It’s summer and college freshmen who made it through their first year of college have plenty of wisdom to share. Here are some insights from two former clients about their first year of college.
What advice do you have for graduated high school seniors about choosing first-year courses?
“It is extremely helpful to get advice from academic advisors,” said Maya, a Brandeis University student. “I have met with three different advisors to get input about what my schedule should look like and to plan out my future courses.”
When choosing courses, try something new to you.
Maya, who attended Needham High School in Massachusetts, recommends that students branch out when choosing courses since college has so much more to offer than high school.
“Although I took some more basic classes like chemistry and calculus, I also took a medical anthropology class and a health care class. I had never even been introduced to these topics, so it was really exciting learning about completely new things.”
Leah, a current Harvard student agrees with Maya. “I would pick at least two courses that are completely new to you but seem very interesting and that will challenge you to expand your mode of thinking,” she said.
What changes did you need to make regarding study habits?
Both Maya and Leah were strong students in high school, yet they both had to make adjustments to their study habits.
“I’m a procrastinator so at the beginning of the year, it was somewhat difficult to balance free time with school work,” said Leah, a graduate of Scituate High School in Massachusetts. “What really helped me was finding a comfortable and consistent study place; somewhere quiet where I could do my work, but still access food and snacks whenever I needed a break. During the first weeks of school, explore the campus and ask current students about all the possible study places on campus, as well as some of their favorite spots.”
Like most college freshmen, at first, Maya struggled with a couple of her classes.
“In college, homework, quiz, and participation grades are rarely a large percentage of the final grade. Exams make up a greater portion of the grade, and, unlike in high school, you cannot begin studying a day or two before,” said Maya. “It is important to begin studying far in advance while managing your time well. If you do not understand a concept that was brought up in class or the homework, do not wait until you are studying to figure it out. You should meet with your professor or try to learn things on your own as your questions arise.”
Maya learned the importance of attending class when she took chemistry, a large lecture. “People seem to think it is okay to skip lectures, but I discovered that in class is where I learned the most. So, even though nobody would notice your absence, it is very important to be there.”
What is the most important thing you did outside of academics to help you feel more comfortable at college?
Educational Advocates’ clients know how much we stress the importance of getting involved on campus to optimize the chances of a smooth transition to college, and we are thrilled that students took our advice.
Maya reports that the most important thing she did this year outside of academics was joining the women’s ultimate Frisbee team.
“Joining a large and loud group of people, most of whom already knew each other, meant I had to really put myself out there and advocate for myself,” said Maya. “I am beyond happy I joined because everyone was so welcoming and friendly, and I quickly made so many new friends.”
Playing intramural sports is one great way to meet new people in college
Maya also highlights an added benefit of getting involved: becoming friends with several upperclassmen, who gave her advice about things like classes, housing, and social life.
“I think joining at least one team or club is so important, since you can make new friends who also share something you are passionate about.”
Leah too got involved with sports and a student-run program that took her outside the campus bubble.
“For anyone who dreads going to the gym on a weekly basis, sports are awesome because they allow you to avoid the “Freshman 15″ while also making new friends and having a lot of fun.”
Leah also participated in the Keylatch Mentoring program where she connected with kids living in the South End of Boston, which gave her an opportunity to leave campus once a week to visit them, meet their families, and offer advice and guidance.
“Not only did this change the nature of my college experience by allowing me to take action and impact other people’s lives, rather than studying 24/7, but it also gave me a chance to escape an academically intense environment,” said Leah.
If you thought you knew what you wanted to study when you entered college, are you still interested in that subject?
So many high school students put pressure on themselves to determine a major while still in high school. The truth is that the most popular major for incoming freshmen is undecided.
Leah says that college has made her realize that she is the most indecisive person she has ever met!
“Right now, I’m considering at least three different majors, even though I started out thinking I was definitely going into government,” said Leah. “But I’m glad that college exposed me to new academic areas such as political philosophy and economics. I even took a class called First Nights on timeless musical works ranging from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. These classes have really broadened my thinking.”
Maya’s interests have also evolved in the past year. Before entering college, she was considering a pre-med track. Soon after starting first semester, she decided to major in Health: Science, Society, and Policy, a major exclusive to Brandeis and she plans to pursue a career in nursing, specifically as a nurse practitioner.
“Nursing interests me much more than being a physician. I am so passionate about my major because it does not just focus on the hard sciences, but is interdisciplinary, requiring me to take classes in areas such as sociology and anthropology,” said Maya. “This year was my first year taking an anthropology course, and I loved it! I never would have thought I would enjoy something like that, but I did not know until I tried.”
Maya is also planning on minoring in Hispanic studies, not something she considered in high school. “I took Spanish every year of high school and enjoyed it and did well, but I thought that I would just take one more Spanish class to fulfill a requirement and that would be it. After reading about the minor, I discovered that it was something I was very interested in, and would greatly help me in my future career.”
Any other advice about transitioning to college?
Maya advises that new freshmen stay positive.
“College is intimidating. It is a whole new start with a bunch of new people in an entirely different place. You are living away from home and more of an ‘adult.’ It is hard to remember that everyone is also going through a similar transition and they are also struggling, even if you do not see it,” said Maya. “Do not be afraid to reach out to friends, family, or faculty for help.”
Have fun in college and participate in social events and activities
“The most important piece of advice I received was to take a deep breath once in a while, and just take time for yourself,” said Leah. “It’s also important not to compare yourself to other people and hold yourself to their standards. Sometimes, it can get overwhelming watching other people around you, since they seem to have their life all together, both socially and academically. But really, we’re all still in the process of figuring things out. No one has college down to a science, especially college freshmen. So, no matter what, focus on yourself and your own sense of growth and improvement.”
And one last piece of advice:
“College is definitely about getting an education, but it is also so much more than that. You will (hopefully) be very busy, which makes the year go by in a second,” said Maya. “Study, explore, go to awesome events, make friends, meet your professors, join clubs, and HAVE FUN!”