Things I wish I knew before going to college
Let’s be real. High school can be extremely stressful at times, and preparing for college may be the last thing you want to think about. Going to college is a huge milestone and getting ready for it can be daunting.
Throughout my college career, there were many moments where I said, “I wish someone told me this.” I’m certain that college would have been a lot less stressful if someone had guided me and told me these tips I’m about to tell you now.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and some of these may not even apply to you. These are just tips I’ve gathered from my own circumstances, so I hope they help!
Debunking common misconceptions
1. College is not “easier” simply because you are “only focusing on one thing.”
College majors are typically divided into three parts when it comes to the credits you need to graduate: major-specific credits, general education credits, and elective credits.
You can already see that the latter two may not be specific to your focus or career goals. There is, however, some overlap between all three credit types. Some of your major-specific credits will also fulfill general education credits, and you are always free to take electives to further your interests.
2. Despite what your professor might say, one credit hour does not always equate to two to three hours of outside studying per week.
In an ideal world, a three-credit course will require you to study six to nine hours per week outside of class studying, doing homework, reviewing material, etc. Do not feel pressured to follow this ideal. Some classes will be easier and others will require more effort. Do what you must and learn to be flexible.
3. The classes you take during your first year of college will not always pertain to your major.
This especially applies if you are majoring in a STEM field. For the first year or two, the classes you take are generally prerequisite courses that 1) serve as a foundation for your major-specific courses, and 2) are commonly known as “weeder” courses because they set the bar between who is “qualified” for the more challenging courses in your later years. In some cases, you can even be exempt from these prerequisite courses if you’ve obtained AP/IB credit (but don’t bet too much on it — see below).
4. You won’t have as much flexibility to make your schedule as you might think.
This is especially true for when you start taking your advanced courses. A lot of prerequisite courses are held in huge lecture halls, easily housing over 200 or 300 students. These courses will have different time blocks called sections, which will determine when you have discussion sessions, lab sessions, and final exams.
Prerequisite courses can easily have around ten different sections to choose from, which will give you more flexibility to cherry pick how your schedule falls. Other courses, like ENGL101, can have over twenty sections, because every student is required to take it to graduate.
As the courses get harder and more specified, your classes will begin to shrink, and so will the number of sections, which will restrict your flexibility. The courses I took in my junior and senior years usually only had one section.
5. A good amount of the college credit you earn during high school will not help you complete your major.
One of the reasons you’re probably taking your AP/IB classes at the moment is because you want to acquire college credit if you pass the test at the end of the year.
Be sure to check if the universities you are applying to will 1) even accept those credits, and 2) have course equivalents that will exempt you from having to take prerequisite courses.
(Side note: By no means am I discouraging you from applying to universities that do not accept AP/IB credits. It all depends on how much these credits are a determining factor in where you want to apply.)
As mentioned above, apart from your major-specific credits, you will also need credits to fulfill general education and elective requirements. Most AP and IB credits will fall into the the latter two.
If you are unsure of what your major will be, that is fine. Still check to see if the AP/IB credits you acquire (assuming your university accepts them) will fall into the general education and elective requirements. It never hurts to get a head start (see #2 below).
Once you’re in college:
Congrats! You’ve made it past the easy step and are now ready to tackle the next milestone of your academic career.
1. Do not sign up for 8:00 a.m. courses unless you have to.
In high school, you were probably used to waking up at 6:00 or 7:00 a.m., so you might think waking up for an 8:00 a.m. class shouldn’t be a problem.
I never met anyone in college who liked waking up for 8:00 a.m.’s. As a commuter, I even had to wake up at 5:45 to catch the bus to make it on time for my 8:00 a.m.’s, which led to very tired mornings and extremely downcast days. Starting your day off grouchy and tired is a surefire way to lower your motivation to do well.
The caveat is, of course, “unless you have to.” If it’s a required course, and if there’s really no way around it, then there’s nothing you can do. Be aware that most students have to take at least one 8:00 a.m. section at some point in college.
Note: Final exams run on a different schedule. The time you regularly have class will typically not be the time your final exam will be.
2. The more credits you acquire, the earlier you can register for the next semester!
Unless you’re a student athlete, the number of credits you earn determines your “standing” in college and will determine when you can register for next semester’s courses. I entered college with 40 credits from AP and IB (this is equivalent to a sophomore standing in college), which allowed me to register for my courses weeks to over a month before my classmates.
This then had a snowball effect, and I was always near the top of the roster to apply for next semester’s classes for the rest of my college career, and so, I never worried about courses filling up before I could register for them.
3. Record your lectures.
Some students are very good at absorbing information the first time around. I was not one of those students, but I didn’t actually put this tip into use until fairly recently (and I wish I had used it earlier!).
Most professors will not mind if you record their lectures. If they have an issue with it, they will explicitly tell you.
One of the best things about recording lectures is that you can always go back and re-listen to what the professor said, without having to furiously scribble your notes or worrying that the professor will move to the next slide before you’re finished writing. Recording lectures also allows you to go over the notes you took during class and thus you will deepen your understanding of the lectures and better absorb the material.
4. Utilize office hours whenever you can.
Every professor is obligated to have office hours at some time during the week. These are chances for you to go in and meet with the professor one-on-one to ask questions and get clarification on material. Go early if you can, especially when assignments are about to be due. Trust me, office hours can get extremely hectic. (If the class has a Teaching Assistant, they will also have office hours.)
As a bonus, you may be able to score recommendation letters from the professors you visit more often. Talk to them! They want to know you better and will be more than happy to make sure you are not just a stranger in a sea of faces.
5. Know how you study best.
Everyone studies differently.
Do you prefer studying by yourself or in groups? Can you study for long periods of time or do you need breaks in between batches? Do you listen to music when studying? Where are you studying?
It can be challenging to find the perfect study method for you, and it really is a trial-and-error process, but once you identify how you study most effectively, you will continue to use that method in the future.
Again, this is not the holy grail to do well in college. These are just things I wish I could go back in time and tell myself. I hope they will be of some use to you as you pursue your career in higher education.