The summer break before freshman year is arguably better than any summer break during high school. You don’t have to study for the SAT or ACT, or write any common app essays, or tour colleges. You can finally relax, spend time with family and friends, and say goodbye to your hometown. (For more on making the most of your last summer, check out this post!) Of course, you’ll have some chores like buying basic amenities for your dorm, choosing classes, etc., but, thinking back to the summer before my freshman year, I know that I found these tasks much less arduous than what it took to get into college.
After you’ve taken care of the basics, is there anything else you need to do to prepare for college? My two cents is that the most important preparation you can do is seek advice; ask family and friends – and your ACT and SAT tutors! – what they wish they’d known about college when they began their freshman year. The following list details five things about freshman year that I wish someone had told me!
1. Professors tend to take a hands-off approach
From kindergarten all the way through high school, your teachers have taken on the responsibility of organizing your education for you. That means they’ve been structuring their classes – assigning homework that they regularly grade, giving frequent quizzes, even giving you daily in-class exercises – so as to make practice and learning easy. In college, it’s a different ball-game. For the most part, professors will assign less homework (and some won’t even grade the homework they assign!), and less quizzes. Some will grade you based on one mid-term and one final, which means that over the semester, you won’t have a means of knowing how well you’re understanding the material – until after you’ve taken the big exams!
It’s up to you to figure out a way to learn and digest new material you’ve learned in class. This means that a major part of college involves not just learning new material, but learning how you best learn. Do you need to review your class notes every evening? Do you need to work on practice problems in your textbooks on your own time? Do you need to learn in a study-group? You’ll figure out which of these (or other) methods work for you if you are ready to experiment with your learning and study habits from day 1 of college. Eventually, you’ll find an approach that sticks.
2. Professors are willing to help, but YOU have to speak up
Just because you have to design your own learning methods, doesn’t mean that you can’t ask your professors for help. Almost all professors hold office hours, which is your opportunity to not only review class material with them and work through any concepts you aren’t understanding, but also to speak to professors about how to manage the material they’ve said you need to know by test day. So, if you are struggling to keep up with a course, make sure you reach out to a TA or a professor immediately. You’ll find that if you just ask, they will be more than willing to help you out!
3. Be prepared to readjust your perfect schedule
As discussed in the aforementioned post, it’s absolutely necessary for you to make a schedule for your freshman year, because you’ll be balancing many obligations and needs, including your academics, your health, and your social life. However, you won’t really know how to divide your time and attention between these parts of life until you’ve lived them. It’s normal to enter freshman year with a perfect schedule – something involving eight hours of sleep, straight A’s, and an exciting social life – but that perfect schedule can become a handicap if you don’t know how to use it realistically. So, during your freshman year, pay attention to the difference between your ideal schedule and how you spend your time, as well as to what in your life you’re actually willing to change. For example, if you aren’t willing to spend less time studying to be involved in more of campus life, then it’s unrealistic for you to continue to set aside time in your schedule for the latter.
4. It can take awhile to find and form close friendships
Speaking of balancing a social life with your academic goals, one other factor to consider, especially when you are a freshman, is that it can take time to find close friends. The first couple of months of college are sort of like speed-dating; you and everyone else in your dorm are looking for new friends, so you might end up going to the cafeteria and to parties with many different people until you find people you connect with on a deeper level.
If, after the first few months, or even if after most of freshman year has passed, you haven’t grown close to anyone, don’t be hard on yourself. You may need to look beyond your dorm and your classes, such as joining new organizations on campus (anything from improv to student government to intramural sports), to find people you actually click with.
5. Take advantage of special opportunities available only to freshmen
Something many incoming freshmen don’t know is that some programs on campus are limited to freshmen. These programs can include special off-campus retreats, special mentorship programs, and certain courses. One of my best experiences was an off-campus retreat in a cabin with 30 other freshmen during spring semester. I also became part of a special honors society that only accepted applicants who are freshman. The best ways to find out about these programs are by speaking to your dormitory RA, who will be well-informed on such matters, and the dean who advises you until you pick a major.
This list may seem extensive, but it’s not something you need to memorize. If you are curious, flexible, and responsible, many of these habits and choices will come about naturally. And of course, don’t forget to enjoy this summer, and your freshman year!
By Rita Pearson