Surviving College: What Every Freshman Should Know Stepping Onto Campus

College can be an exciting time for many people taking their first step onto campus where the possibilities are endless. It provides kids; I mean young adults, a chance to show mom and dad they can wash their laundry all on their own. This is serious business. But a lot of us go through the experience unprepared. We are now more responsible for ourselves than any other time before. Being in my senior year of now at the University of West Florida, I have learned a lot over the past years about what one needs to know in order to make it through the tough times. Here are three things that’ll make your college experience a lot easier:

  1. Know your way around campus. Okay, so high school is finally over. Prom has past and most of your buddies you won’t see until the reunion comes up. Some will become athletes, teachers, and decision makers. While others will still be that guy you remember from back in the day. Mom and dad drop you off on the first day of school with a car full of your television, food, and letters from your family wishing you luck on your new adventure. This again is a very exciting time for you and to show them that you’re a big kid now. Then classes start. The first thing that you need to know in order to survive college is where everything is and this includes: where your classes are, the financial aid office, the gym and even places that give away free food on certain days. Knowing your way around campus will save you a lot of time and stress. This can be easily done by checking your campus website and becoming familiar with the school map. This way you don’t have to sneak into class while the professor is halfway through the lecture.
  2. Join clubs that fit your interest sooner than later. This will immensely make the transition from home much easier because joining organizations allows you to meet others from all walks of life. There will be people of all ages, classifications and backgrounds with similar interests as you so that making friends won’t be a problem. This by far will be the most important survival tip because none of us were made or should go at life alone. For me, I tried my hand at countless organizations: boxing, rugby, student government, and even salsa. All this was done in efforts to try out new experiences and meet interesting people. And guess what? It worked!
  3. Learn the essential skill of time management. This is vital because unlike high school, students in college get to choose what time of day that they’d like to take courses. For me, I couldn’t stand waking up at six am in the morning every day for four years in high school so I thought it was really awesome when I got to choose to start my classes at eleven am. But even though they started a little later in the day, I still had troubles making it to class because I didn’t have mom opening up the curtains to let a little sunshine in. So I had to start being more responsible for myself.

Well that’s all I have for now to help you walk across the stage when that SASS Degree Audit is filled up (you’ll learn what that is later). I hope you take the information learned and make these years the best time of your life because it truly has been for me. It really is an experience that if you’re up to will change your outlook on life and open up opportunities that may have not been recognized by you before.

Plan For College – Seven Steps to Customizing Your College Campus Visit

I saw a lot of colleges growing up, thanks to graduations, summer programs and local cultural events. But my first official “campus visit,” as in “Do you think you want to go to school here?,” was right after tenth grade. My parents took my sisters and I on a trip to see where my middle sister might want to apply (my oldest sister had already settled on Howard…and went to KU). My middle sister was thinking about Northwestern, so off we drove to Chicago. We spent probably a week on that tour, including a visit to the University of Chicago (my dad’s alma mater). My middle sister instantly settled on Northwestern. And went to U of A.

Listen up, everyone – it is not an option to begin applying to colleges without ever having a meaningful visit to a campus, even the one right down the street. Here are seven simple steps to personalizing even a local campus visit so you can begin exploring the universities on your radar – and plant your sneakered feet on what might be your future alma mater.

