First year college student survival guide (Feature for Extra)

Aside from writing a travel column for Extra I have also written some features.  This one was on the cover of the August 18th issue


Congratulations on your matriculation! You have made it to college, and while it’s likely many of your friends didn’t get this far you have, and this is your chance to choose your own educational path and get yourself the final credential before you to take on the world.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the educational pack is still thinning out. Most of the colleges in and around Chicago have less than half of their students graduate in four years, some don’t manage 50% graduation after six years. Using your time effectively in college is a challenge and it starts as soon a student signs up for his or her first classes. Getting to college is hard, but graduating maybe harder. So this is survival guide in the real sense. These tips aim to make sure that you make it through the entire exercise

First year tips

More freedom means more responsibility
When you start college there are a number of new things to think about. If you’re living on campus or just moving out of your parents digs there is the whole issue of living on your own to contend with I will leave that advise to another writer in a different article. But, for commuter and resident students there a are a host of new freedoms and responsibilities opening up to a college student that were not available to a high school student

The biggest new freedom/responsibility is the choosing a major
It can be difficult to select a major. While some come to school with a direction in mind others will find it harder to settle on one right away. It is especially difficult considering that many fields of study arecompletely unknown to the average highschool student. To help yourself in this process don’t fret if you don’t know your major when you’re picking your first years classes, but set a date to decide by and use the faculty to help you gain an understanding of what that major includes and requires. While your deciding…

Knock out your prerequisites
This is an oldie but a goody. Most colleges will not let any students graduate without fulfilling some basic prerequisites. If at all possible get these done first. If you have a major this will give you the flexibility to pursue that if you don’t all the more reason do the classes you know you will need.

There is also the issue of scheduling.
In high school your schedule is largely out of your hands. School most likely always starts and ends at the same time. In college you have to coordinate class times and see when the classes you need to take are offered.

Pay attention to the professors
The main factor in any class being good or bad is who the professor is. It matters more than the subject matter, the reading, or what peers you have in the class. There are websites that rank professors, but I would put more faith in the judgment of the peers that you trust. If you’re really committed to finding out about a professor there is no reason you can’t go into his or her office and have a conversation one on one.

Do all the preparation you can
The thing about starting anything new is that it is hard to know what part of the experience will be difficult There will be things that you will not, and cannot anticipate. So do everything you can to get ahead. Especially in the early going before you have exams to worry about.

Be prepared to be surprised by your major or change your mind.
Sadly, there are some things you can’t prepare for. You can’t know what it is like to be a psych major until you are one, and take some of those classes. If you find that you would like to or have to change your majors this is why knocking out prerequisites is so important. The more one can get some of these out of the way the less they will be penalized for changing there minds.

Show up and Don’t Cheat
It should go without saying, but Mickey Brazeal a professor at Roosevelt University says that the majority of the students who fail either cheat or don’t show up to the class. ‘nuff said.

Don’t get fooled by Hollywood’s idea of college
Animal house was a good movie. Since it was made there have been about a hundred imitators that I would argue are less good. They portray college as an unending binge of drinking and sex. I will happily concede that in college, generally speaking, there is some sex and some drinking. But that is a tiny sliver of the total experience.

This, whether or not some of you believe it, is great news. College is many things: the social scene, the extra curriculars, the community and the study. It’s all built with the student in mind.

In the professional world the things that people do are for some purpose other than the employee If you work at a paper it’s to sell the ads or make the content that the readers read, if you work at a bakery you’re engaged in trying to create and sell the goods that the bakery bakes. In college those classes are for you, the student. They are created with the student in mind. The resources, faculty, and peer group created is for the student her or himself. So if you have the chance take advantage of them.

You only get four years… or six… or eight

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