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Off-To-College Open Thread

Are you about to start university? Are you in the middle of your studies? Are you a recent grad with tips to share?

This is your thread to talk to each other. Anxieties? Things you are most excited about? Tips on self care? Figuring out how to live away from home and deal with roommates? Study skillz? Academics? Time management? Mental health stuff? Sex, drugs, rock’n’roll? The thread is yours.

Ground Rules:

  • I’d like to prioritize the voices of people who are undergraduate students now.
  • If your college/university experience is still fresh, as in, within the last 3 years, chime in. What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were just starting out?
  • If you work at a college or university – professor, student affairs person, counselor, etc. (I think we have MANY in this community), also chime in.
  • If your advice comes from “10-20 years ago, when was just starting college….” maybe it’s not your thread. I say this as someone who started college 20 years ago and as someone who teaches Freshpeople: Stuff has really, really changed.

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321 comments
  1. staranise said:

    As someone who worked in one: Remember your school’s counselling department! Cap’n has talked them up a lot, but I want to reiterate that they’re a great place for support and guidance. Lonely? Homesick? Overwhelmed? Suicidal? Head on down! They’re waiting for you. (And, in my experience, wait times for an appointment are usually the shortest at the beginning of term, the beginning of the school year especially, so there’s incentive to be the early bird.)

    • JenniferP said:

      In my experience, they tend to be staffed with people who are doing their graduate studies (so, they are closer to walking in your shoes). It’s not old white dudes who will make you lie on couches. No problem too small – if you need a friendly ear for a little while, go check it out.

      • Jake said:

        My (Canadian) experience is a little different from yours. They were all grown up, professional therapists, afaict. Not psychiatrists or even necessarily psychologists, but people with Master’s degrees who had professions as therapists.

        But still, not old white dudes who made me lie on couches. Empathetic ladies who were interested in what I had to say helped me find ways to be a healther, more functional person.

        I did once have an absolutely terrible experience with a school psychiatrist when I needed meds for my depression, but that was a separate department.

        • staranise said:

          The really big deciding factor is usually if the school has a counselling program. If they do, then those students work in the in-house counselling centre, but if it doesn’t, the counsellors are generally lifers. (To confuse things, I was a grad student of a different school, interning with a permanent staff.) The counselling students are more hip to pop culture and do things like catch your slashy fanfic reference, while the lifers have a ton of experience with the labyrinthine school system and can say, “Wait wait wait, are we talking about Professor Y from the Chemistry department? He’s an asshole to everyone.”

          • Hope said:

            I’d say with counselors, try a few of them out first. I stuck with the first available person, and it just didn’t click. It ended up adding stress and other bad stuff to my already sad life, so make sure you find that counselor who can feel comfortable with.

      • Sciatrix said:

        My experience at a big public US university was also that they were actual therapists, not grad students. Not old white dudes on couches by any means either, though! They also heavily subsidized fees for therapy, which was helpful when I didn’t want my parents to know I was seeing a therapist.

      • curious86 said:

        This is what I came here to say! I am a doctoral student in clinical psychology who is currently working at a large university college counseling center. All our counselors are either PhD level clinicians or advanced doctoral students. Its a great environment and everyone works hard to provide students with the support they need, from help with adjustment/homesickness to really serious mental illness and everything in between. The services are free and confidential (this should be the case everywhere in the US at least). Use ‘em!

    • Jake said:

      +1.
      University therapists were invaluable to me as I struggled my way through my B.Sc. and M.Sc. and decided to stop there. There often lots of resources, especially on a bigger campus. Therapists, doctors, student groups aimed at your community. If you need them, use them.

    • Madge said:

      Definitely check out whatever resources are available to you, but do be aware that you might not find what you need in the first place you look – so if you have a bad experience, don’t give up! My experience at my (Australian) university last year was that the uni counsellors were only interested in my mental health as it pertained to my grades – which, for me, was immensely unhelpful, as I am an HD-average student with debilitating anxiety. The anxiety doesn’t affect my grades, but it sure as heck affects my attendance, and, y’know, every other aspect of my life. I had much better luck when I looked for a psychiatrist outside my uni.

      (Please don’t let this dissuade you from university resources in general, though – you can’t know what yours are like until you visit, and free therapy can be incredibly useful.)

      • TJ_Rowe said:

        Seconding Madge: The doctors at my University Health Centre (I dropped out over the course of this year, finally, after four years of clinging on by my fingernails) were eager to give me notes for my department, but ummed and ahhed for ages about giving me antidepressants or trying to work out what was wrong with me and treating it.

        • Cactus said:

          Yeah, I had quite a bit of luck with my university’s counseling center, but when a close friend went back to school this past year and checked out the counseling center to help her process her feelings about her partner’s illness, all the feedback she could get from them was “yeah, college is HARD.” Counseling centers can be very helpful, but it all depends on the individual university.

      • Cricket said:

        Thirding Madge: What your particular health center is prepared to handle may vary. On my campus there’s also a yearly limit on how many sessions you can get at the counseling center, which sucks because whenever I’m stressed I end up doing this weird mental math to try and decide if I feel awful enough to justify using up a session. This obviously means they’re not great if you want really long-term, specific care on a topic, though they do give referrals to outside therapists and mark which ones take the school insurance. Our campus also has student-run support groups on topics like EDs and depression for students who aren’t as comfortable with the counseling center, or who want a communal support experience in addition to it.

        IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are queer or trans* you may find that the school’s counselors don’t have enough experience working with folks like you to be really helpful on some fronts. I’ve happily never had a malicious or judgmental counselor but some just didn’t have a lot of insight to offer on the topics. Folks have to go to the campus LGBTQ resource center to get a list of local therapists that are known to be queer and trans*-friendly because the counseling center has never compiled such a list themselves. If your campus has such a center and it’s relevant to you, check in about the resources they have to offer.

    • Kaz said:

      Also, remember that if you and one of them don’t click for whatever reason… when they tell you “if this isn’t working, tell us, we will give you a new therapist” they do in fact mean it! I had an absolutely horrific experience with a uni counselling service therapist once, but when I sent her an e-mail going “uh, nope, this isn’t working” there was no fuss made, I got to see someone else and they were fantastic.

    • Baytree said:

      Also remember that ( at least in the US) your school will have a disabled student center. If you have trouble, visit them! More things count as disabilities than most people realize, including stuff like anxiety or migraines. And ime as both an employee and student, they can be really helpful even if all you need is an extra person on team you.

      • THIS. If you’re in the UK, you should look into Disabled Student’s Allowance. It’s pretty easy to qualify for, there is NO testing of how ‘sick’ you are and they’re pretty brilliant. My session basically consisted of them saying ‘we see you have x, would y or z be helpful? Yes? Here they are’. It was amazing.

    • NightShadeQueen said:

      WRT to telling your college that you’re suicidal….

      This backfired very badly for me. Among other things, I was involuntarily hospitalized, forced on medical leave, and forced out of my dorm room within two hours of getting out of said hospitalization.

      Not fun.

      • Roison said:

        That happened to a friend of mine as well, after he was checked into a mental clinic he wasn’t allowed back on campus. He hasn’t been able to finish his degree.

        My school is in the middle of a rough urban area so I think they’re trying to be very very careful with possible shooting concerns. Still feels like the wrong thing to do though.

      • Devin said:

        Yes, sadly this seems to be true in a lot of places. I had a close friend who was hospitalized for a drug overdose. When she tried to return to campus, she was *forcibly sedated* and taken back to the hospital. Even after being treated in in-patient mental health for a week, they very nearly forced her to take a quarter off for health reasons and imposed many other restrictions on her. And unfortunately, I’ve heard a lot of stories like this.

        I know that the OP for this particular comment thread means very well and I know that the folks who work in most college counseling departments also mean well — the issue seems to be that administrators get involved because they are desperate to prevent suicides on their campus.

      • Dealt with suicidal ideation my first go ’round at college a decade ago. I ended up telling my friends and then making them come with me while I told my parents. The school never knew, and I got onto meds that kept me from the emotional cycles that made me want to die. I think it can be worth it, if possible, to contact the people who care about you first and foremost before you contact anyone who has liability issues to consider.

    • NightShadeQueen said:

      …The actual proper thing to do, wrt to mental health, at my school apparently was:

      1. Go to Mental Health. Tell them you’re feeling a little depressed/anxious/whatever it is. DOWNPLAY IT.
      2. Ask for a referral to a therapist who works in the area but not for $school.
      3. Tell therapist what’s actually going on.

      It sucks because it makes it much more difficult to actually get treatment, but it’s necessary if you didn’t want to risk getting effectively kicked out for a semester or a year.

      [Of course, I didn't find out about this until it was *way* too late. And of course $school pulled the dirty trick where they effectively threaten you while you're still in the hospital so you take "voluntary" medical leave and thus lose your ability to appeal.]

      • staranise said:

        That is a really, really sucky experience. I’m sorry that happened to you.

        I forgot when I commented that I don’t have experience with the system of schools that behave like this. They totally happen, and they totally suck. It’s something I’m going to have to learn to address when talking to people outside my jurisdiction. Because I really do think people should get the choice to make their OWN decisions about medical care, so I’m all about giving people information so they can be aware of what the resources out there.

        So the actual thing to do, if you’re suicidal and you want to get help to be less suicidal but you’re worried about your life upending itself is to ask first. Ask what their policy on suicide risk is; what the policy on students with mental health issues is; how they assess suicide and what happens if a student is suicidal. This is an important part of informed consent. If you can’t get a straight answer on this, they’re not providing you with what you need for informed consent.

        -Call a suicide hotline and emphasize that you are not at immediate risk (ie. you’re not going to kill yourself in the immediate future). You can get emotional help from them, so it’s good to have their number on hand. But because they’re an outside organization and not part of your school, you can also ask: “Do you know anything about This School and how it handles students who disclose suicide?” Because if scuttlebutt is, “People who tell School X they’re suicidal get tossed out”, workers will probably get told this so they don’t recommend School X’s counselling centre.

        -Search your university’s website/calendar/student handbook for information related to this.

        -Ask your counsellor, either flat-out or in “I have a friend who” fashion. Standard counselling procedure is: everything you say is confidential, unless the counsellor learns that 1) a vulnerable person [child, elder, person w/a disability] is at risk of being abused or neglected; 2) you pose a risk to the safety of someone else; 3) you pose a risk to your own safety. But you may need to explicitly ask about these conditions, because in some settings, counsellors are forbidden to “coach” their clients on how to avoid setting off the counsellor’s duty to report. (In other settings we can go, “I’m gonna stop you right there, because if I learn any more I have to do something about it.”) We cannot volunteer the information, but we can provide it once we’ve been asked.

        • staranise said:

          While I’m thinking about it, I’ll talk a little about the upsides/downsides of “downplaying” your symptoms and lying to your counsellor.

          A lot of people downplay because they’re afraid of getting a hugely disproportionate reaction (like hospitalization) or that they’ll be accused of faking or dramatizing their concerns. Or they lie or hold back because if the counsellor responds badly, it’ll really hurt.

          I’ll be honest. I support this strategy. It’s not that I think that it’s the best; I think it has some real downsides. But on the other hand, I know there are crappy counsellors out there, and I think it’s your right to protect yourself from them. You don’t automatically owe a counsellor your trust or candour–they should earn that. So if it’s what you need to do, I don’t think it’s always a bad thing.

          If you’re worried about getting a bad counsellor, these are things to test the first couple times you see them. Within maybe three sessions, you should have a sense of whether you can trust them and open up, or whether you just don’t work together well.

          –Do they take time to get to know you before making suggestions or telling you what you’ve done wrong?
          –Do they listen, closely and nonjudgmentally, to the things you are saying?
          –Do they accept that you’re the expert on you? If you correct them on an assumption they have made, do they acknowledge it and correct themselves? (Good example: “It sounds like you feel a little sad.” “No, I think I’m more angry.” “Ah, I see. Anger, not sadness.” Bad example: “Maybe you think you’re angry, but you sound more sad instead.”)

          If your answers here are “no”, this is probably not the person for you. You’re free to say, “I don’t think this is working out, I’d like to see someone else,” to them, or just to the clinic receptionist. It is generally more courteous to cancel a session with them ahead of time than to just not show up.

          Dangers of underplaying or witholding for the first few sessions:

          –If the clinic has a waitlist or has to decide who gets how much treatment based on severity, you might have to wait longer or get less help than you need because they’ll assume you’re better off than you really are.
          –If you don’t disclose within the first few sessions, you risk getting onto a treatment plan that won’t actually help you, because your counsellor is acting on bad information.

          I’ve had a few clients who have been really afraid that I’ll get angry with them for lying, which I don’t. A counsellor worth trusting shouldn’t. But not hearing the whole truth is kind of our jobs. Sometimes being told comes as a relief, because I’ve known they were lying for ages, but considered it more important to support them no matter what than to “get to the truth of the matter”.

  2. BookLady said:

    Class of 2011 grad, here. Two pieces of advice I wish I’d taken/ actually enacted:

    1) This may primarily apply to Shiny Research Institutions, but if you’re planning to do maybe do things that aren’t academia, ACQUIRE SOME SKILLS. Like, for real, look at job postings, find a handful (10?) that look possibly interesting, and see what skills they might want you to have in future. Try to acquire those. It is great that you can do anthropological analysis and read closely and you’re really fucking smart – but this will not be something you can put on a resume. Whereas HTML or STATA are. So is any project you led/ thing you managed (in almost any area).

    You should still study whatever it is that you love, but keep in mind: at some point you’ll need the skills to pay the bills.

    2) Try to build relationships with professors in your field. That is, don’t only take classes from grad students/post docs; try to pick a prof you’d like to have as a mentor, and then take several classes from them – and go to office hours (with legit questions). All the other advice on building relationships is basically applicable here – just with the caveat that if you want to go to grad school and you don’t have anyone you think you can ask for
    a) advice
    b) a recommendation
    you will find this a difficult and stressful time.

    That said, college was WONDERFUL in so many ways – but these are probably the top two things I knew I should do and yet did not actually do, and I wish I had done them.

    • adria said:

      YES to number 2…I so wish I had put more time and energy into forming relationships with professors. I feel like asking for recommendations is always kind of awkward (for me at least), but would have been less awkward had I been more proactive in this while I was in school. And this helps with not just recommendations, but job leads and networking in general.

    • MamaCheshire said:

      Agreed with #1. My undergrad major ended up being something that the job market radically diminished for right about when I graduated. My typing speed, of all things, is what made me employable after I finished.

    • mamacitaconpistoles said:

      Interact with grad instructors as if they might be professors and colleagues of your professors some day. (Depending on your field, they likely will, or will be in the professions soon, too.)

      They can write recs, are often looking to student development opportunities like taking undergrads to conferences, and can be another route to meeting and developing a relationship with professors. Interested profs talk to their grads about who in the undergrad pool is a promising student.

      • And keep in mind that the good graduate student teacher you really like is also partway through a 2- or 4-year program (in most fields). *right now*, a letter from an assistant professor trumps a letter from a Ph.D student. But build that relationship in your sophomore years — or, If you’re like me and take three years off before grad school — and that person you built a relationship with at UC Sunnydale has had time to finish their book/dissertation and join the staff at Johns-Hopkins or Cornell.

      • Lor said:

        I’m 2 years out of undergrad and I’m now a grad student. I work as a teaching assistant for the intro classes in my department, and would like to second the advice about talking to your grad instructors. We don’t bite, I promise! TAs and grad student instructors may still be students, but we’re here to help, and most of us really do want to help you out, whether with your study skills, content in a class, or career stuff down the road. Talking to you is WAY more interesting than staring at the wall when no one comes to office hours!

    • M Dubz said:

      A world of yes to #1. Take job/ internship experiences early and often. You’ll build life experience, job skills, and a good resume. I actually was hired from an internship to full time work right out of school (of course the job was full of Evil Bees, but still, full time employment).

      Similarly, go talk to your career services people about your resume, mock interviews, and anything else you’re nervous about. And don’t be afraid to reach out to people in an industry where you might like to work to have informational interviews. People are happy to help!

    • Zillah said:

      WORD to #1. I didn’t do this, and between that and the recession, I had a hard time finding a job when I graduated.

    • DFTBAwkward said:

      I graduated in 2011. To graduate with honors at my university you had to do an undergraduate thesis, which I did. We email every so often and try to arrange lunches when I’m back in my college town or she comes to New Orleans. We both get a lot out of the relationship, I think. I enjoy the mentorship and the interesting conversation (she’s BRILLIANT), and she really enjoyed seeing an old student she liked and respected who is doing pretty well–made her feel good about the teaching thing. And it’s so nice to know I have a person I can go to for references or just general advice on being an adult. She’s an English professor and I’m pursuing a law degree currently so I’m not in her field anymore, but it’s still a valuable relationship I’m glad to have. Even if you don’t/can’t get to know every professor, try to find one that you get along with really well and invest in that as much as you can.

      • DFTBAwkward said:

        derp, I tried to edit this comment and accidentally deleted a sentence–the professor I’m talking about was my thesis adviser. I took a lit class from her my sophomore year and then we worked together on the thesis my junior and senior year.

    • Neuroturtle said:

      Hardcore yes to both of these!

      “I have a degree” is great, but “I have a degree and I’m an expert at Western blots” (or whatever) is 100x better.

      Also, writing rec letters is considered Service to Profession by professors, so don’t ever think you’re bring annoying by asking. I love nothing more than writing a gushing rec for an excellent student. Make it easy – bring your writer your CV, a list of points you’d like them to hit, and a summary of the position you’re going for. All this, of course, after you’ve developed a relationship – it’s extremely difficult to write a rec letter when all I can say is “umm, Julie usually showed up, and got a B.”

    • Cricket said:

      A very specific note on skills: if you’re getting a degree in the Environmental Science/Studies range of things, I highly recommend you find out if your school offers any classes in Geographic Image Systems Mapping (GIS). My campus has a specialty librarian who teaches a) undergrad classes on using the mapping program and b) open classes for adults in environmental fields who realized that some important tech knowledge was missing from their skill set after they graduated. Understandably, I’m trying to learn the program now during undergrad while classes are covered by my scholarship.

      You can use GIS to do things like map the locations of every wood rat nest in a nature preserve and present the data as a clear map overlay to help people better understand the species’ population dynamics, or take census data about average income for the different zones of your county, color code that input on a county map, and overlay the locations of grocery stores with fresh produce sections to outline the existence of food deserts and argue in favor of opening up public lands as community gardens in such areas. Whether you works focuses on the lab research or activism zones of environmental issues, GIS is really freakin’ useful, and valued by a lot of employers.

      • Seconding the GIS thing, managers love shiny maps, the basics are pretty easy and it makes for presentations people can understand and want to see.

      • Man, now I want to use this and I’m in social policy!

    • Ve said:

      Agreed with #1. Even if you are studying something “useful,” once you apply for a job you still need something to set you apart from everyone else with said degree.

      On a related note, I personally recommend learning/honing skills that you could use in a freelance position. In other words, speaking as someone 5ish years out from undergrad, I feel it’s important to be able earn an income without having a salaried/fixed/constant/stable employer, especially in this economy. Not that you *should* work freelance, have a side job, etc., but I think it’s important to have the *ability* to do so should the need arise.

  3. aaq said:

    I graduated in 2011. I’m going to bed now, but I wanted to give the digest version of best advice/wish I’d done:

    Best advice:
    Bathe regularly (but seriously, don’t laugh, it’s actually a thing)
    Eat regularly, and not just ramen
    Sleep
    Take an hour or 30 minutes every day to do something that isn’t school, isn’t club, just something for you – for me this was the biggest thing. There was always something due, someplace to be, something going on, and it got really stressful. Taking time out was the best thing.

    Wish I’d done:
    Hang out in office hours- granted I have no idea what I would’ve done, but everyone thought it was the coolest and actually had people to act as references
    Reconsidered my major before it was too late- I studied biology. I liked it. I had to declare my 1st year because of AP credit. It packed my schedule for the next 2 years, so I didn’t get the chance to think of changing it if I wanted.
    GO TO THE COUNSELING CENTER!!!! – We got 8 free appointments a year. Aside from my very real mental health issues, there were times it would’ve been great to talk to an adult who wasn’t invested in my education. Most of my adult contacts were my professors, my advisor, and my parents, all of whom had an agenda when it came to my education and choices, so I never felt like I could really talk freely with any of them.

    • WeeBoy said:

      YES WITH THE BATHING. At my uni we knew when winter arrived many of the guys stopped washing.

      Lads, shave as well. Unless you can grow a proper beard, and style it.

      I graduated end of last year, and my advice is.

      Go to class. I pissed about in first year and scraped through. I pissed about in second year and failed. In the next two years I went to every class I wasn’t too ill to attend. I started getting As.

      Dress for the weather. Even when you’re going clubbing.

      Find a form of movement you enjoy. Sport, gym, dance, going for long walks every Sunday on your own. Something to counteract all the sitting.

      If you have any kind of disability, get support through your uni. Don’t be proud about getting help.

      If you drink, be nice to those who don’t – they will help get your drunk ass home.

      If you don’t drink, ask for petrol money.

      And gatorade is good for hangovers, drink before bed, and in the morning.

    • Emmers said:

      Oh goodness, YES to office hours. Most under-used resource, for me. (I graduated college in 2005, eep, but this was still a thing then.)

      • saira said:

        Yes to office hours! I just finished a graduate program and it always made me sad when no undergrads came to office hours. The prof in charge of the class and I spent many a Tuesday afternoon commiserating over empty office hours. The teaching staff want to help you. Especially if you’re struggling. We spend hours prepping examples for office hours for you. And the students who come to office hours invariably end up with better grades.

      • While we’re on the subject, these are the ways I’ve discovered that allow you to show up in office hours and make most teachers glad you did. I speak as someone who just started both grad school and teaching, and who got here by making my undergrad professors like me enough. Undoubtedly there are other ways, but these come to mind.

        1. Have a background question grounded in the reading (e.g., “Have archaeologists determined the shift from stirrup vessels to double-necked vessels happened?” or “So … was this Jewish legend we read really the basis for the movie Serenity?”)

        2. ESPECIALLY if you’re shyer in class, go to the professor and say something like “I occasionally have trouble formulating thoughts in time to bring them up in class, but I wondered if you’d be willing to talk about [specific point Other Student raised about specific thing]. I was thinking X about that topic.”

        3. Ask about continuing study. (e.g., “I’m formulating grad school plans and I wanted to know if there’s a university you highly recommend in your field” or “Where did you go to graduate school?”)

        4. If it’s a teaching assistant/Master’s student/doctoral candidate, ask about their thesis/dissertation topic. This will endear you to them mostly. However, if they start to do that laugh-so-I-don’t-cry thing and say not to ask, respect it. Shit be stressful. Generally, don’t use this approach with full professors unless you can identify their previous work or they’ve mentioned their current publication goals in class.