  1. List four of your personal interests: a possible major (like English or biology), an activity you enjoy (like swimming or songwriting), a community you’re part of (like an ethnic or religious connection), and one form of entertainment you love (like music or poetry slams). Now you have the foundation for planning a visit that might really excite you.
  2. Explore the school’s Web site. Search their events, announcements and blogs for things that relate to your four interests. Jot some notes and bookmark pages as you go.
  3. Contact the admissions and financial aids offices. All campus visits should begin with a call or email to the admissions office to find out everything they offer to visiting students and set up an admissions meeting. See if the admissions rep can set up a dorm visit and a student chat, too. Schedule a talk with a financial aid rep, also, if you can.
  4. Plan at least one activity for each of your four interests.
    • For your possible major, check out a class or meet with a faculty member or TA (teaching assistant). Don’t be intimidated – start by asking what is the most fun and what is the hardest thing about that course of study. Be sure to talk to students before and after class, too.
    • For an activity you enjoy, see if a club or sport you’re interested in has a team practice, a rehearsal or a planning session you can attend. Lots of campus groups have their own pages on the college Web site with schedules and contact info.
    • For a community experience, find a relevant organization (like a women’s folk group, a Black Student Union or Hillel) and see what kind of service projects, festivals or other events you can attend or even volunteer at during your visit.
    • For an entertainment fix, you might see who’s playing at the campus coffee house, go to a game (lots of sporting events are free), or ask if you can stop by the campus radio station while you’re there.
  5. Prep for the day. You already know to wear comfortable shoes – now I want you to really produce this event! Make a copy of the directions, schedule, itinerary and contact list for every student going with you and their parents or guardians. Charge your cell phone, and if it does not have a camera, get a cheap disposable one. Pack drinks and snacks, or bring cash for food and drinks. And if you’re staying overnight, bring a small gift for your student hosts (baked goods are always awesome).
  6. GO VISIT THAT CAMPUS! Enjoy your events, meet people, take pictures, absorb the experience. Do you see yourself living here for four years? Would you rather eat sticks? Both are good to know! An important note: have fun, but don’t be foolish. Do not get into any cars with, accept food or drinks from, or go into any buildings or rooms with strangers, even if they are young and happy-looking. And check in with the family a few times throughout the day if they didn’t come with you.
  7. Commemorate the day. Take your pictures, metro passes, event programs, and more, and scrapbook them when you get back. Or just clip them together and put them into a folder. Be sure to write down a quick sentence or two about the visit while it’s still fresh. Try “That was the most fun I have ever have, and I want to live in Roble Hall.” Or “I’ll eat the sticks, thanks.”

After your first campus visit, odds are very high you will say, “That’s where I’m going to college.” Slow down. You have at least three more campuses to check out before I’m done with you! I want you to visit at least one big state school, one small private college, one school everyone’s heard of, and one other school no one has a clue about.

After a few more college visits, you’ll start to realize you’re not falling in love with each particular campus. You are getting psyched about college life in general. Trust me, because by the time our family started my campus visits, I immediately settled on UC Davis. And went to Stanford.

Money Management for Campus Living

In our last article, we dealt with the bigger issues of money management for the college student. Today’s tips may have less immediate impact but in the long run can mean the difference between graduating under a pile of debt or beginning your new life free from that burden. While there are hundreds of tips on the web, these are some of the more easy and available ways to save money.

Campus Life

Use public transportation, carpool or walk whenever possible. And if you can forgo a car, do so. The added expense of maintenance, insurance, registration and parking would use up a big chunk of your discretionary funds. Some campuses offer monthly, student discount passes for local transit systems.

Unless you have meals covered in your tuition, how you provide for your nutritional needs can be the difference between having extra spending money and not. Prepare as many meals in your room, as possible. Carry your next meal, snacks and water in a backpack. Buy the most nutrition for your buck and more natural foods. Shop the local farmer’s market, use coupons and buy in bulk.

Social Interactions

Skip spring break and instead explore the surrounding communities. You may be quite surprised to find out how much fun the local spots can be.

Be a savvy date not a cheap date. Plan a picnic to secluded area nearby, cook dinner for your date. Attend campus concerts and events. Wait for the DVD to come out and plan a potluck movie night. Use a buy-one/get-one free coupon for a ‘real’ date.

Go for the cheap seats, when you go to a major event. Take advantage of college sporting events, festivals and other local entertainment opportunities. What you will remember most is more about the interactions with others than how close you were to the stage. Avoid buying the pricey souvenirs designed to draw your attention and loosen your wallet.

Personal Life

Stay healthy by getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals and exercising. Self-discipline is more important now than it ever has been in your life – it’s all up to you. A healthy body costs less to maintain than trying to fix an unhealthy one.

Become a fan of resale and consignment shops. Some of the most original, useful things can be found during a Saturday garage sale excursion. Plan your shopping trips to avoid impulse spending and never buy anything that isn’t on sale. If it’s not discounted today it may be next week or try another store.

Cut your long distance phone bill by subscribing to a free VoIP service like Skype. Communicate via email or text message, whenever possible.