You've already faced one of life's biggest challenges: getting into college. The next challenge is taking full advantage of everything your college has to offer you, getting good grades and also having a great time. Here is how to make first semester the start of four best years in your life.
• ARRIVE ON CAMPUS AS EARLY AS YOU CAN:
During the summer, colleges notify freshman students when they can move into their campus housing. NOTICE: Move in as soon as the doors open. Why? First, to feel comfortable you need to get unpacked. Second, undoubtedly there will be things you have forgotten to bring and the best time to shop is when Mom and Dad are still around to pay. Third, you and your roommate(s) need to decide how you're going to share the space.
Once everything is unpacked, it's time to explore the campus to figure out where everything is, including libraries, workout spaces, student hangouts and best places to study.
• CAREFULLY CHOOSE YOUR CLASSES
To make your first semester a success:
+ Sign up for the minimum number of classes (usually 12 units). There is time enough for you to take all of the classes you need to graduate. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you have to prove your academic prowess by taking more than an average number of classes so you can brag about the tough schedule you have ("I'm taking 20 units, how about you?") Give yourself time to adapt to college life, including managing schoolwork, activities and all the other things available to you.
+ Choose classes that you know you will like and do well in. Based on your experience in high school, sign up for courses in which you know you can get A's or B's. Are you good at English and history? Sign up for classes in those areas.
+ Find out who the good professors are and the best classes. Ask upperclassmen for names of good professors or look at the professor evaluation website. Do NOT sign up with a professor who gets bad reviews. Unlike high school, you can be picky about your classes. Most schools have courses that students unequivocally rave about. Find them and sign up.
• KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING
Once you have your class schedule, get a campus map and go to each of the buildings where your classes will be held.
+ If a classroom is open, go in, look around and decide where you want to sit. This pre-work means that on the first day of classes when everybody else is scrambling, you know exactly where you are going, where you want to sit and will feel much less anxious than other new students.
• PREPARE FOR CLASSES
There are some very simple things you can do to get ahead of the game for your classes.
+ Get to the bookstore early and purchase all the books for each of your classes. Sometimes campus bookstores run out of required books and it can take weeks to order them. If you want to buy used texts, guess what: they are the ones that get bought first. "The early bird gets the worm," and at college the worm is used textbooks.
+ And while you're at the bookstore, get all of the other supplies you need for taking notes and keeping organized. Purchase a wall calendar with an erasable pen to keep track of everything you do. For ideas about what else to buy, see the section on "Desk & School Supplies" on my website's College Shopping List.
+ Ace the first test. There's an old saying that you never have a second chance to make a first impression. So to make a good impression in classes, get an A on your first test. The stronger you are at the beginning, the more likely a professor will see you as a good student for the rest of the class.
• IF A CLASS GIVES YOU PROBLEMS, GET HELP RIGHT AWAY
If you should get into a class that gives you trouble, immediately see the professor to get some help or find a tutor. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of maturity. The most successful students get help as soon as they need it.
+ If you get excellent grades first semester, your reputation as a good student will follow you. Special internships and honors programs might open up, jobs will be easier to get, scholarships may become available, and you'll go to the top of the study abroad list. If for some reason you are not happy with your college, having top grades will make it much easier to transfer to another.
Two very useful resources for new freshmen are Harlan Cohen's best-selling The Naked Roommate and Marcia Cantarella's I CAN Finish College, out in August from Sourcebooks, Inc.
Now that you know what to do when you arrive on campus, sit back and enjoy the rest of the summer. You deserve it!