Hello friends and followers! I have returned from a wildly busy semester with a lot more college knowledge under my belt, and I hope I can share it with you who are headed to college in the fall. Whether it’s for your freshman year, or perhaps you’re transferring to a residential college (‘four-year’) from a community college, or maybe you’ll be living in a dorm for the first time for any reason. No matter why you find yourself at the academic version of sleep-away camp, I have some things that I’ve learned in my first year at one that I think new students could benefit from. So before ados are in any way furthered, let’s get into them!
1. Go to class – and take notes while you’re there
I know this is one you see everywhere. But seriously. Go. To. Class. Get your butt up and at ’em and go. I don’t care if that means going in your pjs or having two cups of coffee so you can keep your eyes open. Just go. Trust me, you will gain so much more information if you go than if you read the textbook/watch the videos. Most professors will put a lot of emphasis on things in class that will be on exams, and plus you have the opportunity to ask questions and hear valuable information you would have otherwise missed. Also, some professors take attendance, which is basically free points, and some (kind of annoying) will present information only in their lectures that will be on the test. I’ve had it happen a few times where a friend of mine missed class and then there was a test on something that the prof only mentioned. This is especially true of any science/image-heavy class. Looking at the slides won’t do squat if you have no idea what the prof meant by having a slide that’s a graph or a picture with no other information.
2. Learn Your Campus
Seems self-explanatory, right? Well, the number of times I had to direct people, sometimes students who had been there years longer than I, to a building I thought everyone knew about says otherwise. Learn about all the hidden nooks and crannies on campus. Know where all the academic buildings are, even if you don’t have a class in them. That one weird building in the corner of campus that’s kinda grungy and slowly sinking into the ground? Yeah, know where it is and its name, because chances are you’ll eventually have a class/club meeting/secret society induction/etc. in it. As an added bonus, now you get to impress your friends with your bits of knowledge (like that there’s a pool in the basement of the Health Sciences Building, or a secret library in the Physics Building) and you have the best knowledge of all the out-of-the-way study spots for when finals roll around.
3. Become familiar with the library
Now, some people hate studying in the library, and that’s totally fine! I, for one, love libraries and can spend hours in a private study room, even on weekends. But, even if that’s not your haunt, still become familiar with where it is, what’s in it, and what resources it provides. Most college/Uni libraries are more than just a big building full of books, they often have a coffee shop in them, a media center, classrooms, and things you can check out other than books (like computers, cameras, and phone chargers, or even movies and textbooks). Additionally, most have an inter-library loan system, in case they don’t have a book or journal article you need. My college even has a “makerspace” – a place you can go to use things like sewing machines, 3D printers, and button makers.
Additionally, become familiar with how your college organizes books. Some use the Dewey-Decimal system like most libraries, but some use the Library of Congress system, or even their own unique organizational system. It will make your life soooo much easier, and make you look like a wizard to your friends, when you can find books easily. Also, librarians are super cool, and sometimes host events during the year or during finals week like a trivia night or a therapy dog session.
4. Take classes you might not normally take
This one is especially important to me. As a STEM major (Health Sciences, to be exact), my classes are very science and/or math-heavy; which I’m fine with. After all, it’s what I signed up for because I know I want to pursue medicine. But there’s so much more to me than just STEM, and I find that to be true of many people. So, take a class outside your major (and/or minor), even many classes! Take that writing or coding or painting or – one of my favourites so far – ballroom dance class! Take something you’d never think to take or something you think you might be bad at but looks awfully fun. Trust me, it’ll help your mental health, especially if you’re a STEM major like me, to have classes you don’t have to stress about and can just relax and learn in. I make it a priority to have one of these every semester.
5. Learn how to cook
Sometimes the dining hall just sucks. They’ve been serving the same undercooked chicken and tofu mush for the past three days and you’re tired of food poisoning or under-seasoned sponges. Trust me, I’ve been there. My college is known for its food for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes it’s fine, but I’ve had some truly God-awful meals in my dining halls. When this happens to you, you’re going to want to make something for yourself. The college student cannot live on ramen and caffeine alone. I recommend learning how to make simple meals that can be put together in your room with the tools allowed (i.e. microwave, hot plate, kettle), or can be made easily in a dorm kitchen. Some of my personal favorite staples are wraps (using some ingredients I may or may not have pinched from the dining hall), salmon patties (literally four ingredients and one pan – these can be made for less than $10), and soup, which is very convenient to just buy and you can add spices as needed.
6. Use a planner
Literally any planner will do. Paper? Totally! An app on your phone? Perfect! A chrome/microsoft extension? Amazing. You don’t have to be the kind of person with an elaborate planner that you make from scratch that’s basically an art piece. Now, I am one of those people. I love to bullet journal and use mine as my planner. It’s a way for me to sit down and see what I have ahead of me, while also creating “college-friendly art”. Trust me, you will feel a million times better if you’re not frantically checking all of your classes at 10pm on a Sunday night to make sure you don’t have anything due by midnight. It’s really helped my anxiety and keep my mind a little less cluttered – I have enough going on in there as it is to be worrying about when my bio lab research project is due, I can just check my planner!
