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University of Wisconsin-Madison

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

Great thinkers postulate that people learn best in defeat, finding success only after a thorough grounding in failure; by attending college, I found this to be true. Our Creator Yah endows everyone with at least one Gift from broad spectrums of potentialities. Over time, with favorable circumstance and intent, we each may hone and perfect our Gifts, perhaps earning some other(s). Ideally, the microcosmic environment of academia provides controlled atmospheres in which to intimately familiarize oneself with both one?s own Given wings and the winds upon which they soar. Testing theories and practices, embarking upon flights of imagination and supposition, trying the outermost limits of tangible reality, probing the depths of conjecture and faith, all of us fail repeatedly and often miserably. Yet in failing, we fall back down to begin again until finally, transcending the mere ignominious lucidity of failure, we begin to realize the image and likeness of our Creator. There we find our individual answers, strengths, contributions and destinies. Attending college enabled me to see, if only for one brief, infinitesimal moment, through the prism of unfettered experience and witness the true potential of humanity as the Omniscient sees it; I am improved forever thereby.

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I often clashed with schoolmates at school. Paired with my unfailing honesty and over-active mouth, my cantankerousness and determination caused recurrent foot-in-mouth disease. Consequently, classmates physically and emotionally bullied me through 11th grade when it climaxed after ostracization due to fictitious rumors. Accepted to university, I rightfully feared a childhood repeat. My roommate, a drama queen and avid gossip, spread hyperbolic hearsay about me based on shallow first impressions. I sunk into a depression during my first semester away from my best friend, my older sister. A resultant eating disorder and insomnia impaired my academic performance. After four years of spiritual inquiry and personal maturation, I have learned that people's false assumptions should not overpower the caring and capable person I am. If I were to speak to my high school self, I would say, “Don't disrespectfully misjudge others as others have you. Never give up the promise and love you have for fellow humans, because through openmindedness and realistic idealism you will help those who experience similar and more demanding difficulties. Spread the knowledge that many have granted you, in and out of the classroom, in hope that kindred spirits will continue the chain.”

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As a high school senior, I wish I had received the advice to get involved early, and to familiarize myself with my professors better. Though academics are undeniably valuable, I wish I had been more concerned about joining student organizations and developing my leadership potential in my freshman and sophomore year. This year, I have served as director of an organization, the Global Connections Committee, in which we plan events to foster awareness of international cultures and issues. Through chairing weekly meetings, recruiting committee members and establishing leadership positions, and managing a budget of several thousand dollars, I have learned to allocate my time effectively, and have gained confidence and critical organizational skills. In addition, I wish I had not been so shy in approaching my professors from freshman and sophomore year. Many of my teachers are tremendously accomplished experts in their fields, and I could have learned much more had I asked to pursue an independent study or research with them. Though I have recently begun pursuing independent projects with professors, I have wasted time in not starting earlier. These two pieces of advice would have helped me greatly in enhancing my college experience earlier on.

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It goes without saying that high school seniors will have plenty to learn once out of their parents' house and into the dorms. Minor responsibilities such as laundry, following a meal plan, and managing finances is easily learned, but self discipline, health management, and advocating on your own behalf can be much more difficult. Without parents and teachers to continuously track your efforts, classes become easier to skip but exams then become harder to cram for. Keeping up with your studies early will cut down on the physical and emotional wearing experienced by large workloads in high stress situations later on. The pressures of college bring about feelings of anxiousness, physical exhaustion, and mental burnout. Allowing medical services to help you stay both heathy and sane is not a weakness but integral to academic success. It is crucial to be your own advocate once you enter college, especially at larger universities where it is easy to be overshadowed and overlooked. With far too few credits in the physical sciences I was forced to enroll in summer sessions and online courses, teaching me the importance of tracking my own schedule. Do not place your fate in the hands of academic advising!

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The college system increasingly becomes more a business and less a school incrementally, year by year. Most studies claim that a four-year college degree is required for "success" in the modern, technofetishitic world we inhabit. This is not true; those surveys are largely taken by universities who need more enrollment to grow. Technology is serviced and maintained by technicians, not professors, and entrepenuers who invent and market new ideas or products usually do not have bachelor's degrees. If you truly aspire to a professional career like doctor, lawyer, or teacher then a four-year college is what you need. Be prepared to work to prove your dedication to that goal. Four-year colleges prove a person can work hard, learn in a short amount of time and apply that knowledge. However, if you can fulfill your passions and be happy without a professional career like those above, go to a two-year school or technical college. You can acheive economic and social success without a bachelor's degree. Our world needs intelligent, dedicated people at all levels and niches of society. College can take you there but you first must decide on your dreams.

