Take Small Classes when Offered – Many freshman courses offered will be larger lecture classes, but when there’s an opportunity, take smaller classes or a seminar with 8-10 students. Smaller classes allow you to connect with your peers on a deeper level, gain a profound insight into the subject matter, and form genuine relationships with professors.
Select Classes Based on the Professors Teaching – Most students will have required courses for their major or general curriculum, but outside of these requirements, select classes based on the students’ reviews of professors. Often when the professor is engaging, the students love the class. Perhaps you never considered taking a course on Aztec history or a course on 19th century music, but if students find the professor fascinating, give the class a try. You may surprise yourself and it could be your favorite class of the semester.
Go to Office Hours and Talk with Your Professors – Even if you don’t have a question about the reading, go to office hours to chat with your professor. Think of something to ask them about the class material or perhaps not related to the class material. Ask for suggestions on additional courses and inquire about their experiences in their specialty. Ask if they need a research assistant in their science lab or for their psychology experiment. Not only will you learn something by talking with them, but by the end of sophomore year you will likely need recommendations for summer jobs, internships, fellowships, etc., and you will be grateful to have a couple professors who know you well and who would be willing to write a strong referral on your behalf.
Don’t Freak Out If You Change Your Major – I changed my major twice before the middle of sophomore year, and so did several friends of mine. Not everyone arrives at college knowing exactly what they want to study and that’s ok! Don’t be too hard on yourself. My advice would be to give yourself a timeline – try to decide on your major by junior year to avoid the stress of rushing to finish any requirements.
Aim for a Healthy Work-Play Balance – Many high school students think college and they think FREEDOM! No parents, no rules, no responsibilities. That said, it’s important to not over indulge in partying to the point where your grades suffer. When it comes time to apply for internships, jobs, and graduate school, even if it’s a few years after you’ve graduated from college, most graduate schools and some companies will request an official college transcript. All that said, believe it or not, there are some students who may veer towards the other extreme – over studying. Stressed about your pre-med grades? Concerned you won’t graduate with high honors? Be cautious to maintain healthy study habits. Exercise and sleep! These are two things that people often lack enough of in college. Consistent exercise correlates with restful sleep and restful sleep correlates with heightened focus and concentration. A healthy work-play balance will help set you up for success in college and beyond.
Master Time Management – Create a routine for yourself. If you are a morning person schedule classes in the morning and perhaps use your afternoons for studying and socializing. If you are a night owl, sleep in late and schedule classes for the afternoon and use your evenings for studying and socializing. Schedule time for homework, time to grab dinner with a friend, or time to see the campus play that everyone is telling you about. Consider writing a study schedule where you focus on one or two subjects per day so by the weekend you cover all of your classes. When it comes time for exams, pulling all nighters in the library is not worth it. Trust me! You’ll be too tired the next day to focus on your exam. TIME MANAGEMENT is arguably the most important skill you’ll need to master in college.
Seek Out New Experiences During the School Year and Summers – Universities have more opportunities available for students than students know, and college is a perfect time to try new things. Always wanted to do more community service? Ever considered singing a capella? Want to learn fencing? At the beginning of each academic year most schools have activity fairs where students can learn about all the organizations on campus. GO to these fairs and see what’s available to you. Most universities also have resources such as career centers or study abroad offices where students can learn about summer internships, paid summer travel opportunities, jobs, etc. Want to get paid to travel in South America next summer? Check out Let’s Go travel guide books – they hire students to travel for them and write their reviews. Looking to do research on monkeys in Tanzania? It is very possible to secure funding through a grant or scholarship opportunity. Research your options to make the most of your summer experiences.
Foster New Friendships – College is one of the rare times in your life when a social network is built in for you. You have roommates, dorms, classes, school events, parties, campus clubs, sports, etc., and in most cases these are organized FOR you and all you need to do is show up. Do yourself the favor and make the minimum effort to show up! Universities attract diverse student bodies from around the globe. You will most likely meet at least a few people you enjoy spending time with. And once you do meet friends, foster those friendships. Learn about their cultures, their interests, and their ideas. If people invite you to go home with them for the weekend or on holiday breaks, take advantage of those opportunities and visit them. In college I am certain I learned equally as much from experiences with my peers than I did from my classes.
Appreciate Your Time as a Student – It is highly unlikely that you will have the luxury of studying and socializing for another 4 year period again in your life. Even if you continue your studies in a Master’s or PhD program, these programs are often significantly more academically rigorous than college and allow for much less leisure time. As an undergraduate, it may be easy to feel stressed over your physics final exam, or feel totally depressed because you were not chosen for the Morgan Stanley internship that was to be your gateway to dominating the investment banking world. But at the end of the day, college is college. Please know that I do not mean to trivialize disappointments that you will experience in college; I only suggest that you remember you are still a STUDENT and to not be too hard on yourself. As cliche as it sounds, when one door closes another one opens. Keep this in perspective. Once you graduate and enter the real world with work, responsibilities, dependents, bills, re-paying student loans, etc., you will appreciate your college years even more.
Write a Thesis – Of course there are situations where writing a thesis is not suitable for students- it depends on your major, your goals, your plans after graduation, etc. Perhaps if someone is headed straight to medical school after graduation they would rather have a more relaxed senior year. But speaking from my own experience, I did not write a thesis and I wish I had. At the time I felt I had too many interests and could not narrow them down to one topic. Looking back, I should have just chosen A TOPIC and bit the bullet. Why? Because again, when else in your life will you have a year to delve into a topic to the extent where you truly feel like an expert on the subject? Among other things, writing a thesis lets you learn immensely and work closely with a (hopefully) brilliant advisor, perhaps a professor who shares his or her knowledge and wisdom with you. Additionally, the thesis writing process can sometimes provide more clarity on your graduate school focus or your career interests as they continue to evolve. Overall, writing a thesis is a culmination of 4 years of academic study, self discovery, and intellectual curiosity, which for me is what college is all about. Granted, writing a thesis is not easy! From speaking with friends who wrote theses, many said that at times it was extremely challenging and frustrating. Some complained that their advisor was too demanding, and some said that ultimately the main idea of the final thesis was actually what they had thought would be only one chapter of the entire thesis. But, they all said the end product was worth the reward- the feeling of incredible accomplishment.