        5. Ask “how am I doing?” questions, but DON’T simply ask what your grade is or what you can do to improve. You can start there if you like, but continue to “Is my level of participation good for you? I can do more/less if that’s better for the class” or “How would you suggest approaching this reading? I’m having a little trouble parsing it.” Specifics. We genuinely want to help those who have specifics.

        And my number one method for getting a teacher to talk and talk to me, give me lots of useful info, and come out of it thinking I made great points:

        6. Bring in your paper topic and ask if there’s any outside reading you really need to have for it. My script was always “Is there any source that’s really vital to understanding this topic you can recommend? I don’t want to miss something foundational.” Adjust for style of interaction.

        I realize these put you on the spot in a way that’s super uncomfortable for many, but trust me, in office hours, we’re by and large bored and forgiving. Also; it’s academia, and we’re mostly a bunch of awkward folk ourselves.

        If you come with genuine interest, it’ll pay off. It paid off for me.

    • Amy Pond said:

      The reconsidering the major one is important – I have a lawyer friend who hates law, because they worked out they didn’t like it too late into their degree to change it. It’s important to periodically stop and consider how you’re going, and how you feel, and *not* do something solely because you think you’ll make good money – having some interest or enjoyment in your prospective career is important, too.

      Not to mention, for a lot of people (although not all of them), how much you enjoy/hate something will affect how well you do it. When I first graduated high school I did a year of study in I.T. mostly because it was expected (and I had no clue what else to do) and failed miserably at it. It was only a few years later, when I was older and had done more things and found what I loved, that I did well at university.

      That’s another thing – don’t go to college just because it’s expected or because you don’t know what else to do. Easiest way to fail or end up doing something you hate (and it’s a very expensive way to work out you don’t like something!). Get some work experience and try a variety of things first.

      • JHS said:

        I completely agree with reconsidering the major. I took on a subject that everyone said I should do and was miserable for a whole year. People tried to convince me I’d like it better in second year, but I went with my gut. I left it and decided to immediately apply for a course in a completely different subject (mostly because I felt I needed a degree, and for me, that was the right decision). It was as far from the first subject as I could get, and seemed interesting to me. I’m now pursuing a PhD in the second subject and couldn’t be happier! My course of study has improved my entire life because through it I found my people (including a wonderful partner) and they are awesome! If I had stuck with the first one, I might have a lot more money than I do now, but I’d definitely be miserable.

        The most important thing to remember is that it’s not a failure to realise you chose the wrong course of study at first. You’re young and you’ll make the wrong choices, and they’ll teach you how to make the right ones later on. And never think about it as wasted time; think about it as how you learn what you really want out of life. I’m grateful for that year, because it taught me to pay attention to what I want out of life, not what well-meaning people think I should do.

    • Anodyne said:

      I graduated in 2012. Things I wish I’d done:

      * Find out where your campus’s health center is! Even if you’ve got a doctor, they’ll be willing to book you an appointment to check that sore throat. If you *don’t* have a doctor, they’ll do what they can to help you find one. They’re also the source to go to for flu shots, birth control, and condoms.
      * Find out where the campus gym is. It never cost me anything to go in as long as I had my student card on me, and getting some exercise will help. Even if you just sit on a stationary bike and do your readings for tomorrow’s class? That’s a good ten or fifteen minutes you’re biking for.
      * If you’re living in residence and on a meal plan? Stock up on stuff you can haul back to your room and stuff you can snack on if you get hungry after the cafeteria has closed for the night. But also make sure that you don’t let things sit so long that they start attracting pests. (I did not know until the end of my first year, but apparently one guy ended up attracting mice, his room was such a sty.)

      Also, make a list of what you have to work on, when it’s due, and how long you have to work on it. When the professor gives you an essay to be handed in during the week before midterms? That means they’re expecting a lot of research and work on it. If you’ve never had to keep track of this stuff, get yourself one of those huge calendars and several sets of stickers. Make up legends for them – this set for essays, this set for tests, that one for mid-terms, and so on. Make sure to note down when you should have each draft done by – final draft should be due date + 2 weeks, to give you time to revise and resubmit if you need to.

      But *also*: make sure that you schedule in time to unwind and time to go hang out at the pub. Make a note of what events are going on and mark down ones that you’re interested in going to.

      If you have a significant other who lives off-campus while you’re living in residence? Make sure that you don’t spend all your time sleeping at their place. Especially not if you’re also paying for a meal plan; you don’t get your money’s worth out of the meal plan and the residence fee if you’re hardly spending any time there.

  4. Dante said:

    Six years ago I went back to school after a 15-year absence, and this past May I got my BS. Yay me! So my perspective is as a recent grad and a non-traditional student.

    For me the keys were:

    – Study skills. I lacked them in high school. I was smart! I got As! (mostly) University was very unforgiving of that. My recent success is about 50% just learning how to study and read and take notes while reading and then study the notes later.

    – Mental health. My bipolar disorder went undiagnosed and UNTREATED during my first stint in college. The other 50% of my success was getting my damned issues looked at and diagnosed and … not fixed, but at least addressed with reasonable success. I wish I’d taken advantage of the resources in my first school, but there is this giant stigma about mental illness and there was in the 90’s too. I am older now and care less about being imperfect and about who knows that I’m imperfect.

    Also, I made some mistakes during college that I wish I could fix. I didn’t connect as well with many of my professors as I think I could have. It was only last year, when I was a senior, that I realized that it was to my advantage to speak up, participate in class discussions, and make myself someone that my profs would remember. Profs are an amazing resource, and not just for references to grad school (that is useful, too, of course). I missed out on connecting with some great profs during my first years when I would sit quietly in class and take excellent notes and study hard and get a good grade and then just pass silently on to the next class.

    • Sounds like my experience is pretty similar to yours. I’m 28, ten years ago I started fresh from high school where I’d gotten an A Bursary from four subjects (basically they take your top five scores and give you a total mark out of 500 and anything over 375 is an A; you need C to get into uni here). My first major was Classical Studies and/or English. I had untreated chronic depression with social phobia. I lasted a year. Now I’m in my second year of a degree in Social Policy and Māori Studies and doing much better, as long as I remember that it’s okay to get Bs sometimes (and even the C+ I’m averaging in academic writing, despite writing pretty decent essays; whatever, it’s a pass on a compulsory paper).

      I am studying by distance though, so I only actually SEE my teachers once a semester when we go to a contact course during the mid-semester break. Instead of talking in class etc we have to post on internet forums or email teachers privately, which is actually a lot easier for me. (That reminds me I need to post on one about a book I’ve been reading that relates to this week’s readings.) Emailing teachers to ask about out-of-class resources for extra study is a good idea, I think, especially if you’re having trouble with some particular part of the paper.

      • Keith said:

        Yes, if you are a studying distance do email or contact your lecturers.

    • Kaz said:

      I’d like to give you a rueful “undiagnosed disabilities/mental illnesses in college, huh?” high five. I got through undergrad but it was… an interesting ride, let’s say. I’m now finishing up my PhD, and things go so much better now that I have support workers and talk to the disability service and, oh yeah, know why I have trouble with certain things and that it’s not just laziness.

    • Vivianne said:

      I’m also a returning student with a big gap. Halfway through my masters, and my 25th college reunion is coming up next year. Also a much better student than I was first time round.

      What I know now:
      Professors are people, and really valuable resources. Second the comment above about connecting with them. Eventually you will want a job and it really is who you know.

      Have an outside hobby/sport that puts you in contact with people who don’t live in your dorm/go to class with you. Broaden your circle of acquaintance.

      Spend time doing things with people in real time, face to face. Go back to your dorm room and recharge if you’re an introvert, but take advantage of being around intellectually curious people. You will have some of the best conversations of your life.

      Engage in some sort of physical activity. Downtime/reboot for the brain and it shakes everything into place.

      While you’re learning Bio 101 or Freshman Composition, you’re also learning how to budget your time, money, and energy. They are finite resources. You’re going to screw up at some point. Learn from it.

      If you’re older, and thinking about returning to school, do it!

  5. Avery said:

    I’ve found that nearly everything that people tell you is important really isn’t. Making sure you have your textbooks or getting to class on time or even making friends isn’t the most important thing. The best part of college is a chance to really be yourself where nobody’s watching you. Especially if, like me, you go to college hundreds of miles away from everyone you’ve ever known, it’s a chance to finally try that thing or live that way or become that person that you’ve always wanted to be, but never could because the people in your life wouldn’t let you. I discovered my sexual orientation in college, stopped pretending to be Christian in college, and picked up half a dozen new hobbies that I’ve always wanted to try but never got the chance to. I know a lot of people who’ve transitioned in college, which is huge. So it might be cliche, but college really is a time to discover and reinvent yourself. Screw everything else, that’s what you should focus on.

    • lol textbooks. I’ve done six weeks of a paper that has four textbooks, two required and two recommended. I already owned three of them, but had left them behind when I moved so emailed my sister to send them up. Only got them a week and a half ago. Haven’t touched them. I will when it comes to writing my next essay, but that’s not due for a month and I could easily have just gotten them from the library for that.

      • Do not buy textbooks, guys. Only when you have renewed your loan from the library at least once should you consider it. They are expensive doorstops, for the most part.

        However, do get yourself to the library first thing and get them out. If there are limited numbers, you need to get in early. Do tell your department there aren’t enough, though, because they can often ask the library to get more. Also ask the librarians if e-book versions are available, because they are more and more.

  6. Elsie H said:

    Class of 2012 grad!

    You will reach a point where you are about to implode. For me, it was the last thursday of every semester, like clockwork, I would wake up that last Thursday with a cold. When you feel yourself getting run down LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Take a day or two off study.

    I promise, in the long run, you can allow yourself a day or two off. Even if you literally just spend those two days lying on your couch watching tv.

    Figure out the study plan that suits you. I know people who loved excel spreadsheets – for me it was a giant whiteboard next to my calendar with a list of assignments.

    And don’t things too seriously! Remember to have some fun sometimes (whatever your definition of fun is – for me some weeks it was just spending two hours in the park with my best friends)

    • Dante said:

      Oh wow. I assigned myself “no study” days. When I started to feel like my life was coming apart, even if it was two days before finals, I would give myself a no-study day, and play video games instead of, y’know, studying.

      Yes, vital for mental health to give yourself permission to just do nothing, even when there is stuff that needs to be done. If you’re just staring at a book but not absorbing it, you’re not doing anything useful anyway and you might as well take a break.

      • I got a year’s pass to the zoo here for my no-study days. Fuck yeah tiny little monkeys! (specifically Bolivian squirrel monkeys my favs, though we have cotton top tamarins and pygmy marmosets as well) Not sure what prices are like for other zoos but here the yearly pass is the cost of four visits, so it’s already paid for itself.

        • Roison said:

          That is a wholly awesome idea.

        • DAMN is that a good idea. *Googles local zoos*

    • Jake said:

      Time off is soooo important, and I really wished I had figured it out earlier. If you need time off and you don’t allow yourself to take it, you’ll just end up not studying, but not really having a break either because you’re too busy feeling shitty about not studying, and then you’ll need even more time off because you never really had any. Take time off. Do things that recharge your batteries, whether that’s hiking or sewing or reading blogs. Give yourself full permission to do it and don’t feel guilty. It makes actual study time soooo much more effective (and feel so much more possible).

      • Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

        Definitely agree about the time off. There are some students who will absolutely study themselves into the ground – to the point where they aren’t achieving anything at all and are just staring at a page of notes while hopped up on Red Bull and Pro Plus – because they feel that they’re wasting their time if they aren’t ‘working’. It’s really important to realise that taking breaks, looking after yourself, and having a proper rounded existence, is all PART of working, not a distraction from it.

  7. tinyorc said:

    As someone who is just finishing up a my Masters, here is something I wish I’d figured out much earlier in my university career:
    I AM A LAST MINUTE PERSON.

    This sounds kind of weird, but basically, for me, university was as much about working smart as it was about working hard. Figuring out your own style of learning and studying earlier on will greatly improve the experience.

    I spent the first two years in my undegrad as a mega-ball of stress as I made incredibly unrealistic promises to myself about how I was going to manage my workload. It would go something like this:

    My essay is due next Friday. But I am going to be a super great student and get it done by the weekend.
    Monday morning comes, essay is not done. I’ve had a shitty weekend because I stayed in with every intention of starting my essay after one more episode of Digimon. I’m stressed, but it’s fine, because I’m going to get it done by Tuesday.
    Tuesday comes and goes, and then I have classes all day Wednesday and a society commitment on Thursday evening and the essay is still not even started and I am a stressed wreck of a person, and I end up sitting down when I get home on Thursday evening and staying up all night to get the damn thing done. It gets done and I get a good mark, but I spent a miserable week beating myself up about it.

    Once I acknowledged that I was a last minute person, it became so much easier and I had a way nicer time at college.
    I knew, realistically, I would not start writing until the day before the deadline. So instead of feeling like a failure going to bed every night for the preceding week, I decided to roll with my last-minuteness. I put strategies in place to make sure that I was equipped to write the best goddamn last minute essay ever. I made sure my Thursday schedule was always clear, that the house was well stocked with snacks and peppermint tea, that I had all the books I needed well in advance, that I was well-rested and well-exercised with no extraneous commitments.

    I pulled some EPIC all-nighters in university and I don’t regret a single one. I only regret that it took me so long to figure out that I do my best work under pressure and usually after dark. I needed the deadlines to be looming before I produced good work. The one essay I did hand in several days before the deadline was also the worst mark I got that year.

    So yes, my advice would be: learn your ideal working method and learn to exploit it to its full potential. Even if its unorthodox, even if its against everything every study guide ever told you. Granted, my degree was very heavy on essays and not so much on exams, but I think its still applicable. University is about finding out how YOU work and it’s a fantastic lesson to have learned going forward.

    • haha me too! Which is why it wasn’t so bad that one day I went “I should work on this other paper, when is that essay draft due? In nine hours, you say? Right then.” Quite often I’m actually looking for sources while I’m writing, which I’m sure would appal some of my teachers, but I’ve usually done enough reading to make sure my general argument is supportable and just want to fill in details.

    • Elizabeth said:

      GOD BLESS THIS POST.
      Seriously. I’m entering my junior year of college, and I feel like I could’ve written this post verbatim, having had the same realization this past spring. As tinyorc described, I spent many, many needlessly miserable days of “procrastination”, both in high school and college, when I should have just let myself work in my natural rhythm (which is to say, not at all for a long time, and then all at once). If I’d accepted this system sooner, my life would’ve involved less shame and stress and, ironically, more met deadlines. (Sometimes when I used to freak myself out over my lack of progress, I’d then feel too nervous and overwhelmed to actually write the paper at all. Since deciding to roll with it, that hasn’t happened. Calm, deliberate last-minute writing FTW).
      Part of me still wishes I could start earlier and proofread/ edit more. But, basically, for some people, waiting until the last minute really is okay, and stressing out about the fact that this is how you operate only makes things worse.

    • THIS. This, this, this. Some of us work best under a tight deadline and there’s nothing wrong with that. That is Brain saying: “Yes, it’s due in a week. So take care of yourself and your stress levels now and finish it when you actually have to.”

      I will say that the only way I’ve found to actually start in advance (which I have finally accepted is only necessary when I have two papers due on the same day) is to write the papers inside-out, quotes first. “Hmmm, that’s an interesting reading bit … I should write that in my massive Word Doc o’ Relevant Things and record why I think it’s interesting” turns rapidly into “Okay, write the paper tonight, gather the books … oh my, is that a nearly complete paragraph I see?” Saved my gorram life one semester, because I had three papers and a poster session in one week and I just *accepted* that every single thing would be done the day before and that was okay.

    • DFTBAwkward said:

      I want to kind of caveat emptor this advice with a reminder that all nighters aren’t always good for everyone because getting sleep is really, really important. My health and happiness DRASTICALLY improved when I began prioritizing a good night’s sleep. Also, some projects are too big and too important to finish in one all-nighter. You can’t all-night a thesis and do a good job. You can’t all-night your senior capstone paper and do a good job. And often, at least in my experience, the project grows as you learn and work on it and your understanding becomes more nuanced. All-nighters can be all well and good for small projects, and we’ve all pulled them, but I’d also recommend recognizing when they’re not appropriate and planning ahead so you don’t get in trouble.

      • Circle said:

        Yes, I second the sleep importance thing. I went through a really bad year in college when I got a bunch of chest infections (chronic illness, long story) because I didn’t want to accept that I couldn’t stay up as late as other friends and do lots of club activities! and all the D&D! and watch old movies late into the night after working all day! etc. If your friends are true, they will be happy to get smaller doses of a healthier, saner you. Your course should also be understanding if you have geniune medical reasons to take things easier for a while. Time off, sleep, and timetabling fun activities in advance so I didn’t overschedule myself & get too tired turned out to be super important for me. I think other students could use some permission to do those things more, too. There’s this impression of student life being full of all nighters and caffeine pills and being a social butterfly deciding to head out to watch a friend’s play at the last minute. For some people that just doesn’t work – power to you if it does, but it was a really important lesson for me to realise that I couldn’t live like that, and I didn’t have to. I’ve still had a good student experience – looking forward to my fourth year! But sometimes you need to give yourself permission to rest and recharge.

  8. I am a college professor, and I would love to hear some current undergraduates talk to me about what you think is and isn’t polite when using a cell phone. I have students who will sit in class or rehearsal and not be able to stop texting, which I find incredibly rude. Did any professors have efficient cell phone policies that you thought worked well (even if you thought they were harsh?)

    Attitudes towards cell phones are one of the places that I feel the biggest generational divide between myself and my students.

    • Nope, you’re right. Texting when someone’s talking to you is indescribably rude. The people who do it are people who haven’t learned basic manners.

      The cell phone policy that worked best at my school was “If it rings, I answer it.” One of my psych professors answered a text message with “He’s in class. He’ll talk to you when it’s over and he knows how to act like a decent person.” Doesn’t work so well when it’s not disrupting class, but I don’t think anyone’s come up with a way to stop texting entirely for the knuckleheads who don’t seem to understand how to pay attention.

      • kc said:

        The policy in my department (student speaking here) is that if the professor hears your phone going off, you have to bring in pizza or sweets for everyone the next class. I think it started out as a joke, but seeing as we’re poor art students who can’t afford enough pizza for twenty people more than once or twice, if that, it is surprisingly effective.

    • staranise said:

      I’m class of 2011, but I’ll just say that sometimes people think I’m texting during lecture when I’m actually looking up things the prof mentions, bookmarking books being recommended, checking a point of information before asking a question. I also have ADHD and listen a lot better if I’m not looking at the person and I’m doing something with my hands like knitting and folding paper, so I know that to profs I haven’t explained this to, I probably look super disrespectful.

      The policies I’ve seen the most compliance with were basically, “Please be respectful of others. Don’t be really distracting to other people; don’t sit up front if you’re going to spend the entire lecture showing everyone behind you your Facebook timeline.”

      • Keith said:

        Yes, people can be taking notes or looking things up. Plus, as some of us get people to use their devices to send feedback, so banning them would be counterproductive. So the rule is don’t disturb anyone and don’t disrupt the class.

      • MamaCheshire said:

        This this this.

        I’m a grad student who uses a laptop to take notes in class. And I do all the things mentioned here.

        • staranise said:

          Mostly really strict classroom policies on what you can and can’t do during class end up shafting people with disabilities. “Hi, I’m a student with a disability, and I need this accommodation.” “Well, you can’t have it; you should do [half-measure I just thought of.” Like, “I have cerebral palsy and need a laptop to take notes.” “No laptops in my classroom. Just borrow notes from a friend.” / “I have ADHD and need to do something with my hands when I listen.” “That’s disrespectful. Just pay closer attention.” (The cerebral palsy episode is one I’ve heard from a few different people so it’s evidently a common response; the ADHD one is mine.) It comes off as, “I don’t really believe that you’re disabled, or that you’re more capable than me of deciding what you need to learn here.”

          On days when I can’t carry a backpack with a notebook or laptop (like if I’ve been at work all day), I take class notes on my iPhone. Sometimes I text during class because what the instructor is saying infuriates me and though I know it would be even less respectful to derail class for a raging fight, I need active distraction and vent if I’m gonna make it the length of the lecture without saying anything. These things happen.

          • Thanks for this reminder. Creating a disability-respectful policy will be important.

        • I’ve used a laptop since a couple of weeks into my first semester when I realised how much material the religious studies lecturer could get through in two hours! (four A4 pages and I don’t have overly large handwriting) Technically now I use a tablet, but it’s an Asus transformer that comes with a detachable keyboard, so it looks just like a tablet. And yes occasionally I’m playing solitaire on it, probably because it is EXHAUSTING for me to listen to lectures and sometimes I need to quickly focus my brain on something else to reset. Or I’m browsing the Kobo website, or checking Twitter – for school-related books and because my Twitter stream is highly political and academic.

      • miss_chevious said:

        Yeah, location is important to note. Part of being respectful is being truthful with yourself about what you’re going to be doing and locating yourself accordingly. If you’re going to be playing solitaire or watching a movie with captions, please try to locate toward the back. It’s very hard for the students behind you to pay attention to the lecturer when they can see where the five of hearts goes and you’re not moving it.

    • Dante said:

      I’m not of the texting generation, so I can’t help you there, but I can relate that during the final exam in my Intermediate Macroeconomics class one of the other students WAS TEXTING. During the final exam.

      The prof noticed, took away the exam, consulted at the front of the class in whispers that I couldn’t hear, and I don’t know what happened except that the student was ejected. Kind of boggled me that the guy couldn’t put his phone down for 2 hours for a final exam.

      • Quisty said:

        Where I attend uni using your phone during exams, even having it go off, constitutes an auto-fail of that exam possibly with an extra treat of formal accusations of cheating.

        Using your phone during an exam is the most mind boggling thing ever to me. O.o

      • We aren’t allowed to take any personal items to the table where we sit the exam. Only pens etc, student ID, and if they’re in any kind of bag it has to be a transparent plastic zip-lock one. The only exception was for a while in my home city we were allowed to place our bags on the floor next to us in case of earthquake. Phones were strictly to be turned off, even putting it on vibrate wasn’t allowed (since you can hear that anyway a lot of the time in a quiet room). Breaking THAT rule would be bad enough, let alone having your phone ON you AND using it.

      • No kidding. They use phone detectors in exams at our uni and if your phone is even on (without going off) you’re slapped with a fine and pulled up in front of the disciplinary board. You aren’t allowed to have it on your person either, or same result.

    • My favorite response was from our snarky French Calculus teacher (He was French and taught Calculus). He had a strict no-electronics policy (exceptions for people with disability accomodations) and if he caught you with a phone in class you weren’t eligible for any extra credit for the term. He caught one guy who was hiding his phone under his desk and told him in front of the class that it’s usually suspicious when a man looks down at his crotch and smiles in the middle of class. Thinking for a moment, he added, “I suppose it’s better than looking down at your crotch and crying.”

