What should every freshman at your school know before they start?

If possible, visiting the institutions under consideration can really make a big difference as to the student's final decision. A good idea is to have a list of priorities and know what trade-offs a child and parents are willing to make - for example, a smaller student body than desired for a school of higher prestige. Ultimately, the student must choose what is most important to them as they ask their parents to make this immense investment. Regret or doubt will always be a major hindrance to making the most of the college experience. Once a school has been chosen, find out as much as possible about the resources it offers. Skim through the entire courses catalog, not just the departments you're usually drawn to; sometimes the most interesting classes are listed under unexpected areas. Be unafraid to talk to people involved with student organizations and trying many out before committing. Also investigate the college's many additional programs and opportunities, such as internships via the career center or funding for independent research and study abroad. Each and every institution will be vying for students by offering attractive resources; it is up to the student to take advantage.

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If I had the opportunity to talk to myself as a high school senior, I would tell myself the importance of living a balanced college life. I eventually discovered this on my own, but if I had known this from the beginning, my transition to college life at the University of Chicago would have been a lot smoother. For one, make use of your time. Procrastination does not translate into college life. You have strict deadlines for multiple projects, exams, and papers. Therefore, budgeting your time will help you avoid extra stress, ensure that you do well on your assignments, and reward you with an understanding of the concepts you are studying. Of course, it is crucial to leave time for yourself and personal matters. However, you can still be productive academically outside of the classroom. Get involved in student organizations that are of interest to you. Explore fields of study that you have little prior knowledge on. Do not shy away from talking to different students or professors. Outside sources to learning are valuable. You will be surprised how much your interests and perspectives will develop once you open yourself up to something outside of your definition of normal.

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Students must find a school that will enable them to grow just as much socially as they can academically. Most schools tend to market their class curricula without informing students and their parents of the diversity of social organizations on campus. By social organizations, I do not simply mean clubs, teams, and other RSOs (Registered Student Organizations), but, for example, the presence and intensity of Greek Life, or the availability of special interest dormitories. In addition, applicants need proper samplings of the interests and backgrounds of their classmates. They should know whether a particular school draws generally academic-minded students from upper-middle class backgrounds, or has established a pattern of increasing economic and racial diversity among the student body over recent years. Otherwise, students can feel seriously out of place at an institution they thought would be a perfect fit with their character. In my opinion, the more demographically and culturally diverse a student body is, the greater the number of opportunities for students to experience different social scenes, and perhaps settle on one in particular.

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Through my college experience at the University of Chicago, I have killed any shred of fear I ever had with respect to pursuing and researching new ideas. Fear of failure is no longer an option. I wouldn't say that I was some sort of panphobic-personality before I came here, but I experienced so much success in High School that even the notion of failure by any means seemed foreign and completely taboo. UChicago quickly made the notion familiar as I competed as well as collaborated with some of the best minds in the world. UChicago's goal is not to belittle you, but to break down the arrogant shell people like me enter with--the shell that only accepts "right answers" and doesn't dare question their assumptions. Researchers here know full well that it is impossible to innovate if there is no significant risk of failure involved. A common sentiment around here is that "what is currently considered unpopular is often just that which is unexplored". UChicago has taught me to embrace this uncharted territory. Now, I am willing to take calculated risk in forming ideas--allowing me to take my first baby-steps into the unknown.

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Finding the right college may seem like a daunting task: it requires choosing the school with the best balance between academics, extracurriculars, location, and whatever other criteria the student thinks are important. But it's not even as simple as just that. Sometimes the student may not have any idea what he or she actually wants, and the schools in question require a deeper inspection in the form of a prospective student visit. When you find the right school, you will know. There may be one that the parents think is best for the student, but in the student's opinion, however unvoiced, there will be one or two schools that just feel "right". It may have been a particular quote in the prospective student mailings that really hit home, or perhaps the student made a personal and intellectual connection to other students during a "prospie" visit. But, in the back of that student's mind, all other schools will be compared to this school, and probably won't measure up in the end. It's important to tune in to that calling desire: many schools are self-selecting, and those students that believe they belong there probably do.

