Every year I look back and think, “Wow, how was I so stupid last year? If only I knew then what I know now.”
Two years ago I was just another naive, unknowing freshman. I was stoked to be done with high school but I had no idea what college was actually going to be like.
Today, I’m a wise, all-knowing junior.
But, I do have two years of college experience under my belt, and in those two years I have learned quite a bit. And I’m not talking about the stuff I learned in my physics and calculus classes (I forgot most of that stuff after the final).
I’m talking about the things I’ve learned outside of the classroom, and the things that will help you succeed in the classroom, so that hopefully when you graduate you’ll already have a badass job lined up.
One of the most important things I’ve learned is how to work smarter, not harder.
That’s a pretty broad statement, but it pretty much boils down to being productive, making connections, and taking advantage of your resources.
If you’re smart you might’ve been able to goof around in high school and still pull off good grades, but college is a whole ‘nother beast. Classes are harder, parties are crazier, and for the first time in our lives no one is breathing down our necks making sure that we’re on top of our shit.
So yes, you have the freedom to do whatever you want, but with great freedom comes great responsibility. If you’re a freshman reading this, let me tell you now– you do not want to be that freshman who can’t handle the freedom (or the alcohol).
That’s why it’s crucial to develop good habits and find a comfortable balance between your social life and your academics that works for you.
I’m sure you’ve probably read at least a few articles about “college tips for freshmen” or “tips on how to succeed in college,” but they’re usually pretty lousy. With the start of the school year just around the corner I figured I’d write one of my own. I’ve put together a list of 21 college tips I’ve found incredibly useful and wish I knew freshman year. (It’s a bit of a read, so if you don’t have time right now I’d recommend bookmarking this page to read it later).
Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Go to the library in between classes.
Instead of wasting time by going back to your dorm room or apartment between classes, go to the library and actually do some work. You’ll be surprised by how much work you can get done during the day, which will give you more free time to relax and do whatever else you want at night.
2. Go to office hours.
Few students take advantage of office hours, so simply showing up puts you in a better position than most of your peers. Even if you don’t have any major questions or concerns, office hours are an opportunity for you to get to know your professor and for your professor to put a face to your name. A good relationship with your professor could end up being the difference between an A- and a B+.
3. Ask questions.
If anything is ever unclear, raise your hand and ask your professor to clarify. Don’t be scared of asking a stupid question. The only stupid question is the one not asked and chances are you’re not the only one confused. Plus, asking questions in class is another great way to get on your professor’s good side because it shows that you’re actually paying attention. You might even want to make a point of raising your hand and asking at least one question every class.
4. Don’t fall behind.
Seriously. High school forced you to stay on track with daily homework assignments and tests at the end of every chapter. But in college your entire grade may be determined solely by a midterm and a final, which doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room. Don’t think you can wait till the last minute to cram for your midterms and finals. You might be able to pull it off every now and then, but eventually it will come back and bite you in the ass. Try to learn the material the very first time it’s presented. If you ever miss something, make sure you learn it before moving on.
5. Keep an updated resume and LinkedIn.
Every time you gain a new experience, make sure you add it to your resume. You want to do this while it’s still fresh in your mind so that you can describe it accurately and positively. Do the same with your LinkedIn profile. For tips on keeping your LinkedIn profile up-to-date, check out my post on managing your online image.
6. Start creating a master contact list.
Create a spreadsheet with professors, industry professionals, employers, and anyone else you have ever worked with or met that you may want to connect with in the future. Include their contact information, their title, and a brief description of your relation with them. This will be invaluable when you need to reach out to someone in the future.
7. Become friends with at least one person in every class.
This can be a life-saver if you ever miss a class or forget to write something down. Find someone who would be willing to share their notes or help you out in case of an emergency.
8. Don’t drink during the week.
Tequila Tuesdays are tempting, I know, but trust me, this is not something you want to get into the habit of. Drinking during the week will screw up the rest of your week and it’s just not a sustainable lifestyle. If you work hard during the week you can party all you want on the weekend.
9. Buy ear plugs.
Because people will be celebrating Tequila Tuesday when you have a midterm on Wednesday morning. You do not want to be up all night when you have an important test the next day just because your hallmates are being loud drunks. This became a real issue for me when I moved into my fraternity house sophomore year. If you’re looking for some really good noise canceling earplugs, I recommend the Hearos Ear Plugs Xtreme Protection. Pop these bad boys in and you won’t hear a thing.
