College Tips: How to Make the Most of Your Great Scholastic Adventure!

by Bailey Powell

My diploma and magical graduation shoes.

It’s hard to believe this day is finally here because I must admit, there were times when I did not see the light at the end of the higher education tunnel. I’m not going to bore you with elaboration because I think school is a trying (or even tumultuous) time for most people. I am going to drop some knowledge*, though. The following are some things that would have been nice to know before I embarked on my college journey.

Truly Take Time to Consider Your Options

I know that when you’re gung-ho to get the heck out of your parents’ house just about any school sounds great. I also know that it’s easy to make an educational decision influenced by the plans of your friends, boyfriend or girlfriend, or where the majority of your family members are alumni. What I didn’t know before school is how vitally important it is to take some time to be honest with yourself about what it is you like to do and places you’d like to go, and to consider all possibilities. Dream big. Make a list of five schools you’re curious about or interested in, schedule visits, and go.

I know there are a lot of people in your ear giving unsolicited advice about post-high school options so I will keep this short. Do yourself a favor and make a scholastic decision based on what is best for you. Do not be afraid of distance or of trekking off to a school not knowing a soul. Have faith in yourself to adjust and find your groove in a brand new arena and remember: the people that truly matter will remain in your life no matter where you choose to go to school.

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Fear Not: Community College

Do not make the mistake of snubbing community college. During my freshman year I took both history classes required for my basic credits, one at the University of North Texas and one at the local community college. This unplanned parallel revealed volumes about the differences between the two institutions. At UNT I was one of five hundred students enrolled in the class and the professor had no idea who I was (and didn’t seem to care). All questions were directed to the student instructor. The community college setting was not unlike an intimate high school classroom, wielding twenty-something desks that weren’t all filled. Not only did all of our questions go directly to our professor, he knew all of our names within a couple of weeks.

The material is the same, but at a university you’re paying an astronomically higher fee per credit hour for a professor who most likely doesn’t recognize you. In community college dialogue flows easily due to the approachable amount of people in the classroom. Also, because of the flexibility of admission and inexpensive tuition you’re likely to meet a more diverse group of individuals beyond the university 18-24 age range- excellent for your people skills.

One of my all-time favorite professors during my college career was my English teacher at community college. If, for whatever reason, the option of attending one pops into you’re life, don’t turn up your nose at it. Give it a fair amount of consideration, because I can almost guarantee it will be a better experience for your core classes at only a fraction of the university price.

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Rush

If you’re attending a university in the States or Canada I cannot encourage you enough to go Greek. Before you roll your eyes and scroll down allow me to give you what I think is an unconventional explanation as to why rushing is a good move, and no it doesn’t have to do with Greeks all being future CEOs, or something.

Being a part of a sorority is more than just a resumé filler by way of alcohol-fueled social events. It is a crash course on people. While you’re learning about the importance of philanthropy, scholarship, and how to behave like a lady you’re also learning what type of person is bridesmaid material and what type of person is poison in the shape of a girl. You learn that you’re no longer in your safe high school bubble and that not all adults have good intentions or your best interest at heart. Most of all, you get the opportunity to hone your people skills. Because of participation year after year in sorority recruitment I could make comfortable, meaningful conversation with just about anyone- a useful quality to possess.

Like any massive organization, the good comes in with the bad. I think of it as a sometimes unpleasant yet ultimately beneficial learning experience worth being a part of. Plus there really are, well, a lot of fun alcohol-fueled social events.**

Adventures in Housing

Whether you’re staying in a dorm, four-bedroom-four-lease apartment, sorority house, a charming fixer-upper, or any other typical student housing, hurdles are going to come your way. Dorms swarm with 18 year olds acting their age, any sizable group of students living together=filth, cockroaches come out of once “charming” crevices, and yes, there is the occasional weirdo roommate.

There are two things to remember when moving into student housing of any kind: 1) respect and 2) communicate.  Respect essentially means letting go of some of your selfish tendencies. You must become considerate to those sharing your living situation by leaving communal areas clean and noise at a reasonable volume. You will become unpopular very quickly if you don’t ever concern yourself with the comfortability of those around you. Although communication seems obvious, it’s imperative that you know how to talk to the people you’re living with. When you move in together, discuss the things you are not flexible on and set up some ground rules. This will save you from late night snappy conversations and awkward moments in front of third parties.

Give a little and communicate, and if the people you’re living with do the same you’ve got a recipe for college housing success.

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Study Abroad

Whether it be a faculty-hosted month long trip or an entire year embarking on your own, the experience of studying abroad is absolutely invaluable. You learn a lot about yourself when you go to a different country and your situation is sink or swim. You have to be proactive and ask for what you need/find out how to get it, be psyched to immerse yourself in a new place, and make shyness a thing of the past. Visiting is one thing, but being able to learn, adapt, and grow accustomed to a culture does massive things for your perspective and self-esteem. Going abroad is humbling and gives you a broader point of view- something books can only do so much of.

If funding is a concern, a nice thing about studying abroad is that a lot of schools offer special scholarships for those participating and then direct you to other opportunities to apply for help outside of the institution. I learned that an exchange program is the most economical choice as you pay your regular tuition to your home university and simply attend another (and that school sends their students to your home university).

Sure, you’ll miss your friends and family but remember: it’s only temporary, nothing good comes out of constant comfortability and not taking the initiative to challenge yourself, and let’s be honest- writing letters is fun(!).

If you have any desire to study abroad, make haste. Preparation is a lengthy process but it is 100% worth it.

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Reach Out

This is especially important if you’re on one of those 500 student rosters: introduce yourself to your professor. Take a moment during the first week of school to approach your instructor after class and shake their hand. If the professor knows that you’re serious about the class from the get-go, he or she will be more inclined to help you out if you end up teetering between letter grades at the conclusion of the semester. If you are shy or afraid of having an awkward moment, read the syllabus beforehand and come equipped with a minor question or two. The professor will be impressed that you’ve analyzed his or her syllabus in addition to your initiative to say hello.

On a more general note, learning is not limited to the classroom. Colleges and universities have boundless resources available to their students. From tips on surviving financially after graduation to an impressive movie library to a complementary ticket to see a distinguished speaker, you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find at your fingertips if you just reach out. Organizations, tutorials, and recreational activities can’t involve you if they don’t know you want to be involved. Which leads me to…

Try New Things

Although it’s important to be in clubs pertaining to your major for networking purposes and fun to be Greek for social activities, go out on a limb and try something people would not expect from you. My wild card activity was my regular attendance to UNT’s Freethought Alliance. There would be controversial topics predetermined for weekly meetings and we would sit in a classroom and bounce ideas off of each other. I went to see a former pastor turned atheist speak as I was wildly curious about his story. If there’s a time to venture into unknown waters and check things out for yourself, it’s college. Your dislike for some things will be solidified but you might be surprised to find something new that you love being a part of.

*See what I did there?

**Fun if you’re responsible and make good choices.

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Go to class. Be wary of student loans and spend within your means. Choose a major you’re passionate about first, money second. Be kind. Keep a planner to stay on top of deadlines. Most importantly: be yourself. These years are going to be incredible no matter what, so don’t worry about messing up. That’s what college is for.

Loyally,

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