      I happen to prefer strict, involved professors.

    • pratod said:

      While I agree that they are a distraction and annoyance, students are also under a lot of pressure to be responsive 24/7 to internship coordinators, bosses, etc. Many of us are desperate to hang on to positions we’ve competed for (especially when we think about our graduated, unemployed friends) and unfortunately that sometimes manifests itself by responding to an email during class. It’s a terrible feeling knowing you’re being disrespectful but it’s also difficult when your internship is dangling a “we’d like to hire you after graduation” carrot over your head.

      The only other time i’ve kept my cellphone out in class was when I was waiting to hear news of my sister’s delivery of her baby. I guess my point is while I can’t speak for every student, many of us agree cell phone use is rude and we wont use them except for important cases.

      I’ve known professors to have students leave phones in a box at the door. I’ve also known professors to say if you’re going to use your phone you have to leave the room to do so. I’m not sure what the most effective policy would be.

      • mamacitaconpistoles said:

        I… might not feel too bad about asking students with demanding bosses or internship coordinators to set their email to auto-reply during class hours “I am in class and will be free to respond after X-time.”

        I would even happily provide some documentation that the class policy is not to be doing work for other people when you are working for me. Some students will be consummately rude anyway. But if a student wants my backup in this area I would provide it.

        Mostly, I feel this way because I do NOT want other authority figures undermining my ability to facilitate a student’s learning in my class. And undermining my authority, too, come to think of it.

        Requiring people to risk performance in other commitments (hello, some but not all student athletics types) to perform well for them is not okay.

        • Keith said:

          As a university lecturer of 25 years, the last thing I want to be is an ‘authority figure’. The people in my classes are adults and they should not need me to determine their priorities.

          • I have found being younger and being a woman means that I get to back off the I Am In Charge Here, Thanks attitude about eight weeks in. Even with pretty nice students, being a younger-looking lady-teacher means respect for my expertise and role are not something that one can assume will happen automatically.

            Not only that, but I don’t lecture. My classes are activity and discussion heavy. Doing some other work screws up more than their lecture notes. It affects a whole set of dynamics.

            Lastly, I teach first year seminar, which is the Learn Skills For University And Life Class. 18yos are technically adults, but my job is to teach them to actually act like that in professional settings as well as learn other skills of scholarship.

            I find when I lay down those expectations, they are more often than not met, and my students do well and classes are pleasant and challenging.

            But I am super-thrilled for you that in your 25 years of teaching those aren’t problems that have bothered you.

          • mamacitaconpistoles said:

            Please excuse me, by the way, if you are a woman yourself. But whatever your experience is, if you are a woman, please also remember not everyone has had the same experiences you have had with your students.

            If you are a man. Well, I’ve come across that “I don’t want to be an authority” figure attitude before… and funnily, it’s been from dudes with 25 years of teaching experience.

            It’s easy to not want what you don’t have to worry about having.

          • Keith said:

            Did not mean to sound critical to mama! Everyone’s situation is different. And have made plenty of mistakes in my time!

          • Keith said:

            Mama, I understand you and don’t disagree. I think my perspective is (necessarily) different.

          • Thanks- I appreciate that you understand why I think this way.

          • Keith said:

            “It’s easy to not want what you don’t have to worry about having.” I absolutely see where you are coming from with this (I think) and can understand your reaction to my comment.

            But the problem I often face, is this “authority” can make people too timid to ask (subject related) questions of me and too quick to question their own competence in the subject. That was my context for my remark. Rereading it, my remark, it does not read well. :-( Sorry.

          • It’s okay. :)

            I run into that problem, too. I find the “don’t mess with me” attitude is necessary for establishing a productive and safe space for people to work. I need them to believe me when I say “it’s important to read/write/work to this standard” or “this is how you respect the other members of this community, including me*.”

            Those boundaries give me the leeway needed to work on their adversity to risk, their belief that someone in the room knows all the things and they should absorb what that person tells them so they also become one who knows all the things.

            It’s a (mostly) fun challenge to figure out how to do that. But it is tricky, for sure.

            *And any woman who will be your supervisor in the future. And your lady-colleagues in this class… because if you think you can walk all over me, you will most certainly try it with young women who don’t have a finely honed bitchface.

    • Emmers said:

      Anecdata for the “generational” thing – when I was in college (01-05), there were problems with laptops and IM in some cases, but texting was not really A Thing. (I just find this level of granularity to be fascinating. How strange that a few years makes such a difference.)

    • JenniferP said:

      Fellow prof, hello! During screenings of each others’ work, all electronics are OFF and AWAY. It is a respect for each other thing.

      The rest of the time, I ask that they be silenced & that people step out if they need to make/take a call. I try to ignore the rest, with small exceptions.

      1) if a student seems really distracted & constantly texting, I will check in at the class break. “Is everything all right? You seem really distracted today.”

      2) If a student is obviously not paying attention, but then has 8 million questions that boil down to “can you reiterate everything we just covered”? I will address that, as well. Sometimes with “Sorry, we have to move on, get notes from a classmate/see me after class” (message: things move quick, you will miss it if you don’t engage). Sometimes in a private conversation.

      I used to read books secretly in my desk in grade school and even parts of high school so I am sympathetic to boredom/distraction. If they are keeping up and not impinging on anyone else, it doesn’t bug me. Except during screenings or when we have guests, when focus is demanded. Rehearsals demand focus.

    • mamacitaconpistoles said:

      I tell people I assume if they have laptops up and open or phones out that I assume they are doing what someone says below, and are looking stuff up or bookmarking or note taking.

      That means I get to ask them to look stuff up and let us all know what they found or fact check or take notes and send them to me to pass on to class. Maybe not useful for rehearsals? But for a class, manufacturing things to look up at least ensures people know you will not ignore them.

    • R.J. said:

      I had a professor whose policy was that there was no way you would be on your cell phone in class. If you got a call that couldn’t wait, you needed to take your things and leave, because if it was that important you would clearly need to go deal with it right now. It always sounds harsher when I try to explain it- he managed to convey that he meant, some things are more important than class and if those things come up it’s okay, just go deal with them instead of trying to multitask and disrupting all of us including yourself.
      He had no problem with laptops in the classroom, and we were actually allowed to knit during class. Helped me pay more attention, which was beautiful, and I used wooden needles that didn’t make any noise. (That adventure is a story in itself, actually.)

      Also, I had reason to test his policy out- I missed showing up for jury duty because I was at school, and forgot to call for my exemption. I ended up in contempt of court, and of course the court called me about it right as that class was starting. I picked the phone up, with a minute left before class, and when I figured out who it was I blurted out, “Professor, I’m so sorry, I have to take this call- I’m in contempt of court and I need to get an exemption. I’ll be right back!” and thank goodness, he started laughing and I ran off to take the call and got to class just a minute late. He was very kind about it and said, “As long as they’re not going to arrest you in the middle of class.” Lucky for me, he was still laughing when I explained myself fully at the end of the lecture.

      So yeah, a strict policy is great, as long as it’s not a rigid one.

      • mamacitaconpistoles said:

        I love the difference between strict and rigid. Sometimes life happens. But if life isn’t happening, please make the commitment to have class be part of your life. Yes.

    • Marvel said:

      I never use my cell phone in class except to check the time, which takes literally half a second. Very very occasionally I might look at my texts or send a text if something important is going on.

      Honestly, if a student in texting regularly during your class, it’s because they don’t care enough to pay attention and they don’t mind letting you know that, however rude it may be. As a student, I’ve noticed that the professors who are most efficient at getting students to cut it out are the ones who 1) have a clear no-cell-phones policy on the syllabus, and 2) don’t mind calling students out in the middle of class for breaking it. As in, mid-lecture, “Cell phone away, please, -name-. Thanks!” Not said rudely, just matter-of-factly.

      • Zillah said:

        I… disagree. I understand that that’s how it might come off, but there are that’s a really strong statement to make in such a categorical way.

        I have AD/HD, and I have a hard time paying attention in class. Sometimes I would text, or write emails, or play sudoku. I certainly wasn’t doing it because I “[didn't] care enough to actually pay attention” – in fact, it actually helped me pay attention more, not less, especially in lecture-type classes. I tried to mask it, because I know how it can come across to professors, but that’s not what it actually was.

        Not everyone responds to things or pays close attention in exactly the same way.

        • Marvel said:

          Ah, yeah, fair enough. I doodle, personally, and some people find that rude, so I get where you’re coming from. I definitely over-generalized–I should have phrased it as “most” rather than “all,” because you’re right, there are definitely exceptions that I did not consider.

    • WT said:

      Haha, I’m at the other end of the generational gap where I just don’t understand how cellphones are annoying/especially distracting/rude, as long as they’re silenced, but I think that may just be because me and my peers are used to texting while we’re having actual, face-to-face, one-on-one conversations and thus used to the idea of engaging in multiple conversations at once? However, I’m never bothered by instructors’ “I don’t want to see your phone out” policies, because if it bothers them, hey, it bothers them! The only instructors whose cellphone policies I’ve been actively irritated by were the ones who, if a student did forget to turn their cell ring/chime off and it went off in class, took it as an opportunity to literally scream at them about paying attention and not wasting money and being responsible, because 1) that’s more disruptive than the cellphone, and 2) that’s a shitty way to treat any other human being.

    • A-nonny-nonny-mous said:

      You’ve gotten a lot of comments about classes, but I see that you’re also talking about rehearsals – I assume for orchestra, band, and/or chorus? Big groups? I am not a recent undergrad, but I am a recent student who’s played in undergrad groups recently. My thoughts are that if it’s not getting in the way, you should “not see” the phone/texting. If the person misses an entrance, if they’re distracting others, if they are making mistakes because they’re not concentrating, then (insert disclaimer for legitimate issues) I think the phone should come to you/a TA or the person should leave. Rehearsals need everyone to be concentrating, or they’re useless to everybody who does want to be there.

      • currentconductor said:

        Yep, musical ensemble, but I generally only have about 10 people, so even if I am concentrating on some people and not others, I can see what EVERYONE is doing.

        • A-nonny-nonny-mous said:

          In that case, I would definitely say that a policy of no cellphones in rehearsal, barring extenuating circumstances, would be totally justified. I can’t give you specific wording, as I’ve never had it directly come up.

    • Cricket said:

      For me, a withering “really?” from a prof who caught me texting was enough to shame me out of doing it (at least in their class), but your mileage may vary, and I’m not the sort who texts constantly through a class so it’s easier to break my determination on that front. Most of my profs have taken the “you can waste your time in this class if that’s what you really want” attitude and don’t call people out on their cell phone use unless it’s so blatantly obvious that it’s disrupting others.

      Laptop use seems harder to regulate because so many people use them to take notes but plenty also just spend class time checking Facebook on them – a lot of profs just plead with people to pay attention and then folks keep on doing what they were doing anyway. I recommend asking periodic questions of students during lecture, especially if they seem distracted, to help distinguish the people who are actually taking notes from the ones just goofing around. There was a very awkward moment in one class when a guy was so engrossed in his laptop that when the prof asked him a question on lecture material she’d just gone over, he had no answer and barely understood the question. I could see his fullscreen Facebook window open from where I was sitting.

    • DFTBAwkward said:

      I am not quite “current” but I graduated in 2011 and am in law school now so I’m still in class all the time. One thing I wish professors would realize is when I text in class, I am not doing it to be rude or offend you. I am not texting AT you. But sometimes I have things going on that I need to handle in my personal or family life, and it’s really important that I send the message right then The way I see it, students are adults who know how to manage their own lives and make decisions for themselves. Professors should recognize that students pay tuition to sit in their class, and without us choosing to be there, they would have no jobs. I am paying for that time, so it’s up to me to decide how to use that time. I’ll use it best if I’m attentive and prepared for class, but sometimes there are other things I need to handle. I think the best phone policies are those that treat students as adults who know how to manage their own affairs. Request that phones be on silent at all times. If students need to make a call, allow them to leave discretely without announcing it to the class. And there are times when texting is not appropriate, like when you’re doing group work or experimenting. But as long as students for the most part are being attentive and keeping up, let them do what they need to do.

      • I’m not remotely current (cell phones weren’t a thing when I was a TA), but you’ll encounter professors who are my age, so I’ll take a stab at this.

        When I was a TA, I agreed with the general principle you espouse. I didn’t take attendance, because if students didn’t want to come, they were adults and that was their decision. I didn’t require class participation even though I felt it was important and encouraged it. But let me tell you, nothing is more demoralizing than a student who showed up and obviously couldn’t care less about what you’re saying. Maybe other instructors can shrug it off more easily than I could; lecturing was very difficult for me when I first started out.

        A note on the generational divide on texting. My first reaction is to side-eye “sometimes I have things things going on that I need to handle, and it’s really important that I send the message right then.” What would you have done just a few years ago before texting existed? Using your phone is, I think, a reasonable option in this case IF you can do it unnoticed. If not, maybe ask your instructors what they would prefer — you texting in class, or you sitting the class out that day and picking up notes later.

        • DFTBAwkward said:

          “what would I have done a few years ago before texting existed” is a world I don’t know, so I can’t answer that question. texting has always existed since I was a teenager and in the first stages of developing my own autonomy, and it’s a part of how I manage my life. Again, just because I send a text in class doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention. I’m not trying to demoralize you. I think part of the generational divide is a different understanding of what the act of texting means.

          • For what it’s worth, I’m 22, and when I’m TAing my discussion section and I can see students texting I feel demoralized and like it’s disrespectful to me. I also think that texting when I am talking to friends is insulting unless I am part of that conversation in some way (e.g. trying to round up a bunch of friends to go to a movie). This is not as clear-cut a generational divide as I think you think it is.

          • DFTBAwkward said:

            I only had TAs in my lower level science lasses, which involved group work and activities/experimenting. I think it’s rude to text in those situations as well because you aren’t participating/keeping up, which I acknowledged in my original post. I think there’s a huge different between a small class/seminar, group activity, and a 100 person lecture. I don’t text in groups of my friends either or when I’m interacting one on one or with a group of people, unless it’s important and then I’ll explain what I’m handling and being apologetic. Again, my response was directed specifically to professors asking how students feel about texting policies in class, which I am assuming are lectures for the most part. I replied honestly. I feel like strict phone policies are disrespectful to me as an adult, and I stand by that. if a professor/lecturer/TA tried to take my phone, I cannot begin to explain how angry I would be and how disrespectful I would find that. Treat me like an adult who can manage my shit respectfully and I will be discreet and responsible. I feel like this is often the case in school. Professors/teachers set extremely restrictive rules, which for me to be completely honest feels stifling and I am more likely to rebel. If I don’t feel respected, I’m likely to be disrespectful back and am more likely to break rules. If rules are reasonable and treat me like an adult who knows what is best for me, I appreciate that more, am more respectful. If you set the bar for politeness and adult behavior, students in my experience are likely to rise to meet it. But if you treat me like I child, I’ll notice, and I won’t appreciate it. Obviously, different people feel differently. I am just giving my opinion like current conductor asked. FWIW I graduated summa cum laude and had great relationships with my professors. I don’t want people reading into my comments thinking I’m disengaged and spend all my time texting about how much I hate school or whatever. I was very engaged and I produced good work. I also used my phone discreetly on occasion or stepped out of class to take a phone call. I’m arguing that these two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

          • Keith said:

            I can understand why a TA might get upset but let me give a different context. As a lecturer/professor I attend meetings and most of the time some of us will have laptops, tablets or phones which we will be using (at least occasionally). Are we being disrespectful? Some may think so but others will recognise that we are all busy and trying to use our time productively.

            Also, there will be discussion at times which is simply not relevant to us. This also happens in the classes I teach when I am going over material that some people are familiar with but others are not. In such cases, I would rather they fiddled with their device quietly, than (a) didn’t come, (b) disrupted the class by chatting or (c) tuned out completely.

            (It is perhaps important to know that I usually use a “flipped classroom” model and attendance is, for most students, usually optional.)

      • miss_chevious said:

        >>Professors should recognize that students pay tuition to sit in their class, and without us choosing to be there, they would have no jobs. I am paying for that time, so it’s up to me to decide how to use that time.<<

        Yeah, we do. I'm sure you're a respectful electronics user, and the accommodations you mentioned in your post are eminently reasonable, but the "I paid for the time" argument really sticks in my craw, especially because I've seen it used for all sorts of egregious bullshit that bothers the other students who also paid.

    • Laughing Giraffe said:

      I’m a teacher of ESL, and my students are mostly college-aged. My policy is this: cell phones do not make noise in my classroom. No beeping, no buzzing, no videos with sound. If I partner you up with someone and tell you to work with them, no phone. If these rules are broken, I will take the phone away and give it back at the end of class. Beyond that, if you’re not actively disrupting the class, I try to roll with it. Because my students are ESL, they’re often using their phones as dictionaries to look up a word they don’t understand or from their native language that they want to use. Some people can text and listen at the same time; like others who’ve posted in this thread, I’m ADD and I listen better when I have something to fiddle with (doodling, drawing, playing Angry Birds). And if you can’t, it’s not really my problem to babysit you.

  9. serekin said:

    The reference librarians really really want to help you with your projects. They will smooth all kinds of paper hassles-even if you haven’t started and it’s due tomorrow.

    • Zed said:

      THIS.

      Librarians exist to help you. It is our job. It is why the university gives us money. If you need help with a paper or a project, or you need a book but can’t afford it, you are not bothering us when you ask for help. You are not asking us to do you a favor. You are giving us an opportunity do something we want to do, were trained to do (master’s degree!) and get paid to do.

      Useful info about libraries:
      – The reference desk is usually staffed by librarians with one or more advanced degrees. You can literally just walk in and ask for help. They are waiting for you.
      – Many libraries offer research help via email or IM/chat, sometimes until fairly late at night. Find out if yours does.
      – University librarians usually have subject specialties. So, a single librarian specializes in biology, or art, or English, or economics. This is useful because sometimes it can be scary to contact someone out of the blue. It is easier to say, “I am in a history class, and you are the history librarian. Can we talk about how to find articles on zoos in 19th century Europe?”
      – If a librarian comes to your class, remember their name or their face. If you need help in the future, then you will have someone familiar to ask.
      – You can ask your university librarians questions that have nothing to do with the library. Trust me. People do it all the time. We will find you the answer or help you find someone else who is more likely to have it.
      – We can often get you a book even if we don’t have a copy or if they are all checked out. Ask.
      – When you have to cite stuff, don’t just use what you can find on Google (even Google scholar!). Seriously. And don’t ever EVER pay for an article. The library databases give you free access to millions of articles, and your professor will like those much better.

      • Keith said:

        Agree with all of this except about Google Scholar. Yes, your library and librarian will certainly be able to point you to other, and probably better resources (ours are fantastic), but Scholar can be useful (I have 40+ published papers so I know what I am talking about).

        • Zed said:

          Don’t get me wrong–Google Scholar is great. But Google Scholar is really good at finding relevant books or articles or WHATEVER but less good at getting you full-text access to those resources. So you can find a really good article on Google Scholar but only have access to the abstract, and it is useful to know that the library can help you get the full-text. Basically, Google Scholar is most useful if you use it in conjunction with the library, not instead of the library.

          You can actually set up Google Scholar so that it uses your university’s link resolver service to indicate when you can get the whole article through the library’s paid subscriptions. This can happen automatically if you are using an on-campus computer. As a result, I have noticed that sometimes people get access to articles through Google Scholar but don’t realize that their full-text access was actually provided by the library.

          I am a big supporter of Google Scholar. It is powerful, easy to use, and does natural language searching effortlessly. However, I would never recommend ONLY using Google Scholar, partially because a huge amount of resources are still locked behind paywalls, and libraries pay millions of dollars every year to make those accessible. Additionally, Google Scholar is not very good at distinguishing between peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed resources. Scholar will give you books, textbooks, reviews, dissertations, and theses. If a professor says you need X number of peer-reviewed sources, none of those are going to cut it. Students working under that kind of restriction should use library databases that are set up to filter out articles that are not peer reviewed.

          • Keith said:

            Agree 100%. This is excellent advice. And, I think, a very helpful clarification about getting the Abstract versus the full text. Of course, when I use Scholar in my office, pulling up the full text happens, as you say automatically.

            And the “peer reviewed” point is also critical. You (the new student) have to find out — if your lecturer/TA/professor doesn’t say clearly — what the source requirements are for your assignment, including referencing/citing style.

    • DFTBAwkward said:

      THIS x A BILLION. I wish I would have taken better advantage of librarians in undergrad. I had a big law school paper last semester and no familiarity with the law library, so I asked a librarian for help. IT WAS AWESOME. She was so good at getting me started but also awesome at recognizing that point where “ok, told her what she needs, now I’m going to go back to my desk and leave her be,” which is a rare but so appreciated skill. Talk to your librarians they are great and will make your life easier.

      • miss_chevious said:

        Law school librarians are angels. #fact

    • Laura said:

      Another university librarian here! The other resource libraries have: textbooks.
      They’re usually called Reserves, or Course Reserves, or Reserved Readings, something like that. The library will try to set aside assigned readings for your courses. It’s usually not available for every course (profs don’t always let us know the assignments), but it’s worth looking.
      Reserves can be a great way to save money on textbooks. The downside is that you can’t mark up your books or use them for more than a few hours at a time, so choose wisely. But that $250 calculus book? Check it out from Reserves, do your problem set, and return it – all for free.

  10. This got…incredibly long. I’m sorry. I’m in my third year of college at the moment, and there’s only one comment before me, so I got a little carried away, I think.

    Don’t be afraid to transfer. I lost faith in my university after one semester. After two, I found myself seriously debating the value of education, but I stuck with it because of the whole “If at first it doesn’t work, keep trying! It’ll work eventually!” BS that’s been spewed at me all my life. After four semesters, when the body count eclipsed the amount of time I’d spent there (seven suicides in four semesters, two of whom were professors I had), I just went, “Y’know what? No. I’m done with this place.” You don’t get an award for sticking with something that doesn’t work, is what it boils down to.

    Now I’m at my community college and I can honestly say that the dean’s office, financial aid office, security office, business office – probably the whole administration, actually – are a LOT better at their jobs than my old school. (The looks on my current teachers’ faces when I admit to have been away for two years are kind of hilarious, too. “You left Ivy League to come HERE?!” It’s hard not to burst out laughing.)

    I second staranise – the school’s counseling department was probably one of the only reasons I managed to make it out of there. My old school was actually pretty great about it; they had a guaranteed wait time for an appointment of less than two days. Which I guess is what happens when you have a lot of suicides. Going to counseling is not a sign of weakness.

    Remember to talk to your professors, show up to office hours, etc. Don’t leave paperwork until the last minute – that’s how you get holds on your account that prevent you from registering for classes. Get books online, used if possible. A lot of sites have free online versions of textbooks. Meal plans are usually ‘meh’ at best; get one anyway, it beats trying to cook in a dorm kitchenette. (A lot of places require freshmen to have meal plans.)

