Advice for college freshmen?
August 8, 2005 6:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be a freshman going to college in the fall. Any advice, helpful anecdotes, experiences, tips or suggestions?

Sorry about it being so broad, I was searching for a college thread like this and couldn't find one, so here we go...
posted by petah to Education (78 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Don't be "that guy".
posted by mosch at 6:37 PM on August 8, 2005 [2 favorites]

If you have electives, take them way outside your major.

Join clubs.

Don't work yourself to death and don't slack off.
posted by Capn at 6:39 PM on August 8, 2005

Take a studio art class.
posted by ORthey at 6:40 PM on August 8, 2005

Don't feel like you have to get drunk every weekend, every single time you go out. You don't. There are fewer people out there getting totally smashed than you think. You have four years of weekends to have fun and unwind - take your time.

Study abroad if you can wing it.

Get involved in organizations on campus. Become a part of your campus community.
posted by cajo at 6:42 PM on August 8, 2005

Study abroad even if you can't wing it. I totally regret not doing it.
posted by mullacc at 6:48 PM on August 8, 2005

Spend as much time off-campus as possible, and only spend as much time on campus as is necessary to make friends and go to class. This even goes for freshman year.
posted by rxrfrx at 6:48 PM on August 8, 2005

Take whatever classes you want to. Want to study photography (even though you're a Chem. major)? Do it. This is your chance to soak up a little bit of everything.

Drink, but don't be a drunk.

If you can afford it, don't take a job your first year.

Meet as many people as you can from as many different backgrounds as you can.
posted by ColdChef at 6:49 PM on August 8, 2005

Don't eat out all the time, don't get drunk all the time, don't start smoking, don't feel pressured by the other students to be someone you don't want to be.

Do explore everything about the place and city where you end up, start a 'zine, work for the newspaper, be smart, and fuck the system.

You will meet people who are the greatest people you've ever met, and you'll meet the lousiest bastards you've ever imagined. Have fun.
posted by interrobang at 6:50 PM on August 8, 2005

Get a roommate with a car.
posted by ColdChef at 6:50 PM on August 8, 2005

Things I wish I had done:

1. study abroad
2. dated more, and more relationship-based stuff rather than hormonally driven accidents
3. networked more
4. joined a good club
5. engaged in at least one massive, clever, harmless prank
6. dated more widely--learned to seriously ress and groom myself.
7. understood what social class was and how it affected my every interaction on campus, especially with the chicks.
posted by mecran01 at 6:53 PM on August 8, 2005

The work load at my college was so oppressive that I wasn't really enjoying the beautiful campus and the city it was in. So I cut back on the work, got a few B's (maybe a C too) and had a really good time with my friends. I've never, ever regretted it.

Have fun.
posted by recurve at 6:53 PM on August 8, 2005

I just finished my first year. I also suggest sampling a bunch of clubs and activities, even if you don't intend on sticking with them, just to get involed and meet people.
posted by danb at 7:04 PM on August 8, 2005

I found that declaring a minor worked out well for me. It required many courses I wanted to take anyway, and it gave me a little something to show for it. I got to take substantive, challenging courses with people outside my major.

I chose (and avoided) some classes on the basis of the faculty. If you find a professor that impresses you, do whatever you have to do to take more classes with them. Other times, if you find an uninspiring burnout, or, say, a man-hating feminist political science professor who is chair of the department, run away. It's not worth your time and money.
posted by Brian James at 7:09 PM on August 8, 2005

-Get to know a few professors. Depending on your class, sizes, it can be a royal pain in the ass to find recommendations when the time comes (and yes, oh yes, the time will come sooner than you think!) if you don't personally know them. Do your research. Find out who the more prominant professors are- seek them out ASAP and build a relationship.
-If you plan on applying to any post-undergrad school, some classes usually count more than others to the acceptance commitee. Find out what these classes are and be sure to kick ass in them.
-Don't be liike me and take all your elective in your first two years. My last year still kicked ass in terms of social life, but passing classes was still living a hell as I was taking all upper-level sciences. Not fun.
-Contrary to ColdChef's advice, getting a job can be great- especially campus jobs. I found it the best way to meet new people. Clubs are good, too, but I find the people are usually too similar for my tastes in clubs. Jobs have every flavor out there (yes yes, i know, not all clubs are like that but I still love networking through jobs). Even if you work one or two 4 hour shift a week, you will meet tons of new people.
-Dunno if you are, but don't live at home! In the dorms, keep your door open when you're home. LOCK IT when you leave, even to go to the bathroom. Dorm rooms are a magnet for thieves!
-Video games systems and a big TV = the way to always have people in your room.
-If you college is of any significant size, try not to get stuck in one social clique as often happens in HS. I loved my college w/ 37K students because I could be in multiple circles and change them on a whim due to the size. Don't be afraid to move on if you have to.
-If you life consists of drinking, partying, and drugs (usually pot), join a frat. If your life is not- especially if you don't like partying- don't. Again, I know there are exceptions, but it's how every frat at my school was.
-Beware of EverCrack clones such as WoW! With the freedom, it's incredibly easy to become addicted to them. I know plenty of people who dropped out due to them.
-Don't be afraid of talking to prof's about your school-related problems and why you suck as a student. More often than not, if you show the prof you have a vested interest in passing, you will regardless. Unlike HS, grades are, um, highly flexible.
-If you get an utter asshole roomate, try to get a different one. It's not worth living a year with them and making your life a living hell in the process. Sure, some might say it teaches you to put up with anyone, it's not worth it.
posted by jmd82 at 7:09 PM on August 8, 2005

Drop out in your third year to pursue your lifelong dream as a musician in an indie band with a sitar.
posted by angry modem at 7:11 PM on August 8, 2005 [2 favorites]

- Learn good study habits early. If you don't start off nicely, it'll be hard to recover that GPA later.
- Drink if you want to, but do it sparingly.
- Be friendly with your flatmates (including those in the halls above and below you, if you're living on campus - or even in an off-campus apartment). You'll never know when you're going to need them.
- Join clubs. Take classes outside your major. Attend seminars. All of these broaden your horizons.
- On the same level as the seminars, go to functions: movie nights, plays, speakers. Take advantage of all the things you've paid good money for. (Plus, a lot of them - especially a few weeks into a semester - offer lots of free food.)
- Don't work the first year if you don't have to. If so, try to get a job on-campus.
- Take care of yourself. (This is especially if you live on-campus.) Shower regularly, keep doctor's appointments.
- Cook occassionally to save money. Taco Bell is great, I know, but you don't have to live there.
posted by itchie at 7:13 PM on August 8, 2005

Make friends with older students. Or people in your major. Listen to them when they tell you that someone is a lousy teacher. Take gut classes that you need but have no relative basis to your major (that you hate and don't want to take) either during evening classes or summer. The evening classes are often taught by teachers looking for good long as you 'show up' you'll do better.

For classes where you struggle, create a study group - one kid smarter than yourself, and someone attractive of the opposite sex to get you to show up.

