Tuesday, September 6, 2016

5 Things to Consider When Going to College

It's September and if you graduated high school this past spring, there's a good chance that you started your first week of college. College can be a little scary. You're entering completely unknown territory with unknown people. But once you're there, it's really not scary at all. It's just a series of classes with people who either have to be there or want to be there, just like you. But there's a lot to know, and once you graduate, you'll probably think of a few things you could have done differently. So here are my 5 things to consider when going to college:

1. Consider investing in a good backpack
Don't take the word invest lightly. I mean get a really good backpack that you're going to love carrying around as a constant accessory for at least the next four years. But don't just focus on aesthetics. It has to work. Padded straps and back, organized pockets, and excellent craftsmanship are a must. One time my backpack, which had my computer in it, literately ripped off my back while I was walking down the side walk. Don't let this happen to you.

I never wanted to spend the money on a good backpack so I ended up with a series of book bags and hand-me-down backpacks that I hated, hurt my back, and broke. Looking back, I wish I had just spent the money to get something great, that I both liked carrying around all day and that worked. My friend Emma bought one like this when she started grad school. Even she will admit that it was a little bit of a splurge, but it's a great backpack and she likes it and it will most certainly get her through school without unfortunate book bag struggles like mine. Be like Emma. Invest in a backpack.

2. Consider being in control of your class schedule
Most new students don't know that they can have a say in their class schedules and don't think they need to, because that's your adviser's job, right? Please don't make this mistake. There are some classes that you have to take at certain times and you don't have a choice, but a lot of times, you have more options than you might think. Get a school catalog or look it up online. A lot of times there will be suggested class tracks according to your major as well. These are good guidelines, but they are not the only way to get your degree. Do your homework and make a list of all required classes, including prerequisites. Then make a list of all optional classes that will fulfill required credits, making special notice of when they are offered because not all classes are offered every semester. With this information, you can make your own plan and talk about it with your adviser to find the right balance for you. Your adviser might be great but they have a lot of other students on their plate and they don't have the time to always get everything perfect for each one of their students.

You also might find that making your own plan gives you the opportunity to take classes that interest you and fit you better than a generic class that most people in your major take but don't really have to because there are other options that fulfill the requirement.

Another reason to make your own plan is to know what you're getting yourself into. I tested high enough in math on the ACT to qualify for college Calculus. I may have somehow tested high enough to look like I could take that class, but there is no way I would have passed it. And I didn't need it! I took College Algebra online one summer, made an A-, and never looked back. That minus means I struggled enough.

3. Consider not getting your gen eds out of the way as soon as possible
General education as been described in many ways - waste of time, unnecessary, easy, busy work…and on and on. Love them or hate them, in a four year college you can't graduate without them. Since you have to suffer through them, you might as well try to enjoy it, because, let's face it, they're probably the easiest classes you're going to have to take. So you have 2 options:

Get them over with and live the breezy life until you hit Junior year where you're slapped full on with core classes and don't know what hit you. Say goodbye social life!
You can spread them out with that super cool plan you made yourself. And not loose your mind because most of your semesters are balanced with 1, 2, maybe 3 hard classes and a couple of easy ones too. Sure, you might end up in a "freshman" class as a senior, but it'll practically feel like kindergarten with your 3 years of college class experience, you'll be able to spit out those three page papers in no time.

I did this partially by accident but it worked out amazingly! During my senior year most of my friends were stressed out of their minds and overloaded with homework and projects, but I had a pretty good year and was able to have a lot of fun doing an internship and working on my senior project. Yes, I said fun. Now don't get me wrong, I had plenty of times of stress and mounds of homework but it was manageable. So instead of just getting those gen eds out of the way, consider using them to your advantage.

4. Consider the word on the street
College is something like a bubble that has a culture specific to your school. This culture will feel like complete reality for the time that you are there. Something like living in a gossipy small town. You're going to hear stuff about the school politics and drama and about your fellow students but not as much as you'll hear about your professors. Particularly, which ones are good, which ones are bad, which ones will let you off with an easy A, and which ones are impossible.

Consider this information, but more importantly, consider where it's coming from. My first semester of college, I needed to take Financial Stewardship which was a basic gen ed at my school. The class that fit best with my schedule was taught by a certain professor that even my adviser at the time warned me not to take. I was like, "Psh…I can handle it" and took the class anyway. The truth is, I made it out of that class with an A but had to put in probably three times more work than I should have for that grade. The problem wasn't simply that it was a hard class, it was that this particular professor had a way of making simple content extremely complicated and gave tests with minimal questions over huge sections of the text book, making it very difficult to adequately prepare.

Another instance was where I took another required class. This time I didn't have a choice, I ended up in the dreaded Dr. Spross class. I did hear much more convincing stories of his impossibleness from students of his core classes, but this was a gen ed and ended up being a great class. In fact, he was one of my favorite professors. It ended up that if you just simply did the work, you made good grades. He had a genuine desire to see his students succeed and was a great teacher. He didn't hand out passing grades without work, but he made it very possible to do well. So consider the word on the street, but more importantly, consider who it comes from.

5. Consider appreciating that you get to go to college
In my years at college, I encountered a lot of students who saw being there as a burden, just something they had to suffer through because it's what you do. You go to college. And as long as they made at least straight Cs, they were doing fine. But some people don't go to college. I'm not talking about the ones who don't go to college because they had another option like trade schools or a good job in place or the like, I mean people who don't get to go to college or who have to work to actually pay for it themselves because they want to be there. As much as you might hear the opposite, it's not your right to go to college. If you don't work to be there, you don't deserve to be there. So whether you pay for school yourself or you don't, be glad to be there and learn all you can because you may never have the same opportunities again. 


Hannah said...

Thank you so much for your wise advice Sarah! I'm in my Sr. year of high school. I'm home schooled like you were but taking mostly online duel enrollment college classes this year. I'm also applying to colleges and for scholarships right now. I'm so nervous and excited about moving away to a college next year! Your advice came at a perfect time for me as I'm in the middle of this process. :)

Gloria Kluth said...

This is a great list! I'll be keeping these tips in mind.

Janelle said...

Great post! Another reason not to do all the gen eds right away is that some programs have long chains of perquisites so getting started on major classes early can give you a lot more wiggle room in the future and you will discover more quickly if your major is something you really want to pursue :)

Unknown said...

I'm beginning my freshman year this semester! Thanks for these great tips! :)

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Thank you so much Sarah! This is such good advice! I'm excited to start following your blog. :) Keep it up!