College is a very different experience than high school. Navigating a different type of schedule, staying on top of your work and making friends when you aren’t stuck with the same people every day can be difficult, but here are some tips to help you survive your first year.
Tip #1: Get a planner and use it
Getting a planner is one of the simplest ways to stay on track with your work. Writing down your assignments can help you remember them and visualize when to work on certain things in order to effectively use your time. Physical planners are always a good option, as the act of writing things down helps in remembering, but online options like Google Calendar are also good since you can sync them to different devices and set reminders for certain events. It is important to look around at all of your options and choose one that works best for you.
It is important to remember that using a planner in college is different than using one in high school. You have a lot more free time, as classes meet less frequently, but much more independent coursework. Without the structure of high school, you need to make your schedule yourself. Using an hourly planner is especially helpful, because you can set blocks of time dedicated to different assignments and designate free time. Sticking to your schedule can be difficult, so it is important to take it in stride. Self-discipline takes practice, but you’ll get there!
Tip #2: Develop good study habits
Some people were able to get through high school without needing to study, but many students have more difficulty in college. Learning how to study effectively helps you utilize your time more efficiently. It takes practice to develop a strategy that works for you, but using active recall techniques and taking practice tests will ultimately lead to greater success.
Tip #3: Go to office hours
If you’re stuck on anything, it is important to talk to your professor or teaching assistant (TA) about it. Many students don’t utilize office hours enough during their freshman year, but they are a very valuable resource. Clarifying issues early helps your overall understanding of the course. You can also talk to your professors about anything, like study and time management techniques, which can help you later in your academic career. They’ve all been through it too, and have a lot of advice to give!
Tip #4: Plan ahead
The sooner you start thinking about the future, the better. College is expensive, so it is important to use your time wisely. Using resources like the Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development to start exploring future career options and majors can help you create a game plan. They give advice and provide resources for looking into different careers, creating a resume and networking.
Many people change their major multiple times in college, but it doesn’t hurt to have at least a rough estimate of what classes you want to take each year. Creating a spreadsheet for each class you’re going to take can help give you direction, even if you need to adjust it later.
Tip #5: Read your syllabus before classes start
Syllabi usually come out before classes start. Reading them can give you an idea of what the class is going to be like. By looking it over, you can determine if the class would be a good fit for you. You pay to go to college and, for the most part, get to choose what classes you want to take. While you can’t get around some major requirements, gen ed classes are almost entirely up to you. If you realize a class may not be as interesting as you thought it would be, you can drop it for another before it even starts, avoiding the awkward catch-up phase if you were to wait until it actually started.
Looking at the syllabus for required reading materials early also helps, as you can acquire the materials early rather than scrambling to get your hands on them once classes start. Other options, like ordering used books online, often take more time to get to you. Reviewing what you need early gives you time to explore your options. Sometimes books aren’t available online or through the library, so extra time to explore ways to get physical copies is always helpful.
Tip #6: Use the add/drop deadline
Add/drop usually starts before classes start and ends at least a week into the semester. Sometimes, you expect a class to be perfect for you until you walk in and realize that it isn’t a good fit. Utilizing the resources available to you and dropping the class for another will ultimately end in a better experience, even if you have a little catching up to do at the beginning.
Tip #7: Have fun
College is important and academics should still be a priority, but getting the most out of the experience also includes having fun. Practicing good time management allows you to participate in various activities on and off campus. Life is all about balance — taking the time to enjoy yourself is important for your mental health. This is also the main way you will make and maintain friendships. When you don’t see someone every day, you need to make time to see them, and this involves doing nonacademic activities.
Getting the hang of college is a process, but using your time wisely will ultimately serve you in getting the most out of your education, while also creating lasting memories and friendships.