Oh, and take ballroom dancing if you have the chance.
posted by filmgeek at 7:14 PM on August 8, 2005

Don't make your life revolve around your school. Join some clubs if you like, sure, but there are lots of clubs that aren't school-affiliated, join those too (e.g. if you have a favourite sport, look into joining the local parks and rec based team instead of the intramural team). If you want to do public service, go to your city's volunteer centre instead of the college volunteer centre. Just because your in college doesn't mean everyone you meet should be in college or in your college. If you really want to broaden your horizons and meet different kinds of people remember that the people at your school are all "the kind of people who go to your school." To meet other kinds of people, leave the school.

And get to know your professors, absolutely. If you're thinking of any sort of grad school this will be vital and you should start ASAP, not in your last year. More advice on how you should be doing college if you're thinking about grad school here.
posted by duck at 7:18 PM on August 8, 2005

First and best thing I learned: This Is Not High School. Forget all that baggage and shit. I had so much fun getting to know people my first few weeks that I forgot to be the invisible dorkus I was in high school. The most awesome whoops ever.

I regret not studying abroad, too. At the time I put it down logistics, knowing that to some extent it was fear of missing out on stuff in the realm of the already known (i.e., I want to take this particular class, be in the upcoming play, etc.) Wish I'd taken the leap of faith and gone for it.

If there are travel opportunities through your school (other than taking a year abroad) take them if at all possible. This is something I did and have always been thankful for. My grandfather, who would have in no way funded a "summer trip Eurorailing" kind of vacation, happily paid for a couple of awesome three-week professor-organized trips (because he knew I'd get fed and a decent roof over my head.) He burst with pride when I called him to thank him and told him great stories of what I saw.
posted by desuetude at 7:24 PM on August 8, 2005

Study something you love, or study something that you can sell.
posted by cribcage at 7:24 PM on August 8, 2005

don't plan on ever studying in your room. Make it the chill place to hang out from day one and people will come. Just get a couch or two, an xbox and a minifridge and you'll be set.

First semester is summer camp, don't overload yourself. Just concentrate on getting to know a good group of people and getting settled in the area

get drunk at every opportunity

clean yourself up. You're not in high school anymore, you would not believe how taking five minutes every day to make you not a scrub helps you socially.

do everything once

DO NOT START HOOKING UP WITH A GIRL ON YOUR HALL FRESHMAN YEAR baaaaaaaaad experience. Fun at the time, but when it goes bad........
posted by slapshot57 at 7:26 PM on August 8, 2005

Go to class--every class, every single time. Sit near the front, its easier to pay attention. And take off that stupid hat.
posted by LarryC at 7:26 PM on August 8, 2005

Find out if your university has tunnels. Chances are googling for "Podunk U Tunnels" will turn up something. If it doesn't they are etiher unexplored (cool!), so cool the previous explorers have kept them under wraps (cool!), on non-existant/dangerous (damn).

Read The MIT Guide to Lockpicking.

If your university doesn't have tunnels, it has roofs. If it doesn't, I reccomend transferring.

Essentially, my advice is this: Explore your surroundings, don't get caught where you shouldn't be (if you do you "were looking for the bathroom"), and keep in mind that there is probably a good reason you shouldn't be there. Like life-threating danger.
posted by phrontist at 7:27 PM on August 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

Dont' wait until graduation to wear sunscreen.
posted by ericb at 7:29 PM on August 8, 2005

The roommate thing, no matter how good a bead think you have on it, will work out differently than you imagined.

Your time is your own. Find something you want and make it happen. Remember: this is an opportunity.

Even if it's not your money, learn to appreciate both the monetary and intangible value of your education.

You'll meet a lot of different people. Try to respect all of them. Learn which ones deserve your respect and which do not.

Learn to clean your home and budget both your time and money.

If you drink, try to figure out how much is too much. Figure this out quickly and remember it well.

Don't get pregnant or get anyone pregnant, catch any STDs, or do anything on videotape that you wouldn't want played at Thanksgiving dinner.

Call your parents.

Don't panic.
posted by mmcg at 7:29 PM on August 8, 2005

Take any opportunities that come up to do something you like that is interesting, unusual, and out of the ordinary. Especially the last-minute surprises. They will enrich your life, and so many doors will open.

Anecdote: Due to a generally horrid primary & secondary school life, I had developed a fear and hatred of school in general. I didn't want to go to college; I took a yearlong break and had a great time. When it came time to go, I was nervous and scared. Didn't help that a week before I entered, two people were trolling my blog every night saying that they were from my college and that I wasn't wanted there!

I entered college, and for the orientation week we had to prepare for the Performance Evening, where you were placed in groups and you had to come up with a short performance (it was a contest). Our group did a spoof of Orientation Week, including someone impersonating our MC - a graduate who worked with Student Services. Originally someone else was going to act as him, but at the last minute, I was given that role instead.

I took to the stage and I was the life of the show. SS Guy had fun, the whole audience loved it, and everyone knew who I was. I was given a load of opportunities in college because of it. Even SS Guy became one of my best friends.

So you never know.

Also, you don't need to take drugs or drink or smoke or have sex or whatever if you don't want to. No need to buy into the stereotype. Be your own person. You'd be a lot more honest, sincere, and interesting than most of the others.

If your college has it, take advantage of the free Internet. It will be your best friend.

Don't revolve your life around college. Have a life outside it too. Try out new things, explore what you like and don't like, and have fun. Don't think that just because you're in college that everything has to be about college. Some of the best experiences I've had during college years (OK, just the past one-and-a-half years) happened outside of it. Like right now actually - I'm deferring this semester to participate in the WorldSmart Leadership Program; it's only just started and I'm already having a grand time.

And most importantly - college is not the be-all or end-all of your life. If it is not for you, if you don't want to do it, if something better comes along, go. Don't stay stagnant in college just because people tell you it's the "right thing to do". If you haven't the heart nor soul for college, don't make yourself suffer. You can make it, wherever you are.

Good luck.
posted by divabat at 7:34 PM on August 8, 2005

Related to don't panic, this is how I calmed the panic...Some courses just seemed to have requirements that were completely overwhelming. Eventually you will find yourself thinking: "How could anyone expect students (who are presumably either taking four other courses or is raising a family/working full-time/caring for a sick relative/whatever or even all of the above) to complete all these requirements and to complete them even passably competently? It's crazy. I'll never be able to do it."

When you find yourself thinking that, remember. This is not the first time a group of students has been asked to do this. A bunch of people took this course last semester and the semester before that and the semester before that. Almost all of them completed the requirements and passed the course. Some of those people were surely stupider than you. If people stupider than you can do it and pass. You can do it and pass.

Yes, that's right, I got through undergrad by reassuring myself that I could not possibly be the stupidest person in the room. It's kind of mean, but it works and it's not like I was calling people stupid or trying to pick out who the stupidest one was.
posted by duck at 7:38 PM on August 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

One other thing - take responsibility for your actions. If you fuck up, own it. Accept the consequences. Don't call mom and dad to pull you out. Pull yourself out.
posted by cajo at 7:38 PM on August 8, 2005

I'll second the Study something you love, or study something that you can sell. and go to class folks. Seriously, it's a HELL of a lot easier to slack all the time if you go to all your classes. You will pass if you do. If you do not, you will struggle and generally hate the academic portion of school. Just go to class, whether you've done the work or not, show up!