    Your freshman hall is probably going to make up most of your friend group. Your activities are going to make up most of the rest. Some of your classmates will probably fall in, too – I have one friend that I still talk to regularly, and I met him first semester freshman year (we had a bio lab together, and he’s one of my best friends). Talk to people if you can. If someone sets off your creep detectors, run fast and far and talk to security if you really don’t feel safe. (Heh. Another reason I left. And why I carried at least a pocketknife with me at all times.)

    Know the non-emergency number of the city you’re in; don’t call 911 for something you don’t need to. Know the security number, dean’s office number, counseling center number, etc.

    Keep the papers you get during orientation. Yes, even the one on the pumpkin-carving contest in October, that can probably be made fun by throwing pumpkin guts at people.

    If you have medical issues that may be a problem, be sure to tell your profs. I told my lab TAs about my chronic pain that occasionally boiled over into a zombifying stupor, and then I let them know when it was a bad pain day once it became clear my lab partners were better at breaking things than being safe. (Total destruction count over two labs in the spring semester: four beakers, two Erlenmeyer flasks, a pH probe, three thermometers, a T-valve used for distillation, a funnel, a buret, two pipets, and a glass stirring rod.) I told my other profs that I might be late sometimes because I had difficulty getting around campus.

    Having a roommate is like having a sibling. It’s about negotiation, communication, and having something to hit that isn’t a person. I kid, I kid, I got along with both of the roommates I’ve had. But the first two? Yeah. Talk about whether you’re going to lock your door, what kind of stuff you want in your room (who’s bringing the fridge?), how you’re going to arrange furniture, any allergies that may be a problem, etc., etc.

    Prioritize your academics. Don’t set a schedule down to the minute, because that will be blown out of the water; instead, say, “Okay, an hour or so of bio, a few minutes on Tumblr/FB/whatever, then to math, get those problems done, ten minutes of Internet, look over the last quiz I got back in English,” or something along those lines, and remember to take breaks. Review your notes at least every other day. Avoid cramming whenever possible. Coffee, tea, and soda will rot your teeth – my dentist’s office calls college ‘The Cavity-maker’, because even if you brush twice a day, if all you’re drinking is coffee/tea/soda you WILL get cavities.

    Don’t take classes solely for your gen eds, or just for your major. I took a logic class for giggles and ended up adoring the subject, and then I promptly took the next in the series (and ran out of logic classes, because as you might imagine, that’s not the most popular subject in the world). I took a ‘Middle East music’ class and found myself really enjoying Palestinian hip-hop and rais. I took a class on identity politics and learned WAY more than I was expecting to. Basically, keep your options over. And build a ‘fun’ class into every semester you can to avoid burnout.

    In college, you can either find yourself or lose yourself. Even if you go in feeling like you know yourself well, situations will come up and you’ll surprise yourself with your reaction. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do; conversely, try things that might be interesting. Date who you want, go as far with them as you want, and break up with them when you want.

    Limit experimentation to things that won’t get you thrown in jail. If you drink, make sure you’re sober enough to get past campus police or have somewhere safe to sleep within the building in which you’re drinking. Know the signs of alcohol poisoning and call 911 if necessary. A lot of places even have a ‘medical amnesty’ policy, so if you’re drinking and someone’s dying on the floor, calling an ambulance for them will not get you in trouble with the school or with the police.

    You don’t have to like everyone, but being civil will help you with making connections and possibly with landing a job during or after your college years. Master the Look of Polite Indifference, the Mom Look, and the Art of Walking Away When You Get Mad.

    I think I hit most of what El Capitan asked for, but this got realllllllly long. Sorry about that.

    • Knights Who Say Knit said:

      Sooo seconded about th transferring thing. I went to one college for three semesters, took a semester off, and then transferred to another school where I spent three years. I should’ve transferred after one year, but I had this idea that even thinking about transferring was a failure of some sort, and that if I transferred because the school was a bad fit, that would be ok, but if I transferred because my mental health issues (mainly social anxiety) were making things shitty, that was not a good reason. I was wrong about that. My first school was a good school, a school I could very well have been happy at if I’d been in a different place, mentally and socially, when I arrived there. But transferring was one of the best decisions I made during college, as was taking off a semester before I did so. It can be hard to admit you’re unhappy at a college when everyone around you loves everything about it, but sometimes a transfer or some time off is just the thing you need.

      • staranise said:

        I transferred twice. And had to take Psychology 101 three different times. And yet! I only had to do two semesters of summer school.

        I was lonely and miserable at my first uni, a big campus of 36k people; so I tried a small liberal arts college of 2k people, and found I was always driving home on weekends and I wasn’t happy; so then I just moved home, to the provincial university of 48k people, joined an extracurricular, and did pretty well for myself.

    • sunny said:

      Was the Ivy you went to Cornell? I got accepted there and really considered going but decided not to. This was before anyone in my life had committed or attempted suicide and I didn’t realize how much it emotional energy it takes to process the idea that one day my friends might just be gone.
      I’m sorry you had to go through seven suicides, that must have been a really intense experience. It’s good that you took the effort to transfer out. I would have just kept on that sinking ship and been miserable.

      • MissWhich said:

        Er. Yeah. When I went to look at that particular school, the student tour guide took us to see “Suicide Hill” and proceeded to tell us all about it. I went somewhere else. (I’m sure there are many awesome things about Cornell, so no offense to anyone who went there and had a good experience! I was just flabbergasted that that was a stop on a potential student tour! Maybe she was just messing with us?)

      • No, it wasn’t Cornell. I went into college without anyone attempting/committing suicide, too, so it was kind of a shock to the system. On the bright side, it forced me to see that level of depression wasn’t actually normal (which is something I’d been lying to myself about for a few years at that point). I’m actually still in the process of transferring – at the moment I’m just taking a ‘leave of absence’.

  11. So far it’s only post-grads in this thread, and I am a 2013 graduate, so I’ll keep this brief.

    Learn about economics early. If you do, you’ll realize that saving money and also not getting loans is most advisable.

    • aamcnamara said:

      …but also know that the “most advisable” and “realistic courses of action” are not always the same thing. I couldn’t have gone to college without taking out loans, but I am very glad I did–hopefully I’ll think the same way a few decades from now, but I’m pretty sure I will.

      • We have a pretty decent loan system here (government program, not private loan companies) so it’s fairly normal to get them – but of course if you CAN get them down by taking scholarships, working to pay for what you can etc, then that’s probably best. I think mine’s sitting at about $15k at the moment, I can’t remember.

    • Zillah said:

      Yeah, so I like this in theory, but in practice, I’m not so sure about it.

      If we were talking about grad students, that would be one thing – they might reasonably have earned/be earning enough money to avoid loans, and certainly to save.

      However, undergrads just don’t usually have that much earning power. If they work during the school year, it’s typically part-time minimum/just over minimum wage, and even if they do work full-time in the summer, that money only goes so far. It’s also worth pointing out that sometimes, doing an internship over the summer will probably be more valuable to you in the long run, even if it doesn’t pay money, because it can get you valuable contacts that might help you find a job down the road.

      That typically isn’t going to happen with the summer job doing retail (or whatever) – which is not to say that there’s something wrong with that, but given the choice I wouldn’t necessarily advise a student to take the paying gig. It would depend on the situation.

      It’s definitely important to be smart about how you spend, especially since people can be quite frivolous, but loans are not the end of the world, and despite the horror stories, they can certainly be manageable within reason.

  12. Georgie said:

    Hey there, I graduated May 2012! I still feel so fresh and clueless, but here’s what I’ve got.

    – Always be there for your friends, but realize that you are not a professional counseling service. Your grades and your own well being will suffer if you spend all your time trying to solve other people’s crises. Your friends probably need to speak to a professional if their problems are ongoing and/or aren’t helped by talking it out with close friends.
    – Likewise, if you are having problems, I strongly urge you to utilize the counseling services that should be available on your campus. Studying is stressful and assignments don’t just go away if you’re struggling, but there are definitely people on campus that can help you get through and support you.
    – Figure out what you need to be happy and un-stressed, make sure you get it. E.g. food, sleep, shower, exercise every day; ample time to do the class readings; time to talk with your tutor or lecturer about assignments; Friday night pizza and movies with your friends; talking to your parents on the phone once a week; some time to mess around on the internet. If that’s your list of things that you need to be happy while studying, make those things a priority
    – I think I got this from Kelly Williams Brown’s “Adulting”, but it’s super useful for life – work out how much time it will ACTUALLY take to do something, then allot the appropriate amount of time. Example: I was notorious for last minute essays. Every time I had one due, I would think “okay, it takes me five hours to write a good essay, so I will go to the library on Friday and work on it all day, then hand it in by 5pm no problems,” but I didn’t account for the amount of time it would take to read all my sources, write a bibliography, properly cite all the way through, edit, wait in line for the student computers, wrestle with out of order printers, etc. Always, always longer than I thought. Sit down and think about EVERYTHING you have to do for an assignment, then plan your time accordingly.

    Good luck with your studies! :D

  13. the-fisher-queen said:

    Finished my undergrad about 3 months ago, am currently in law school.
    My biggest thing.
    Don’t don’t DON’T. Pay full-price for your textbooks, ever.
    Go to amazon, go to chegg, go to any place other than your school bookstore. They’ll rake you over the coals with their prices and not give you any money for buy-back.
    Secondly: get a bank account and learn to use it. Manage whatever money you’ve got coming in. If you can, try to get approved for a student credit card from your institution. You can build your credit that way, and they usually have a low credit limit so you can’t dig yourself into a lot of debt.

    If you’re going to a Uni far away from your home, try to make friends with someone from the area. When I was sick for two weeks in my first year, my roommate (and eventual best friend) took me to her home for a weekend so I could recover. Getting some family-type attention and care made such a huge difference.

    Also, you are going to college! This is awesome!
    Take the opportunity to make new friends, talk to people you think you might not like, and start anew.
    If you didn’t like who you were in high school or junior high, take this opportunity and do something different. Be someone different.
    And try to study abroad if you can. It will give you a new worldview and a cool experience to take into the “real world”.

    And seriously, go to class. You (or your parents or the government or some nice rich old person) are paying good money for you to be where you are. You have the opportunity to learn a lot from your professors and the people around you. What you learn won’t just be in books or handouts, either. You’ll learn life lesson and maturity and things you can’t get just sitting by yourself in your dorm.
    Take advantage of the opportunities you have.

    • If you can, get two bank accounts, use one for savings. I can guarantee that keeping your savings in your main account is the worst idea in the world for most people. I can’t even access my savings from an EFTPOS card, only via internet banking. (or I guess if I went, like, INTO the bank, but eesh, who does that?? lol)

      • Tehanu said:

        About the credit card … if you’re going to get one to help build up your credit and/or tide you over for brief periods of time, great! But credit cards can be deadly if your main income is from a summer job, and the last thing you want is high interest piling up during your undergrad then added into the mix if your student loan interest/payments start kicking in … if you find you start needing your credit card for essentials, check in with your financial aid office. The folks there usually also do financial counselling and are a great source of info about bursaries and scholarships that may help ease the money pressure.

        • Yessssss. The best way to use a credit card? Know you have the money in your normal account, and transfer it over after you’ve made the purchase (or at the end of the month if you’re good at not touching money that’s already been “spent”). I had a $1500 limit that was sitting at about $1450 used for the longest time. It’s now under $150, finally.

  14. Sciatrix said:

    Graduate in 2012 here! (And I also work in a university–I went directly from undergrad to grad school, which I actually do not recommend and rather regret, but anyway.)

    The biggest thing I learned in undergrad was to accept that you cannot do All The Things at once. There’s a lot going on, and if you’re like me and easily caught up in the shiny, it can be tempting to try and do everything at once. For me, it took destroying my relationship with my roommate and imploding into a mess of anxiety and stubbornness to realize that a full-time class schedule and twenty-four-hour-a-week research commitments are not something I could pull off. Build some decompression time into your schedule. Yes, even if you heard “don’t do that, it’ll exhaust you!” in high school and never got tired of the work–eventually, you are going to hit your limit, and college is absolutely the most likely place for that to happen. Even if you enjoy the things you’re doing on their own, make sure you have enough time to unwind.

    If your friendships are not working out, do not be afraid to walk away from them or take some space and go try to build something new. I fell into one friend group in freshman year of undergrad and stuck with them for three years. This turned out to be a terrible mistake of the “we’re really not clicking as well as we used to” variety, and then my senior year I ended up more or less starting from scratch. I really wish I’d gone out and tried a new hobby and figured out that I didn’t have to feel crappy and rejected all the time sooner!

    Also, I nth all the advice about going to see favorite profs during office hours. If you have any broader questions about the material or ideas you’d like to share with them or things you wished you’d covered in detail more in class, you should totally go to office hours and do that thing. When I was in undergrad, I was always much too shy to go to office hours, even for professors I really liked in subjects I loved. I did get to build individual relationships with professors at my big public university through doing independent research, but I wish I’d talked to more people while I was still in undergrad. Besides, now that I actually have office hours, I’d love to see more students come in and chat to me about the material more often. I think a lot of undergrads don’t realize that we’re sitting there whether they come or not, and a lot of times office hours are completely empty.

    • Inky said:

      Oh man, office hours. I loved office hours so much (actually I was often in agony when I went because I’m very shy myself + AUUUUGH WHAT IS THIS MATERIAL but I think some of the good grades I got are a direct result of being a frequent visitor).

      Super, super helpful and +n-ing the advice to make use of the prof’s FREE STUDENT TIME.

      • Merchimerch said:

        This makes me so happy to read. I’m so glad you went to office hours and benefitted from them.

      • mamacitaconpistoles said:

        WORD. Listen. During office hours I might be doing something super productive like grading or researching or whatever. But the chances are just as good that I am Facebooking or Youtubing.

        Come. Save me from my procrastinatory ways! Drop in and say hi if you are passing by. Stick your head around the door and say hello and ask a question about material or majors or something.

        Students who come to office hours on the regular are the students who are most likely to show up EARLY when they are having trouble and need help.

        Double all this and then put a bow on it if the professor is also your adviser.

        As a polite next-step, keep your eyes on the time/their body language/ the context. If there is a long line of people to see the prof, do all that, but be efficient. Then come back another time to see them- they’re there in those hours for you, and should want to see your face.

        Also, if you have grad TAs, and they have office hours, go see them! Treat them like the professionals or profs they might be soon. They can frequently put you in touch with resources/professors/might be looking for a research team/ know about a grant or field school, and often have time your main professors don’t if they have a big lecture to mini-mentor you.

        • miss_chevious said:

          So much THIS, especially with regard to the TAs. TAs are the professors’ feet on the ground, so go see them, too! They might have more time/inclination to talk/stuff in common with undergrads. (They might not, too, but go see them anyway!)

    • Devin said:

      “If your friendships are not working out, do not be afraid to walk away from them or take some space and go try to build something new.”

      THIS.

      I tried to be friends with a number of people/groups and it did not work out because of schedules/living locations/lack of shared interests/just plain not clicking. These people were nice though, so I spent a ton of energy trying to make it work. Don’t be afraid to just give up on people. It’s (probably) not that they’re not lovely people, and it’s (probably) not that you’re doing anything wrong — it just isn’t the right fit.

  15. Important stuff is going to come to your shiny new school e-mail address. Check it.

    As someone who has worked as a staff member in higher ed for several years, I can tell you that you will save yourself a lot of headaches by 1) reading your school e-mail and 2) asking questions when you aren’t sure about something. If you call/visit me and ask, “How do I ____?” or “When is ___ due?” or “Do I have to do anything with ____?” chances are the answer is either in your e-mail or on the website, but I will be happy to help you out anyway. But when you call in a panic asking “Why didn’t ____ happen?” or “Is it too late to ____?” you might be out of luck no matter how much I want to help you. Keep an eye out for those official announcements and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and stress.

    A lot of students stop checking their school e-mail because it gets overloaded with irrelevant information. In most cases there is a way to fix that, even if it means setting aside 10 minutes to unsubscribe to things, update e-mail preferences, or e-mail people back to let them know you dropped out of that program/club. It’s worth it to make sure you don’t miss official stuff.

    • Merchimerch said:

      As a prof who teaches hundreds of students every semester, I agree with jessicaFPL’s points, except to add the caveat to #2 to read the syllabus and check the Blackboard/online bulletin board for the class before emailing with “when is —— due?” or “what do I need for ——-?” I spend hours every week answering questions in student emails that are easily found on the course materials I provide – it is really time consuming, since one quick email is no biggie, but dozens add up. I do agree that “when is —— due?” Is preferable to “I didn’t know —– was due, can I turn it in late?”

      Related to JFPL’s advice, I’d add: go to office hours, especially if you have questions about the material or if you like the prof and/or the subject. It helps build a relationship with your profs that can pay off when it comes time to find letters of recommendation for jobs, internships, and grad schools. Mentoring doesn’t happen magically or very often by accident. Building a relationship with profs you click with and will make college work better for you in terms of gathering exciting experiences, gaining knowledge, and achieving a desire able career at the end of the process. Office hours are established for students to get help and to foster a connection with the prof. You aren’t bothering us when you attend (if you come to mine, you might even get a cup of tea out of the bargain).

      And I don’t resent the “when is x due?” questions in person the way I do when they clog my email and take hours to answer. Office hours are your friend.

    • If I could bold, underline, italicize, put in h7 font and slap some rainbow sparklies on this comment, I would.

  16. Procrastinator said:

    I’m currently in grad school at Carnegie Mellon. I tend to procrastinate and waste time, which was ok when I didn’t have a crushing burden of work, and is less ok now. At the end of last spring I realized that if I didn’t make a major change I would have to drop out.

    I tried going to counseling (for the second time). I told them I wanted someone who would help me with behavioral techniques, and basically coach me in getting shit done. Like the first time, they told me they didn’t do behavioral therapy – they took a holistic, psychodynamic approach, which was useless the first time I visited. It ensured only that I spent months brooding about family issues unrelated to my present problems.

    However, this time the counseling guy told me about another university service called Academic Development. At CMU, Academic Development provides tutors for a variety of courses, as well as for general study habits and techniques.

    Since it was summer, there was no waitlist, and I got matched with one of their best tutors. She has been a hero to me – coached me through my MS thesis, gave me time-management abilities I thought were beyond me, and generally turned my life around.

    So for new students: if you’re aware you have a weakness in some area, find out what university services are available to you. Counseling might not help, but if not, a counselor may be able to do triage and send you where you need to go. Try this in the quiet times – start of semester or summer – when these services are not overwhelmed with stressed-out students.

    I know I would never have been motivated to seek this help if I hadn’t already reached breaking point. I might not have been motivated to obey everything my study skills tutor told me to do. Crises can be transformative – but they are EXTREMELY unpleasant. I wish I’d had the sense to do this years ago.

    • Procrastinator said:

      Oh I gotta add another thing. Lots of people will tell you, “Do what you love!” But if you hear that and think, “I don’t know what I love,” that’s maybe a sign that what you love can change. Interests can change over time! Don’t write off entire areas just because they seem boring now, or you’ve been told they’re hard, or you’ve been told only boys are interested in them (speaking as a woman who’s moving into a STEM field, after avoiding it for years for stupid reasons).

      My interests turned out to be super malleable, and they broadened for two reasons: [A] I met people with infectious enthusiasm. If you’re wondering why anyone would enjoy, say, computer science, find someone charismatic and figure out what makes it exciting for them. [B] A new field helped with a problem I was already interested in. It turns out that loads of interesting problems can be solved using math and computers! In interesting and exciting and challenging ways!

  17. charmed.omega said:

    Another ’11 grad:

    1. Take uninteresting graduation requirements over the summer at home.
    After you pick your major, look at your graduation requirements. University is way too expensive and way too short to spend on classes that don’t interest you. Taking classes over the summer means you spend less time on them, and if you’re not already at a community college, community college is usually much cheaper and you’ll be able to stay in your hometown (probably with your parents, so less money on rent as well).

    2. Taking interesting classes is more important than your grades/transcript
    This was one I didn’t learn until after I left school, but your will be so much better served by being able to have interesting well-informed conversations on topics you care about than having gotten an A in that class. I took on a double major instead of just taking whatever classes sounded cool and it was definitely the wrong decision.

    3. Sleep!
    Unless it’s super important: If you’re tired that means it’s done.

    • Seconding sleep. I think sleep is more important than studying, actually. It helps you organize the stuff you learned in class and keeps you sharp.

    • I largely do the opposite – I take papers for my major during the year, and over summer when there’s a much more limited range I look through them and pick out whatever looks interesting. If it relates to my major, great, otherwise I might just learn something cool. At least in my country there’s a very crucial advantage to this – studying all year round means financial aid all year round. I don’t have to find a way to support my disabled arse in the middle of a recession while school’s out. My holidays are only a couple of weeks between semesters, but that tends to still be enough time to decompress from one and get ready for the next.

    • I actually enjoyed taking them as night classes. My school had a massive, bloated list of gen ed requirements because everyone wanted to get their fingers in that particular pie – everyone including the nursing students and aspiring police officers who didn’t have the time or inclination to care about all that and the non-traditional students who were working full time and maybe weren’t in the college mindset. This meant I got the same credit as the people taking them at a normal time but with a lighter work load and only having to show up one night a week – usually for less than the listed three hours. It bothered me that I couldn’t take an actual science class for the science requirements, it was all “this is what biology looks like” and “if you were in a chemistry class, this is what you would do” kind of things.

  18. invaderssayni said:

    This is probably a no-brainer for most people, but it’s something that I wish had sunk in before I nearly flunked out of school: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, MAJOR IN SOMETHING YOU HATE AND ARE TERRIBLE AT JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE ELSE WANTS YOU TO. It’s just not going to end well for anyone involved, because even if you do reasonably okay and graduate, now you have a degree in a field you hate. Save yourself the headache and major in what you love from the start. You’ll be a lot happier in the long run.

    Also, somewhat related to the-fisher-queen’s first piece of advice: Don’t even bother buying your textbooks until after you’ve actually been to class. Unless your professor assigns homework out of the book, you probably don’t need it. I’ve been in college for three years, and I usually don’t need to buy more than one textbook per semester, if that. Go to class and take good notes instead, you’ll save a lot of money.

    Anyway, you all seem like pretty smart people, so I’m going to ask for specific advice: I’m basically having to redo my entire sophomore year of college due to life happening HARD and being unprepared for it (the major thing was a part of it, but there was a lot of other things going on which I have mostly taken care of). I took a semester off to get my shit together, my grades have improved drastically since I went back, and I’m going to be graduating with my AA in December.
    I’m hoping to transfer to a specific 4-year college in the spring, and while I do have backups I’m 99% sure I can get into, it’s the only place I can really see myself going. The problem is that it’s fairly selective, and I’m not sure if two and a half semesters of As are going to make up for my previously spotty academic record. So I guess my question is twofold: a) Is there any way I can explain the things that were causing me problems without sounding like I’m either whining or trying to make them feel sorry for me, and b) do you all have any advice on the transfer process in general, or advice on attending a women’s college?
    Thank you so much in advance!

