College is the perfect intersection of freedom and young adulthood: Never again will you be allowed to have that much fun while being responsible for so little. But as generations of students have learned the hard way, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by that freedom and go, well, a little overboard. Students who’d never had a problem doing homework find themselves tanking tests when there’s no one around to push them to attend class. People who’d always managed to have a thriving social life discover they’re about to become hermits. It’s a fun but intimidating time, and the best way to get the most out of freshman year is to remember a few key things.
Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan
Spoiler alert: You can’t do it all. Not even close. There will always be one more party, one more trip, one more event, one more night out, one more friend who needs a favor. College is about learning to prioritize and tell the difference between what you can do, what you want to do, and what you need to do. The biggest mistake freshmen make is taking on too much, whether in terms of course load or social commitments. If you want to get ahead, you’ll have to scale back.
Set up a schedule to follow each week and stick with it. (That’s the important part.) It doesn’t have to overly detailed or break down your life into 10-minute chunks. But you should be able to look ahead each week and know basically what you’re going to be doing every day and every night, from attending class to studying or just taking some time off to be with friends. If high school is juggling, then college is juggling chainsaws while riding a unicycle: It can be done, but it takes a lot more planning.
You should also plan for free time, too. That might sound counter-intuitive or just plain impossible, but it’s not, and it’s absolutely worth it. It’s a bad idea to skip through college without any kind of planning or time management, but it’s equally as bad to overschedule yourself. College is work, yes, but it’s also supposed to be a fun time of exploration and self-discovery and all those other fuzzy terms that basically mean “figure out what kind of person you want to be.” As you build time for study and class, leave open chunks for hanging out, eating, wandering the dorms, or just seeing what comes up. Seriously. That way you maintain a schedule and your sanity.
Avoid Credit Cards
Bankers have sent their own kids to college on the fees they collect from freshmen who make the mistake of signing up for credit cards without understanding the responsibility required. Every incoming freshman finds his or her mailbox clogged with seemingly awesome offers from lending agencies dangling the promise of easy credit and a life of luxury. What a lot of freshmen forget is that they don’t have any money, or jobs, or the ability to do anything other than buy a cheap sandwich in the cafeteria. That makes getting a credit card an almost suicidal risk.
Building credit is important in the long run. It shows banks that you’re trustworthy, it gives you access to better interest rates on loans, and it generally makes you feel like an adult. But it takes years of controlled work to do that, and college isn’t the time to start. Managing credit means using cards wisely, and only to make purchases you could buy with cash at that moment. Credit cards aren’t for making big buys that aren’t in your budget; they’re for showing banks you’ve got enough cash and maturity to pay your debts in full. Getting into credit card debt while you’re still in college means you’ll be under the thumb of major lenders before you’ve even gotten your degree, let alone found a job that will give you the money to start paying those cards off.
There’s plenty of time to be an adult and work with the complicated payment structures that come with credit cards. College is not that time.
Establish Your Independence
In other words: Don’t go home too often. College is a crucial part of the development process as students make the often rocky transition from childhood to young adulthood, and it’s tempting to make frequent trips home in an attempt to recapture the safety of the nest. It’s understandable, too. Many freshmen spent 18 years in a perfectly welcoming environment (typical dramas notwithstanding), and after only knowing one home environment, it’s a shock to be placed in a world with thousands of other students all going through the same basic emotional crises. You want to escape to a place where you know the rules.
Unfortunately, that’s detrimental to your long-term success as a student and a rounded human being. Independence is usually hard-earned, and that means getting used to being bored or rejected or even alone on campus. It means meeting people and making friends. It means shaking up your established routines and coming up with new ones. It means staying away from home.
Need to get your laundry done? Look for change. Hungry for a home-cooked meal? Organize a get-together with students at a professor’s house. Your parents are going to be there to support you as you work through the challenges of college, but you actually have to do the work on your own this time. (And if they’re like most parents, they’re probably happy to help you as much as possible but reluctant to have you extend your childhood. They’re ready for you to start growing up.) College teaches resourcefulness and problem-solving, but you won’t be able to learn those skills without first relying on yourself.
Don’t Rush the Big Choices
Freshman year can feel like a barrage of life-or-death questions: What’s your major? What do you want to do? Where do you want to live? Do you want to go out sometime?
Those are all, to be sure, pretty big decisions, but the good news is that you’ve got more time than you’d think to figure out how to make them. For instance, you don’t have to commit to a major when you begin your freshman year, and many schools don’t push you to declare until you start your sophomore run. That doesn’t mean you can slack off your freshman year — you should still take your school’s required courses, usually speech, English, math, an elective, etc. — but it does mean you’re free to explore topics that interest you and get a feel for where you fit in at school.
Your major will be a guiding force in your education and career, and it’s not a choice to be made lightly. One of the worst things you can do is select a major because you don’t want to weigh any other options, or if it’s something you don’t like but are betting you will come to love in time. (The odds are slim.) Take your time on this one. Take a month, a semester, a year. Don’t just leap; look carefully. This is a great opportunity to get to know your guidance and career counselors, as well as professors in fields that grab your interest, to find out what’s required by students in your prospective major. Check out employment prospects with seniors or counselors. Do some Googling.
The real lesson in picking a major is to learn how to examine yourself and figure out what you want, then take the steps to get it. That’s not something you can knock out overnight.
Get Some Sleep
Really, do it. Get some good sleep as much as you can. Your mental and physical health depend on it. A 2009 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that only 30% of college students surveyed got more than 8 hours of sleep a night, while more than 68% percent (!) had trouble sleeping because of stress related to their academic or personal lives. As a result, students with poor sleep habits turn in greater numbers to over-the-counter drugs to regulate their sleep cycles and moods. This, if you were wondering, is not good.
Robbing yourself of sleep means relying more heavily on medical cheats to get some rest, and it also has a negative affect on your performance during waking hours. Sleep-deprived students tend to perform worse in class and on tests than their more rested counterparts. Your body becomes sluggish, your brain has to operate through a thick fog, and your moods become more erratic. Basically, depriving yourself of sleep is a shortcut to having a terrible time at college.
So what do you do? It’s related to the time management issue that confronts so many freshmen. A lot of students stay up too late the night before an 8 a.m. class, or they simply try to live on less sleep out of a fear they’ll miss something amazing if they go back to their dorm to rack out. The “fear of missing out” is a real one, and it leads to some hectic and damaging hours. Don’t cheat yourself out of some healthy sleep. It’s one of the best things you can do to stay healthy.
If there’s one overriding piece of advice freshman should heed, one thing that feeds everything else, it’s this: Strive for moderation in all things. Party, but party responsibly. Work hard, but leave time to relax. Make new friends, but give yourself time to recuperate. Don’t shy away from big choices, but don’t rush into them, either. Lean on your folks, but not too much. Freshman year is like nothing else. If you do it right, you’ll never forget it.
Article supplied by the writing team from AccreditedOnlineColleges.com.