Oh, and find *something* you love doing. Experiment with people and things to do. Also, be confident. Everyone is "finding themselves" so even if you make a foux pas or whatever, just laugh it off and continue on your merry way. You will embarrass yourself. Repeatedly. It's OK, and so will everyone else.
posted by lorrer at 7:44 PM on August 8, 2005

Go to faculty office hours. Meet your professors. Knowing them outside of the classroom is what will help you get the break in the classroom. Know that kid that always gets a B- while you do the same work and get a C+? He did this.

Get involved. Students who have interests on campus outside of the classroom generally do better in the classroom. The skills you learn in one place transfers over very well to the other place.

Connect with people. Students who make personal connections with administrators, staff, or faculty are far less likely to drop out of school before graduation.

Take an internship. It will give you real world experience without all the real world problems if you really screw up. Plus, it looks great on the resume. Up for a job right out of college against someone with the same background as you, but you had an internship? Get ready to start talking about your salary and benefits package.

Study abroad. The world is a lot smaller than you think it is, and it's only getting smaller. Better to get a head start on understanding the people who will be fighting for your job.

Accept the fact that you're not perfect. There will be things you don't know how to deal with. You WILL fuck up. You WILL do things you hope people will forget about forever. You WILL go thorough times when you don't think you'll be able to survive. You will survive. You will make it through. And you will be better for it--but only if you admit that sometimes, you can't do it on your own. Admitting that is the real strength.

(I used to work in Student Affairs, mostly with freshmen. Now, I work with college students on a volunteer basis. I've heard all the stupid questions and helped students with things I never though I'd help someone with. If you've got questions, drop me a line. Email's in my profile.)
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:47 PM on August 8, 2005

Don't let your family influence your decisions about your education -- don't let them pressure you into a major or graduating before you're ready, etc. This is your education and you should do what you want with it.

As everyone else said, join clubs. It's a great way to meet new people.

Buy your textbooks online. It'll save you a fortune.

If you can find a job where you can study at work, take it.

Avoid credit cards. The free t-shirt isn't worth it.

Have fun.
posted by whatideserve at 7:47 PM on August 8, 2005

If your university doesn't have tunnels, it has roofs. If it doesn't, I reccomend transferring.
While climbing roofs does rock, watch out: some school will kick you out of the dorms if you get caught! Happened here.
Oh, that reminds me: become buddies with your RA/GA!!! If you are, you can get away with damn near anything and can even work as a alcohol smuggler.
Also, remember that this is NOT your parents life. I've seen too many friends throw chance after chance to do something awesome in college (study abroad, transfer to a kick-ass school, date a girl, go on a cross-country trip, etc) because of the rents. Love them, yes. But don't let them control your life now that you're out of the house!
posted by jmd82 at 7:49 PM on August 8, 2005

I will be repeating a lot, but here goes:

-Study abroad, and take a foreign language even if you passed out or whatever. (That's my biggest regret, not learning a language.)
-Take some fun classes now and of mine was ballroom dancing...I loved it.
-VOLUNTEER. This is a great way to get out into the community. Even if it's just a few hours a week.
-Do your best to find the resources your school can give you. I was still learning about perks senior year. Ask around and do some research.
-Get those study skills honed down early. Maybe you already have them, but I know I didn't, and I paid for it one semester. But man... by senior year, I had paper writing and most test-taking down.
-Know what you're capable of. It can be easy to get involved with TOO much and overload yourself. You also don't want to be taking too few credits with tons of time on your's all about balance.
-Get involved in clubs and such. It's such a great way to meet people outside of your dorm bubble.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 7:53 PM on August 8, 2005

Dull old guy advice:

Time management. Approach school like its your job. Determine how much time you need to spend on your studies and consistently spend that amount of time on them. Stay away from putting yourself in a position where you have to cram for exams.

If you do it right it will make your partying time that much more of a party. You'll be partying to party rather than partying to escape the fact that you've fallen behind and feel destined to fail. Avoid the mid-term/end of term panics.

I know this because I did the exact opposite. I ended up getting much less than I could have from my studies and didn't have nearly as much fun as I might have. Don't end up with regrets.
posted by Carbolic at 7:54 PM on August 8, 2005

Very Important Tip #1: Find a good place to study.
Very Important Tip #2: Do not tell anyone you know where it is.

Friends are the number one cause of not studying. You will want/need to avoid them if you plan on getting good grades.

Very Important Tip #3: While it is important to do well, doing badly in a course (or even for a semester) is not the end of the world. Don't freak out! It took me three colleges and 10 years to get my B.A. . I am now just two years from my Ph.D. Your life will not be ruined by doing badly for just two to three months. This is true even if your going pre-med or something equally competitive. (You won't get into top flight grad programs but, trust me, that is not the end of the world.)
posted by oddman at 7:55 PM on August 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

As a college senior, I'd say:

- Don't be a drunk, but don't skip all the good parties. I'm far from a party animal, but I met a lot of cool people at the few big parties I went to, including my fiance.

- As mentioned above, get to know some of your teachers. A little chitchat can open a lot of opportunities. It got me a kickass campus job and an office bigger than my boss's.

- On-campus jobs won't make you rich, but they'll give you some spending money and keep you out of trouble. Actually, a lot of them involve sitting on your ass for hours at a time (i.e., getting paid to do your homework).

- If you're into music at all, look into DJing at the student radio station. A bunch of my friends are DJs now, and they all love it.

- Ask around before enrollment each semester. College students seem to love advising each other as to the best/worst classes to take. Especially with freshman/sophomore-level classes that have multiple sections, knowing which teacher is easier/more interesting/better often makes the difference between a waste of your tuition and a class that changes your life.

- Make use of your parents' willingness to pay for things. If you can get them to buy (or subsidize) cookware, basic furniture, an interview suit, a car, etc., take advantage of it. If you wait a couple years, and you'll have to pay for it all yourself.

- Your dorm roommates might be insane. My first roommate was schizophrenic. My last roommate was an alcoholic. Learn to communicate with them effectively before things get really bad. Seriously.

- Don't gain the Freshman 15. Unhealthy eating is easier and often cheaper, but pizza every night will lead to regret.

- Also, yay for internships.
posted by katieinshoes at 8:00 PM on August 8, 2005

If you go to a big school, you can use something like Pick-a-Prof to see who might be good/bad to take.

If you really fuck up in a class, don’t be afraid to drop it, it’s not a big deal. Don’t do this too often though or you will end up taking 15 hours during the summer your last year to graduate.

Bringing a laptop to class is not a faux pas. In courses you have to write a lot for (government, history, philosophy, etc.) – if you take good notes, then your prof pretty much unknowingly writes your papers for you.