    • Re: explaining without ‘whining': “I was having a really difficult time because of X, Y, and Z. I took a semester off to figure things out, and it helped a lot. I’ve really put in effort over the past year, and that’s why my grades suddenly got better.” That’s my best guess, anyway. I know in Virginia, there’s something called the ‘Guaranteed Admissions process’ – basically, if you graduated from an accredited community college, you’re guaranteed admission into a state college as long as you’ve met all their requirements. Does your state have something to that effect? I imagine it would make things easier.

      Regarding your second question – I recently transferred to a community college from a 4-year (partially for the major-in-something-because-someone-else-wants-you-to thing Not Working), and I definitely made some mistakes. Make sure they have all your financial aid and transcripts. If necessary, call every week until they get their butts in gear and evaluate your paperwork. Most schools have a section of the site dedicated specifically to transfer students; that’s usually a good place to start. Emailing or calling the admissions office with more specific questions might be a good idea, as well; even if they can’t answer all of your questions, they’ll know which office you need to talk to to get answers. Best of luck.

    • Dante said:

      If you had crappy grades but now you have awesome grades, then you also have a story. Your story is similar to my story: I had trouble during my first time around because of undiagnosed medical problems (really mental health problems but those are also medical problems!) but now I’ve turned my life around! This is the important part: now I’ve turned my life around! I can point to great (recent) grades as proof!

      It’s a pretty good story if you tell it correctly, with the focus on “but now I have my shit together” rather than on the time in the past when, for whatever reason, you didn’t. I’ve told it a couple of times now, and so far it’s worked for me. I got into a competitive internship using it, for instance.

    • No advice because I haven’t transferred yet, but I am in your boat and I feel you. I tried to go to culinary school straight out of high school and found out that I simply am not physically built for the restaurant industry. Now I have a huge trail of weak grades (culinary school credits are real credits!) dragging behind me and even though since I’ve had my new major it took being sick for a quarter of a term to knock me down to the vice president’s list I am still freaking out over whether or not the local university will take me. The only way I can manage school right now is living with my parents so it kind of *has* to be the local university.

      AUGH WORRY.

      For me, I am explaining things as, “I picked the wrong major when I was young and stupid, left college, learned about life, then came back and conquered.” The came back and conquered I feel is the essential bit. A strong finish is lots more impressive than a strong start. Right? I hope?

      • Keith said:

        Yes, a strong finish looks good. Often people take a while to find their way.

      • Zillah said:

        Definitely!

        Personal anecdote: I did not start school well. It wasn’t awful, but my GPA in my freshmen year was probably about a 2.3 or 2.4, and I failed two classes. It wasn’t great sophomore year, either.

        However, I really turned things around, and averaged between a 3.2 and a 3.6 every semester my last four semesters, and while my overall GPA was still just below a 3.0 when I graduated, I didn’t have any trouble getting into grad school. Of the seven grad schools I’ve applied to since then (in three different fields), I was accepted to six of them, including some of the best schools in my country.

        Finishing strong is much, much more important than starting strong.

    • Kate Monster said:

      I’m with you on the major thing: it took me a long time to accept that what other people considered easy and lower status was actually what I loved and was good at. It is far too easy to let someone else set your goals for you.

      I’ve helped evaluate some grad school applications and have read about undergrad admissions practices at selective schools. There are a few big questions schools want answered in an application.
      Does this person actually know anything about our school/program? Hopefully it will be obvious you have read about them and know about *their* traditions, a favorite professor, a rugby team, or whatever else it is that makes this your top school.

      What do you bring / what will you offer to your fellow students? Do you have experiences, skills, or passions that you can share with people in your dorm or your classes? Aside from equity issues, colleges value racial, ethnic, religious, geographic, sex & gender diversity because this mixing broadens the experiences and perspectives of all students on campus. Perhaps your have developed a focus or drive that is deeper than you had before your difficulties; this drive is the kind of thing that rubs off on other students, to everyone’s benefit. (You don’t have to make it explicit that these attributes will benefit your fellow students, but that’s part of why selective colleges care so much about a holistic look at students.)

      Can you succeed at this school? Especially given some academic spottiness, this is a case you should make strongly. Using examples from your past, explain why you’re motivated, some of the tools you have that you’ve been using to pick up your grades (persistence, forming study groups, time management), and some of the attributes that helped you get through your problems (seeking help and what you learned from it / how your thoughts/behavior changed; drive for social justice or to help others who have faced similar problems (if applicable)). Having strong recommendations from professors is key, especially if they know you well, believe in you, and have experience at colleges that are in some way like the one you want to attend. And ask them directly if they can give you a strong recommendation; if they haven’t seen in you what you know is there, then it may be useful to work in a related field or even attend more community college classes (even if the credits don’t transfer) in order to build relationships with those who can give you a good recommendation.

      Can you succeed at this school as a transfer student? If this school accepts only a handful of transfer students each year, then there might not be a lot of social acceptance for transfer students on campus. (Or maybe they devote a lot of resources to transfer students–find out, and show in your application that you know what to expect.) Showing that you have the social/emotional skills and support to survive even if something doesn’t go well is important. For instance, if there are any broad and inclusive community centers or volunteer groups on campus, they are places you can make social connections even if there might be a cliquey, insular culture; you can mention your enthusiasm to get involved in one of these groups.

      Tl;dr: everything in your application should support the thesis that you are a person who is consciously learning and growing and that you and the school are a good match.

      Best of luck!

      • Hannah said:

        This this this. I worked as an admission counselor at a selective, undergrad-only institution for a couple of years. Kate Monster gives you a comprehensive idea of what sorts of questions we would ask about applications. What I would add is to keep in close contact with the admission counselors at the school you’re seeking to transfer to. It’s not in the school’s best interest to be secretive about what they’re looking for in applicants, because they really want to have students at the school who will fit the community, succeed, and make them look good. Ask them about anything you’re curious about, and don’t worry about bothering them — a lot of the admissions counselors I’ve spoken with are in the field they are because they love working with students and value increasing access to higher ed, and often feel like they don’t have enough opportunity to work directly with students. Also take a look at what the school says about itself and what its mission is. The kinds of students who fit that mission are the kinds of students that they’ll seek to admit. It won’t always work — I know at the school I worked at (also my alma mater), there was something of a mismatch between the mission and the students — but that mission is what the admission office will probably be working from.

        As the other comments in this thread have said, the most important thing in your application is the story you’re bringing with you. Two and a half semesters of A’s will do a lot to demonstrate what you’re saying about changing how you’re approaching school.

    • Knights Who Say Knit said:

      Yeah, I think in your situation (any situation, really), your application essay is where you can really shine. If you feel comfortable doing so, talk about your experience and problems early in college as part of your application essay, and talk about the basis of your attachment to this particular four-year school, and how much you want to go there. And make sure to do tons of drafts of the essay, and maybe have several people read the drafts (but take their advice with a grain of salt– you want this to sound like you, not like it was written by focus group).

      As for how to talk about it without whining, just write it in a way that doesn’t put all the blame on other people, acknowledging the change and growth you’ve gone through.

      As for the transfer process in general: if you’re at a small school (and I’m guessing the school you’re interested in is small, being a women’s college) it can be hard to feel like part of the general student population as a transfer student, since you won’t have been through the typical freshman year experience. Try as much as you can to insert yourself into campus life by joining clubs/activities, taking advanced classes if you’re qualified, etc– by my second or third semester, I felt like part of the campus community because of my work on the newspaper and my taking part in the advanced classes of my major/relationships with professors in my small department.

      I transferred from a women’s college to a co-ed college, so I’m probably not the best person to give advice on that front, but I hope the other stuff is helpful!

    • K said:

      My sister is at a women’s college (Smith) and absolutely loves it, and my (co-ed) school is closely tied with another women’s college (Bryn Mawr) and most of the students I’ve met there love it, except for the ones who couldn’t stand it and transferred to similar co-ed schools. My impression is that most women’s colleges tend to either really work for someone or really not work for someone, and if you’ve tried co-ed and thought a lot about this, then odds are it’s the right decision for you.

      I’m not sure if you’re in the US or what school you’re looking at, but it sounds to me like you’re looking at the sort of school that cares a lot about community and finding the right fit of student. For schools like that, the most important thing is to show that you are enthusiastic about the school and are going to be a positive presence in the community. Grades and stuff are important to show you can handle the workload – this is where you emphasize your drastically improved grades as evidence that you can do the work (when the world isn’t busy crapping all over you) – but the main thing is to show that you are a good fit for the school.

      Figure out what sort of personality the school is going for – is social justice important to them? giving back to the community? supporting each other as sisters? – and use that to explain why this school in particular is perfect for you (and in doing so, why you are perfect for this school). If you can, do an interview and be as enthusiastic as you can. Let them know that they are absolutely your first choice. Colleges are more likely to take a someone who clearly loves the school and will definitely enroll if accepted, even if they had a rough semester or year, than someone who doesn’t seem to think the school is special and is likely to go somewhere else.

    • aamcnamara said:

      I attended a women’s college and loved it. My reasons for attending didn’t have much to do with it being a Women’s College, though–I just really liked the institution. The main pluses for me were a) a visibly wide range of gender presentation within “female”; b) everyone understands if you’re in pain because you’re on your period, there isn’t that weird societal thing about not talking about it; c) no idiot freshmen boys in your science/math classes; d) FEMINISM EVERYWHERE.

    • Is there a professor, instructor, or even TA who has witnessed your turnaround? I have written really amazing rec letters for two students with steep upward trajectories. One happened within the course of a single semester — the student went from bottom 5% to just over half a standard deviation below average. It’s the only time I’ve written “this student is AMAZING and should be accepted into EVERYTHING” letters for someone with a low C. The other one was over the course of two years, and the letters I wrote for him were more of the “here’s why you should ignore those crappy sophomore year grades he had in one of my classes and look instead at the senior year A- he got in a different one.”

      Those rec letters also had the advantage of being different from the usual. Most professors I know have a form letter that explains how the course(s) the student was in work, what the student’s strengths and weaknesses are, comment on specific criteria inquired about by program, contact me if you have any questions. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But the two students I mentioned above got something completely different, and it worked for them. One is now training as an obstetrician, and the other is starting med school in the fall.

      A general thing about letters of recommendation from professors who teach large science classes: they will ask your TA for input. So be sure to build good relationships with TAs as well as professors.

      Also! The school where I work has a special service for pre-med students (and possibly others; I don’t know) where non-seniors can go ahead and ask for letters of recommendation for med school from instructors they have a good relationship with, and the advising center will basically just keep them on file for later. If your school has something like that, take advantage of it by asking for letters relatively soon after you’ve finished a class, while the instructors still remember you well. I can be a lot more specific and enthusiastic about a student I had last semester than one I had two and a half years ago.

    • M Dubz said:

      I work as an alumni admission rep for my college, and while I mostly helped evaluate freshman year entrants, having some sort of narrative was definitely not considered “whining,” especially if there was a marked improvement. The way that oygcrafts frames it is a good place to start, and it also doesn’t hurt to talk to an admissions rep about your application. At liberal arts schools, the evaluation method is holistic, and having that sense of narrative is really important.

    • M Dubz said:

      I am an alumni admissions representative for my alma matter, which is a women’s college, so I can speak both to the admissions piece and to the women’s college piece. My school is definitely looking for driven women who have a sense of personal narrative (even if that is a shifting narrative) and a love for the institution. There’s a lot of great replies to you already, but I’d also like to add that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask and talk to the admissions rep at your dream school who handles transfers about your specific concerns. This can only help you; to establish those relationships and really get that person on your side.

      As for advice on attending a women’s college, I think the thing it helped me with most is establishing my voice and sense of self as a leader. Women’s colleges are really designed to groom the future female leaders of tomorrow, and you should take advantage of the bubble of kickass female mentors and fellow students to build that self confidence for when you go out into the “real world.”

      I love my alma matter and could go on and on about it for days. I don’t know which school you are planning to go to, but I’m happy to have a longer conversation with you about admissions and women’s colleges off the site if you leave me a way to get in touch.

      • invaderssayni said:

        Thank you so much for your replies! I have been wanting to start a dialogue with the asmissions department at the school I’m looking at, but I keep worrying that I’ll ask them a question and I’ll get a reply along the lines of GOSH DIDN’T YOU CHECK THE WEBSITE and a link to a part of the website that I’ve somehow managed to miss. I’m trying not to tell my whole life story on a public internet comments section, but if you wouldn’t mind talking more about admissions at women’s colleges you could email me at invaders.say.ni at gmail. :]

    • Britt said:

      If you can present the not so great grades from the perspective of “this is what I’ve learned and the ways in which I’ve grown/developed/etc. that has allowed me to turn my grades around” for your personal statement, it can go a long way.

      As for women’s colleges, I’m a Mount Holyoke alum and I cannot possibly sing the praises of that environment enough. I tried SO MANY THINGS and learned so many things I would never, ever have expected and that I’m 99% sure I wouldn’t have gotten from other environments (based on my other college experiences). Depending on where you’re going, find out about their co-registration and co-curricular options with co-ed schools nearby if you’re worried about adapting to a women’s only environment. I definitely was initially and did a ton of looking into ways I could spend time at Amherst or UMass and actually ended up not doing most of it because I was so happy on campus, but it made the decision a lot easier for me to know those options were there.

  19. Z said:

    Are there any other art college people here? I’m a third-year illustration student. My biggest piece of advice for that (and probably for other types colleges as well) is… work as had as you can. It’s very competitive. But don’t get caught up comparing yourself to others, that way lie bad things. Just do your best.

    I probably have other thoughts but I just finished my first week back in class and I’m rather worn out. I will try to come back and flesh this out later.

  20. I am going to grad in 2015 (fingers crossed!) and this is my third year of University.
    I lived in a residential college dorm for two years before moving out this year.

    Tips for College (Dorm life):
    – It’s good to party, just don’t party too hard, especially if you’re only doing it because you don’t want everyone to think you’re a party pooper. (I was definitely a ‘party person because I wanted to look fun’ rather than because I wanted to get wasted and have my hearing ruined by overly loud music.)
    – Lock your door at night and whenever you leave your room, even if you’re going to have a shower and come straight back. I’ve had drunk people stumble into my room at 3am because they got lost and walked into the first open door that they came across.
    – Leave your keys on a hook next to the door so you don’t lose them!
    – Always have a set of clothes ready and clean for ‘just in case’. If there is a day where the laundry is full or the machines break down, you will be grateful for this. Also, if you sleep naked (like me), it’s handy to have them nearby if the fire alarm goes off and you have to dress quickly in the middle of the night.
    – Get to know your residential advisors. They are usually senior students who look after the others in their dorm and they are very helpful.
    – If your college is catered (meals are provided) and you start feeling very tired for no apparent reason, get tested for anaemia or other deficiencies. They are very common.
    – Take advantage of living with other students by forming a study group. It is seriously helpful when exam time rolls around. Also, if your friends like to goof off or to chat about things other than study, don’t study with them. I find it’s often better to study with people who aren’t good friends because you all stay focused.
    – Get to know the admin. If they offer any services, ask about them. Most people didn’t know at my college that you could get a spare key to the music room if you asked.
    – Mess and clutter make it harder to study and can lead to depression. In such a small space, keeping everything tidy might seem like a pain, but you will be better off for it.

    Tips for Studying and university:
    – Make a list to stick on your wall of all the requirements for your unit. (80% attendance hurdle, police check sighted by the course co-ordinator by X date, 24 online quizzes due weekly etc.) That way you will cope a lot better with deadlines and requirements.
    – Set up email forwarding if possible. My uni uses the gmail app for our email so I have set it up so that each email from the university automatically forwards to my personal inbox.
    – Don’t get overly familiar with your teaching staff. By that I mean, don’t address them by their first name unless they expressly tell you to, don’t send them emails from your personal email address and always be formal in your correspondence (start “Hello Professor X” and end with “Regards, Jane Doe (Year 3 Physics)”) even if they are not formal back.
    – Check out all the uni services and find out which ones are free. The health service at my university offers free GP appointments to all domestic students.
    – Plan your study ahead of time and be realistic. Make sure if you are a last minute person that when you leave it last minute, you are prepared for eventualities such as the internet not working or your printer stuffing up. (I have had to deal with both of those things.
    – If you read anything, read your course objectives and outline. If you are able to learn the things on it, you will pass at the very least.
    – IF YOU ARE FALLING BEHIND: Talk to your course coordinator BEFORE you get to the deadline (exam, due date etc.). If they know that you’re struggling before it’s too late, they can help you. They don’t want you to fail so they will do their best if you warn them in advance.
    -Don’t get bogged down by the stuff you didn’t study 5 weeks ago. Do the study for what is current and work your way backwards if you can.

    Tips for self care
    – Don’t overload yourself. Study loads get heavier, later in the year so try not to make too many commitments in O-week when everything is slow and dandy.
    – Take ‘Mental health’ days. It’s good to take time out if you’re feeling overwhelmed. But if you’re taking too many days off, please go and see professional help.
    – Set bedtime at something reasonable. It’s hard and I still fall into the habit of going to bed at 2-3am, sometimes 4-5am. It is not healthy or helpful. Make the latest that you stay up studying (unless you have an urgent assignment or something – try not to get into that situation if you can) something like 11pm or whatever. It really helps.
    – Now that you’re not living at home, resist the temptation to live off candy or coffee. If you’re a night snacker, don’t buy lots of candy at once or keep it in arms reach from your desk. When I study, I go hand-mouth-hand-mouth mindlessly eating. I gained a heap of weight in my first few years.
    – Be aware of when you are procrasti-cleaning or procrasti-baking or procrasti-googling. It happens more often than you think.

    I’m not sure what else to say but if anyone has any other questions, you can email me at askagirlfromdownunder@gmail.com

    I am in my clinical years at medical school so if anyone has any specific question about any aspect of medical school (Except maybe USMLE and other coutry specific things other than Australia), please send me those questions as well.

  21. Dorth Vader said:

    2013 college graduate, education major and RA here! My younger brother is a college sophomore, and I gave him some advice last year that worked for him. So, I’ll throw in my two cents. Keep in mind, all of this is my own opinions and experiences, so YMMV! (Also, nthing most of the advice here already. It’s quite good, especially the stuff about knowing your limits re: activities. I ended up leaving the club I was president of in the middle of my JR year because I couldn’t handle the stress anymore.)

    The first thing we always told incoming freshmen- don’t room with your friends! Most of the time, the freshmen who roomed with friends did not get out as much as those who roomed with new people. That’s not to say it never works; my brother roomed with his best friend from home and they were both able to get involved and maintain their friendship. It was just not something we recommended as a general guideline.

    Along the housing vein, don’t be a jerk to your RA, RD, Area Coordinator, CA, or anybody else in Residential Life. There are a few reasons for this. First, if you end up looking for employment at any point (even if you don’t want to be an RA), ResLife can usually use student workers as office assistants or desk attendants. Second, most RAs, myself included, tended to give more chances to the kids who were nice to us. Fair? Probably not. But even during incidents that we HAD to write up, we noted who was respectful and apologetic vs who was belligerent and violent. The respectful kids got off a bit easier with the sanctions. Third, RAs are a great resource about the school community. RAs in your major can be an even greater ally because they have usually already been through the classes that you are in now. If you’re having trouble and don’t feel comfortable going to your professors yet, your RA or someone they know can be super helpful!

    If you don’t get along with your floor’s RA, find another one in the building that you feel comfortable with. If something happens where you need an ally, it’s easier to go to someone you have a good relationship with.

    Because this is a novel already, my last piece of advice is to do what’s best for you, within reason. Anecdote- my brother had to make the choice at the end of last year to either continue with ROTC or become an RA. He called my parents first, who pleaded with him and attempted to bribe him to stay in ROTC. He called me after my mom cried on the phone to him, and I told him that I trusted him and to do what was best for him. He dropped ROTC, his first floor of residents is moving in, like, tomorrow, and he is happier than I’ve ever seen him. This DOESN’T mean you can go out and drink every night, miss class, and make unsafe choices. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! There are a variety of resources to help get you back on track if you choose to accept some help.

    So, College Class of 2017: I trust you. Go forth, be happy, get help when you need it, and do you. You will be amazing!

    Signed,
    The Formerly Drowning Undergrad Who Graduated With An Average GPA And Got A Job Within Two Months Of Graduating!

    PS- planning a wedding in college is HARD, especially when your partner is halfway across the country. Trust me on this one.

  22. Non-traditional student here. Question before tips: how do you deal with that awkward moment where the classmate you’re hitting it off with went to high school with your baby niece?

    If lectures bore you and you hate being anonymous: community college. It doesn’t have some of the neat stuff that universities have and you’ll have to transfer eventually, but for freshmen and sophomores, it’s real college, just cheap and with smaller class sizes.

    Also, don’t ever pay for a class you won’t be showing up for. Attending class is almost always the easiest way to learn the material (my one exception: a “what is this email of which you speak” required computer science class that took place in a lecture hall where the seats made my sciatica flare). If you do too much flailing and rely on financial aid you will end up facing the dreaded credit limit appeal. You don’t want one, they suck.

    • I’m not actually sure I would deal with it? I mean, my standards might be skewed by the fact that one of my sisters is twelve years younger than I am and there’s a ten-year age gap in my program’s yearmates with me at one end and the thing where I hang out with people significantly younger and older with me pretty frequently, but I’m not sure it needs to be a big deal besides “oh hey, Classmate and I have a mutual acquaintance! Did you ever meet X?” or something similar.

      A lot of the time, I find that people don’t register things as awkward unless you behave in a way that makes it clear that you feel awkward. So if you breeze on by and project “this is a totally normal thing!”, people will generally take their cue from that and not think about it too much. On the other hand, if you treat it as a weird awkward thing and go “wow I am so much older than you!” a lot, then other people will also act like it’s a weird uncomfortable thing. This makes dealing with situations that you, personally think are a little weird and awkward but don’t want other people to pay too much attention to a little difficult because it’s a little bit of a vicious cycle, but if you determinedly fake “this is not a big deal” until you can distract yourself with that awesome bit of gossip Classmate has to share or that cool new movie you got to see yesterday, you can usually get by the awkward moment without having to make a big deal about it.

    • M Dubz said:

      I say this from the reverse end, but I went to a school where there was a large group of non-traditional students, some of them many many years older than traditional students, and I thought they were totally badass and not at all creepy. It was actually a pleasure having a chance to interact with slightly older people in the college environment.

      • Relief! I think part of the reason it feels awkward to me is because my niece sort of has this attitude towards me of, “Ugh more grown-ups” so I kind of expect that everyone her age will be the same. When I look at it, though, they really don’t, mainly because I never had to babysit them.

