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University of Wisconsin-Madison

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

First of all, don't stress out too much about the decision! Usually your gut feeling is the best choice. No matter where you end up you can be happy by keeping an open mind and a positive attitude. Secondly, make sure to think about the future, instead of your immediate feelings after high school. Although you may be feeling desperate to get away from home (I was!) keep in mind that when you are on campus, you will be away from home no matter how close the school you choose is from where you originally are from. Transportation is expensive and tedious. Believe me or not, as you get older, you will value being closer to home. Third, you can always make a big school feel small, but cannot make a small school bigger. I go to a school of over 30,000 people and have never felt more connected. Finally, get involved. Join an intermural, the art club, the drama society, or a sorority/fraternity. The friendships and connections you make is going to make your college experience rememberable because in college you really learn as much or more out of the classroom as in the classroom.

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Just like anything else, college "is what you make of it." It is as important to choose the seemingly best fit as it is to understand that, like any new environment, there will be times of uncomfortability. The school that might not have been a first choice could end up as the best experience. Optimism is key. So is time management. It is extremely important to stay on top of schoolwork. Not reading one chapter per night could land a student a miserable one night stay in the library cramming information that will inevitably escape not long after the exam. Go to parties. Meeting new people different from different backgrounds is one of the most interesting and exciting (not to mention, educational) experiences. College is also a time for taking risks. A time to unleash passions or interests that have previously seemed daunting. Acting class? Take it. Billiards club? Join. Getting involved is another way to make friends who share common interests. What it comes down to, though, is that college is a time for experimentation and gaining a better self understanding.

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Campus visits are often touted as the 'absolute best' way to get a feel for a school and decide if a college is right. However, I would suggest talking to students who attend the specific college, particularly those who have been to the same high school as the prospective student or who come from a similar background, about their experiences. It is not only the lecture halls and football stadium that constitute one's college experience. It is the interactions with teaching assistants and professors, the availability of courses that interest the student, and late nights with Starbuck's Coffee to name a few. Learning from other's experiences at a college is an invaluable tool in the college selection process. With regard to making the most of the college experience, there is one thing above all else that I would say: Do not be afraid! Don't be afraid to introduce yourself to new people right away, don't be afraid to join that organization that seems cool, don't be afraid to take risks. Courage is key, because at the end of the day, college is entirely what you make of it.

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Hey Victoria, listen up now! Relish the carefree aspect of your senior year, because "everything's gonna change" in college. No-one will be looking over your shoulder making sure you're doing your homework, rather than skypeing your friends or downloading music on I-Tunes. And the parties! You think you know parties? Well, understand that college can be a nonstop party - until the grades come in, that is. Then the party's over, and you'll have your parents to answer to if you don't excel in your studies, while staying in shape and doing community service as you've been raised to do. This is your last chance to get yourself organized, because once your parents deposit that final box in your dorm room and kiss you goodbye, you're on your own. Nobody to clean your room, do your laundry or replenish your personal supplies; for heaven's sake, how will you accomplish it all if you don't make a plan and stick to it? You'll be doing everything at the last minute, that's what, pulling all-nighters because a paper is due, and you chose to play first and pay later.

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I would tell myself that I'm going to end up just fine, regardless of whether I got that A on that last calculus test or biology project. I would stress the importance of doing what I loved, and making choices to pursue what I am passionate about instead of simply focusing on grades, tests, and GPA. Learning in high school should be an introduction to the great variety of subjects in life and I should enjoy it and savor the different aspects by appreciating how great each field can be. I'd also tell myself that this is only the beginning. While I may have felt that I was finally done, I should've realized that high school was more of a preparation stage, the training stage, for so much more. Finally, I would tell myself that high school trends are dumb, popularity is stupid. Eventually, everyone finds their niche in this world and Ishouldn't have to sacrifice who I am to try to conform to groups I don't even care about. While making friends during this memorable time is important, I should always remember who I am, making sure that I am unforgiving in accepting myself.

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A truly fulfilling college experience needs to include more than just academics. When looking for the right college, students and their parents should consider the location and distance from home, extracurriculars, the success of alumni in finding careers after graduation, social networking, study abroad opportunities, campus diversity, climate, and social life. Too many college students are anxious and unhappy with the way their lives are going, but it is important to be satisfied because college sets each person up for the adult phase of her life. A student needs to be happy at whatever school she chooses so that she can continue to strive for success. Once the student is enrolled in college, she needs to reach out and establish connections in all different areas of academics and clubs so that whenever she needs help, she is confident about where to look for advice. Lastly, nobody can get through life without friends. Once in college, reach out to other students and make friends because they are the ones who will be with person for the rest of her life.

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Study in order to truly understand, not simply to get the A or pass. While that may seem like an obvious statement, it is the primary thing I learned during my first year at school. In high school, my focus was to get the best grade possible. I memorized as much as I needed so I could do well on that next exam. What I know now is that the education I am receiving is worth nothing if I do not understand it. While reading the textbook with the goal of genuine comprehension may be more time-consuming and not always the most exciting thing, it is the satisfaction of really understanding the material that makes the work worth it. Walking away from a final and leaving with knowledge of the subject that will not be forgotten because it was understood, rather than crammed the night before, is more satisfying than any A. Had I come to that realization before starting my freshman year, I would have walked away with fewer forgotten facts and a greater grasp of the material. College is about learning, and approaching the work with that goal in mind will lead to exactly that.

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Reasearch is important, but visiting is the best way to know a school. Personally, I anticipated going to a small liberal arts college, after visiting UW-Madison, I realized how much I love the energy of a large campus. It is also important to keep cost in mind, I had alot of friends who were disillusioned when there financial-aid packages at private schools were less than they anticipated. At Wisconsin, I knew exactly what I was going to pay. Large public schools in your state can be a gret value, they generally cost less then their private counterparts and are known and respected by employers and grad schools. But a large school isn't for everyone, so again, the visit is ultra-important. Once school starts take advantage of all the first week club and activities meetings. Chances are you'll find one that is interestingand you'll save money eating free pizza for two weeks. Another suggestion is to get to know the recreation facility, when you have extra time in the first weeks you can start a routine that will help reduce stress when the essays start coming.

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As a high school senior, I felt confident about making the transition from high school to college. I had seen my older sister successfuly transition to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I would soon be joining her. I had read books about what to expect freshman year, and had even watched movies just to get a taste of college life. However, until I actually found myself surrounded by complete strangers in my dorm, or spending late nights at the library, or missing my family, did I realize what challenges a new college student faces. Now, after completing my first semester I reflect back and realize that those strangers in my dorm are now my family, and that studying at the library payed off as my transcript reflects a 4.0. The advice that I would give to myself as a high school senior would be to take full advantage of a situation where no one knows you or your past. This is your chance to leave all of the high school drama and stereotypes behind and let others see you for who you are. Also, take pictures. This isn't a time you will want to forget!

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Students: don't ignore your parents advice because even though it seems like they don't know what their talking about, they really do. You have to remember that they know you better than most people and have your best interest at heart. If there suggesting somewhere you think you don't like, here them out before you make a final decision. That said don't be afraid to let them know how you feel. When you make your final decision and begin college, GET INVOLVED! That is hands down the key to making the most out of your college experience because you'll meet people with similar interests and thus make new friends and gain new experiences. Parents: don't be afraid to lay down the law and say no, but with that no should come an explanation as to why so that there are no misunderstandings between you and your student. Also try to really listen to what they are saying and instead of making the decison for them, aid them in making the decision for themselves in a reasonable manner that satisfies both of you. Both: Its a stressful situation, but have fun with it.

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