Don’t be afraid to go to exploit your university’s health services – they are free (at least ours are)

Don’t sit around your dorm room. Don’t sleep too much. Don’t spend too many hours at the library. Don’t gain 15lbs and get a beer gut. Try as many things as you can, especially things that are not related to school. Someone once told me that at college, the classes you take only account for about 10% of the knowledge you pick up. I think that’s about right.
posted by fourstar at 8:02 PM on August 8, 2005

The one and only important thing: don't piss away the opportunity.

1. Actually do the assigned work, including readings (no, really, it shouldn't take long and it will make a difference).

2. Don't go to extremes on the effort. Make time for fun. If you can easily enough pull honours, do it! You're lucky, and it won't kill you. If it's going to be a strain, don't bother: fun time is important, and killing yourself with work won't make enough of a difference to matter.

3. Take lots of first-year classes from other faculties, to round out your education. Do some fine arts ("learn to draw"), do some polisci, do some history, philosophy, linear algebra or calculus, biology, chemistry, intro to computer programming, statistics, psychology, physics, intro to electronics, and whatever else I've missed. Try to get the really big picture. Then you can focus on a career path.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:34 PM on August 8, 2005

Assuming it's a good school, you will not be able to cruise through like you did in high school. You know those kids in your high school classes who aced all the tests and ruined the curve for everyone else? College is those people and only those people. The good news is, buckling down and getting shit done takes a lot less time than screwing around avoiding it. Plus, kicking ass is satisfying and you wouldn't be there if you weren't fully capable of it.

Showing up for class is the easy way to go, trying to figure out later which parts of the book were covered is not.

Ask questions.

Partying happens at night. Get your studying done during the day when nobody's around or it won't happen at all. Starting early, even a half-assed start, makes finishing on time much, much easier.
posted by cali at 8:40 PM on August 8, 2005

This seems like mostly good advice. Some things I would reiterate: have a life outside of school, take electives outside of your program, and meet as many people as you can.

One other thing that I don't think anybody mentioned: get some exercise. Join a sports team or go to the gym with a friend or just run six times around campus, but whatever you do, get some physical activity in once in a while. It helps relieve stress, helps you sleep better, and just makes you feel better in general.

Finally (this may seem a little bit cynical) if you have a girlfriend/boyfriend from high school and you're not going to the same university as she/he is, I would advise you to end the relationship. I had a girlfriend back home when I went away to school, and we stayed together for over a year after I left. Because I spent so much time (and money) going back and forth on weekends to see her, I met very few people at school until the next year, after we had broken up. One of my (very few) regrets is that I didn't break off that relationship earlier.
posted by number9dream at 8:55 PM on August 8, 2005

Office Hours - Actually attend them with some regularity. It shows that you give a damn and your professors will generally help you out in more ways than you think. They are the key to getting good campus jobs, recomendation for future classes and actual help when some subject matter creeps up and kicks your ass.

Counciling - Most (if not all) schools these days have free counciling available if you have some school or life issue you need to talk about. Don't be ashamed to look into this if you are getting overwelmed with the course load (or you think you are getting overwelmed).

Things are never as bad as they seem. See my previous point: I had a bit of rough patch my freshman year where I thought the world was coming to an end (or at least I thought that it would in the future, since there would be no way I could keep up with the work). Thinking back it was kind of silly, but at the time it was very real. Chatting with those professors convinced me to talk to the councilers and the rest is history.

Don't be ashamed to change majors or go in undeclared. I saw it happen all the time.

Co-Op - If you eventual line of study lends itself to a co-op arrangement (basically, intermittent semesters of full-time study and full time work), definitely do it. You get practical experience at an early age and you will get some insight if this career is for you. One of the guys I co-op'ed with decided that Computer Science wasn't for him. Last I heard Dan was in the Psych program. Plus, Co-Op jobs pay much better than those on campus jobs by a large amount. A consequence of this is people who have co-op jobs generally have better beer at their parties. Get to know the co-op's.

Good study habits - If you were like me and was able to get through high school with good grades without trying to hard, you might want to reevaluate things a bit. College will probably end up being a bit tougher and getting good discipline early will definitely help you in the long run. Find something that works for you and stick with it. It will be better in the long run if you do.

If your school has an orientation program for the first few days, throw yourself into it with reckless abandoment. Wear something unique, talk to people. These are the people that you will be spending the next 4 - 6 years with. Getting to know them early and often is important. Also, forget about your high school cliques. There are college cliques too, but they aren't formed on day one. No one there will know anything about you, so you can feel free to present yourself however you want to with the baggage of your former life. It can be quite liberating.

Don't be surprised that you fall out of touch with some (if not most) of your high school friends. Its sad but true.

Good luck!
posted by mmascolino at 8:56 PM on August 8, 2005

Ditto on dumping your high school ex. Even if you do go to the same school.
posted by ColdChef at 9:00 PM on August 8, 2005

Avoid the credit cards. I'm going to say it again: AVOID THE CREDIT CARDS. I'm still trying to get my credit under control and I don't remember the stupid bullshit I bought.

If you're overwhelmed, go to the counseling services. They're there for a reason and you're paying for them anyway. Don't spend a semester in bed like I did.
posted by sugarfish at 9:12 PM on August 8, 2005

From someone on the other side of the equation:

Welcome to college, and welcome to the world of Sink Or Swim. So, to swim:

(1) Go to class. Most professors in most schools aren't going to do anything to make you show up, so it's all on you. Every semester I see students who just don't show up very much, and every semester I fail most of them (and this is not in a hard course). If you're enrolled in a class and the end of add/drop is rolling around and you haven't been going, DROP. It ain't gonna get any better.

(2) Read the damn book(s). It's there for a reason. If nothing else, that weird shit you don't understand when Prof. McDork says it might actually make sense when the authors of the book are trying to explain it to you.

(3) Asking your professor for study tips isn't usually helpful, because most of us don't have the first fucking clue about stuff like that*. We're drawn almost entirely from the ranks of the uber-dorks who found the stuff easy on the first go-round, so we don't have much to offer on that front, and hardly any of us have ever had the slightest bit of training in pedagogy (except in ed schools, I guess).
Instead, your school will have some center or institute about teaching, learning, or both. Go there. They have people who know all about different note-taking strategies and how to study and stuff like that.

(4) The only stupid question is one you didn't ask.

(5) "Is that going to be on the test?" and related questions are exceptions to that rule. The dumbest question ever is "I'm sorry I wasn't here last Tuesday. Did we do anything important?"

*Exception: if you're not doing the work, do the fucking work.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:30 PM on August 8, 2005

I have five principles for succeeding academically.

Background: I'm starting my PhD at a top school with external funding after kicking ass in my master's and failing four courses in my undergrad. I've come up with the following though learning a lot of stuff the hard way, but I can say from experience that it works.

1. Go To Class This is the single most important principle. Look at class as equivalent to a job. If this was the "real world," you'd have to go 40 hours a week. Your class time is much less. Lucky you! The benefits are a) your prof gets to know your face and assumes that you are interested in his/her class. Said prof cuts you more slack. B) Profs drop lots of test hints in class. C) Studying is much more effective when you are doing it the second time. Going to class almost always insures that studying is a review, not a desperate attempt to absorb all the information at the last minute.