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Trust your instincts when looking for a college. The marketing materials an institution sends you are usually an accurate dipiction of its general environment and will help you begin your search by identifiying values of the community. Find your dream school and focus your resources on it; for example, visit overnight before you apply and complete an on-campus or alumni interview. Conversations with the students or faculty you meet while visiting will not only help you be sure that college is a good fit for you, but will also be useful to cite in making your case that you are a serious applicant and will be an asset to the school. Don't be afraid to apply to a school that you think might be a reach for you. Consider schools that accept early applications as long as admission is not binding. Once you arrive on campus, sample a variety of activities before becoming heavily involved in any one thing. You don't have to participate in the same activities that defined you in high school! Most importantly, don't let school get in the way of your education! Get involved off campus and attend lectures outside of class.

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Know thyself. Realize your priorities, but don't think of just academics or any other single aspect, but evaluate all of them. While applying, it might seem that one is most important, but once you start studying at the university, other aspects of your choice will come up and become much more important than before. For example, quality of dorms or dorm visitor policy might not matter to you during the application process, but once attending the school, it might have a profound effect on your overall happiness and studying abilities, which will affect academic achievements on the same level as actual courses would. So do try to think about menial details and imagine what life would be like once in college. Ask current students (and MANY current students to get a decent sample size) about thier frustrations and their likings, but evaluate and weight the answers based on how much each respondent is similar to you. For instance, don't count much on party-goer's view of academics if you are a reclusive studious type and vice versa. Visit the campus and get opinion from people not affiliated with admissions office.

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The best advice that I can give to parents and students, regarding the college experience, is to keep everything in perspective, and realize that attending college is more than just a GPA, a football team, or a weekend party. The years spent in college are meant to prepare you for life after college, which includes not only what you learn in class, but also how to regulate your own life, manage your own time, work in a competitive and stressful environment, and even how socialize and relate with your peers; in sum, it is named the college experience for a reason, because it is truly the overall experience and not any individual aspect of the college that is the most important. As such, when picking a school, consider whether or not the school will provide you with the opportunity to grow, not only mentally, but also as an individual who will eventually be responsible for functioning in the ?real world.? If you are able to keep this scary and inevitable fact in mind, both when you are choosing a school and while you are attending school, then you should be able to truly get the most of the college experience.

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My transition from high school to college?from adolescent to adult?was, in all honesty, difficult. When I first stepped on campus, I was a determined pre-med with an 8-year plan mapped out before me, and, while I enjoyed all areas of learning, I was focused on medicine, biology, and The Plan.Imagine my surprise when I realized that, while biology was fun and interested me, I did not have the same passion that my professors had. I was interested, but not fascinated, and I refused to settle for anything less than fascination and passion.My plan disappeared and I was terrified; I felt as though I needed to know exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.This is when I discovered anthropology, spending a quarter intensively studying culture. I found a whole new perspective, curiosity, and passion?the passion I had been missing as a pre-med.From this experience emerges the advice I would share with myself: "Embrace and explore all avenues of knowledge and interest. Have goals, but don't be afraid if the plan changes. Most importantly, be open to change, because, after all, it is inevitable."

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The transition from high school to college is terrifying--academically and personally--but don't let that hold you back. Throw yourself into life at your new school, try everything that appeals to you, and take advantage of the rich opportunities afforded by college life. School is important, but what you do outside of it is just as important; instead of obsessively monitoring your GPA, find something you've never experienced before and go out and do it. College is a unique time for experimentation, inside and outside the lab. Take advantage of the diverse cultures you will no doubt encounter, the extracurricular lectures by people passionate about their subject, however obscure it might be, the myriad opportunities for self-expression through sport and art, and most importantly, your peers. I've discovered it, and so will you--you will get the most out of college when you stop worrying about what comes next and instead allow yourself to fully experience and learn from the present. Find a balance between the library and the frat party, your hobbies and your career plans. This is the time to explore.

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