Advice for Your First College Year

For all of the entering first-year students out there anticipating this upcoming new stage in your lives, here is some advice on what you need to know before you head to college.
A college student doing homework

Every year with the change in the weather and the color of the leaves comes an even bigger change for many recent high school graduates. These children suddenly realize they are now young adults and enter college, beginning a new and exciting phase of life. As a recent college graduate, I remember how different college felt from high school, and I learned a lot from my four years on campus. For all of the entering first-year students out there anticipating this upcoming new stage in your lives, here is some advice on what you need to know before you head to college.

Know and understand your spending habits

For some of you entering college, this may be the first time you are getting a bank account and/or credit card. You may know how money works, but you should be asking yourself whether or not you know what you are spending your money on and the best way to spend it. Make it a point to acknowledge what your priorities are. If you prioritize shopping and eating expensive dinners, think about what other priorities will suffer for these luxuries. Learning how to budget and keeping track of your expenses may be tedious, but is worth it in the end.

Determine what money goes into school expenses each semester and budget that money, keeping a small amount of savings on the side that you can use to reward yourself after a stressful exam or mentally oppressive presentation.

Take advantage of discounts provided by the school for activities such as going to the movies or a museum. It isn't difficult to have budgetary limits when hanging out with friends who are sharing a similar college experience. You may find that you will not need to spend a lot of money to enjoy yourself and can invest your hard-earned cash towards something more rewarding in the future.

Build on your academic experience

Being prepared academically as you enter college will do wonders toward creating a positive experience for yourself. When writing papers for certain classes, I found it helpful to dig up old, but relevant essays from high school that received high marks and build off their topics with more in-depth research. By saving these high school papers, you can build a different analysis on the topic you choose or realize that your position still stands even through your transition from high school. It gives you a better chance of receiving a good grade while at the same time helps broaden your knowledge of what you have already learned and gives you an incentive to seek out more information.

If you took AP (Advanced Placement®) classes in high school, it especially rings true that a significant amount of the material you went over will be re-introduced in some of your courses in college. Store those notes and papers away or save them to your computer as a reference for when you need them during your college journey. Seeing notes or essays that you wrote in high school that are relevant to your college classes may help you acquire a better understanding of the course material.

Get to know your professors

Your professors are more than teachers that work long hours and grade mountains of exam papers. They are your guide, as well as people you should speak with concerning changes and interests you may have in your academic path. Knowing that I wanted to pursue a career in law, I made it a point to speak with a variety of professors in the government department and take classes provided by my advisor. Doing this made it significantly easier to ask for recommendations in addition to advice on what steps to take after graduation and what to do to prepare for law school. Taking the opportunity to get to know your professors while leaving an impression on them will not only help you in the long run, but will also earn you a reputation as an upstanding student.

So if you find yourself with extra time or if you have a minute in between classes, head on over to the department of your major. I found it refreshing to go to my pre-law advisor's office during office hours and ask questions about how he prepared for the LSATs and what had an impact on his decision to pursue law. Understand that professors will remember the students who took the time to show interest not only in their course work, but also in their lives and wisdom as educators.

Gain work experience

Any job you work while in college may not be the best paying position around, but you will gain skills and experience that will prove even more valuable in the long run than monetary earnings.

Take up a part-time job on campus, or in retail or food service near campus. Part-time jobs are usually flexible with their hours and days. College offices using student workers and part-time businesses hiring college students know that students are willing to work for less in order to gain experience and see the flexibility as part of their benefits in placement of higher pay.

Working during college also helps you learn skills, such as efficient communication, customer service, critical thinking, and leadership. It's only temporary, it's a way to earn money on the side while also having the ability to take days off for exams or studying, and it may also lead to future job prospects as well.

Step out of your comfort zone

This suggestion may be the hardest to execute. I have vivid memories of going into my freshman year of college, still holding on to what was comfortable to me. I would go straight home to study and only interact with close friends. I eventually realized, however, that for the next four years, college would be a huge part of my life. This would be the best opportunity to try new things before committing to a full-time job or investing even a larger portion of my life into graduate school.

Step out of what's comfortable and try new activities and experiences. Doing so will teach you things about yourself and may even help you realize that avoiding certain situations or activities in the past was just a way to stick to the certain, but familiar path. In the end, new experiences build and mold you into the person you will be when you graduate and move on to the next step in life. Why not give the film club a chance or discover a knack for knitting within the school's knitting circle? You may not exactly find yourself in these four years, but you will definitely be on your way in discovering what makes you move forward.