2. Do your readings / assignments when they are due This depends a little on the subject, but never, ever give up a chance at an easy percent. If one assignment is worth 1%, do it. You will be glad for every single percent when you are going into the final. Nothing relieves exam stress more than knowing that all you have to do to pass is show up and write your name. For readings, you may not be able to do the whole reading before class, but do try to at least read intros, conclusions, headings, and highlights. Do it the week that it's assigned, because you are not going to have more time at the end of the term. I swear. Having half of all of the readings done is way better than having none of the readings done when you are sitting down to study.

3. Know your profs Ask questions in class (this will be easy since you did the readings). Go to office hours. If there is a writing/research assignment, go and discuss the topic(s) you are thinking about. This is not just for the possibilty that you'll apply to grad school, but also for getting some slack (both in terms of due dates and grading) and for applying to scholarships during your undergrad for which you may need reference letters. Also, profs can help out with general academic questions and save you oodles of time with getting started on research. They are an excellent resource.

4. Know your institution Know when your fees are due, where to go with questions, how to drop a class. Figure out what the health services are, what you can get for free (time management counseling? diet advice? scholarship prep workshops?). Look at where the forms are on the website. Figure out what building you hand them in to. Find the undergrad advisor's office and note it for reference.

5. Know yourself All four classes I failed were scheduled for 8 a.m. If you have a class that you aren't making it to, drop it or reschedule it if you can. Never feel that you have to finish a course just because you started it. If the term is getting out of hand (whether because you've slacked off, hate your classes, or are having serious non-school issues that are interfering), drop the problematic course. There is no shame in dropping, no penalty (other than some fees if you do it too late), and your profs won't be mad.

If you end up with some terms that have a lot of heavy loads, consider taking fewer courses in the fall and winter and making up the difference (maybe though distance ed) in the summer or an extra fall term (I did a year of 4, 4, 2 instead of 5, 5, 0, and it made things way easier). In the job market, nobody cares about how long it took you or what grade you got, just that you have the piece of paper. Give yourself the leeway that you need to do well without killing yourself.

Explore a little with your electives and don't be afraid to switch majors if that seems like what is best for you. Chances are if you hate your undergrad, you'll hate doing the jobs it prepares you for.

(on preview, Rou said lots of this, but hey, it took me a while so I'll post it anyway.)
posted by carmen at 9:37 PM on August 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

"I like working on computers" does not mean you want a computer science degree. "I like to read" does not mean that you want an English degree.

Of course, you shouldn't discount things without learning about them and maybe trying them out, but you shouldn't make an uninformed decision based on what you think a course of study is going to be like, or what people think you should be doing.

Learn what you want to do, and then do it. Don't be afraid to change majors, or even to completely scrap something you hate because you've put time into it. It's not going to get less horrible if you keep on doing it.
posted by billybunny at 9:55 PM on August 8, 2005

I forgot to mention, if your school offers some kind of "library skills" or "research techniques" class, take it. It might only be worth a half a credit but it will make every class you take easier.
posted by cali at 9:57 PM on August 8, 2005

You may already have the Plan: what you're going to major in, what job you're going to have, what your life is going to be like. Be open to changing the Plan - this is one of the few truly open-ended experiences of your life, where you have the opportunity to find something you really love to do - not just to do, but really love to think about.

I second the advice about studying abroad and about volunteering.

Yes, you should definitely find out which are the good profs and which are the duds. Sometimes the "biggest names" in the department are crap at teaching. Go to office hours.

Hopefully at some point, if all goes well, you'll find that you're in a class where the material isn't just intellectually interesting, but connects to you on a deeper level. You'll start to be able to picture yourself actually doing that kind of work and liking it. At that point, do something very specific: think of a question to ask your professor. It should be a question that takes the material in the course to a "next level" - definitely not something that you could have answered by doing the readings. Think of a question that geunuinely interests you, and ask it. Pay attention to the prof's reply and any discussion that follows. If the answer interests you and you find yourself thinking up more questions and it almost seems like fun, the next step is to tell the prof you're really interested in the subject matter and ask if there are any opportunities for you to get more experience - an internship, a special program, or whatnot. So few people in the world find the perfect task for their life, the work they feel they were meant to do. See if, somewhere along your four years, you can find what you love.
posted by Chanther at 10:27 PM on August 8, 2005

Work out the rules for the year with your roommate IMMEDIATELY, and don't worry about them being too much...You can always be more flexible later, but if you don't have a certain rule to begin with its harder to negotiate later when you are sexed out at 4 in the morning. =/
posted by mayfly wake at 10:52 PM on August 8, 2005

The most important thing nobody ever tells you: take classes where you are deficient. If you suck at math and don't need it for your major, TAKE MATH CLASSES. It's not high school where you need to just get through, skimp, etc. Take this opportunity to become well rounded and get good where you suck. You will have lots of time to focus in Grad School.

also, study abroad. My main regret is not doing this.

and, faculty are your best friends.

and, fuck drunks. as in, don't be where they are.

and, most importantly, be bold and opportunistic. I met some really amazing people and got some really amazing stuff to happen this way. Just take any opportunity you can find to promote yourself and move up socially and academically. It will pay off in spades later.
posted by fake at 11:29 PM on August 8, 2005

Try LOTS of stuff, even the stuff you think you'll suck at. I found my S.O. in Judo class. I used to hate exercising. Well, I still do. But less than I did.

You do not have to pass your class the first time. You have to pass it the last time. Just watch your GPA, and make sure it doesn't get too low.

You don't have to go to college the first time, and if you really don't know why you're going, other than to make your parents happy, don't go. Take some classes at a community college and think. Don't spend 20 thou, drop out, and then take five years to figure it out before coming back. Just take your time.

It pisses the teacher off like nothing else when you ask for help at the end of the semester and haven't been coming to class OR reading your book. It really decreases the chances of them being reasonable with you, because they think that you betrayed them.

As a teacher: Tell the teacher when you need help. We stare at anywhere between 20 and 500 faces that just stare blankly back. We're clueless.

Love it. Do something you love, and something you'd love to be doing in twenty years. Find something you'd do, even if they didn't pay you, and then thrill at the fact that they're actually paying you.
posted by stoneegg21 at 11:46 PM on August 8, 2005

don't graduate... EVER!
posted by bryak at 2:07 AM on August 9, 2005

Don't smoke pot before studying or class. If you must, only do so at parties.

Don't sign up for an 8 a.m. class.

Don't try to be best friends with your roommate.
posted by miss tea at 4:40 AM on August 9, 2005

To add one more thing, along the lines of "get to know your school," I had a habit of reading through my school's class list and procedures book, called the "bulletin" my frosh year, in order to figure out the best use of my time class-wise. I'd highlight and list and all that dorky stuff. But you know what? It was totally worth it. I took some really great classes no one would have been able to tell me about, and it's amazing what courses will count twice or even three times toward a double-major-with-minor. If you want to go to grad school, a double major is impressive.
posted by lorrer at 5:09 AM on August 9, 2005

I agree with the idea listed above to take courses that you find interesting, even if it isnt required for you to graduate. I took 4.5 years to graduate instead of 4, mostly because I spent a lot of time in classes that were totally useless to my major.

one other thing that I have been pleased to learn is that no one cares what my GPA was. I can't remember if it has even been asked.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 5:33 AM on August 9, 2005

1) You are probably stuck with your roommate for some amount of time depending on your school. Hopefully this is okay, but if it is not, do not let it be all-consuming. I had a bum roomie my freshman year (the WHOLE YEAR) and I survived.

