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Five Things A College Freshman Should Know

From scholarships to declaring a major, check out our Student Contributor's advice for the first year of college.

A student shares what he's learned after his first semester of college.
Five Things A College Freshman Should Know
Throughout this first year as a college freshman, I have learned many things about college life that I did not know before the start of my first semester. Here are five things everyone should know before enrolling in college.
  1. Scholarships and Other Financial Aid With colleges regularly raising tuition from year to year, who does not want a scholarship? As I have written previously, I like to identify two collective sources for scholarships: Colleges and third parties.

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    Most colleges offer both merit-based (scholarships, some grants) and need-based financial aid (loans, other grants, work-study). From what I have observed, most students’ scholarships are awarded by the institution at which they enroll. Most merit-based financial aid awards will be offered on the basis of academic performance, noteworthy extracurricular achievement, and/or community service. There is another source for scholarships, however: third parties. Often accumulated and advertised on websites such as our beloved Fastweb.com, these scholarships are offered by companies and organizations. The basis on which they are awarded are decided by each awarding group; these qualifications can range from academic performance to performing a specific task and writing essays. These scholarships always involve a separate application, unlike those from colleges which are usually just decided by the schools as they look at their pool of applicants.

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    Along with perusing sites like Fastweb.com to search for third party scholarships, a college counselor should have knowledge on some scholarship opportunities as well. To learn more about the scholarship search, please read either of my two previous articles: Scholarships to Cure Winter Break Idleness or Federal Work Study Jobs for College Students. Alternatively, please look at Fastweb’s Scholarships and Grants page to peruse all of the scholarships offered by third parties that are currently accepting applications.
  2. Friendships

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    When attending college, one is bound to start off without established friendships or a sense of community. Everyone goes through a slump at the start of their college career as they are meeting new people, establishing friendships and social circles, and adjusting to the new aspects of their life. My main advice to those in the future who may read this is to relax and not be overly inward during this process. It is essential to remember and easy to forget that everyone is in the same position: Everyone has moved to a new residence and often a new town, everyone is attempting to shuffle off the undesirable aspects of their high school self, and most people want to make friends. It is also likely that the people you meet the first couple of weeks will not be your friends in the long run, and that is completely fine. Genuine friendships are one of the great accomplishments throughout our lives. You will form them in college, some of them most likely before the end of the first semester!
  3. Communication Between Students and Professors It is easy to assume that professors will be more critical than they actually are. While the best ones will ask you difficult questions, ask you to elaborate on answers, ask you to orally dialogue with them in front of the class if time allows, and push you to improve, the best professors will also be amicable if you contact them with questions, concerns, or et cetera. Most professors want their students to succeed. They are as equally human as you, too. Students might perceive a seemingly impenetrable barrier between themselves and their professors, but do not fall into that false view. Reach out to them when necessary or even desired.
  4. Homework and Study Habits While I cannot say that I have had significantly more homework in college than high school so far, besides volumes of more reading, I can say that I have had to study a lot more and have had to adhere to a stricter homework and study schedule. Since most college classes only meet once or twice a week and professors usually chug along in the textbooks without retrospection except for pre-exam review sessions, it is momentously critical that you study on your own in college and thoroughly review notes. This caught me off-guard. I wish someone had warned me before my college career began. While I managed to perform well last semester, there was a definite learning curve, and I believe this semester will require more studying of me as I am in more advanced courses. Begin college ready to study and read tomes.
  5. The Declaration of a Major, a Minor, or Multiple Majors I thought I knew what I wanted to major in before I began my undergraduate career, but I currently have absolutely no idea. During my first semester I realized the profundity of many fields of study. While I am still undecided, I do know that it is important to remember this: Your major does not define you or your future career. I sense that many college students fall into the trap of believing that the field you major in limits you. In reality, we are free to explore all academic fields throughout our lives. Just because you concentrate on one or two in college does not mean you are limited to that field for the rest of your professional career or your recreational studies. Those are what I would identify as the five most important pieces of knowledge I could give to a forthcoming college student. These realizations allowed me to improve my experience last semester, as the second half was ultimately a superior and more enjoyable experience. I acquired more knowledge during the second half of last semester once I settled in, developed a routine, and realize these facts.

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