I’m headed into my senior year of college, but there are a few things I wish I’d known before stepping on campus. So for those just entering college, or for those still wandering around lost, I thought I’d share a few tips that they may not tell you on the college tours to help you succeed academically next fall.
1. Don’t Buy All The Books
My first semester of college, I spent over $500.00 on textbooks.
I never opened the two most expensive ones.
Before you buy the books for a class, go to a couple lectures, check the syllabus, and if possible, talk to someone who’s taken the class before to see if the book is a worthwhile investment.
2. Buy Books On The Cheap
For classes where the book is necessary, you can try to minimize your costs by buying used.
Some bookstores sell used books at a discount, and you can often use your college’s social networks to find students selling their used books for even cheaper, especially for popular “general” or “core” classes. If you have an e-reader or tablet, many textbooks are also available as e-books, which generally cost less. If you have friends on campus, even better; they might sell you their old books or even let you use them for free. Check with your professors first, but unless you’re studying a cutting edge discipline, older editions of books often work fine, and save you big.
The more you can save on books, the more money you have to spend on other things.
Oh, and if you’re not planning to keep your books (some can be very useful in your professional life), consider selling them privately. You can often get a better price than the bookstore will give you. If your school has some sort of book-swap system, use it, or you can always try Craigslist.
3. Stay Organized
Be sure to keep track of due dates. You’ll avoid a lot of late nights in the library if you get started on assignments before they’re due. There are plenty of great Apps available for iOS and Android devices to help.
Many colleges sell organizers that have important school dates already added. Consider investing in one, even if all you’ll be doing is importing those dates into your laptop or smartphone. Try to figure out a daily or weekly schedule to stay on top of things, even if it’s just in your head.
4. Find Study Buddies
One of the best ways to tackle tough assignments is teamwork.
Not only can you solve problems more easily, but you’ll have more fun doing homework. Plus, you can help each other with Tip #2 — many classes allow you to share books, so if you have a friend in the class, you can both save on the book by sharing. And, if you have to miss a class, your buddy can catch you up on what you missed.
5. Know How To Get Extra Help
A lot of people say to stay after class and introduce yourself to your professors so you know each other, in case you need help later in the semester. That might work well in smaller classes, but in large lectures (which will likely be most of your classes during your first year), dozens of students stay after to introduce themselves. The chance that the instructor will remember each of you is pretty slim. Instead, familiarize yourself with when and where your professors (and their assistants) have office hours, and use those times to ask questions and introduce yourself.
You should also figure out early where academic help centers are on campus. That way, if you find yourself struggling with a class, you know where to go for additional one-on-one assistance.
6. Create And Follow A Budget
It’s easy to lose track of your spending the first time you’re out on your own.
There are a lot of expenses in college that don’t show up in your tuition, from books and online access fees to transportation and parking fees (and of course, money for a little fun). Be careful about where your money goes from the start. Consider checking out finance apps for your tablet or computer. Or, just do it the old fashioned way with a little paper and pen.
Then, during Dead Week and Finals Week, you can concentrate your worry-centers on grades instead of finances.
7. Go To Class
You’ll often hear, “In college, your teachers don’t care if you go to class or not, since they get paid either way.”
That’s not true.
Many courses have mandatory attendance, and will award or penalize your grade based on whether or not you make it to class. This is especially true of smaller classes or labs, but even large lectures often track attendance electronically.
In classes where attendance isn’t mandatory, resist the urge to ditch. It’s easier to keep up with the material if you don’t miss lectures, and most class exams are based off of lecture material.
8. Participate In Class
A lot of college students seem to think that just being in the class will provide them with the knowledge necessary to succeed in class. It won’t.
When you budget out your tuition, each lecture can cost $40 (or more, depending where you go), so make the most of it.
Do: pay attention, take notes, participate in discussions, ask questions.
Don’t: text, doodle, sleep, check Facebook, fall asleep checking doodles on Facebook.
9. Learn How You Learn
If you haven’t already discovered what “type” of learner you are, find out.
There are a number of tests and questionnaires online (like this one, this one, or this one) that you can take on a tablet or smartphone to help you figure out your style (take them with a hefty grain of salt, though). Having an idea of whether you learn best visually, kinesthetically, or aurally, along with the best strategies are for your learning style can raise your grades significantly and make learning much less frustrating.
10. Meet Your Fellow Majors
While you’ll mainly be taking your General classes during your first semester or so, over the next several years, you’ll be spending a lot of time with a handful of people. Spend some time getting to know your classmates.
It’s a good way to start on tip #4. It never hurts to make friends with people a year or two ahead of you in your major, either. They’ll usually have an inside scoop on all your classes, have old textbooks to sell, and may even offer to help you with the material. Also, get on the good side of the professors and administrative staff in your college and/or major.
Having your department’s staff on your side can be a huge help, whether it’s in getting you into “full” classes, or helping you through paperwork hurdles for your program.
11. Get Out There
The main reason to go to college is to get an education to prepare you for a future career. But, universities also provide you access and time for opportunities that might not be available in your professional career.
In addition to your classes, get involved on campus. Join clubs in your college or department — they can be very informative and great for networking. Or, consider exploring an unrelated side interest, whether that’s through campus clubs or formal classes. College is a great place to develop hobbies.
You might also consider volunteering in the community, which can be very personally rewarding (and may even help you in your classes in unexpected ways).
All of these things also look great on resumés and scholarship applications.
It’s easy to get caught up in the academia of campus, but there’s a lot going on at college, and school is only part of that. Be sure to make the most of it, because you’re not in college for long. Need a few more ideas? Participate in dorm floor events, check out campus rallies, see a concert, watch a ball game, or hang out with friends.
12. The Internet Is Your Frenemy
Students today have a distinct advantage at school compared to past generations: The Interwebz.
Your parents might have stories of their campus having one computer that took up a whole basement and operated with punch-cards (it’s also probably still in use on your campus).
Whenever you have a problem with your homework, you can bet someone else has had a similar problem. The web has more info on virtually every topic than any library could ever contain, so you can almost always find additional resources to help you understand whatever subject you’re struggling with. The internet can also help you fit your learning style (#9), by, for example, watching YouTube videos of a complex concept to supplement the teacher’s description.
And, while most instructors don’t accept Wikipedia as a resource for papers, the sources for Wikipedia, located at the bottom of the article, often provide exactly what you need. Other web sites can help you write those citations. But, beware: While the internet is an invaluable resource in your education, it can also be your bane. There’s not much that’s tougher than trying to write a paper with a Facebook window open. To avoid temptation, keep social media or entertainment sites closed while you’re doing schoolwork. If you need, take a ten-minute break from work every hour to check on them, then close them again. There are even tools for many computers (including Macs) that force you to focus — consider using them!
Have a college tip of your own? Add it as a comment below!