Warning: If you go to sleep wearing ear plugs, make sure your alarm is loud enough so that you can hear it!
10. Take advantage of the career center.
This is another thing every student should do, but very few do. The career center is an extremely valuable resource for career counseling, brushing up your resume, and finding jobs and internships. I stopped at my career center last year before applying for summer internships and had my resume reviewed in 20 minutes. A few weeks later I landed a summer internship by attending one of the internship panels hosted by the career center. Go to these things. I cannot emphasize this enough. For a more in-depth description of everything that career centers have to offer, check out this article.
11. Get a part-time job.
If you’re tired of asking your parents for money, get a part-time campus job and start paying for your own stuff. Campus jobs are usually pretty easy to find and not too demanding, meaning you can probably do other work for your classes while on the job. Plus, you might actually learn something and at the very least it will give you some work experience to put on your resume.
12. Get an internship.
A campus job will give you some extra spending money, but it probably won’t advance your career much. That’s what internships are for. Try to get an internship every summer. Internships are the best way to get real-life experience in an industry and the more experience you have, the more likely you’ll be able to find a job after graduating. It will be hard to find an internship when you’re a freshman or sophomore, but it’s not impossible. Be pro-active by attending career fairs and taking advantage of the career center.
13. Always bring headphones to the library.
Sometimes the library can be an even more distracting environment than my fraternity house. I don’t know why people think it’s okay to have conversations on the phone in the middle of the library, but I see it way too often. You can tell them to shut up and leave the library, but it’s usually easier to just bring your headphones.
14. Choose courses based on the professor.
No one wants class before noon, or a class on Friday, but an awesome professor should take priority over an awesome schedule. The difficulty of a class can be entirely up to a professor. Talk to upperclassmen in your major to find out which professors you want and which professors to avoid.
15. Learn how to manage your time and be productive.
If you want to do well in your classes and still have a social life, you better start developing some good study habits and learn to manage your time wisely.
16. Consider Greek life.
I never thought I would’ve joined a fraternity when I came to college. Now look at me, I’m a frat star (just kidding, I’m still a nerd). But honestly, joining a fraternity has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in college. Aside from the parties, my fraternity has helped me gain more confidence in myself, it’s given me life-long connections, and it’s helped me figure out what I actually value and believe in. I’ll be writing a post about my experience with joining a fraternity in the near future.
17. Don’t buy textbooks from the bookstore.
Unless it’s your parents’ money, then I guess it doesn’t matter. But even then, you might as well find them for cheaper and keep the extra cash. Check Amazon, ask upperclassmen, and post on Facebook. The bookstore should only be a last resort. Also, if you have a huge list of reading materials, don’t buy all of them right away because you probably won’t end up using or needing all of them. Wait it out a few weeks and only buy the books you will actually need.
18. Be aware of student perks and shop online.
Lots of local restaurants, movie theaters, and other stores will offer student discounts with a valid student ID. Check out this list of 20 clothing stores that offer student discounts, some of which include Banana Republic, J. Crew, and Ralph Lauren.
Another rule of thumb is to always check for things online before buying them in-store. You can usually buy things for much cheaper online. Amazon.com is usually my go-to for most things, but spending a few extra minutes shopping around online might just save you more than a few extra bucks. DormCo.com, for example, has super cheap dorm room supplies — pillows, posters, room decor, etc.
Warning: Make sure to take shipping and handling costs into consideration when comparing prices online vs in-store. Shipping can be really expensive sometimes, in which cases it might be better to buy in-store. This is one of the reasons why I love DormCo.com – $2.95 shipping on ALL orders.
19. Develop your professional skills.
Attend workshops on networking, personal branding, and interviewing. No matter how technical your major may be, having good soft skills will always make you more employable than those without them.
20. Learn how to speed read.
You’ll be doing a lot of reading in college. Set aside 10-20 minutes a day for a week to learn how to speed read and you will at the very least double your reading speed. This is a huge competitive edge and definitely worth the small time investment.
Get off campus and explore the city you’re living in. Go on adventures. Go to the beach. Go to the mountains. Do things you’ve never done before and, for God’s sake, meet some new people!
There you have it. The 21 best college tips
on the internet I could come up with.
Pick and choose a few things that you want to focus on this year and then leave a comment with your own college tips!
Image Credit: By Ulrich Lange, Dunedin, New Zealand (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons