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12 Skills to College Success from the Beginning

Start your freshman year off with these tips for college life success.

Your success in college isn't just determined by your GPA -- master these college life skills, too.
12 Skills to College Success from the Beginning
You’ve received the admissions letter and won the scholarships. Now what? Well, with the anxiety and excitement of (maybe) a new location, (definitely) meeting new people, and (guaranteed) acceleration of academics, it’s helpful to have a few skills at hand. From the essential planner to much-dreaded laundry, below are twelve basic life skills to become comfortable with as you venture upon the crazy journey that is college life.
  1. Time Management:

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    When you have a four-page essay due in three days, a club meeting on Wednesday, a party on Friday night (which should not be happening during COVID), and of course some of those good old couple hours of homework, the ability to manage your time will feel like a blessing. Now I’m not saying you should have an essay to complete the day before (see time management), but since we all find ourselves in that situation now and then, organizing priorities and removing distractions can make a huge difference. Prioritize your tasks from most to least important; recognize that this list will be different for everyone, some need those eight hours of sleep, while others need to study for that last-chance test to pass the class. Next, recognize the deadlines and significance of each assignment. A Spanish vocabulary worksheet won’t hold the same weight as a biology lab or English paper. Balance those assignments according to their deadlines and points and start with the most important.

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    Further, remove the distractions. It may be tempting to re-watch that episode of The Office, so put away your cellphone where you can’t see it. For a little extra incentive, think of those distractions as rewards once you’ve completed the essential work first.
  2. Organization It’s easy to sleep away those extra ten minutes rather than making your bed, but organization can have a huge impact on your emotional and physical state. Seeing an organized room can motivate you to keep up the self-discipline throughout your day, from finishing homework, to attending extracurricular activities.

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    Additionally, staying organized with assignments, meetings, and other events can reduce stress and prevent surprise deadlines. I recommend getting a planner that suits your lifestyle at the beginning of the year to start the semester prepared.
  3. Staying motivated Time management and organization can only go so far if you don’t have any motivation. Yes, they can help increase it by reducing the sense of overwhelmingness and loss of control, but keeping up with that motivation is key to an amazing and productive college experience. A few tips for remaining motivated include: • Exploring new activities and clubs. Get as much involved as you can in campus life. Big or small, chances are there’s a club out there for you. And if not, perhaps lead your own! • Understand that things may not always turn out as you hoped. There will be times when a bad grade comes through or that internship you tried so hard for didn’t work out. Learn from them and move on. Sure, a good cry can be de-stressing, but it’s crucial to accept the consequences and prepare for what’s next. As Albert Einstein once said, “A person who has never made a mistake, has never tried anything new.”
  4. Taking good notes. Classes can become a little easier to comprehend when you can remember what your professor talked about for the entire 50 minutes. A key to success, taking good notes can make those quizzes and tests much less daunting, and help you remain focused on the subject.
  5. Writing a professional email. Avoid calling your professor by their first name, and always leave your name at the bottom of the email. For a general reference, the more formal the circumstances, the more polished your email should be. Avoid grammar mistakes, and use complete sentences.
  6. Keeping up with finances Whether you just got a brand-new credit card or you’re trying to budget your weekly expenses or wondering about financial aid, budget planning is a beneficial skill to possess. I suggest getting a budget planner for—you guessed it—organization, as well as keeping track of how much you may earn and where you spend it. This Fastweb article provides a solid layout to budgeting for college students. Additionally, keep in mind the academic financial sphere. Chart out your financial aid, how much you’re paying out-of-pocket each semester, as well as keeping an eye out for future scholarships.
  7. Recognizing when you need help and knowing where to receive it. College can be a difficult time for many different people for just as many different reasons. Whether it’s homesickness, academic difficulty, mental health, or networking, it’s crucial to ask for help. Do not hesitate to visit your school’s counseling center or academic help center (yes, both facilities are available on college campuses) to get the support you need. Do not fear criticization but rather understand that those people are there to see you succeed.
  8. Knowing how to clean. Some basic cleaning sprays—antibacterial or perhaps something a little gentler—a duster, a handheld vacuum, and some rags go a long way in keeping your dorm room cozy and inviting.
  9. How to change a tire and other basic car details. While in today’s digital age and with Jiffy Lube around every corner, knowing how to change a tire may not be the most crucial skill, but it’s still helpful to know your car and what’s going on if something does happen. Here’s a fantastic video just under ten minutes that covers some of the basics of car mechanics.
  10. Balancing work and play While’s it’s important to prioritize academics, it’s equally important to give yourself some time off. After a particularly arduous week, or perhaps after a series of exams, plan out a favorite activity for the weekend, and spend some time on de-winding. Not only will these boost productivity and decrease stress, but also lead to increased emotions of fulfillment and joy.
  11. Following your instincts. Seriously, do not go anywhere alone with someone you do not know. It might only be a simple walk down to the next shop—taking a shortcut through an alleyway— or it might be the offer for a couple of drinks at a restaurant with unfamiliar surroundings. As a general tip, bring a friend with you whenever exploring new places and meeting new people, and always tell someone whom you’re going with and when they should expect you back. If something feels wrong, follow your instinct. There’s a reason that squirrelly, upsetting feeling arises in our gut, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
  12. Last, but certainly not least …laundry It is tiresome, I do empathize with that, but it’s also necessary. Separate the whites from the blacks, cold water for those delicate dress pants, hot for that athletic uniform. Here’s a great article that makes laundry a bit more bearable.
I hope some of these are skills you can already cross off, and for those that need a little brushing up on, remember that you do not have to master them all the summer before your first year. Rather, try to practice them as often as you can, and slowly, you’ll find them at work in every aspect!

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