Here’s a tip: when it comes to surviving and thriving in college, your college counselor knows what’s what. They are an invaluable resource for students and provide many services — academic advising, career searching, mock interviews, transitional help, and more. They’re also a primary source for college life advice.
We’ve compiled a list of ten common (but helpful!) pieces of advice given by college counselors.
1. Get Organized
We’re not just talking about your room, here. College offers a lot of freedom, but sometimes that freedom can feel a little overwhelming. By keeping track of due dates, meetings, events, and deadlines, things can feel a little bit more structured. Counselors suggest utilizing a calendar or planner. The syllabus, usually given out in the first class, is another great way to track assignments and projects — since they outline what ‘s due when for the whole semester, deadlines won’t sneak up on you.
But “get organized” goes beyond just due dates. Counselors suggest students keep resumes up to date, save exceptional essays or other work samples, write down job/internship details like start-date and job responsibilities, and keep a log of professional contacts you’ve made — you never know when all that will come in handy.
2. Don’t Procrastinate
The temptation to push things off until tomorrow can be eased a little by following the previous tip, but even so, the moment will come when you have to decide between starting your eight-page research paper or blowing it off for another round of Netflix. Resist that urge. Stress levels will be a lot lower if you regularly do your assignments on time — or even better, get a head start on them.
Counselors suggest creating a schedule for working on assignments or projects. Treat it like you would a class — create a time each week, every day, or every other day, dedicated to classwork, and follow it! If it’s highlighted on a calendar or has a notification on your phone, you’re more likely to maintain that schedule.
3. Go. To. Class.
This may seem like an obvious one, but like procrastinating, the temptation to stay in bed rather than trek out to your classes can be hard to resist. But you’re at college for a reason — to further your education. You worked hard to get in, you’re paying for it, and success (or failure) can determine your future, so go to class!
Many professors offer two or three days you can miss without penalty, but as tantalizing as those are, it’s best to save them for the right opportunities, like being sick or swamped with projects. Losing even one day of class can have a huge impact on your understanding of the material, so it’s always best to make the effort and go. There’s also a growing trend of professor’s adding “attendance points” on your grade, so repetitive skipping can hurt you in more ways than one.
College is a time to meet tons of new people from all walks of life. It’s also the perfect place to start forging relationships. There’s no doubt that writing research essays and studying for finals can be stressful, so having good friends to rely on and have fun with will make college all the more enjoyable. Meet as many different people as you can by joining clubs, participating in sports or activities, going to events, or even just hanging out with fellow classmates.
Networking includes more than just making friends with peers, however. Counselors encourage students to forge good relationships with professors, bosses, co-workers, academic advisors, and other mentors; down the road, you may need their help. Professors and former bosses can write recommendation letters, a co-worker might know a guy who knows a guy that needs an intern with your qualifications, and the better your advisor knows you the more they can help guide you towards your future goals. Build a strong and diverse network while at school.
5. Study Well
Many like to point out that the word “studying” is “student + dying” but that’s probably because they’re practicing poor study habits. Not to say that studying is the most exciting thing in the world, but it can be made less miserable (and more effective) by doing it well. Counselors are chock full of helpful study tips.
Don’t cram: frantically reading several chapters the night before is not going to work; you’ll just tire and stress yourself out — instead, study a little each night the week before and regularly quiz yourself. Be distraction-free. The lure of the internet is powerful. Unplug or block your favorite social sites and put your nose to the grindstone.
Find the perfect spot: whether it’s in the library, outside on the quad, or tucked away in a coffee shop, find the place that’s right for you where you can properly concentrate. Noise: every student learns differently, for some total quiet is needed, others need the lull of nearby conversations or even music (though if you study with music, it’s recommended to stick to soundtrack instrumentals or classical pieces, lyrics are distracting). Take breaks: hunkering down and going at it hard for long periods of time can actually be counterproductive; instead, after every thirty minutes or so, reward yourself with a break — stress levels will be lower and your brain can start up again fresh and relaxed, thus retaining the information better.