2) If you find a good roommate, stick with the person if at all possible. Living with the same person, for me anyway, ended up being so much easier than trying to deal with a new person every year.

3) If shit gets crazy, do not hesistate to visit your school's counseling program. You're paying for it, and it can really make a difference.

4) Professors are the key to getting what you want out of college. You're on MeFi, so I am going to assume you want to do more than "get by." If you find a professor that you like, take as many of their classes as you can, particularly within your major/minor. These people will love you, read papers for other classes, write recs, suggest cool things for you to do, and sometimes even listen to you bitch and offer advice. They may also feed you at thier homes on certain occasions. Really.

5) Study abroad. For God's sake, get out of the country and get some perspective, even if it's just for the summer (Georgia Tech does Tech at Oxford, for example, and there are many other similar programs). Absolutely no one I've known who went abroad has regretted it, but as you can see in this thread, plenty of people regret NOT doing it.

6) Study in the way you need to study. For me, this was comfort of my PJs and Law & Order as background noise. Some people want to get a study carrel and rock it old school in the library. Figure out what works for you and stick with it.

7) High school is gone like a light switch turning off at this point. Remember that. You have a totally clean slate and no one expects anything of you. You are not a Geek, you are not Popular, you are just a freshman. That is good. Be who you want to be.

8) Make friends. Join clubs, hang out with people on your hall, study with people, get a milkshake with a class buddy, walk to the store with people, whatever. The best friends I have ever had in my life I met in college. They were all in my wedding, they listen to my bullshit on IM to this day. These people will love and take care of you in your worst times. I do say LOVE YOU because they will. Your really good friends, even if they are men (and many of mine are) will have your back, and you will have theirs. Don't squander that opportunity.

9) Take care of yourself. Walk, don't drive. Eat well. Sleep, and let off steam. Don't drink yourself stupid at every opportunity, and if you don't want to do something, don't do it. Even people who smoked pot in college weren't all torn up about people who didn't.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:33 AM on August 9, 2005

Get in the habit, RIGHT NOW, of completing every single assignment on time or (even better) ahead of time. Two big reasons for this:

1) Once your work is done, you can do whatever you like, not stress about it, and get enough sleep. (Getting enough sleep will make you way more efficient, happier and healthier in general.)

2) To do well in the post-collegiate world, you need to have two out of the following three qualities: you must be a total genius, you must be the nicest person in the world, or you must be on time. Any two of those three. Get in the habit of that last one, right now.

Also, second what everyone else says about going to office hours and talking to your professors, whether you're doing well in the class or not. They'll appreciate it, and so will you.
posted by 88robots at 6:12 AM on August 9, 2005

Don't let your family influence your decisions about your education -- don't let them pressure you into a major or graduating before you're ready, etc.

This is vital. Look, for most professions, no one cares what your undergrad major was. Don't let anyone tell you that you should major in something because it's "marketable." You're there to learn to think, analyse, and write. Do it in whichever realm you want. Contrary to the well-meaning advise of many parents/uncles/whoever, you will not be unemployed your whole life if you major in Literature or Philosophy instead of Marketing or Communications.
posted by desuetude at 6:19 AM on August 9, 2005

1. If you want challenges (I did), you will take hard classes in which there may be more work than you can handle. If this is the case, build a study group. This is not the high school trick of "I do the odds, you do the evens and we swap and copy." It is because in a hard problem set, one in your group might get each problem and will teach the rest. Your prof and TA typically only present one way to solve or look at a problem, and it might not be the one that works best for you.

2. Try new stuff. How do you know you don't like something until you try? A good way to try out classes without committing to a course is to sneak into a lecture or look for evening seminars/guest lectures and attend those. I ended up taking courses in english lit, physics, religion, anthropology, archaeology, ethnomusicology, music theory, and music history. My major was computer science.

3. Get really good at something you love to do already.

4. Take some phys ed classes or take advantage of the schools facilities on your own. There's a reason why your high school "makes" you take phys ed: it's a good habit that's good for your body and your mind.

5. That night when you drink a lot? Drink a whole lot of water before bed.

6. Bring a bathrobe to wear while walking to the bathroom for your morning shower or middle-of-the-night pee.

7. They charge money for the big parties. You may not have that money. Send in a friend to get his/her hand stamped. Bring an array of colored uniball pens. Do a quick copy of the stamp on your hand then give it a light smear. Instant discount!

8. Don't give the people who live in your town a reason to hate you.

9. Be legendary in a good way. Me and my best friend James did things that became legendary among our circle of friends. I won't give examples--use your imagination. A guy on our hall one year told me at our 10 year reunion that he still tells that stories about us.
posted by plinth at 6:31 AM on August 9, 2005

Don't sleep with anyone on your door floor, don't sleep with anyone you share a house with. Seriously, it's a distracting pain in the ass.
posted by theinsectsarewaiting at 6:34 AM on August 9, 2005

Don't buy textbooks until after the first day of class (unless there are assignments due that day). Professors and TAs will sometimes tell you that the textbook is "required by the department" or that it's for "reference only" or use some other phrase that roughly translates to "don't buy the $200 textbook."

There is a brand of professor that I call "Textbook Readers." They essentially read the textbook to you, but make up their own examples. If you get one of these, you might actually do better by not going to class and using that time to read the textbook and do textbook examples. Sometimes they're just making up the examples as they go and haven't really thought them through.

That leads in to another brand of professor, "The Researcher." This professor has 15 PhDs, 10000 published papers, an army of research assistants, and hates teaching undergraduates. Teaching, in their minds, is only taking time away from their research. Keep in mind that their only motivation is to not spend time teaching. They're often textbook readers, or use the same material every semester. Unless you're at a really bad school, these are the exception and things usually get better.
posted by idlemind at 7:36 AM on August 9, 2005

I'm a year away from graduating, so my first year is still fresh in my mind. I agree with a lot of what's been said, so I'll reiterate the good stuff (and mention the few things I don't agree with)

GO TO CLASS. Dear sweet jesus go to class. If you can't will yourself to do it based on the learning, or the getting of test hints, or the hanging out with friends, figure out how much it's costing you per class hour to be lying with your head in toilet or sleeping, or whatever else is more appealing that listening to "Professor McDork." It is vastly easier to pass classes and actually generate some interest in the material if you Go. To. Class.

Get to know your professors This might be easier in upper years once your class sizes (theoretically) shrink. At the very least, connect your name with a face by visiting office hours, asking questions when you don't understand something, and contributing to class discussions. I've gotten out of many scrapes because my professors knew me and had positive interactions with me. You don't have to be a brownnoser, just be intelligent and engaged. I also liked the suggestion about seeking out more classes with the good profs, the ones with potential to be mentors, not just orators. Especially if you start to consider grad school or just want an on-campus internship, being friends or even just friendly with your profs will take you lots of places

Get involved. Volunteering is a huge stress relief, it's meaningful with a clear purpose, it often gets you off-campus, you meet awesome people, and can lead to some pretty decent (paying!) jobs.