  23. Just to echo JessicaFPL up there: get to know your department staff. We are here to help you. It is literally what we get paid to do. Find out who your staffers are and how best to reach them. If your department is large enough to have multiple staff, find out who is best suited to help you with a particular thing. If they send you an email, please read it. We can do a surprising amount to help students through back channels, but we don’t know to do this stuff unless you ask us to.

    More generally, if you are having problems: tell someone. A staffer, someone in the counseling center, your advisor, your dean, someone at the tutoring center, your favorite professor, anyone. Especially as schools get larger it is hard to track everyone and it is SO much easier to submit a leave-of-absence form or an incomplete contract before the end of term than to try and chase someone down who disappeared and is now failing all of their courses. Sometimes life gets messy. That is okay. Most schools have a variety of structures to help deal with those messes. Because most schools want their students to come back and graduate.

    • fizzchick said:

      So much this. I had a student just stop appearing, despite emails, contacting hir advisor, etc. Several weeks later, student shows up in my office hours, saying “I’ve been trying to keep up, but my roommate and I both got mono, and it’s been rough.” I did as much as I could to help, but that late in the semester there weren’t many options, and the student wound up with a lower grade than I think s/he was capable of. Talk to your professors/RAs/advisor/dean/whoever. We can help, we will help, but if you just stop communicating there’s not much we can do.

      • Keith said:

        Yes, yes, yes. We are literally paid to help you. But you have to help us help you.

      • I had a student once matter-of-factly inform me that she had an allergy the building the lecture for the lab I was TAing was held in, so she had just skipped lecture the entire semester–on the week before the lab practical. I was flabbergasted, but by that point there was nothing I could do! If she’d let me or one of my instructors of record know much earlier, I would have tried to find a solution that let her either attend lectures or get the information from them effectively. I think a lot of professors and TAs have stories like that–times we wanted to help out a student who was in a bind, but by the time we figured out there was an issue there was no time to effectively seek an accommodation.

    • Keith said:

      Cannot emphasise this enough: we want you to succeed. 1. Many of us teach because we love doing it. 2. A successful graduate is our best advertisement!

  24. shuu_iam said:

    Graduated in 2012 here. My main advice would be to be willing to approach professors for mentoring, etc. I went to a college with not a lot of classes in my specialty (as part of the wider major that’s on my degree), so as a result, once I’d taken the two or three classes in my exact artistic interest that I wanted, if I wanted more classes, I needed to either get permission to hop in on the graduate level ones or do independent studies with the other few students with my specialty. There were two main teachers who taught it, and I wound up having one or both of them close to every semester in college. It’s great to have that guidance, that friendship, and that affirmation from someone who’s not related to you or already a friend that yes, you are good at this.

    And seriously, it never hurts to ask. I wound up getting a one-on-one independent study with a professor who usually taught 50- or 100-student lecture courses based entirely on him writing nice comments on my essays and me approaching him going “independent study please?” If you’re really interested in a topic that no one’s teaching, find a professor who seems interested and get some help and course credit points while you learn. (And maybe take a year or two at college before trying this, since your ability to guide your own studying will increase exponentially [or at least, mine did], and these will take a lot more thoughtfulness than normal courses.) Plus then you get great references for future jobs and get to know someone’s got your back.

    • haha apparently the entire reason the university in my home city has a paper on Alexander the Great is that my Classics teacher in high school pestered them CONSTANTLY for one. They finally introduced it. He was the only student. Apparently he had a great time just talking about Alexander with his professor all semester. (I’m led to believe it gets more than one student at a time now.)

  25. Jen said:

    My biggest piece of advice? Major in what really gets you jazzed. If you’re majoring in something because someone else is footing the bill, it’s really worth it to drop out or go on leave until you’re considered an independent student. It would’ve saved me 4 years of heartache. (But, hey, at least grad school was like going to Mecca, because I was studying what I loved for the first time.)

  26. SoItBegins said:

    OK, I’m in university (in Canada) — 3rd year— right now. Some random ‘basics’ type advice:

    • Courses [particularly computer courses— others vary] may not use the assigned textbooks. I bought a text for a computer hardware course, used it the first week, and left it to gather dust after. On the bright side, at least I can sell it on, but it was still $120 to begin with.
    By the way, your school bookstore will cheat you in both directions, but particularly when selling. Sell to ANYONE else. I think I remember getting something like $30 [sold at an independent bookstore] on a book they offered me $5 for (and cost way more than both those prices to buy).

    • A quick way to track what assignments you have pending is to make an ‘out board’ on your wall with colored sticky tabs or similar. Draw one box on a piece of paper for each course you have, then put tabs on the boxes depending on what’s coming for you (I used yellow = assignment; green = finished assignment that’s not yet submitted ; orange = something that needs to be done but not returned by any specific time; red = upcoming test!). It’s an easy way to see what’s next.

    • Being outspoken is a virtue. I have been in classes where I am literally the ONLY person asking questions, and it kinda saddens me. The reason you sit in a lecture is so that the prof can help YOU understand what s/he’s trying to teach. If there’s something you don’t understand, or there’s something that needs clarification or you’re just curious about, say so!

    • If you’re on Facebook / Twitter / Skype or whatever during a lecture, you had better know the topic the prof is talking about cold, as I guarantee you will not remember half of what s/he said while you were connected.

    • Always, ALWAYS take one course that’s not directly related to your major per term. I’m a CS major, which means a lot of computer courses and a good number of math ones. To counter, I’ve taken Anthropology, History of Drink [no really— it was a 3rd year History course], Astronomy… and every time, I’ve learned something really interesting I otherwise wouldn’t have stuck my nose into. Also, too much of the same subject is really REALLY dull.

    I think that’s everything for the time being. Hope it helps!

    • miss_chevious said:

      >>• Always, ALWAYS take one course that’s not directly related to your major per term. I’m a CS major, which means a lot of computer courses and a good number of math ones. To counter, I’ve taken Anthropology, History of Drink [no really— it was a 3rd year History course], Astronomy… and every time, I’ve learned something really interesting I otherwise wouldn’t have stuck my nose into.<<

      You can do this in some grad programs, too! For instance, the law school I went to allowed students to take up to 9 credit hours outside the law school (credit hours would apply to your graduation, but not your GPA). Once we discovered this, we took all sorts of stuff. One girl took dance, one took French, I took 18th century British novel, one guy took History of Africa. It was nice to get out of the hothouse of law school and do something else once a week for a semester.

  27. Amy F. said:

    I just graduated in May and I also just started my Master’s degree in student affairs/higher education, so college is basically my favorite thing in the world. I’m working as an academic advisor, so my advice is from both a recent grad perspective and student affairs perspective.

    Best advice as a recent grad: get involved with a student organization or student leadership position that is administered specifically though your institution’s Division of Student Affairs (or whatever corresponding body you have at your school). I’m talking Housing/Residence Life, Orientation, Admission, etc.–all of these offices usually have student staff of some kind. These organizations and positions are supervised and facilitated by staff with lots of experience in higher education and student affairs, and they design these programs very thoughtfully with lots of really great intention. You’ll get a lot out of it, and because it’s staff-facilitated, you have access to a lot of resources that a lot of more informally organized student groups don’t.

    Best advice as an academic advisor: spend some quality time with your college’s General Catalog and get familiar with add/drop dates for classes, policies for changing majors, course sequences for different majors, etc. Yes, your academic advisor will know a lot about these things, and should be able to communicate them to you. At the same time, when I meet with students, our meetings are SO much more productive when the student is well-versed in basic academic policies and the classes required for their major. I can spend our appointment talking with the student about their goals and dreams and ways to make those things happen, instead of rehashing the pass/fail policy. (That being said, DO ask your advisor lots of questions about those things if you have them. I don’t say all this to scare people away from asking questions; I just want to encourage students to use their advisors for goal setting and life planning in addition to procedural academic stuff).

    • Ugh, the deadline for picking up new classes this semester was only four days in. Since I study extramurally they send course materials out, supposedly in the two weeks before the semester starts, but by that deadline I still didn’t have my materials for one of the papers. About a week after getting them I realised I can’t pass that paper – it’s a second year second half language paper and I was struggling in the first half and I just didn’t pick up enough grounding to continue. But I can’t drop the class, because I can’t replace it, and if I don’t replace it I lose my full-time status and benefits. *sigh* I’m going to email the teacher and at least let him know what’s going on sometime soon – he may know if they’ll let me take the first half paper again as well, since technically I passed it and normally I think you can only repeat papers you’ve failed. At least I’ve already mentioned to him that I’ve been struggling a bit and that I might have an audio processing disorder but can’t afford to get it diagnosed, which kind of makes learning a predominantly oral language difficult. (Country’s native language, didn’t have a writing system until the last 250 years or so.)

      • Amy F. said:

        Oh man- that is such a tough situation. I’m so sorry you are dealing with this. That is by far the earliest add/drop deadline I’ve heard of, and I can imagine how much that can impact extramural students, particularly when there are multiple factors at play. I’m glad to hear you’ve made contact with your instructor–in my undergrad experience, my profs and instructors were so understanding and flexible when I approached them with any kind of issue (I had a few personal struggles and mental health issues in college that made concentrating impossible). Additionally, does your school have any kind of office of disability services/resources for students with disabilities? These offices often do not require students to have a formal diagnosis in order to take advantage of their services, and they can help a lot with getting accessible materials and advocating for students if/when they need it. All my best wishes and jedi hugs if you want them. :)

  28. Kate Monster said:

    I strongly agree with the academic advice above; go to office hours, and join or organize study groups for your classes! (I started college about 10 years ago; in grad school now) My advice is on the social front.

    (1) Yay, you’re already in the Awkward Army! Use the skills you read about here, and you will be much more awesome at college than I was. Let me boil them down to: Self-awareness. Self-acceptance. Directness. Reciprocity. Trusting your gut. Getting help.

    (2) Connect early while everyone else is, even if you’re not feeling it. I was shy. Take it from me, it’s really worth it to make an effort at the very beginning to get people’s contact info however you all are doing it nowadays (in my day, getting connected on LiveJournal and thefacebook was huge; cell phone numbers, too). Even if you don’t feel comfortable with them yet, a few months from now you will warm up to some of them and want to be connected, and you may even do that faster if you see the side of themselves they share through those channels. I’m not saying to pretend anything, just try to make the most of the time period when lots of other people are sharing contact info.

    In particular, your roommates and people living near you are probabilistically likely to become your closest friends. Give them the benefits of the doubt, explore campus with them, try out parties with them (even if you plan to leave early), and be supportive even if you don’t understand them yet. (And apply Captain Awkward wisdom if/when conflict arises, or if something doesn’t feel right.)

    (3) Be sure that what you share via social media (and even in person) is REALLY what you want to be known about you by potentially your professors, your spouse-to-be, your family, your roommate, etc. And don’t let social media be too much of a time suck.

    (4) If you work, get to know your coworkers as people. Join activities as you can from the start, and go to as many dorm events as you can. Value these opportunities for connection, because college (and even later life) is a small world. E.g. I had a freshman year elective with someone who wound up in the same major and grad program as I’m in; the early connection, unrelated to what we’re doing now, made her a more comfortable ally as we encountered each other later.

    (5) FINALLY, do not buy into false economies: value your current self and your future self.
    (Princeton: A case of beers? No, I can’t get a whole case. Bad Idea Bear: But you’re on a budget! You’re wasting money in the long run if you don’t buy in bulk!)

    A false economy from own experience: on school breaks I had to feed myself without a fridge, microwave, or water boiler; I decided I should be frugal and subsist on oatmeal made with cold water or on off-brand SPAM. See also: ramen. Your health and happiness ARE worth something, and probably spending an extra $50 or $100 a month on your food budget will make you happier.

    If you honestly don’t have the money or credit to feed yourself real food, there’s probably at least one person in your life who would split a meal with you if you cook it in their kitchen, who would send you some decent food every once in a while, etc. If you are part of a religious, cultural, queer, feminist, pre-professional, etc. community on campus, especially if it has a multi-generational scope, there might even be support for cooking a nutritious meal together once a week or once a month. If you volunteer at a soup kitchen, there are often opportunities for you to eat before or after serving! But please, if you find yourself eating oatmeal soaked in lukewarm tap water, try to change your perspective.

    The last false economy: do not fear taking on debt that is an investment in a strongly-held, focused goal. These are tough choices, but sometimes the more expensive program is more likely to get you through quickly and successfully, while the cheap program is full of people lingering on past twice the intended program length, or has a lot of people leave the program. Take into account future earnings from that particular program, how likely a student is to make it through to get those future earnings, and whether you can handle the downsides current students and grads talk about–don’t just compare on the price tags. Also, if you run into financial issues, your current school may have more resources than you think to help out — and they should be able to help with updating your situation on federal aid forms. (I study this stuff as a grad student: on the whole, education is still a VERY WISE investment in the US, but make sure your program has a good track record and fight to get the resources you need.)

  29. Erin said:

    I’m going into my second year of college and this year, my goal is to go talk to my favorite professor and try to build a relationship. I had his class my very first semester and it inspired me to take an entirely new major (history, focusing on Western Africa). I’m really nervous, though, because he’s extremely distinguished. He’s a fair, kind person who I’ve talked with before (not in office hours- I chickened out) but though he definitely noticed and appreciated my work when I was in his class, the last comment I got from him was that he was disappointed in/expecting more from my final paper. It definitely came with a tone of “I know how well you can do, so…” All those things together plus the inherent strain of going up to any professor is making me worry.
    This is really rambly, but basically: is there any way I can calm myself down before I go talk to him? Any conversation starter tips for someone who would maybe like to talk about the field and get some direction but who isn’t currently in the professor’s class? Is that even okay, to go to office hours when you’re not in the class?

    • Michelle said:

      Yes, it is okay to go to a prof’s office hours if you’re not in the class. Admittedly, I teach at a small college, but most professors are very happy to talk to students who are interested in their subject. If you go early in the term, they are probably not yet getting a lot of visits from students in their class who have questions about assignments.

      Things to maybe tell yourself:
      –It is okay for me to talk to this professor; working with students is part of the job.
      –The “I know you could do better” comment was probably intended as encouragement. The professor is unlikely to have taken anything personally. They will probably remember you as “promising first-year” rather than anything negative.
      –Professors usually love to talk about their fields.

      Possible conversational opener:
      “Hi, Professor [whoever], I’m Erin from [class] last year. I was wondering if I could ask you some questions about [Africa, being a history major, careers, off-campus study... whatever is uppermost in your mind]?”

      Speaking as a professor, I remember most of my students, but I do have a lot of them. Sometimes I remember a face and can’t quite recall what context I encountered the face in before, so it’s helpful to be reminded of where I should know you from. (Also, if a class I taught inspired you to major in my field, you can tell me that and it is quite likely to make me smile for the rest of the day.)

      Chances are the response will be either: “Sure, come on in and have a seat” or “Actually, this isn’t a good time, can we schedule a time later?”

      • Keith said:

        Yes. If you want to talk about our favourite subject your problem may be getting us to stop! And also echo the last paragraph.

    • Clare12 said:

      Hi Erin,

      History grad student who teaches history undergrad courses here. I’ve left comments like the ones he left on your assignment before (although based on your response I probably shouldn’t do any more in the future), and in my case it was because I was so excited the student understood the content and was improving. I love my subject area and I LOVE when students improve. So take the feedback in the tone you identified as, “I know you’re a great student who was probably really stressed with final papers so slightly missed the mark on this one but will do great things in the future.”

      As for calming yourself down, keep this in mind. Professors are required to sit in office hours and no one comes to visit. It is super boring and frustrating because we really want to help. I don’t like giving our poor marks, especially when I know the student will complain after. So I actually am always happy to have someone ask for help ahead of time (as are all the other grad students/professors in this thread). Seriously, always go to office hours. It is and counselling are the top advice I would give to anyone at university.

      Conversation starter tips are also super easy. You can remind him that you took his course last year, and tell him you loved it and that’s why you transferred. That is just about the most gratifying information a professor can hear, and it’s completely true in your case. You can ask him for advice on which classes you should take in the future, what he would recommend, etc. I have yet to run across any human being, let alone a professor, who doesn’t enjoy being asked for advice. I would make sure there isn’t a huge line of people waiting to speak to him, but otherwise it is 100% okay for you to visit even if you aren’t in his class this semester. Good luck, but I promise you won’t need it.

      • Erin said:

        Ah, thanks so much! I tend to overthink, and you’re right- everyone will give advice! Also, I’m positive you’re right on the mark about that comment; it definitely wasn’t given with a bad intent, and he probably won’t remember anything more than a hazy impression of me anyway, but thanks for the reassurance. I feel better about going in with you guys’ confirmation that it’s alright for me to do so. Thanks so much!!

  30. adria said:

    My biggest piece of advice is to not be afraid to ask for help. I wasted so much time fretting over things that would have been cleared up with a simple email to a TA/Professor or drop-in during office hours. It can be anxiety-provoking to initiate contact with a person in power and admit that you don’t understand something, but it is so worth it and they are not judging you for needing help…they are there to help you learn!

  31. Kat said:

    Don’t be afraid to fail. I started out doing law and I was miserable without even realizing how bad it made me feel all the time. After a year, I finally found the courage to switch programs and got my BA in English (obviously, I’m not in the US). Best decision ever! I loved my classes, I loved my professors, I loved what I learned. Had I continued law, I’m pretty sure I’d be completely burned out by now. And I graduated in 2011.

    Also, you need experience. If you can’t work on a regular schedule or fit internships in during semester breaks, freelance. In my final year, I had a freelance gig, one with just 4-6 hours/week with my school and one whoever-replies-to-this-email-first-gets-to-earn-money-today thing. The first one was about experience (plus I really enjoyed it), the second one was basically for my resume (working language was English and my boss American) and the third one paid some bills (you don’t know joy until you’ve dealt with 15 kids with glitter glue for HOURS). But even the third one, I can put on my resume because I acquired skills that are relevant for my current field. Or I can make them look like the’y relevant. And that would be my third advice – use your school’s career center because those people can teach you Very Important Stuff.

  32. Quisty said:

    Examine what you’re projecting into your college experience.

    For me, I’d been dreaming of going abroad to study since I was thirteen. It was my get-away car, my ticket out of a shitty life. Can you imagine how hard I crashed when I got there and it wasn’t all that I hoped it to be?

    It turns out that you can’t escape your problems with being social and making friends by running away from them. So while I loved all of my classes I had huge problems connecting with people and making friends. I got depressed, culture shock was epic, I had a couple of panic attacks. Stayed up really late and woke up super early. I hated it so bad. But I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone at home about it because I’d been so excited! This was going to be so awesome! I was going to leave all those suckers in the dust!

    After a year I went back home and attended university there. It really was the best decision for me and I’m now doing my master’s and TA:ing at my institution part-time.

    In retrospect no university experience could’ve lived up to my expectations because what I needed it to fix was inside of me and I had to sort that shit myself (with some help).

    I’m not saying don’t be excited about college, be excited! But spend some time thinking about why you’re excited and if those expectations are reasonable.

  33. Give.Me.A.Minute said:

    2011 grad here (from the US):

    1. Try to get involved off campus, either by volunteering or finding a job. For me, it helped me a lot mentally to get away from other students for a little while and be engaged in the “real world.” It definitely helped me not get too burnt out from studying. It also helped me explore different interests I had, start to develop some work skills, make connections to local non-profits, and have something to add to my resume. My college had a really great Off Campus Work Study program (most schools offer off campus work study jobs). One year, I got to work on a farm. Another year, I got to teach cooking classes. Pretty great study breaks!

    2. If you are going to school outside of your hometown, try to set aside some time to explore around you. This is going to be your home for 4 years; get to know the place. Try new restaurants, go to a local theater, find out what famous festivals there are. If you’re in a rural area, plan a weekend to go apple picking, go hiking, etc. It will also help you for after college. Something that surprised me after I graduated is how much free time I have. I’m done with work at 5, and I don’t have to write a paper, what do I do? I guess I have time for my hobbies now.

    3. This isn’t really applicable for undergrads starting this year, but something that future college students might want to consider, take a gap year between high school and college. Some of my classmates did this (they either volunteered, traveled, or worked) before starting school. When they started school, they definitely seemed to have a clearer picture about what they wanted to get out of school, and how they were going to apply their studies to the work they wanted to do. I think this would have definitely helped me. I know through college, I got a much clearer picture of the kind of work I wanted to do through jobs rather than my classes.

    4. Going into college, I had a sense that it was going to be the time of my life when I would figure everything out, and when I graduated, I’d know exactly what kind of job I’d want. That’s definitely the case for some people, but not everyone. That’s ok. Even if you don’t know what you’re going to do when you graduate, having a degree is helpful, and you’re going to have a lot more life experience in 4 years than you do now.

    Also, a lot of people (especially people around my parents’ age) tell me “college are the best 4 years of your life.” That may be true for some people, but it definitely wasn’t for me. It was really, really hard, and incredibly stressful. I am much more mentally healthy now that I am done with school and working full time. I think college is really hard on a lot of people, so don’t be surprised if it is for you. I know it helped a lot when I stopped trying to pretend like it was great, and acknowledged how much I was struggling, and started to deal with that.

    5. Make your college experience as affordable as you can. Be wary of private loans. The economy’s still not great, and finding a job in your field isn’t guaranteed. Not everyone qualifies for them, but federal loans are a lot more flexible. If you find yourself in a financially difficult position after college, you can defer paying back your loans. The rates are locked. That is not the case with private loans. I have a lot of friends whose number #1 priority is making sure they can make their monthly student loan payments. Americorps is a national program that has jobs in pretty much every field. You get a small living stipend, and after a year of service, money to either pay educational expenses or pay back student loans.

    6. Going to a prestigious school can be over-rated. Depending what you want to do, what you major in/ what school you go to/ your GPA average may or may not be super important. Part of the value of an undergrad is showing future employers: “I can finish what I start. I can work hard. I have good critical thinking and writing skills.” For me, realizing this, helped relieve a lot of stress of trying to decide what to major in, and instead, could take classes that seemed really interesting. Most of the people I know who are going into the medical field are taking all of their pre-reqs through community colleges because they are still learning what they need to learn, and it is so much cheaper.

    7. Appreciate the experience for what it is. You have such an amazing opportunity to learn about anything that interests you, find out what doesn’t interest you, meet people from all walks of life, and learn so much more about yourself.

    I graduated 2 years ago, and even though school itself was really hard for me, I really appreciate everything I learned through it (especially about myself-my values, my strengths, my weaknesses). I think more than anything, I value the critical thinking and organizational skills I learned through all the paper writing. I find being able to organize my thoughts/ opinions in a logical, rational manner backed with evidence has helped me so much (from communicating with bosses to getting the electricity company to understand the problem with my bill to dealing with roommate conflicts).

    Best to all of you! Have a blast! Remember, you are entering a new, exciting phase of your life, and if challenges come up and you need some advice, the Awkward Army has your back.