6. Take Advantage of Resources
There are enough helpful resources on campus to make your head spin. Computer labs, writing centers, libraries, academic advisors, scholarships, social awareness groups, student health centers, and tutors just to name a few. Counselors suggest using each one to your advantage — resources are available, so why not use them?
Many universities have gyms as part of the tuition package. Hit it up to stay in shape and avoid that “Freshman 15.” Having computer troubles? Lots of colleges have an IT center for quick fixes. Libraries have much more than just books; you’ll do plenty of papers and the library a prime resource for research materials, not to mention it’s a great place to study or collaborate on group projects.
College is a huge transition, so if you’re feeling unsure of what path you want to take or what to do to chase down your interests, visit your academic/career advisor regularly for more information and suggestions. Not quite sure your essay is up to par? Have someone at the writing center peer review it before you submit it for a grade. All of these resources (and more) are there to help you, so use them!
7. Meet Your Professors
This is one of the most often told pieces of advice to college students: get to know your professors. There are numerous advantages to building a relationship rather than just sitting in the back of the classroom and never speaking to them. Not only can it make asking them for help (with recommendation letters, advice for writing a paper, extra help understanding material, etc.) easier, it can also make the class more enjoyable.
Even if you’re in a lecture of 600 students, it’s worth introducing yourself. Make an impression. Visiting professors during their office hours shows initiative. Not to mention, one-on-one time can be used to ask questions and clarify topics or double-check on project requirements. Some professors might be willing to preview your essay and offer suggestions. Others might give you a little bit of wiggle room with deadlines if something comes up. Even if you get stuck with a professor you don’t like or doesn’t particularly teach well, it’s worth the effort to get to know them.
8. Apply for Financial Aid
Whether you’re paying with scholarships and working two jobs or your parents are footing the bill, fill out your FAFSA and apply for scholarships. Receiving extra funds can only help. Lowering the amount of student loans you need to take out will reduce debt and stress. You might find that you qualify for aid you didn’t know about.
There are more scholarship and grant opportunities that you’ll know what to do with — so apply to as many as you qualify for, and double-check that you’ve met all the requirements for each one. A common misconception is that only incoming freshman receives aid — not true! Each and every year you can fill out your FAFSA and capitalize on other aid opportunities.
9. Cultivate Experiences
They say that college is a time to make memories that will last forever, well whoever “they” are, they’re right. Colleges offer unique events, activities, social groups, and opportunities that are just ripe for the picking. On the entertainment side, universities can host things like concerts, festivals, campus-wide games, and movie marathons. Socially, campuses are a hot spot for activism, fundraisers, and awareness campaigns. They are filled to the brim with all sorts of student organizations. Whatever interests you, get out there and make some memories!
College is also the prime time to earn career-oriented experience. Few employers take into account high school activities or achievements, so it’s important to gather impressive resume items and connections. Potential employers like to see students involved both with their academics and their community. Leadership opportunities and volunteer work will earn you brownie points, not to mention you’ll be making positive impacts too. Part-time jobs and relevant internships are also highly recommended by counselors. A great place to get started is at career fairs.
10. Take Care of Yourself
We’ll let you in on a not so well kept secret: college is stressful. With so many big changes — moving away from home, being in charge of your own schedule, demanding course loads, projects stacking up, finance problems, friend drama, and dreaded finals — anyone can feel overwhelmed at some point or another. When tensions are high, it’s easy to forget that taking care of yourself is just as important as getting good grades.
Ramen and Easy Mac are cheap, quick meals, but they aren’t exactly the most nutritious; maintain a healthy diet. Additionally, beat that mythical Freshman 15. Hit up the gym, walk instead of riding the bus, or join a Zumba class.
Lots of students can feel homesick the first year, luckily in today’s age, there are numerous ways to keep in contact with people back home — set up Skype dates or email regularly, even good old fashioned snail mail can alleviate some of the yearnings. If the stress is starting to hit you really hard, talk to campus therapists or spend time with some therapy dogs. And be sure you get plenty of sleep. When you’re feeling your best, you do your best work — so remember to take care of yourself.
If you take these pieces of advice to heart and learn even more from your counselor, you’ll be in for smoother sailing and a more rewarding college experience. Remember that every student is different, so experiment and see which methods work best for you.