The college guide books your parents bought you can tell you only so much. Oftentimes, they are outdated and spew out mirrored textbook responses from thirty years ago. Understanding the ins and outs of college life comes with experience, but hopefully this list can help cut out some mistakes along the way.
Here are 6 things I wish I knew my freshman year.
1. Don’t be afraid to change your major
I didn’t experience this firsthand, as I was one of the lucky ones who became more engaged with my field as I progressed. I have many friends, though, who end up having to take a fifth or sixth year because they got to their junior year and decided they didn’t want to be an accountant, or they realized their philosophy degree probably wouldn’t earn them six figures. Believe me, a fifth year doesn’t seem as exciting as the movies make it when all of your friends leave after four. If you don’t like what you are doing, do something else! You still have time. If you aren’t enjoying yourself now, you most likely won’t like it your senior year, or worse, your entire life.
Through the course of college, you will find a niche and stay there. Even if you are someone who HATES school, I promise there will be at least one class you take your freshman year that inspires you, a class that makes you actually excited to wake up. Freshman year is the perfect time to knock out all of your general education requirements. This way, you can take a broad range of classes and explore your passions.
2. Be realistic/Don’t overdo it
A standard, 15-credit-hour college work load is enough. If you were a straight A student, captain of your basketball team, class president, and quiz bowl superstar in high school, I understand you may have an overachiever void to fill, but don’t fill it with extra classes. There are clubs, intramural sports, and a plethora of extracurriculars you can be involved in, if you so wish. College classes vary in workload. Even if you fly by your first semester, your second semester could be infinitely harder.
When dealing with tough courses you learn to be pragmatic. Professors assign readings and extra work knowing that their students may not read every word. The key is to put things in perspective. If you have two exams, but have to read for a separate class, it works to your advantage to put that reading off until later. You have to do as much as you can, mainly to keep scholarships and a good GPA, but college has much more to offer than a 4.0. It’s important to have a social life as well.
3. College isn’t a popularity contest
This runs counter to my last piece of advice, I know, but everything is great in moderation. Don’t be the student who goes out every day of the week and shows up to class hungover. Doing so would be bad for a long list of reasons, but I am speaking only about your personal well-being. Just don’t do it. I promise, you will feel dumb looking back at it. If you are hungover all the time, it will inevitably lead to poor attendance, which is disrespectful to your teachers and to the people paying for your education. Poor attendance, above all, will hurt your grades. It will also make weekends, or other opportunities to have a good time with your new friends, not as exciting.
Joining clubs or Greek life could be great, depending on your personality and interests, but it should be done for the right reasons. Remember though that you will most likely develop a close-knit group of friends, whether you are a part of a club or not, as you go through college.
4. Connect with your professors
This is especially beneficial when a professor is teaching a course in your future field. Most likely, they have had, or are maintaining a professional career while being a professor. This means they have connections, which you could benefit from. Networking plays a crucial role in landing a job. A recommendation letter from a professor with a strong history in your shared field of work could be just enough to reward you with an interview.
Speaking to professors after class is a good way to gain insight and demonstrate your interest in the course. This doesn’t mean that you should be a suck-up. Only take this advice if you are genuinely interested. Professors know if you are staying five minutes after class with the sole purpose of boosting your grade. Speaking to professionals gives you a taste for what kind of work transfers out of the classroom and into the real world in your field. Be visible. It is the best way to fully take advantage of your education.
5. Stay aware of current events
It is very easy to feel like you’re in a glass bubble, especially in a college town. You will quickly see yourself slipping away from the world around you. Read the news and talk about current events with your friends. Your parents are no longer there to shape your opinions. There is no one forcing you, but it’s imperative to take it upon yourself to know what’s going on in the world.
6. Focus on your professional career early on
This means do whatever you can to step into your field. The earlier you get your name out and start boosting your resume, the better. Not only will this help you get a job after school, but it will help you become accustomed to your potential future life. It also serves as a networking tool. Oftentimes, if you leave a good impression after an internship, you can use those connections to get a job.
Keep in touch with past employers. Keep contact information and don’t cut your ties. Follow company social media pages and keep your names in past employers’ minds. It is your responsibility to maintain a relationship, not theirs.
The bottom line
While these tips can help set you a step in front of your peers, personal experiences and mistakes you make throughout college will help you develop the most. College is a time of tremendous ups and downs, triumphs and failures, but it is imperative to take advantage of your time there. Set your priorities straight. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t skate by, doing only the bare minimum.