You’ve already faced one of life’s biggest challenges: getting into college.
You did it! Congratulations! The next challenge is to take full advantage of everything your college has to offer, get good grades, all the while having a great time. As someone who worked on the Stanford University Dean of Student’s staff (and was in charge of a dorm with many freshmen), I have some personal advice about making your first semester the beginning of four of the best years of your life. In a nutshell, my advice is to START STRONG.
I. ARRIVE ON CAMPUS AS EARLY AS YOU CAN Sometime during the summer, colleges usually notify freshman students when in the fall they can move into their residence halls or other housing.
There are so many reasons why you should move in as soon as the doors open. To begin with, in order to feel comfortable in your new space, you need to get unpacked and that’s going to take a little while. No doubt, there will be some things you have forgotten to bring and the best time to go shopping is when Mom and/or Dad are still around and before school starts. You also need to meet your roommate/s and figure out how you-all are going to share the space.
Once your gear is unpacked, the room is arranged and settled, it’s time to explore the campus and figure out where everything is, including the libraries, the gym and workout spaces, the student union (and other places where students gather) and best places to study.
II. CAREFULLY CHOOSE YOUR CLASSES To make your first semester a success:
Sign up for the minimum number of classes (usually 12 units). There’s going to be plenty of time for you to take all of the classes you need. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to prove your academic prowess by taking a much larger than average number of classes.
Also, don’t get into the game that some students fall into of bragging about how tough a schedule you’re taking on (“I’m taking 20 units, how about you?”) It’s important that you give yourself time to adapt to college life, including managing your schoolwork, activities and all the myriad of other things that a college has to entice you.
Choose classes that you know you will do well in. In other words, based on your experience in high school, sign up for courses in which you can get A’s, regardless of the content. Are you good at English, love history and have spent time as a Madrigal singer? Sign up for classes in those areas.
Don’t fall into the trap of taking the hardest math, science, or whatever classes available to show other students how smart you are. Frankly, no one is going to care, and you might just get yourself into academic trouble. You don’t want to do that.
Ask upperclassmen who the good professors are. See if there is a college website that offers teacher evaluations. And for sure, don’t sign up with a professor who gets bad reviews. Unlike high school, you can be picky about which courses and professors you choose.
Once you have your class schedule, get a campus map and go to each of the buildings where your classes will be held. If a classroom is open, go in, look around and decide where you want to sit. All of this pre-work means that on the first day of classes when everybody else is scrambling, you will know where you’re going, where you want to sit and feel much less anxious than most other new students.
III. PREPARE FOR CLASSES There are some very simple things you can do to get ahead of the game for your classes.
Get to the bookstore early and purchase all the books for each of your classes. Did you know that sometimes campus bookstores run out of required books, and it can take weeks to order them. That’s not something you will want to deal with during your first semester. And if you’re looking for used texts, often they’re the ones that get bought first. You know the saying, “The early bird gets the worm?” At colleges, the worm is textbooks.
And while you’re at the bookstore, get all of the other supplies you need for taking notes and keeping organized.
Buy a wall calendar with an erasable pen to keep track of everything. While many students keep track of things on their iPhones and other hand-helds, there is nothing like having a big calendar on your dorm wall to helps you see when assignments and papers are due, when mid- terms and finals are, and when special events and games are coming up.
Once everything is up on a wall, with a quick scan you can see that the third week in October is going to be a killer because you’ve got two papers due, as well as two midterms. Visually seeing what’s happening allows you to plan and prepare.
Ace the First Test There’s an old saying that you never have a second chance to make a first impression. So to make a good impression in every class, what you want to do is to get an A on your first test. The stronger you are at the beginning, the more likely the professor will see you as a strong student throughout the class.
IV. IF YOU HAVE PROBLEMS WITH A CLASS, GET HELP RIGHT AWAY And if by some chance you should get into a class that gives you trouble, immediately see the professor to get some help. You might also look into getting a tutor. Just so you know, getting help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of maturity. At one time or another, even the smartest students ask for help in something.
If you get excellent grades first semester, your reputation as a good student will follow you. Special internships and honors programs might open up, jobs will be easier to get, scholarships may become available, and you’ll go to the top of the Study Abroad list. And, if for some reason you’re not happy with the college, having top grades will make it so much easier to transfer to another college.
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