Advice for New “Collegers”

Posted: November 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

My little brother, Joel, used to call college students “collegers.” I like that. It sounds a little like “prisoners,” which is a fairly close description of us for four (or five or more) years of university. We’re taken captive with projects, papers, exams, and stress. Sometimes we look through the cell bars, wondering if we’ll ever escape to the outside world of careers and schedules that remain consistent for more than four months at a time.

But enough of that depressing talk! This is a guide for new “collegers” with some advice for how to best navigate this oft-mucky world of college. I’ll start off with some practical advice for making sure you stay on track to graduate on time, then we’ll cover some miscellaneous tips for being an excellent student, and lastly we’ll talk about how to keep your faith strong during all this chaos.

In no particular order:

1. If you’re not 110% sure what you want to major in, cover all your general electives before taking any major courses. Even if you end up having to take some harder major courses together in a later semester, that’s still better than taking classes that won’t count for anything if you decide to change majors. Most people do change majors at least once in college. Heck, I’ve been tempted to half-a-dozen times.

2. Try to decide on a major as early on as you can and stick with it. No matter what you major in and how passionate you are about something, you’re going to doubt your choice of major. Just choose a field you enjoy and can see yourself working in for a long time, preferably a field that pays decently, and stay with it. People tell you early on that you have awhile to think about it, but “awhile” comes in a flash once you start college, so start thinking hard!

3. Before every semester, go to an advisor to work out your classes. You may think you don’t need to if you just have a list of the classes you need in front of you, but advisors can help a lot. They know what classes can be substituted in what categories, what order you’ll want to take certain classes in, and a host of other useful information. They’ll help make sure you’re on track.

4. This is sort of a corollary to number 3. As useful as an advisor is, make sure you also work out everything yourself. Don’t depend on anyone to make sure you’re on track for graduating or that you’re taking the right classes. It’s best if you try to plan everything out and then go to an advisor to run everything by them to make sure you haven’t overlooked anything. I made this mistake and really got messed up in community college, which meant an extra semester to finish up two classes I could have fit into other semesters if I’d taken the time to plan.

5. Advisors will usually try to get you to only take 12 or 13 credits. Don’t listen to them, especially in community college, if you’re a good student. In particular, for your first few semesters, classes are easier, so you’ll probably want to take 5 classes or so. You can always check everything out the first few weeks, too, and just drop one if it looks like it’s going to be unbearable.

6. Always check when you sign up for classes. Get the best professors you possibly can, even if it means a crappy schedule. You’re stuck with the professor for 15 weeks of your life. Save yourself the stress, boredom, anger, and bad grade; only take good professors if at all possible. Some people take worse professors because it fits into their schedule better, but I think it’s better to rearrange your schedule to your professors than the other way around.

7. Adding onto #6, you should know when to take easy professors. If you’re taking an elective that you’re not going to be building on (for example, an arts/humanities or behavior science class), take the easiest professor you can get (according to or your friends’ suggestions). But if it’s a prerequisite for another class (e.g. for me, my math or computer science classes), you want a professor who teaches well but will make sure you learn the material.

8. If you do get stuck with a bad professor and you get a bad grade, don’t stress over it too much. Get all the help you can get. Take advantage of the free tutoring/help centers available at every college. But sometimes you just get dealt a bad professor and he/she’s the only one who teaches that class you’re required to take. It happens. Don’t worry.

9. If you’re a community college student like I was, and you’re planning on transferring to a 4-year university when you’re done, make sure you check that every class you take will transfer. Use ARTSYS before you sign up every semester. ARTSYS is a handy course equivalency program that will tell you what courses transfer to what institutions. It really stinks to take a class and find out it won’t even count once you transfer, wasting hours and hours of your life. Don’t let that happen. Take a little extra time to prepare.

10. I alluded to this in a previous tip, but lay out your goal for graduation from the outset. Figure out when you want to graduate, and split up the courses you need to take semester by semester. You don’t want to get surprised at the end with an extra class or two that you didn’t account for. Believe me, it’s worth the time up front.


Now, for some general tips on being a good student:

11. Don’t procrastinate. Believe me, I’m still learning this one. But I’m starting to get better with it, and it’s saving me a lot of stress. Set manageable goals for yourself. If you get assigned a massive semester-long paper and your professor doesn’t set deadlines along the way, make them yourself. Break it up into pieces. Decide on a time to do the research, then deadlines for a certain number of pages to have written by certain days. Getting started is usually the hardest part, so just give yourself a small goal for getting started, like writing the introductory paragraph or thesis. Start on assignments as soon as you get them. Do the easiest parts first, and give yourself time to mull over the harder parts. This becomes increasingly important as you get into your upper level classes, where you will not be able to crank out assignments even if you do pull an all-nighter before it is due. If you can beat procrastination, that will be, by far, your best tool in your academic toolbox.

12. Going along with #11, when you are working, set yourself small goals to keep from getting distracted. If your attention tends to get diverted by Facebook or TV, tell yourself you’re going to work until a certain time and then reward yourself with a little Facebook/TV time. 5 minutes per every 30-45 minutes tends to work well for me. Or, you can do the same thing with a certain amount of problems or pages you want to get done.

13. Sit in the front rows. That’s where all the smart kids sit. All the people who want to text and whisper to each other sit in the back rows.

14. Get to know at least one person in each class. Study with them. Be able to ask each other questions. Having somebody you can work with, especially in your more difficult classes, will prove invaluable. This is especially important in your major classes, since you may end up taking other classes with them.

15. Get to know your professor. This is more difficult if you’re at a larger university in lecture halls. But for your smaller classes, make a point to talk to your professor somehow. This way, they know your name and that you’re taking an interest in the class. Don’t underestimate how far this connection goes in not only your professor’s willingness to help you, but even your grading. Make small talk with your professor before or after class. Ask questions. Participate. Email questions. Anything you can do to show you care about doing well in the class will help.


Well this has ended up being a bit more time consuming than I anticipated, so I am going to take a break here. I hope this has been helpful! I will add more tips in this section as I think of them, and will continue another time with a new post on keeping your faith strong during college. Feel free to comment with anything you’ve found helpful for you in your college years.

  1. Zoanna says:

    Great advice, especially about seeing an advisor as well as taking initiative to see that you are on track independent of the advisor. Another piece of advice, prepare for college in high school. Don’t think you’ll suddenly be a more disciplined, more ambitious student on the other side of the high school graduation ceremony. Work hard to get scholarships (like you did. Thanks from your momma and poppa!)

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