Find a sport/club/group any kind of extracurricular you can dream of probably has a club and planned events on your campus. Intermurals can offer everything from casual innertube waterpolo to cutthroat competetive soccer. If your frosh week includes some kind of "Clubs Days" where all the student groups have booths, go to it. Use your first year to sample a lot of different things, but don't commit to more than three, or even two.

Go out, but not every night You need pure leisure time, and especially after a big test or for birthdays you're going to want to have a good night out. This is a good thing, but not every night. Save your money, don't be a beer whore, and drink responsibly. Ditto on the lots of water after a heavy night.

And lastly, as a personal aside, don't dump your high school sweetie on principle, because that's what you're "supposed to do." That's ridiculous. If the relationship is on its way out or not going anywhere then by all means use college as the place to start fresh. But if you have a relationship that you want to make last, it can last through all four years you're apart. I know.
posted by nelleish at 7:56 AM on August 9, 2005

Living off campus can be isolating.
posted by malp at 7:56 AM on August 9, 2005

I had a really good fraternity experience, it really depends on the school (hint: smaller, private/technology-oriented schools tend to have a MUCH different Greek life). Email is in the profile if you or anyone else have any questions about going Greek, but the easiest questions to ask a prospective House is: What majors are you all in, and What is everybody's GPA versus the school average?

This all goes along with the keeping an open mind thing. Impress the professors you like because they can give you jobs/research that lead into great opportunities in your future.
posted by onalark at 8:06 AM on August 9, 2005

In my opinion, if you go to class and do what you're suppose to, college is not at all hard to get done with. Please do this unless you want to end up like 50% of your high school class doing the 5-6 year program or "currently between schools". Always have a plan and idea that you will graduate and you will do it in a timely manner. College might be fun but so is life.

That said get a fake ID as quick as possible. This makes you a whole lot dependent on friends. If you do my route I went to all the frats and large parties because I had to be dependent on where to go for alcohol. You'll also notice a lot of people need to know who will be where when you go out. This might be fun (seeing a ton of people you know), but it gets old and discouraging fast -- unless you're some kind of super jock player.

Depending on the town you're in the fake ID does not mean you're dependent on finding out where everyone is going and you can go to bars and such. Try to go to as many different bars as possible. As appealing as being a regular is you can easily get into a rut.

Get drunk, have sex and do as many drugs as you can. You can't do it afterwards and you'll never have an opportunity to get laid as much as in college. Just do everything in moderation, forget what myths you heard. You'll find yourself contemplating doing drugs you thought were evil after you realize they aren't all products of satan. Again do just a little bit, don't be the guy who always has it on hand. If you find yourself doing a drug before a party stop and don't do the drug again.

For the love of God almighty spend the extra couple of dollars on nicer alcohol. Always specify (Belvedere, Greygoose, Bombay) when you order a mixed drink. They'll give you shitty well drinks if you don't. There is a difference both when drinking it and the next morning.

I should add a caveat which I hate to say. In fact it pains me to say it, most college girls (guys too) have a hard time with casual sex. I say most even though there is going to be a large number who you can totally screw around with and not have to worry about it. A lot will act like they don't care but are emotional basketcases. Try to find out about someone's history if possible, you don't want to get yourself in a bad place.

Just remember, go to class for God's sake. You're at college to go to college to squander it. And always maintain standards, even drunk. Would you get on her sober? Don't get on her drunk. Would you talk to that person sober? Don't talk to them drunk.
posted by geoff. at 8:21 AM on August 9, 2005

A lot of this has probably already been said, but:

Meet lots of people, make lots of friends. The friends I made my freshman year I lived with for the rest of my college years, and to this day remain my best friends.

Beware of living in dorm rooms with friends. My best friend and I shared a dorm room our freshman year, and it honestly almost ruined our friendship. Just because you like someone as a friend does not make them a good person to share a room with. On the flip side, I had no problem living with my best friend in an apartment where we each had our own rooms.

Be a good roommate. Clean up after yourself - your roommate is not a live in maid. Be respectful of your roommate's need for sleep. If you have an issue with your roommate, don't scream at them or be passive aggressive about it - approach them in a calm and respectful manner, and get the RA to mediate if you have to. It's hard to share a bedroom with someone, but if you respect each other and your basic needs things will go much smoother.

Skip a class or two, but in general go to class. I was an overachiever in high school, with perfect attendance and straight As. Enjoy the freedom of college, especially while you're taking the easy classes your freshman year.

Get good grades. I don't mean straight As, but don't get straight Cs either. Your freshman year classes are likely to be the easiest of your 4 years in college. I was dumb and thought my freshman year classes didn't really matter since they were mostly general ed classes. I got mostly Cs. Then I found myself ready to enter my junior year with a 2.8 GPA and thinking about applying for internships that required a 3.0 GPA. I had to bust my ass to get As to raise my GPA while taking the hardest classes of my college career.

If you're having trouble in a class, talk to the professor ASAP. Not only will they help you (if they're a good prof, anyway) but they will be more lenient with grading at the end of the semester if they know you were trying really hard.

Even if you know what you want to major in, take a variety of classes. Some of the best classes I took were classes that were outside of my major and not required in any way.

If you do know what you want to major in, try to get internships or summer jobs in that field. It may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how many college grads have zero job experience. Also, you'll most likely learn more on the job than you will in class.

Always lock your dorm room when you leave, even if you're just going down the hall to pee. And don't forget to take your key with you.

When you go out drinking, try to find a sober friend (or at least one that's not going to get completely trashed) to watch out for you. Especially if you don't know your tolerance levels yet.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy it. Your college year will go by faster than you can ever imagine.
posted by geeky at 8:28 AM on August 9, 2005

After our first calculus test (I aced it, many others failed miserably), the freshmen on my dorm floor decided to drink away the memory with (many bottles of) Southern Comfort. I had never got so drunk in my life and I was hungover for days.

Just the smell of Southern Comfort still makes me vomit, 30 years later. College does change your life forever.
posted by mischief at 8:29 AM on August 9, 2005

If you go to a class and the teacher sucks the first day, drop it and find something else. You couldn't have known that it was bad when you scheduled it but you know now and it will just be a waste of time.
posted by smackfu at 9:35 AM on August 9, 2005

First, give yourself a year to feel comfortable. It ain't easy making a transition anywhere. I find it take about a year to start feeling like it is a home.

That being said, get involved in a club or extra curricular activity. You don't say what kind of university you are attending (small or large) but it's important to find your community. Activities are a good way to do that.

Take weird classes. Maybe one a semester...something just out of the ordinary that piques your interest but doesn't necessarily count toward a major.

sacre_bleu's wife
posted by sacre_bleu at 10:21 AM on August 9, 2005

1. Broad Generalization Alert: Boys can live with their friends; Girls cannot. All the girls I knew that lived with their friends ended up not being friends anymore by the end of the year (or within weeks). Obviously there are exceptions to this, but in my experience it is a pretty safe rule of thumb (note: I am a girl).