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One must fully explore the opportunities each University presents. Be aware of the extra-curricular activities, look at the community envolvement, and check out the career center. You want a school that has a strong alumni network, one that reaches out to its current and past students, and one that will allow you to develop to your greatest potential. Few students know what they want to do, and having a University where you can explore other majors while getting degree credits is important. Having advisors and mentors that will share their experience and understand your needs is important. Look at the free and additional programming offered. My University had free computer classes, mind and body classes, safe walks and access to the best databases available. These can all really add to the overall experience. Talk to students. All kinds of students, to try and get an idea of what the complete experience will be like. Visit a campus more than once, preferably at different times of the year. Check out the library on a weekend, go to a sporting event. What are the students doing? If they are studying/cheering away and you want to too, go there.

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My high school career was the best time of my life. I had the opportunity to participate in various clubs and academic honor societies. I also had the opportunity to explore my interests, but unfortunately, those four years had to come to an end. During my senior year of high school, I worked extremely hard to complete college admissions applications. I put work into making sure that I had strong letters of recommendation and a very well-written essay. However, I overlooked one very important process, which was the financial aid process, so if I were a high school senior, I would give myself advice about financial aid. Going through the financial aid process is one of the most difficult processes as a graduating senior. There is a lot to learn and understand about this process before going to college. I would advise myself to apply for scholarships that I am eligible for. Receiving scholarships would have allowed me the opportunity to study abroad for a longer period of time as an undergraduate. I am in a professional program now and funding is very limited, but having scholarships can undoubtedly relieve the financial burden of out of pocket expenses.

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For most students, college represents independence. College freshmen come to school being told the basics of living alone for the first time. These basics include how to do laundry or take care of finances. What most students aren?t aware of, and that I wish I had been informed about, are the keys to success at a highly competitive university. In my opinion these keys to success are quite simple if done correctly and whole-heartedly. One of the keys to success is resourcefulness. There are so many beneficial resources to be found on any campus. For example, I found a great tutoring program for my Economics 101 class in the Business Learning Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business. The secret to using these resources is simply going out and finding them. Once you have the resources, you need to use the second key to success, which is hard work. It doesn?t matter how smart you are in college because your grades depend on how well you do compared to your classmates; what matters most is your willingness to outwork your classmates. Once I realized these keys during my first semester, I achieved immense success.

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Deciding on the right college is an important decision for any student. First I would recommend a fair amount of research into possible schools. This step is an important part of the process. During this period the student is able to begin to discover what they want and what different schools have to offer. Next, during the summer after the student's junior year in high school it is a good idea to begin to visit prospective and likely schools. Although schools are not fully in session during the summer, visits to possible future schools give a great deal of insight into whether a school is right for them. Lastly after the "right" college has been chosen, it is extremely important to go into the first year of college with a good attitude. If one were to go in looking for something wrong with their school or with an extremely analytical viewpoint, one would surely find something disappointing and deem their school unfit for them. Almost any student could adapt and enjoy the unique positives that make each school what it is. When starting a new year: get involved, make friends, enjoy yourself, and remember to focus on your studies!

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I assumed my time at UW-Madison would be a breeze. My first semester proved this wrong. I wasn’t prepared to face the emotional, social, and academic challenges that hit me as soon as I arrived. At first, I clung to friends from high school. When these friends made new friends and I didn’t, I found myself alone. While the rest of my classmates found their place, I fell into the background and my grades suffered. Other students stayed close with their families, but I was always “too busy.” To top it off, I gained the “Freshman 15.” I contemplated dropping out. I’d lost my identity. Soon I realized I needed to step out of my comfort zone and make communication a priority. I developed friendships. Having friends for support, made everything easier. I joined student organizations, got to know my instructors and reconnected with my family. Soon my grades improved. Instead of just another student on campus, I started to feel significant. I’m learning to appreciate communication. The more people I meet, the more connections and opportunities I’ve had. This huge campus gets a little smaller each time I see a familiar smile.

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