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week's question from
Jill P. in Lafayette, IN
I’m so excited for college to just start already! I’m totally the kind of person to overlook a few things when I’m excited, so what are some common mistakes freshman make that I can avoid?
All play and no work? Find balance as a frosh
You’re on your own during freshman year. Sure you have support from counselors, professors, parents and friends – but your approach to this newfound freedom will make or break your first year. You have to be disciplined! College classes are not an extension of high school. It’s going to be tough. So be sure you prioritize study time and “play time.” Plan ahead and stick to your schedule. Playing video games, going to parties, and staying up late will definitely eat into your study and homework time – which is the reason you went to college in the first place, right?
Avail yourself of the resource that faculty members represent
Even as a freshman, you should begin to avail yourself of the tremendous resource that faculty members at your school represent. Faculty members designate and post regular office hours in which they are available to meet with undergraduate students. To ensure that students can reach them with questions as they arise, many also share their home email address and cell phone number. Begin by introducing yourself to those faculty members who share your academic interests or to your pre major advisor. The best ones are committed to mentoring undergraduate students and to supporting your academic and intellectual growth.
College classes move quickly, so don’t get left in the dust!
One of the things that often catch freshmen by surprise is how quickly the term passes. The paper that was assigned the first week of class will be due before you know it. Because classes tend to move more quickly than in high school, it’s easy to get behind. So don’t put things off. Seek tutoring right away if you’re struggling. Get your reading done and work on that paper. Take advantage of your professor’s office hours to get additional help or deepen your understanding of the subject. Doing all this will make your freshman year go much more smoothly.
College is fun...and it should be!
First and foremost, go to class. Even if your professor says attendance doesn't count, don't be fooled. Attendance always matters. Homework is another issue. In college homework is no longer what you do after class. It's designed to get you ready for class the next day, and it helps to know ahead of time that the optional reading your professor casually tosses your way—really isn't optional. Get a planner. Block off class time as well as study hours in advance. Stay on track and you can have time for fun and enjoy yourself without the stress of unfinished work hanging over your head.
Congratulations as you head off to college!
The next four years will provide an incredible opportunity to pursue your interests and to also explore new ideas and experiences. Choose some courses that may not be familiar to you, but sound intriguing. Build relationships with your professors by attending their office hours or volunteering for research. Keep in mind that the independence that comes from being a college student means that you have the sole responsibility to make college life exciting, rewarding and successful. Keep an open mind to make the most of your experience – attend seminars, join student organizations, get involved!
Don't keep your door closed!
Starting college can be a wonderful experience if you keep in mind a few things. If you want a good schedule don't wait until the last minute to sign up for classes. If you like to sleep in, don't sign up for early morning classes. If you want to know about your classes read the syllabi; they contain important information and dates. If you don't want to gain the freshman 15, don't live off junk food. If you want college to be a rewarding experience, get involved. And, if you want to make friends, don't keep your door closed.
Don’t rush into an overwhelming freshman year
Planning to rush a fraternity or pledge a sorority your freshman year? Then avoid the mistake of taking too hard a course load or early morning classes during the process. While it’s great to rush or pledge, the process takes so much time and goes so late into the night that many freshmen tell me they wish they hadn’t taken a hard science or math class first semester and that they had “slept” through many morning classes. So pick classes that are a nice mix of science/math and humanities and that start in the late morning or early afternoon.
Food court follies!
Food services on most college campuses are more like a large food court in the center of a mall. Everyone jokes about the freshman fifteen but it is actually something that happens to a number of students. So, right from the start be aware of your choices in the "food court". Desserts and that fabulous ice cream machine shouldn't be a part of every meal. Portion control and remembering the salad bar can keep you from weighing in too much in your sophomore year
Get to know your professors
I think one of the biggest mistakes freshmen make is not getting to know their professors. Students should make a concerted effort each semester to get to know at least one faculty member. Simply go to office hours, or ask questions in class. The goal is to have at least one faculty member know you well. This will help you to become more engaged in your college experience and also has the added benefit of giving you options if you apply to graduate school and need a letter of recommendation, as you will have several faculty members who know you well enough to write a glowing letter for you.
Just what is college freedom all about?
Freshmen sometimes have difficulty managing their time. College course curriculums often allow students to plan timing in their course of study. Professors may give students a semester’s work on one sheet of paper and it is up to the student to pace their time well. Coming from high school with daily or weekly assignments, these long term college assignments are a wakeup call to many freshmen. The best thing is to use a calendar that works best for you – digital or otherwise. Self-discipline is crucial. Plan your time well – make time for social activities but don’t let your work pile up on you.
