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University of Wisconsin-Madison

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

Michael, You are one year away from High School Graduation! In a short time, you will be leaving the school where you have become so comfortable. You are academically and athletically successful and have a bright future. What will that bright future look like for you? Where do you really see yourself 20 or 30 years down the road? Think long and hard about where you want to be? What do you want to be doing? What will make you happy? You want to choose a career path that allows you to be challenged, financially secure and able to achieve the dreams you have. Look to those around you and ask questions. Start with your teachers and coaches as you see them every day. Listen to everyone you come in contact with, some of them have so much to share with you. Get to know what they do and what path helped them to their current place. Keep your standards and values high. You have one life to live so go out and make the very best of it. You can be anything you want to be!

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Breath, don't rush into your decisions. Look at a few schools; find out what they have to offer, find out what they lack. Don't be afraid to look outside your comfort zone, don't be in to big a hurry to get away. If you don't know what you want to do, don't panic. If you do know what you want to do, keep an open mind. Find a balance between work and play, you need both. Take one class every semester that you look foreward to, regardless of whether or not it counts towards your major. Don't do anything you'd be ashamed to tell your children you did in your wild youth. Listen to what your parents have to say, even if you don't think you'll take their advice. Don't forget old friends, don't be afraid to make new ones. Live in the dorms your freshman year and leave your door open, it's the best way to meet a variety of people. Be nice to freshmen when you are a senior, you were one once. Help when you can, get help when you need it. Pray every day.

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I can say that I have learned how to reason on my own better than I could before. I've learned to tap into the different resources that I have when I want to investigate something. My writing has improved and I've also learned to really embrace the scientific method and use reason rather than emotions to make sound decisions. I'm still working on my general education, but I'm pleased to see that I have learned a little about everything and that all these other little classes are like little tributaries that will eventually empty into a bigger river; in my case animal biology. The whole experience has allowed me to see that all fields of study are interrelated, more than I ever could have imagined, and has opened my eyes to get a better look at the big picture. It's been exciting to put this multi-dimensional puzzle, I plan on always having something new to learn. Education has really enriched my life, this is what has made college worth every bit of time.

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Since I have arrived and spent a semester in college, I have learned many things that I didn't expect to learn. First, regardless of one's preparation for life without family before coming to college, the transition takes a lot of time and energy, especially when one has classes to contend with. Classes themselves are also a larger challenge than in high school because they force you to manage all due dates and dead lines. They are also fairly merciless when it comes to midterm and final exam time as these exams tend to bunch together. However, thie question asks what advice I would give, not what I have learned. In all honesty, even though I probably would have greatly appreciated this knowledge before high school, I don't think I would give myself any advice at all. Part of the reason for coming to school is to learn these things for one's self, and knowing the road ahead diminishes the value and depth of information to be gathered along the way.

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I have learned that what you put into your college experience is what you get out of it. If you choose to take a class solely because it is easy, you will not learn. If you take a class because you love the topic or professor, then that class is the one you will remember when you graduate. Take risks in college, whether it is joining a dance class even though it scare you or answering a question in a four hundred person lecture hall even though you are not sure of the answer. Also, continue activities you did in college, such as sports, writing, or music, because this could help you adjust to a new environment. Most of all, ask questions, because that is when opportunities will arise. Ask the financial aid office for scholarships if you need help; ask your academic advisor about internships in your field; ask your friend how they got into the school's honor society. You must always be your advocate, because no one will until you prove you are worth it.

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There is no wrong choice for where to go to school. Choosing where to attend is not permanent; students transfer colleges all the time, so don't put too much pressure on yourself in making this decision. Visit all campuses you are considering, because you need to choose the right atmosphere for yourself. If you love going to big sporting events, big schools are what you should consider. If you are more conservative and don't enjoy large crowds, a smaller, perhaps private school would be a better choice. Don't worry about choosing a school based on whether you party. There will be people who drink at every school, and there will be people who don't drink at every school. Don't let your friends from high school persuade your decision. If you go to the same school as them, chances are you will branch out and not see them very much anway. Consider what is most important to you and where you think you'll be happiest. No college choice is set in stone.

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After attending three colleges during my undergraduate career, the one thing I can say for sure is that the school itself is less important than what you make of it and how you use your time there. Any college -- even the best one, if there is such a one -- can be a bad school for someone who does not know or care to make a good experience out of it. Being social, studying hard -- but not too hard!, communicating with professors, being involved, joining clubs, playing sports... big school or small school, large classes or small classes... every one is different. What matters the most is knowing that the eight semesters during which you have to work to earn your bachelors degree CAN be amazing learning experiences inside and outside of the classroom. It's all about finding what interests you, balanced with what you think will benefit you in your future and career aspirations, and you will undoubtedly get the most out of your college experience.

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Expect the unexpected. As great as college and the freedom associated with it sounds, there are many more challenges and growing up to experience. There is neither a great way to prepare nor a way to completely avoid stress during the transition. Take on every challenge that you are capable of conquering and do not let other people bring you down. Life from here on out is dependent upon the choices you make. Avoid working too much and appreciate the time you have with your current classmates as you may not see them much after graduation. However, the people you will meet in college will be much more diverse and you will find many more friends. You will probably even find your soulmate seeing as how you probably did not do that as the senior you are right now. Keep your head up and take pride in the school you will be going to because it was your choice and has qualities that match your interests and wishes. Stay strong and live in the moment.

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First of all, I would say that students should try to make sure they truly want to attend college in the first place! There are a lot of other options and avenues out there, such as tech schools, community colleges, universities, etc. There are also ways to get jobs that they might want without a college education, although a diploma obviously looks great and is helpful. As far as finding the right college, I think it's best to look at your affordability and the location, because it's hard to determine the true "feel" for normal student life until someone really attends the school. Once a student has begun, I think it's important to use all resources available to figure out what the student wants to do with his or her life, or at least a short-term plan, so that college feels like a means to an end. Without this, it's easy to get "caught up" in the college experience/lifestyle, and succumb to too much partying or laziness in one's studies.

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Do you have any idea of how different things are going to be for you in college? Let me tell you something. I know you have had a lot of trouble making friends and the bullies do not make things much easier. Trust me, you will find out that there are people that are just as 'quirky' as you. You can be yourself! Once you see that you are your own solution, the confidence will just blossom. Friendships will be made and some will be lost, but you will learn from them so don't beat yourself up. Your family will see an old side of you that will help your little sister feel better about herself as well. Money will post a hinderance but like dad always says "no one is going to help you like you" so keep looking! You will find that there are people out there that will want to help you. Most importantly, love yourself. The only way you will experience any good out of what your going through right now is to love yourself. Mom will thank you for it.

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