is to bounce back from your mishaps, gather yourself together, and keep pressing forward. Ask anyone above the age of 25. Every one of them has had to improvise, work odd jobs, or even relocate to a different city to get where they are today.
You're in school to learn, so try and learn from your own missteps. You'll make fewer and fewer of them as you go along, and you'll come away with some great stories.