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What I Wish I’d Known Before College

Getting peer-to-peer advice can really help with the college transition.

Laura Magerkurth

April 07, 2014

What I Wish I’d Known Before College
I’ve now been a college student for almost two full years now and in these four semesters I’ve learned quite a bit about my field of study and myself. There are a few things, however, that I wish I’d known when I first began my college career. Hopefully, these suggestions help you have an even easier time than I did:

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Use your resources. Take advantage of tutors and teaching assistants as soon as you even feel like you might be starting to struggle. Your peers can be the best help available to you: most of them aren’t intimidating (and even if they are, they’re probably less so than your professors) and they’ve been through the same classes and in many cases, the same professors, so they know the ins and outs of how to get a decent grade for the semester.

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Meet your professors. Along that same line, take advantage of your professors’ office hours early in the semester. Go in just to chat for a few minutes—and make it a priority to do so with one of the professors in your field or who works closely with your degree program. This will make it easier to go in if you ever need to ask for help and student tutors aren’t available, and will also help if you find yourself applying for a position that requires a letter of recommendation.

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Establishing friendly relationships with professors will benefit you in the long run and might even help you gain connections that will get you employment or a helpful internship.
Learn your library… …and not just the stacks. Figure out what journals—online and print—your school subscribes to and how to access them. Schedule a meeting with a resource librarian who can give you a tour of the building and teach you how to use the media equipment available. Figure out how to request materials from other college libraries. Challenge yourself to choose one material at random from the online catalog and go searching for it. If you learn your library early in your academic career, you’ll find yourself thanking your lucky stars later on. Be active. I’d recommend joining one or two clubs during your first semester and dropping or adding more as you continue on through your college career. However, just going to meetings isn’t enough to make you feel involved. Choose one organization that you feel you can dedicate a good amount of time to and stick with it. Volunteer through that club, be a committee chair or an executive board member and bring your unique ideas to the table. You’ll meet more people and feel more comfortable in your new environment if you’re enjoying yourself in pursuits other than homework and classes. Some organizations even offer points and special recognition for students who’ve been excellent examples of campus leaders and servers! Start research (if you’re into that kind of thing). If you’re hoping to get into research in college, start brainstorming proposal ideas as soon as possible. Figure out different projects that professors are sponsoring and do your best to become part of the team—by the way, this is another area where a brief e-mail introduction or a conversation during office hours can really help you gain an advantage. If none of your professors’ projects seem interesting to you, keep an eye out for grants and scholarships aimed at students who want to start their own. Otherwise, look on your school’s research web page for tips, tricks or maybe even sample papers written by past students.

What’s your best tip for making it through college with your sanity and your GPA intact? What do you wish you could go back in time and tell a younger version of yourself?

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