Learning happens everywhere
One new aspect to learn about college (and a mistake to avoid) is to be aware that learning happens throughout the day and in various venues. In high school, learning usually takes place in class, in a study group, and at home, often with some time and place boundaries. In college, learning often happens at least as much in the classroom as outside of it... whether it’s cooperative/team projects, internships, getting together for study sessions or grabbing coffee after a class to keep talking about the reading, the class or questions... learning is around you all the time at college.
Mom was right!
The key to success is “healthy body, healthy mind.” Manage temptation: fast food; late-night conversations; last-minute cramming for exams; sacrificing exercise to sleep in; it’s easy for you to get off track. Team up with a friend, committing to eating healthy fruits and vegetables; working out together; and taking time to have fun. Self-discipline = time to participate in those exciting extracurricular activities. But try not to over-schedule. Start slowly because college activities are more demanding than high school. Keep first semester light: one new activity and one you know you like from before college is a good balance.
Perception vs. Reality
Are professors aloof? Administrators that care not a whiff about students? Some may argue that this is the state of higher education. I would argue that it is far from the truth. Students are advised to start making connections with assistant professors, academic advisors, and others that form the heart, soul, and body of an institution of higher learning. There are people to help you grow as an individual, but you must also take the initiative to make that connection. Everybody that works for a college or university is a person who contributes significantly in one way or another.
Secrets for freshman year success
The most important tip for your freshman year is good time management. It is very easy to get behind in your studies with the new freedom and independence of being a college student. The majority of your homework is reading and it may seem inconsequential to skip it for a class. However, if it is not completed as assigned, it becomes impossible to play catch up before an exam. You may want to set up a “study / homework” calendar and prioritize your academic responsibilities. Do not put off for tomorrow the homework that needs to be done today!
Self-awareness is a fantastic first step.
What structures have worked for you in the past, as you’ve tried not to let your excitement get in your way? Do you keep a datebook? If you’re tech-savvy, have you tried some of the great productivity tools out there (e.g. the Boomerang extension for Gmail)? If you’re less technically inclined, what kinds of old fashioned human support systems can you put in place to help keep you focused and on track? Can you and a friend figure out ways to support each other? Try it all, see what works, rinse, lather, and repeat. Everyone’s learning in college, so don’t worry; you’ll fit right in.
Starting college is exciting! New environment, new people, new approach to learning
One thing you’ll want to do is establish a balance between the fun part of college and the academic part of college. Many colleges run their freshman orientation programs just a few days prior to the start of classes. While orientation provides a great opportunity to meet new people, you’ll need to refocus on academics as soon as classes begin. Some students don’t get serious about the school part of college because the social part has been so great. But, often those students don’t make it to the second semester. In college you’ll find greater expectation for independent learning and far fewer assessments. Once you fall behind, it’s much harder to catch up than it was in high school.
Success – When preparation meets opportunity!
Be excited! Transitioning into this phase opens doors and windows to new opportunities – clubs, sports, fraternities/sororities, activities, hobbies, and spiritual connectedness. You’re no longer protected by parents and a familiar environment. Walk around campus with someone you know. You’re not an imposter. The college accepted you; you belong there. Students often forget that classes require discipline. Manage your time. Before you know it, time has evaporated and there’s none left. Professors expect students to be on time, pay attention, read assignments, finish homework, and participate actively in class discussions.
Successfully navigating your first year requires more than a map!
Enjoy the excitement of your first college year! Use your time between classes to frequently study during the day; you will have more options for your evenings and weekends. Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions. Faculty and advisors are not mind-readers, but they have a lot of answers. Your new independence is a good thing, but you’re going to have this independence for the rest of your life; don’t mess it up at the beginning. Make new friendships with students who don’t look like you, think like you, or have the same background as you. Appreciate the value of differences.
That coffee cost you WHAT?!!!?
Freshmen often overlook that there is a difference between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. Starting today, make note of where your money goes. Is it the $5.00 macchiato, the $100.00 shoes? Or is it gas to get you to your job? Now is the time to put yourself on a budget. Whether you get an allowance or work part-time, commit to a set amount of spending money each week and stick to it. Understand what your parents expect to contribute to your living expenses – will they cover a daily macchiato? Learn now to decide your weekly priorities and map out how you will spend or save your money.
Want to succeed in college? Become an expert time manager!
Director & Certified Educational Planner
“Wow, I’ve only got fifteen hours of class a week! There’s plenty of time to hang with my friends!” Does that sound like something you might say? Actually, it’s a recipe for disaster. College professors expect students to spend two hours studying for each hour in class. Smart students make every hour count. Plan your day carefully. Be prepared to study between classes. Know when you will fit in lunch and don’t let your meal last longer than you’ve planned. At the end of the day, review your progress toward becoming an expert time manager and plan for an even better day tomorrow.