  34. stuckunderwater said:

    As someone going into their second year in an intense engineering program at a very competitive college, I only have one piece of advice: figure out your limits. In high school, I tried to do everything, and I tried the same thing in college. Multiple extracurriculars, ridiculously high academic goals, the attempt to have the ”perfect” social life, the whole shebang. And while I managed to reach my academic goals, the price I paid in lack of sleep and high levels of anxiety wasn’t worth it. This year, I’m cutting down to the things that really matter to me, and reminding myself that getting a bad grade isn’t the end of the world. I wish I’d figured out that one last year. Also, yay counseling!

  35. panda flannel said:

    Graduated in June!

    My biggies:

    – Does your school have a writing center? Use it! Oh my god. Every one is modeled differently, but I started using the center at my school almost immediately and it saved my ass. Being able to walk into a room, sit down, and say, “Holy shit I am so stuck on this essay I don’t know what to do,” and having someone nod and say, “Well, let’s figure out what you’ve done so far and what you still need to do” and help you formulate a plan that works for you is so important. Also very good for procrastinators because making appointments can build in a structure to your writing process that can be hard to create on your own.

    – There are a lot of jobs on campus that can directly relate to what you’re studying. If possible, try to take advantage of them. They can mean that you have even-sort-of-related professional experience before you graduate, rather than trying to jump into the professional job market post-graduation with only service-industry jobs and a degree on your resume.

    – If it’s financially possible, take time off when you need it. I graduated from high school, went to college for a semester, left for two years, went back to college for another two years, took a year off, and then finally finished. I don’t think I could have done it all in one shot. I needed to take time out of that world, let what I’d learned sink in, and figure out what to do next. A lot of people say it’s risky to take time off because “you’ll never go back,” but I think it’s important trust yourself to do what is right for you and know when you’re too burnt out to do your best work.

  36. Threepennyflynn said:

    Current undergrad here, going into my fourth year. This thread is so timely, thanks Cap’n!

    Lately, I’ve been dealing with a very slow, protracted quarter-life crisis. I’ve recently realized that I’ll need to take a fifth year in order to graduate (I transferred to my university, some credits didn’t, and I picked up a couple minors), which is gonna be mostly fine financially (Navy brat, ftw!), but whenever people ask about my studies, I get a ton of crap about my future. Basically, I’m a Theatre major with Music and Linguistics minors. Just mentioning any of those three gets folks all up in a tizzy about how doomed I am and how I’m just gonna wind up being a barista for the rest of my life. Which, yeah, I guess is a possibility. And it’s super easy for others to shrug it off and tell me to do what I love, but they (usually) aren’t the ones who have to deal with the judgment, on top of a heavy dose of condescension courtesy of my petite femaleness. Seriously, it’s amazing how many people want to tell you what to do with your life just because you have a uterus and a higher-pitched voice.

    Anyways, I’m still trying to come to terms with that. I love talking about my goals when the right kind of folks ask – I could go on about opera and musical theatre for days if given the chance – but the deluge of condescension of late has just worn me down. It’s really hard, too, to feel confident when you don’t have an explicit career ladder to climb and point to. Which is what I signed up for – that’s actually part of the appeal of going into opera – but my snark only gets me so far and I have way too much time in the summer to think about jerks and their judgment.

    Gah, so many feelings. Those are just my anxieties, though, and they could definitely be worse. I’m in a pretty lucky financial position and I get to go to the school of my choice, so I know it’ll all work out, for the next two years at least. But does anyone else deal with that? I know the arts can’t be the only target of holier-than-thou career advice…

    • A-nonny-nonny-mous said:

      As a former music major/English minor, my advice is to deluge them with your interests. Obv not in these words, but “I won’t get a job? Really? Well, I could do [theater thing] or [other theater thing] or [music thing] or [lingistics thing] or … … …or work as a code breaker!” Feel free to end with a couple things that are or are not super realistic but sound flashy.

    • dawnofthenerds said:

      I’m not sure I have much useful advice, but solidarity fistbump! I started in History, and now I’m getting my Master’s in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations majoring in Egyptology. I tend to get either very blank looks or the dreaded ‘what kind of job can you get with that?’ One thing that often works for me is to say my degree is in Ancient History (which is mostly true, and everyone knows what it is) and then immediately start talking about something I’m really excited about that’s a bit more generic (going back to class, moving back to Other City, seeing friends in Other City again, being done my summer job, anything that’s more relatable). That way anyone who’s actually well meaning has something to latch onto to keep the conversation going rather than standing there wondering how to react when they have no frame of reference for talking about what I study. It won’t ward off anyone who’s really obnoxious, but it’s a start.

  37. K.A. said:

    As an undergrad (doing a second undergrad course) in my final year with mental illness and chronic pain and all sorts of things that make study really hard at times, I want to stress one thing that seems to make my experience very different from that of some of my fellow students:

    Talk to your teachers about everything that may be a problem.

    It’s that simple, for all that it’s really hard to tell a new teacher that I have mental illness and wonky hands. (But, it gets easier! I can now do it in front of the class!) I let them know that I have chronic pain and sometimes can’t type, that I have flashbacks and triggers that might make me cry in the classroom, and at times, getting that assignment done is really difficult. I tell them when I have stuff going on (like a med change). I email them when I’m having a breakdown and can’t finish that essay.

    Tell them, from the word go, what your situation is, and keep on telling them. Be as upfront as you can. The teachers, in my experience, will do everything they can for a student that lets them know they have difficulties. I’ve never had hassles getting extensions or missing classes. Just by informing them, just by always sending emails to explain my life situation, they know I’m being as hard-working and responsible about my studies as I can. I get a lot more leeway with assignments than other students just because of that openness – the teachers don’t assume I’m lazy because they know study is, for me, happening in less-than-optimal conditions.

    I wish someone had told me, during my first undergrad, to just talk to teachers about my life/health/study problems. It’s made the hugest difference to my ability to study with minimum stress. I now get emails from my course coordinator asking me if there’s anything she can do to help me out!

    (And get to know disability support and student counselling services, as others have said. I wish somebody during my first undergrad had told me about both–I didn’t even know they existed. THEY DO. Disability support is your best friend. My DLO goes out and buys me all the adaptive equipment I need, which again, makes such a difference.)

    • Keith said:

      Try DSO first. They can contact lecturers for you and this will be less stressful. But good for you!

    • Sarah N. said:

      I second all of this, especially making connections with whatever disability support and disability services offices your school has. Like Keith said, DSO can help you handle contacting your professors. I’d like to add that it is okay if you have to go to the disability services office at some point in a semester and say “this professor isn’t making reasonable accommodations for me; I have explained that I have X and Y measures in place with the school; can you please explain to this professor again that they cannot legally do this”.

      It is an unfortunate fact that, if you have a chronic illness of any kind, you will probably have an uncooperative teacher at some point. The professor may be otherwise awesome except for this one fact (I had an English professor I absolutely loved the teaching style of except for the fact that whenever I tried to get coursework off her when I was sick, she simply informed me that her class “wasn’t a correspondence course”). You may want to try to soldier through their BS and not want to make waves. Other people, even friends, may try to convince you not to make waves, but making waves is worth it. Soldiering through is not, because at some point, it will not work.

      • Keith said:

        As Sarah says, you may get different responses. If I get a message from DSO that a particular person needs X and Y, then that is all I need to know. (In fact, it helps me.)

  38. Aerith said:

    I’m a third year undergrad, not in the US. I had a hard time transitioning from being a a high school student who got top marks to being very average at University. I wish I had asked for more help during my first year! I’m slowly getting the hang of it. Tutors and office hours are your friend, as well as discussion boards. While I spent most of my first year partying I don’t really regret it, if only because the mistakes I made taught me valuable lessons.

    You’re not a failure if you change your degree. I tried to do Law but I didn’t end up making the cut for second year and it took me two years to get over my shame and failure (I still tell people I just decided not to do it…). I’m much happier now simply doing a BA in subjects I enjoy.

    I second the transfer option, don’t feel like a failure if you have to or want to do it. I didn’t transfer willingly (I loved my previous Uni, it was more for personal/financial reasons) but it has worked out fairly well so far. It is taking me a year longer than it normally would to graduate but I’m okay with it since it gives me more time to adjust and get to know the lecturers in the departments.

    If anything, I would highly recommend a gap year at some point, maybe even before starting study. Or look into what study abroad exchange programs your school has. I took a gap year last year in the middle of my degree and worked full time instead. It really clarified what I wanted to do and I realised I definitely wanted to finish my degree.

    This one’s for the ladies: I met some really awesome people from being involved in the Women’s group at my previous University (am working on the current one). Find and spend time in Womens’ space if you have one, they usually have microwaves and comfy couches.

    In addition, clubs are a good way to meet people. Joining with a friend makes it less scary. Join your students’ association if you can. They do a lot of good work and ensure students are treated fairly within university as well as campaigning for discount travel and better living conditions.

    Do take advantage of your University’s counselling and healthcare offers. At mine, we get discount doctor appointments and counselling is free for the first eight sessions.

  39. Don’t be afraid to change course. And do it sooner rather than later. I finished a Bachelor in Law in 2012, despite the fact that I really wasn’t enjoying it. I decided not to continue, and am instead studying Animal Management (with a view to get into vet school in UK/Czech Republic/anywhere). I’m also wondering why I didn’t make the switch earlier, because I really love my new course, even though it’s much more intense

  40. staranise said:

    Heh, it seems like everyone on this thread has already graduated. Are all the undergrads and soon-to-be undergrads just in hiding?

    • JenniferP said:

      A) We did start this on a Friday night. B) We might be overwheling them with advice and not giving them a chance to ask stuff.

    • Undergrad here who asked something nobody answered. :(

  41. Find a college that has work placements- really good work placements/links. The college I went to had crappy ones (working in a country club on the outskirts of NYC, wtf?). I wish I’d researched more about placements before going, or that I’d have dropped out at the six week grace period and done something else instead.

    In addition, when I tried to find work outside of college (a lot of jobs clashed with class times), the grades were tied to class appearance, instead of just work presented (if I could have just handed in the assignments and work to get my foot in the door, it would have been great). So yeah, any college/uni that’s worth its salt, should have placements/links in your chosen field especially if it’s veering on vocational. All this as well as guidance and support, etc. Not saying that you shouldn’t do your bit to get into the door (you SHOULD), but definitely interrogate the school on that one.

  42. MamaCheshire said:

    One I just had to re-learn, as I am now at the forming-my-dissertation-committee stage of the PhD I’m working on:

    MOST professors, MOST of the time, WANT to help their students. There are the asshats and the ones that you just don’t click with but mostly they’re really good people, especially if you’re into learning about the same things they are.

    I’ve been all jittery about asking 3 professors to be on my committee – and I got one “absolutely yes I’m so glad you asked!” plus one almost-definite yes, plus one who in a different conversation said, “If there’s anything I can do for you, please let me know!” and I smiled and said actually I need a dissertation chair, would she be interested? So we’re going to talk next week.

  43. Emma said:

    Class of 2013 graduate here.

    The biggest thing I wish someone had told me is that Freshers’ week may well be NO FUN AT ALL. It is for some people, but for lots (the majority?) being crammed together suddenly with loads of people you don’t know, having lots of alcohol thrown at you while you get used to a completely different lifestyle, is pretty hellish. And that’s OK, and it does not mean that the rest of university life will suck.

    I’m saying this mostly because all the advice I was given from school, as well as all the orientation materials from my university, told me that Freshers’ week was going to be the most fun I would ever have, in my university career at least and probably in my life. So I was starting to wonder if I had made a huge mistake when I hated it. Turns out I hadn’t, it just didn’t work for me as a means of getting to know people.

    On a similar note, some societies will be cliquey and unpleasant, and some will be open and friendly. I wanted to be involved in my uni’s SF society, but they didn’t welcome people unless they literally spent all day, every day of Freshers’ week in the society room. So that didn’t work for me. On the other hand, the LGBT society was incredibly friendly and welcoming. If you try out a society and they don’t seem to welcome you, it’s probably a problem with them rather than a problem with you.

    I guess my main point is that if it’s great from the get-go, excellent, but don’t expect it to be that way. I did a four-year course and the first year of that was definitely the least fun; the more I got to know people, and my subject, and the city, the more I enjoyed myself, and the last year has probably been the best of my life so far.

    • K said:

      So true, orientation was the worst week of my entire college career. (So far, I have one year left.) No real friends, nothing to do, constant worry that I was doing everything wrong. It takes a while to get used to being in charge of yourself and your time, and to find the social life that you want.

    • Cerberus said:

      Oh lore, seconding that bit about Freshers’ Week. I’m not a drinker and have absolutely no desire to go clubbing, and therefore spent a good half of the week hidden away in my room doing my first piece of translation (9 sections of Cicero’s Pro Caelio) which to be fair was in for Tuesday of 1st week so it did have to be done. On the other hand, this helped me find people who were tired of clubbing by halfway through the week who were planning a trip to that great O– institution G&D’s, and so had fun getting icecream at 10 at night and making friends with them that way.

    • Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

      So true. I actually went through the materials at the uni I work for and made them remove anything that says “You WILL have a brilliant time at freshers” and in fact we now have stuff that’s more along the lines of “you may find this really challenging, and that’s OK”. ‘The best week of your life’ is such an impossible expectation to meet, especially when you’ll be spending it with a bunch of people you’ve never even met before, far away from your support network, and when you’ll be needing to deal with a whole load of practical things like food and laundry and figuring out where the hell you actually are and how you get back to your room from wherever-it-is, on top.

    • Knights Who Say Knit said:

      This. I also was told repeatedly by my college that I would make my closest friends during freshman orientation, which my social anxiety brain interpreted as “you won’t make any friends during college if you don’t make friends during orientation.”

      So I socialized constantly that week, and it was stressful and exhausting and most of the people I met I never spoke to again (including a girl I borrowed five dollars from and then never ended up seeing and of course, having met so many people, I couldn’t even remember her name to find her dorm room… Eight years later and I still feel a hit guilty about that!). I’m an introvert. That strategy was probably the opposite of the strategy I should’ve used to make friends during orientation. And four or five days into orientation week, when I had some downtime and decided to sit around and read a book I’d neglected all week, and then explore the campus and the neighborhood alone without talking to anyone besides the cashier at the coffee place or wherever, was probably the best decision I made during orientation week.

  44. we want you to get an awesome job said:

    I work in a careers department (not doing anything advice-y! I do the website) and it’s amazing how much trouble we have giving money away, sometimes. If you’re thinking of doing work experience or an internship, check whether your careers service offers bursaries or other financial support.

    (Paid) work experience is a really awesome idea, generally – I didn’t do nearly enough, and I wish I’d tried more. You can get experience and skills, try out a potential field, and find out tons about what you do and don’t want in a career. Even if you’ve graduated, a lot more places are offering graduate internships now, so it’s still worth looking.

    Unpaid work experience: avoid this, if you can. It doesn’t help you get a job nearly as much as the paid kind, and it gets exploitative really quickly. We won’t advertise placements of more than a month unless they pay at least our minimum wage.

    In general, it’s worth checking out the careers service, because they’re there for you and they do actually want to help. If you don’t want a big graduate scheme job, they may not have too much in the way of resources, but the advisers can still be a huge help. Why not get your CV checked for free by an expert?

  45. K said:

    The comments seem to be more full of people offering advice than people asking for advice, but still, I’m starting my 4th (& last) year of undergrad, so I feel obligated to throw my own advice out there.

    Looking back at orientation, the thing I was most afraid of was that I wouldn’t make friends. I felt like I had to spend all my time talking to people and doing whatever everyone else wanted to do and being funnier and more “normal” than I actually was. If I ever found myself at a meal without someone to sit with, I would start panicking that it was A Sign that no one would ever like me and I would be lonely forever.

    If any of that sounds like how you’re feeling, then what I want to say is this: take a deep breath. RELAX. No matter who you are, if you want to make friends at school then you can. The great thing about a new year of college/university is that there is a whole new class of students entering who ALSO don’t really know anyone yet, and who are ALSO trying to make friends. Your future friends are out there, and they are looking for you! You may have to put in some effort to find them – maybe they’re not living in the same building or taking the same courses as you – but if you keep trying new things and meeting new people, you will make friends. It can be difficult, especially if talking to strangers isn’t your thing, but it will be so much less difficult if you trust that you will eventually succeed!

    • Leila said:

      Thank you SO MUCH for this advice. I know on a rational level that all the freshmen will be open to meeting new people, but I’m still worried about it. This set me at ease a ton.

  46. Anthony said:

    Just-finished-PhD-student who’s worked in Universities a bit and hopes to do a lot more of it in the near future (Uni experience in Ireland and the UK, so applies better to people from those places than the US, probably).

    My first thoughts are:

    1) The cliche about reinventing yourself is true. Figure out what the You You Want To Be looks like, and try to do what you think they would do. But remember that it’s a process, not a switch, and it’s okay to not be that person all of the time.

    2) That “one hour” of work is your most valuable ally. As an undergrad, I’d often squander an hour or two with the excuse “I’ll get nothing significant done in an hour”. Do the hour. Those little bits of progress are reinforcing, and takes the sting out of the all nighters.

    3) Learn to cook. A little bit of kitchen-fu has a huge impact on your health. In my experience, it was actually cheaper to cook from fresh ingredients that to live on frozen pizza and takeout, but that does vary depending on where you live, so YMMV. But still, it’s worth spending a little more money on good food than students (young me included) tend to do.

    4) Don’t get too hung up on the “student experience”. You are not obligated to party 6/7 nights of the week, eat nothing but ramen, and complete every assignment 14 minutes before the deadline in order to “get the most out of the experience” or have a “true college experience”. The college experience is yours to create.

    5) If you’re finding it difficult, go to see the counselor. Or a tutor, teacher, professor involved in your course. They want to help, and most of them are good at it.

    6) Learn. To. Cook. Ohmygod seriously do it. I cannot articulate how much better my life got after I took that bit of time to learn that skill. Plus it’s hella attractive and impressive.

    • As someone whose food budget is about $30/week (not US$, it would be like $20-25 in US) I can definitely second cooking. I got a breadmaker on sale and make my own bread. I have porridge for breakfast. I can cook pasta, stir fries, spaghetti, pizzas from scratch, and a ton of baked goods. Knowing how to bake is pretty ace – you can keep a few basics in your supplies and turn them into all sorts of delicious food. It does require having a proper kitchen, unfortunately, so probably won’t work in dorms, though even if you can find a book of things you can make in the microwave it could be worth it.

  47. kelseypolo said:

    Graduated undergrad one year ago, currently getting my M.A. Here are my top tips for incoming freshman.

    1. Unless you really, really, *really* know what you what you want to study, don’t pick a major yet. Don’t lock yourself in and feel like you can’t get out.
    2. Related to this, study broadly. Take courses that sound interesting. Also, take courses you maybe didn’t like in high school. Because *spoiler alert* you may like them now.
    3. Take a foreign language. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
    4. Go to office hours. I repeat, go to office hours. Not only will you get helpful advice/tips most of the time, it also makes it 10x easier when/if you have a problem and you aren’t just another face in the crowd.
    5. Don’t sign up for the early classes. You won’t get up in time, I promise.
    6. Do the extra credit. I know it’s extra meaningless work, but I can’t tell you how many times I skipped an extra credit assignment that would have made the difference in my final grade.
    7. Find people who like the things you like. Do stuff with them. Enjoy those moments. These people will be your friends long after you graduate.
    8. Have fun. You will learn so much about yourself – goals, values, living habits – in the process, but know that you still won’t have your life figured out by the time you leave. And that’s okay. You don’t have just these 2-5 years to get everything sorted. This is just the beginning. :)

    • graciesonnet said:

      Congratulations and good luck, incoming freshies :-)
      Okay, I graduated from college…8 years ago but from 2005 to last month, I worked for a university in a major city (hurray for context!). My background includes fundraising and alumni relations for the university’s medical school, and being an administrative assistant to two life sciences professors and their research labs (so lots of interaction with undergrads doing internships, grad students doing rotations, new graduates getting entry-level research assistant jobs, etc). So here’s my advice:
      –man, yes to everything kelseypolo and others have said. Professor office hours, trying new things, etc.
      Based on advice I could give to 18-year old me, if I had a TARDIS:
      1. Try new things. Lots of new things. Don’t be so afraid to talk to people. It’s okay. Yes, even the [person/people] you have a crush on.
      2. Your school has a free counseling center. Use it.
      3. Your intuition is usually right about most things. The more you use it, the better you’ll get at knowing when it’s right.
      3b. Yes, that creepy guy is creepy and yes, it’s creepy that he went into your personnel file at the library to get your email address and IM handle. It’s okay to be rude and tell him where to shove it. Get your boss at the library involved as soon as you learn about the total breach of privacy and boundary-crossing, instead of 6 months after you both graduate.

      Incoming undergrads, you are embarking on an amazing time in your life (although there are lot of amazing times in one’s life, including the times that are also horrible). Keep taking deep breaths. Remember: You will be okay, and you don’t have to plan your entire life in the next 2-5 years. Plans change. I’m finally back in a career path related to my undergrad major (Print Communications and yes, I always think of that football player on The Simpsons when I tell people), but it took the last eight years and several detours to get there. Lots of people wind up in career/life situations that have nothing to do with their college plans, even in my own family, and I wish that 18-year old me had taken that to heart a bit more.
      It’s going to be fun, incoming college people. Even when it’s not fun, it will be a learning experience. Congrats again and good luck. Have an awesome first semester!

    • tinytop said:

      Hey now, I managed to drag my butt out of bed for an 8:00 AM Spanish class, when I could barely speak English at that hour! But it did require a lot of discipline to do, since I am not a morning person. I think that advice might be better framed as, “know your limits.” If you’re someone who can do that, great. If not? Take the class that doesn’t start ’til 10. (Alas, that was not an option for me- scheduling conflicts suck).

      • Yeah, I actually purposely signed up for classes in the morning (as early as 8) & early afternoon because that’s when I focus best and I really like having unscheduled time in the afternoons so I feel like I have some day left to *do* things. This is, however, after being out on my own for almost three years and working, and having to get up as early as 4am for work. “Know your limits” is definitely more accurate advice.

  48. Okay, so this probably only applies to a few people, but it would’ve been so great for me to hear it when I was starting college: liking classes you take in a department/major is not the same thing as liking to do the things the major leads into.

    I liked physics classes, so I decided to major in physics–but maybe the most valuable piece of that was the summer I spent doing science research. It bored me, it exhausted me, it was generally all-around Not What I Wanted To Do. But the story all the physics professors told was: you’re a physics major, you go to physics grad school, you go into research or become a professor. (My major advisor kept forgetting I didn’t want to go to grad school, because I was so smart! And clearly that was what smart physics majors did!) And it was too late to change majors, and after all, I liked the classes…I just didn’t want to go do research…

    It ends happily: student work in the library led to me starting work in a library last week, which so far, I love. But! It’s worth asking, What’s the expectation of what I will do with this degree? and Do I want to do that? and How is work in this area different from taking classes in this subject? and, if possible, spending some time actually doing that work to find out whether your expectations line up with reality.