7. Have some kind of creative output
Maybe it’s music, or painting, or bullet journaling or writing bad poetry. It doesn’t matter how you’re being creative, just be! It’s an entirely different way to use your brain than studying or taking classes, which is important for mental health, but also your future. Broadening your horizons and enjoying yourself is something that’s incredibly valuable. Find something – or maybe multiple somethings – and just do them! It’s so worth it.
8. Find a way to exercise – this doesn’t have to be the gym!
Similarly to being creative in some capacity, find a way to get active. If you care for your body, trust me, it’ll care for you. This doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym if that’s not your thing. There are all kinds of ways to get your blood moving more than usual! Do an intramural sport, ride your bike around your campus, find a running group, go swimming, or take yoga classes at your health/wellness center. Even dance or rock climbing are great options. There are all kinds of stats showing that getting active helps your body, but also your brain where it can aid with mood, memory, and overall mental status.
9. Get involved, but know when it’s okay to quit
There are so many options to get involved in college, that it can seem overwhelming. And, it is. But try and get engaged in at least one thing. It’s a great way to make friends and find your place at your school. Whether that be in a sport, a club, an organization, or if it’s your thing, a Fraternity/Sorority. You don’t have to be hard-core involved in everything you do, but having your fingers in a few pies is incredibly beneficial.
This being said, it’s important to know how much is too much. If your grades are beginning to suffer, or if you’re starting to feel burned out, it’s perfectly okay to say no or step back from some things. College is an experience, which is part of why you are there, but you’re also there to learn and prepare for your future. If your extracurriculars are getting in the way, it’s time to take a break. Even if your grades aren’t suffering, but you are mentally and emotionally, that’s also a perfectly valid reason to step away for a while. Sometimes this means saying ‘no’ or giving up something you love for a bit. While that sucks, it’s better for you in the long run – I promise.
10. Study hard, but remember to take breaks
College is about learning, growing, and overall discovering who you are as you prepare for the rest of your life. Your grades are an important part of that if you have future academic plans like graduate school or a professional program (like medical or law schools). This means that doing well in your classes is vital. One of the best ways to succeed? Study! It seems silly, but having a dedicated study plan can keep your grades high while also promoting long-term retention. Sometimes things get away and an all-nighter happens against our will (been there!), but sitting down and studying is the best and most proven way to not just pass, but excel in your academics. However, you can overdo it. Studying takes a lot out of you, especially if you’re taking tough classes, going to a hard school, have a learning disorder/mental disability, or some combination of those. Taking breaks within and around your study sessions that work with you is incredibly important. I like the Pomodoro method personally, especially for marathon study sessions, but that’s not for everyone. Find what works for you, and remember: frying your brain over physics/linguistics/history/biology/etc isn’t worth it, no matter how panicked you are about the exam.
11. Get to know your professors
Seriously. My other biggest tip is this one. Go to their office hours. Talk with them before/after classes if they allow. Ask them questions about their material and how best to study it and prepare for their exams. Knowing your professor is a one-way ticket to better understanding how they teach your class and even how they write their exams. Don’t be afraid to bring up issues you’re having with the material, or challenges you’re facing in the class, more often than not, they’re more than willing to help and can give great advice.
This can also help you know what professors will not be helpful and who just want to see you fail – there aren’t many of those, but they do exist, and it’s important to know early on what professors you cannot go to, so you can find alternate resources if you find yourself struggling. These can be TAs, the tutoring center, or even other students. I’ve had some garbage math professors wherein I was teaching half the class what was going on because our teacher just Would Not. The moral of the story? Meet your professors, know your professors, and be better prepared for what they may throw at you.
12. Stock your backpack
This seems kind of like a weird tip, but trust me. If you keep your backpack full of things you need, you’ll be set in all kinds of situations. I’d recommend carrying with you things like small first-aid and stationery kits (like the ones with the mini staplers and tape), a phone charger, an extra pen and pencil, an umbrella, a water bottle, one of those pocket tissue packs, a stain stick, and, if you’re a girl/have a uterus, sanitary products for that one day you’re caught off guard by Satan’s waterfall. Other useful things could be a multi-tool, a set of reusable silverware, a granola bar, spare change, an extra mask, some mints/gum, and a sweatshirt for the days when your lab or lecture hall is -10 even though is 115 outside. It seems like a lot of random stuff to carry, but I’ve had my butt saved many a time by some of the stuff I keep in my backpack. And when you’re in a pinch, you’ll be so happy you have your stuff.
I think that’s it for today! There’s a lot more random stuff I learned my first year at my residential college that I’d be happy to share in another post, like things I learned the hard way, tips for grocery shopping, clothes to wear, and how to study effectively.
I hope you found something in this post useful as you go forth in your college career. I know we have a few months before we begin again, but happy studying my friends; one day, we’ll change the world!
~ Of Rainy Days