2. Don't live off of those bags of Lipon rice or ramen. It is fine a couple times a week, but at least buy a box of pasta and a jar of sauce. People will think you are a gourmet.

3. Don't go to the poster sale and buy a bunch of cliche college posters to stick on your wall to fill space. I did that, and now post-college I am pissed because I have no wall-art to show for 4 years of my life. Wait and slowly accumulate things that you actually like!

4. Ditto everyone else on studying abroad - you will likely NEVER have another chance to spend 1-4 months in a foreign country. My program got cancelled in the post-9/11 fears, and it still makes me sad thinking about my lost trip.

5. Get a minor, or create your own. I am in law school now, so in college I took a ton of utterly random liberal arts classes to round out my Finance degree. Anthropology, English, Poli Sci, History, Astronomy - I took them all, and they were more memorable than a lot of my business classes.
posted by gatorae at 10:28 AM on August 9, 2005

I can't add too much more to what's already been said, but I'm going to have to second a few things:

Don't make grades your highest priority, but don't ignore them either. I knew people who were content to skate by with the minimum requirements, but they were often also the ones who weren't sure about their major or were scared of graduating. Paradoxically, some other people who fall in this group just want to get through school so they can get a job.

Be structured, but not too structured. It's going to take a while to figure out what you're comfortable with. I took some classes with a guy who was on his second college experience. The first time through, he had a routine: he'd run for the track team (he had a scholarship), go to food service at the last possible minute, and spend every other waking hour playing video games or getting drunk. Just because you can stay up late doesn't mean you should, and the same applies for sleeping in.

Study outside your room, schedule some time to do so if you can. Make it a routine to stop by somewhere to study after your last class or between classes to review notes and read textbooks. Even if you have a computer, go to a lab to work on essays occasionally. I found it motivating to work in a room where other people were also working, even if it was on different classes. If you're working on a laptop, go somewhere secluded in the library.

Don't join too many groups. Even if it's the middle of the semester, don't be afraid to quit or join new clubs. Chances are that someone is doing something that you'll find interesting and you might not find them at first. Also, do some things alone. If you're at all able to talk to strangers, you'll end up making new friends in classes, on campus, and at local restaurants/coffee shops/bars.

Find someone you can talk to about each of your classes. It might be someone else in the class, a friend from your floor who took the class last semester with the same professor, a TA, someone in a study group, the actual professor, or in the worst case, your advisor. If something starts to feel weird about the class or the coursework isn't making sense, talk to them. Being a procrastinator, I'd let one or two things slide in a class and then feel pressured at the end of the semester. Don't do that.
posted by mikeh at 11:10 AM on August 9, 2005

Always get some sleep before an exam. It doesn't matter how much information you have crammed into your brain if you are too tired to write coherently. A few hours of sleep will do wonders.

It's true what has been said here about making friends you'll keep for life, and sometimes they're the people you least expect. When I was an undergrad one of my friends got a crush on her TA, so we started trying to hang out with his crowd. They were a bunch of PhD candidates in philosophy, probably the last people I would have expected to get to know. I have no idea what happened to that girl, but the guy she had a crush on has been one of my closest friends for 15 years. He's lived in the UK for six years but we still manage to see each other regularly, in fact he and his wife are flying in to celebrate his 40th birthday in Vegas with me and another college friend next month.
posted by cali at 12:26 PM on August 9, 2005

* Getting drunk is *not* a prerequisite to making friends, but it can help calm your nerves.

* Talk to absolutely anyone. Standing waiting for a bus, or in the lunch queue, or outside a bar, or outside a lecture hall, or in a bathroom? Talk to the studenty-looking person next to you. Note: the acceptability of this behaviour diminishes somewhat after first year, so make the best of it while it lasts.

* Accept any and all invitations. That way, you'll hopefully be spending one night seeing the new Russian film at the art cinema, and the next dancing your ass off in some dingy, underground club, and the next in bed with two people. I'm not exaggerating.

* Don't feel too attached to the way you think of yourself before you go to University - it will change. It's not about being true to yourself but about exploring options that could reveal new facets of your personality.

* Make friends outside your chosen subject area. This is essential to avoid constantly talking shop with your mates. I did a Computer Science degree, and virtually all my friends were in the arts faculty and I loved it.
posted by pollystark at 5:49 AM on August 10, 2005

Here's an interesting commentary on grade inflation and relating to your professors...not just begging them for better grades, etc.
posted by clgregor at 10:20 AM on August 10, 2005

I wrote up a bunch of advice, then deleted it all except for this: learn to dance if you don't already know how. This is the key to having fun at parties and clubs, both in college and for the rest of your life.

Ask a friend of the same sex to teach you some basic moves to whatever kind of music you like. Practice in your dorm room (close the curtains and make sure your roommate didn't leave his webcam on.). Then go to a party and dance your ass off.

Take ballroom, swing, or salsa dancing classes if you feel like it. They will improve your sense of rhythm, and will help you get laid at weddings. Okay, actually, I don't really know about that last part, but it still seems like a good idea.
posted by tsackett at 11:51 AM on August 10, 2005

College is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Learn everything you want, everything you can, and everything you must. Don't limit that learning to what's presented formally.
posted by phrits at 4:09 PM on August 10, 2005

If you hate your school, you can always transfer. Yes, people actually do it. It's not that difficult, and if you get good grades your first semester freshman year you'll have a good chance of getting into some top-tier schools. Don't feel trapped or that you have to "make it work," or that it's your fault that you're unhappy.

Other than nice to everyone the first couple of weeks -- that's probably when you're going to meet most of your friends. Join clubs. Be social. DON'T spend all your time sleeping or watching TV in your room.
posted by puffin at 2:21 PM on August 11, 2005

I try to live my life with out regrets.
In most cases I have found this to be fairly easy, except when it comes to college.
No matter what it takes, STUDY ABROAD!
I don’t care if you have a boyfriend/girlfriend, I don’t care if you won’t graduate on time, I don’t care if you don’t have the money to do it.
Get a calling card, take an extra semester, sell a kidney (or a sister’s kidney for that matter)…
I’ve been out of college for almost three years now, and this is one of the few regrets I have, not just in college, but in life.
I missed an opportunity to see the world for dirt cheap, while getting college credit, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have that opportunity again.
Don’t live with that regret, just do it!

And one other thing…
Probably more important then the above.
There is only ONE, VIP in your life. That is YOU.
This is YOUR life; you should be the one that is in control.
You should be the protagonist in your own life, in your own story.
And if this means you need to breakup with your girlfriend, change your major to English so you can write better songs for the band, eat Ramen noodles so you can go on tour against your parents wishes, and never become a lawyer like they wanted…then do it!
Because when it’s all said and done, everyone you know is dead, and you are looking back on your life,
YOU are the only one that is going to be happy, or not, about how YOUR life turned out.
posted by dubie at 9:39 AM on August 12, 2005

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