    • Marvel said:

      THIS. I had the same experience in biology that you had in physics–a hellish summer internship was what finally convinced me that biology was not and would never be for me no matter how much I might like it.

      • Neuroturtle said:

        You’re smart. I’m a post-doc and figuring that out. =)

  49. cd said:

    I want to point out that, despite what you might find in overcrowded freshman courses, office hours are often incredibly useful. This is where the TAs can actually help you figure out what’s going on in your problem sets (in section they can go over general concepts but usually don’t have time to help you specifically). So don’t give up on office hours forever just because in Math 1 the TAs are so mobbed with students that you can’t get a question in after waiting an hour. (I made this mistake myself and didn’t figure it out for three years.)

  50. Anti said:

    Instructor here (at a very small college):

    1. Talk to your professor, TA, whoever is in charge of helping students in a class. Talk to them in the beginning to let them know who you are, talk to them when things get difficult, talk to them if things look like they *might* get difficult (academically, personally, whatever). It’s so much better to know up front what’s going on with a student than find out at the end of the semester, when it’s too late to help much.

    2. If high school was so easy that you never really had to study, you need to learn it now. Talk to the tutoring center or student support or whoever does that, and learn how to take notes, how to outline, how to structure your studying for exams.

    3. Corollary to 2: figure out your learning style, and find a way to make it work in your classes. If you’re an aural learning and all your profs lecture, awesome! If not, maybe you need to record yourself reading the lesson out loud and listen to it later. Student support should be able to help you.

    4. Take advantage of the add/drop window (at my college it’s 2 weeks). If you try an 8AM class for a week and find that you have real trouble getting up that early, switch sections if you can.

    5. Meet new people, try new food, go to a religious service you’ve never been to before, learn a new hobby, etc. All of your learning should not take place in a classroom. And, you know, you have to have fun too.

    • Marvel said:

      So much yes to #2. You have got to learn how to study or your first year is going to be hell. It was for me.

    • Daphne said:

      Hi Anti! I apologize that I am replying so long after the fact (I did not realize how much time had gone by). Last night I finally got to start unpacking my books after we set up a bookshelf. Here is the Shelby Foote info I promised so long ago in the “How to respond to an unspeakable mansplainer” thread. I went to reply to you there, but I just missed the cut-off yesterday for the one-month comments period! But I had to get this info to you, so I found you in this (at least tangentially related?) thread.

      Article: David Goldfied, “Whose Southern History Is It Anyway?” in Goldfield, Southern Histories: Public, Personal, and Sacred (UGA Press, 2003), 1-41. Page 24: “Shelby Foote carped that blacks had “overlooked the facts about Bedford Forrest…. [He] and Abraham Lincoln were, in my opinion, the two absolute geniuses to emerge during the Civil War…. The day that black people admire Forrest as much as I do is the day when they will be free and equal, for they will have gotten prejudice out of their minds as we whites are trying to get it out of ours.” The citation for that quote says “Quoted in Court Carney, “TheContested Image of Nathan Bedford Forrest.” Journal of Southern History 67 (August 2001) page 626.”

      Everything about Foote’s comment is so offensive that I won’t bore you with my outraged commentary on it. Good luck with the new semester!

  51. Zeugma said:

    I am a current undergrad (in the UK) going into my third year! My university experience is… a bit weird, because I am at an Oxbridge college and those are atypical even within the UK, but I do think some of the things I’ve learned are broadly applicable:

    – don’t suffer in silence. Even if your counselling service is horribly overloaded, it probably exists, and it’s there to be used! If that’s not viable for you, talk to someone with a welfare role — we have student welfare officers here, as well as personal tutors who are responsible for making sure we don’t starve or implode, and if you have something similar then don’t be afraid to use those resources, either.

    – try not to get sucked into any weird competitiveness with regard to studying. I know people who will pile up books they have no intention of reading on their desks in the library, so they look as though they’ve been working super hard when actually they’re only working… normal hard, I guess? I also know a lot of people who have mastered the art of humblebragging about their studying schedule — ‘god, I only managed eight hours of reading and two essays today, I’m SO BEHIND’ — and who have turned it into a competitive sport. This is pretty much all ridiculous, and will definitely wreck your self-esteem if you take it too seriously; I find that the trick is to nod and smile and move on, whether to another subject or right out of the conversation.

    – if you hate it, it is definitely possible to get out. Whether it’s to transfer to another university or just to get out of academia altogether, there comes a point where trying to stop worrying about other people’s expectations of you and committing to your own happiness really is the best thing you can do for yourself.

    – take mental health days. I personally come under a lot of pressure to be studying ALL THE TIME FOREVER, but obviously that is a ridiculous expectation and deserves to be recognised as such. Taking a day off from studying does not make you an academic failure (and for that matter, neither does having hobbies outside of studying or attending clubs/societies).

    – if you can take a year off from studying before actually going to university/college, I tentatively recommend it. I didn’t, and I wish I had, because having been a terrifying hyper-motivated overachiever all through high school, by the time I got to university I was already halfway to being burnt out. It wouldn’t have been financially viable for me to go travelling or anything like that (and I think it’s probably more sensible to save the money for university anyway, especially if student loans are going to be a serious issue where you are), but I do think it would have been good for me to look for a job that I could leave behind at the end of the day, and generally take a bit of breathing space between School and its immediate follow-up, More School. If nothing else, it might have helped me to get to grips with the next point a bit earlier on:

    – your degree is not actually the be-all and end-all of your life. This may not be great advice if you have serious aspirations, but then I went into university with serious aspirations, and there’s nothing like working yourself into panic attacks and depression to make you rethink your priorities. Some of the best, kindest and coolest people I know are service workers, or holding down entry-level office jobs, post-graduation; you don’t have to be phenomenally successful to have value as a person, and I think the sooner you learn that and start to believe it, the happier you will be.

    • Cerberus said:

      Hello, fellow Oxbridgian! I’m going into my second year in the City of Dreaming Spires and appreciate all you’ve written here. I’d only add that that old chestnut about joining societies and starting new sports at uni? ACTUALLY GO FOR IT. I am not what one might call a ‘joiner': I wasn’t in any clubs at school and detested sport (netball is not a game for short people). Then I got to uni and started coxing and archery, and I can honestly say that these things have been incredibly beneficial to my stress levels (relaxation AND making friends!) in ways which I could never have anticipated – which, at a university where pretty much any enjoyable activity induces guilt over not spending the time studying, is very valuable indeed.

      • Circle said:

        Greetings other Oxbridge people! I’d add another (Oxbridge can be super heavy on this, but it’s also more general) point:

        You will, at some point, feel inadequate. You’ll wonder why they let you in to such a prestigious place, since other people seem to be doing better but putting in less effort. You might feel like an impostor. MANY PEOPLE FEEL LIKE THIS. I bonded with some of my future best friends by confiding in each other how intimidated we felt, how Harry Potter-like the surroundings were. And that person who all year you look up to as an example of how you should be doing? Probably has their own stresses and problems too, and thinks *they* are inadequate in some way.

        • Indeed! I’m not at a particularly elite uni but have people in my classes who get prizes/scholarships/names in gold on shiny plaques. I was very intimidated by this and felt like I was somehow faking my way through until they started asking me for help or critiques on assignments, or did I understand paper x because it’s a little over their head.

  52. curious86 said:

    I am a current PhD student in clinical psychology who teaches undergraduates and also works at a (different university’s!) college counseling center as part of my training. I plugged the counseling center specifically above, but wanted to say that in general would encourage you to familiarize yourself with all types of services available on campus, from counseling and health to tutoring/academic support/coaching/advising and to use the ones you need! This also includes going to professor’s office hours, study sessions etc. when you need help in a class (and when in doubt, GO!).

    Colleges and universities have so many supports in place for students that often go underutilized; if you are struggling in a particular area, there is likely help for you if you look! There may not be as much direction towards services at the college level, so it may take more initiative, but it is so much easier to help students when they first realize they are having a problem as opposed to when they are totally overwhelmed and feel like they are drowning.

    Also, don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed/homesick/crazed/lonely in your first weeks or months at college. There is a very big focus (at least in the US) about college being the “Best 4 Years of Your Life!!!!!!!!”. And maybe, just maybe it will be. But very few people will be real and tell you that it can be a big adjustment and it can take time to get used to and find your niche. Relax and remember that many other people are likely having that experience as well. I remember feeling like everyone around me had 10000 friends in the first week and I had none. And then, reflecting back years later with my friends, we realized that pretty much everyone felt that way! Take your time, do what you can to meet your level of social needs (join groups/activities), and see where it takes you.

  53. Marvel said:

    There’s so much excellent advice here that I don’t really have anything else to add. I’ve been enrolled in my university off and on since Fall 2010; my first year went fine, but then I dropped out two semesters in a row due to social anxiety and coming out as transgender to myself and my close friends. The summer and fall that followed consisted of cutting off my family, officially starting my transition, and trying to deal with the many psychological problems I was finally starting to get to the bottom of with the help of therapy.

    I was able to go back last Spring, and that was an incredibly difficult semester. It was my first semester since starting my transition, my first semester being financially independent of my parents, and my first semester in my shiny new major (which has been a much better fit for me). Really, saying it was incredibly difficult is a bit of an understatement. It was only with the support of my partner and roommate, as well as the help of my counselor and psychiatrist, that I was able to get through the semester at all.

    This semester, I’m going in much more confident. I was able to start hormone treatments at the beginning of June, and consequently my voice has dropped into a clearly male register, boosting my confidence considerably and making my chances of being misgendered much, much lower. Unfortunately my legal name change is still in the works, so I had to approach each of my professors individually to explain my situation and ask them to change my name on their rosters prior to the start of class. I have some… issues with needing to please authority figures, and as such I kind of hate asking for special accommodations, so that was really hard. But I did it and I’m pretty proud of myself for that.

    I guess most of the reason I’m posting this here is to reassure fellow trans individuals that going to college while trans is entirely possible. I know a lot of people who have put off their education for their transition, and while that’s entirely understandable, no one should ever feel like they HAVE to do that. It’s hard. I won’t lie and say that it’s not. But it’s definitely not impossible.

  54. kjc said:

    Hi! I’m a senior, graduating March of next year. There’s a lot of great general advice here, so I think I’m not going to throw my hat in the ring for that, but I do go to art school (comics! yeah!) and majoring in art can be a whole different ball-game in some ways. If anyone here wants to go or is going to college for art, feel free to ask questions.

  55. purple said:

    Flunked out of college in the 90s, graduated with honors in the 2000s, now I work in an academic support setting at a four-year school. My advice from all of this:

    1) Go to class. You can let other things slide – readings , minor homework – as long as you physically show up. If you start to feel the kind of overwhelmed where you can’t go to class consistently, that is the point at which you go to the counseling center.

    2) Turn something in. One way that people self-sabotage in college is by refusing to submit imperfect work. Half the problems and a note that says “I really struggled with this assignment, can I speak to you after class?” is nine thousand times better than nothing. Getting the problems wrong tells your TA that you are trying and need help, while not turning anything in makes them think you don’t care.

    3) If you start to have a life problem that impacts your class performance, tell the instructor. I’m very private and I hate telling people about my personal life, but my mother was very sick my senior year of college and it meant that I did things like skip class to go see her. Telling someone was the difference between professors gleefully flunking me for cutting class on a Friday and making appointments with me to review everything I’d missed.

  56. I have been enrolled in 4 different colleges, from 2003 to 2010, so I hope my experiences are fresh enough.

    I’m just here to say what no one said to me throughout all those different periods of enrollment.

    College might not be for you.

    I flunked out or dropped out of all 4 colleges, ultimately, and forged my own path. It was very difficult, because every adult in my life had been telling me from age 6 to age 26, that I HAD to go to college, and it was the only way to succeed, and if I didn’t go to college I would die homeless and hungry and get eaten by feral cats under a bridge.

    I had great experiences at all 4 colleges I went to. Sometimes it was a great professor or a great class. Sometimes it was a wonderful student group or a luck of the draw awesome roommate.

    But I am also several thousands of dollars in debt for the patchwork education I received, which resulted in do degree, no diploma, no ceremonial walk across a stage.

    If you’re in college because you were guilt tripped into going, like I was, I give you this advice – make the best of it, go to your classes, keep your grades up, but pack your bags, metaphorically speaking. Figure out where it is you REALLY want to be, and if you can’t figure that out, figure out a way to keep looking without incurring thousands of dollars in debt. Couch-surf. Move somewhere with cheap rent and good public transportation. Volunteer.

    But please please do not spend a decade of your life beating yourself up for not following the One True Path of College and Career Happiness.

    (Cap, feel free to delete if this is too off topic or too depressing or too hijack-ish)

  57. Tris22x said:

    Current student, about to start her senior year (AHHHH).

    I’ve really loved where I go to school and have definitely had a wonderful experience. It definitely seems weird that I’m nearing the end and I know I’ll miss it when I go.

    One huge thing I wish someone had emphasized to me was that while college can be a wonderful time and full of lots of personal growth it is still daily life. You will have problems and issues and certain periods that are much better than others. Writing this out, it seems really obvious, but while I was in high school college always was talked about like THE BEST TIME EVER where NOTHING GOES WRONG and ALL YOUR HIGH SCHOOL ISSUES WILL BE SOLVED. I know that I, and a lot of friends, suffered a little bit of disappointment when college didn’t immediately live up to these unrealistic expectations. Don’t go in with such high expectations that you must have the perfect college experience right off the bat, and don’t let your expectations of what the college experience is supposed to entail keep you from enjoying your actual college experience.

    Also, you don’t have to be best friends with your randomly assigned roommate. You can live peacefully together and have your own friends and this is ok.

  58. FD said:

    Coming out of lurkdom to comment: This thread is ridiculously relevant to my interests right now and all the stories of stressors vanquished and hardships overcome are really very heartening.

    I am a mid 30’s student going into the 2nd year of an undergrad law degree, and by the grace of the extenuating cirucmstances panel, and some first class work early on, just avoided failing out of my first year.
    What I would have liked to have known, going into autumn 2011, is that actually, it is ok to defer, that universities expect life to happen to some of their students and there really are mechanisms to help when it does. Also that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. And that the mantra in my head of omg, wasted so much time already, this is your (only) chance, gotta get it done, gotta catch up, got to do all the things! Do ALL THE THINGS BETTER! SO not true or helpful.
    I started the year with health problems and a rotten boss and promptly accquired more health problems and then a dependent family member needing care, and then needing more money for more care and so added a second job and set off myself off into into a spiral of care-work-study-work-care-intermittentlysleep-care-work etc. It ended in my seeking urgent help from my GP post exams because I had not slept for weeks and I could not shut off the suicideal ideation loop in my head anymore.
    The last year has been about fixing the health problems and taking the medication and doing the work in therapy, (and grieving the family member) and accepting that I did screw myself up but that I still deserve the second chance, and learning how to work at a job that is just a paycheck and how to keep it that way.
    So overall, I am in so much better a place – financially, emotionally, healthwise, but yeah of recent weeks there’s been lots of eeek feelings about the term starting soon.
    TL:DR – the stories and advice are helpful even where not directly applicable and exactly what I needed, TQ all.

  59. Tehanu said:

    I work in student affairs in Canada, and it’s great to see all the advice/support in this thread! I don’t think this has been mentioned much yet, but it’s top-of-mind for me because I just got home from doing a session for them: parents.

    This probably applies much less to folks who aren’t traditional-age students, but if you are starting post-secondary right out of high school, part of what will be going on is that you’ll be renegotiating your relationship with your family. Some people live in residence, some stay at home, regardless, things will change. Having conversations with your family about academic expectations (theirs and yours), money, what might change at home in terms of who does what and also any rules, how you’ll communicate if things start to get hairy, how they can feel more confident about your independence and how you can feel more confident about their support … it’s a lot of intense ground to cover, but if you are able to have some of these conversations before any of this becomes an issue, it makes handling it much easier.

    There’s a lot of stuff talked about in terms of “helicopter parents” and some parents do really want to be involved in their student’s life, and also vice-versa, some students really want their parents involved. Keep in mind that as far as the institution is concerned, you’re the student and they want to work with you. I do give parents my contact information (which sometimes horrifies my colleagues) because I know that it can be really helpful for them to know of one person they can get in touch with for support or advice, but I also make it clear that I won’t be able to share any personal information about their daughter or son. I think of parents as, ideally, a key part of students’ support systems, but at the same time I know that many students don’t come from families where that’s the case.

    The many great tools that Captain Awkward provides on raising concerns, setting boundaries, and dealing with conflict are all fabulous when you’re working out issues with your parents!

    • Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

      To add to this – before you set off, it’s really worth agreeing some boundaries about how often, and how, you and your family will be in contact. Firstly, because you would not believe the number of calls universities get from parents in the first few days (usually along the lines of “I haven’t heard from him/her in a day and a half! SOMETHING TERRIBLE MUST HAVE HAPPENED!!!”) and probably don’t want some random staff member pitching up on your doorstep to tell you to call your mum. More importantly, though, how you set up those lines of communication now often shapes how they’ll continue, and they can become problematic if they’re left to drift. A pre-departure conversation setting out what you all have in mind, with later re-negotiation if it isn’t working, can save all kinds of trouble later.

  60. keelyellenmarie said:

    I will have to read the whole thread later, so apologies if this has already been said, but…

    For the love of god, GO TO OFFICE HOURS!

    I say this as a relatively recent grad (2010), and as a grad-student TA (2011, 2012)… office hours are there for you. If you aren’t going, your TA’s/professors are sitting there bored or fucking around on the internet, but they’d often really rather be useful. And PLEASE, go when you first start struggling in a class… don’t wait to show up the day before an exam when we’re swamped. Come by the second week to say “I was a little confused about this one concept, can you help me make sure I’ve got it right?”, or stop by to ask questions about the field that don’t pertain to the class, if you’re genuinely interested and would like a resource. And, not all TAs/profs will be amenable to this, but it’s worth trying–ask career path/what class or major to take questions too! If they can’t help, they’ll say so, but a lot of people (especially professors) like talking about themselves/telling their stories, and that stuff can be incredibly useful!

  61. Internships! I graduated December 2013 and I had a much easier time finding a job than many of my friends because I had real world experience while I was in school. As soon as you know what you’re going to major in and what you think you want to do, try to find an internship (or a part time job) in that field. Even if you’re only a sophomore you should head to your university’s career fair and put yourself out there. Employers love to hire people that they already know are great to work with!

    Internships will also help because they’ll give you a taste of what you’ll be doing once you get out of school, and you might discover that you completely love it – or, if you’re like me, you hate it. This will give you more time to either change your major, add some additional courses that are more in line with what you’ll enjoy, or try and get other internships to figure out what you really want to do.

  62. Xiana said:

    From a lower-middle class international student getting financial aid in an Ivy League University:
    – If you’re getting financial aid, BE GRATEFUL. Write to your donors once a year (your university might ask you to do that anyways).
    – If you don’t understand a word, ASK. Even though I was pretty fluent in English when I came to the US, there were words my professors used (especially in science) which I did not grasp. I would raise my hand and ask “how do you spell that word you just said?”. Everybody would turn around and look at me and it was so EMBARRASSING, but hey, what option did I have? I learned more and better than way, and people got used to it.
    – I don’t know if this is true for all schools, but do not believe that all “rules” are unbendable. Exceptions are made sometimes! A class that the curriculum said is required might be traded for another one if you talk to the right people, for example. Sometimes rules just don’t make sense for a specific case, so do not be afraid to ask “is it possible to…?”. In person, not over e-mail. So arrange a meeting.
    – Do not be afraid to take some time off to think or collect yourself. I took three semesters off after my sophomore year of college and it was the best thing I could have done for myself. I’m back and stronger than ever.
    – Do not be afraid to change your major, or add a new one (depending on real-life limitations, of course).
    – Do not think there is a “right” amount of course load. My freshwoman year I was told I should take the minimum amount of credits (12) because I should to give myself the time to adjust. Then I met a friend from my country who said that she was gonna take a lot of classes because lower-level classes are easier! I took 20 credits and got the best grades of my undergrad career. I haven’t taken 20 credits since! But if a particular semester you need to have less credits for your own well-being, please do so. I’ve been there too.
    – On that note, do not think that the number of credits is an accurate representation of how much work a class is, because that is just not true.

  63. Hannah said:

    I graduated in 2009, worked in admission for a couple of years and tutoring college students with disabilities for a couple of years after that, and am now going back to school this year for an MLIS. (starting in a month! OMG so excited!) I think the Awkward Army has effectively covered most of the best advice, especially using all your resources, including admins, the counseling center, disability office, and professors and TAs.

    The thing that I would add is that sometimes, if it seems like things are more difficult than they should be? It’s possible that they are. I finished my BS in 4.5 years at an extremely selective engineering school, and was miserable a lot of the time. I would have benefited a lot from being okay with the idea that taking time off wasn’t failing, or that transferring schools can be a really good thing. I also would have benefited from knowing that I have a learning disability that makes essay writing in particular genuinely difficult — I went undiagnosed until after I graduated. I think I would have had a much easier time if my anxiety issues and LD had been part of the conversation from the beginning. I definitely still would have taken more than four years to graduate, but I don’t think I would have been quite so unhappy doing it.

    So know that while it is indeed possible that you’re lazy and poorly organized with bad study skills, if you feel like you’re putting in your best mental effort and not getting anywhere, it might be something else. You might have a mental health issue that’s sucking up all your spoons, or a processing or executive functioning disorder that makes your brain do funny origami when you try to make it read stuff or prioritize your work. You might not! Your issues might be with adjusting to keeping track of your own time and coursework in a different way than in high school. In either case, it might be worth getting in touch with your office of disability services and getting more attention from them. Even if they don’t think you have an LD or other issue, they’ll likely be able to hook you up with a tutor who can work with you on study strategies that suit the way you, specifically, function, and depending on how well-resourced your school is, might even be able to pay for it.

    I don’t buy the story that college will be the best four years of your life — already? what about the fifty years after that? — but it doesn’t have to be a miserable, difficult struggle.

  64. RedSonja said:

    Thirty-five year old senior in undergrad here, looking to start a PhD immediately after I graduate….

    First, advice: 6.02×10^23-ing the advice to get to know your professors. If for no other reason than these are the people you will be asking to write letters of recommendation for you, and they will write much better letters if they know who you are.

    – Don’t apologize for being less good at some things than others. But also don’t apologize for being better at some things than others. I was heavily conditioned to *never* think I was better than other people, so I have a hard time not shrugging off compliments or not making excuses for good grades. You have (presumably) worked for those achievements, and you deserve them.

    – Be persistent and flexible about your career plans while in school. When I first started this program, I was going to be an exotic animal trainer. Now I’m looking at PhD programs in animal welfare. I sorted out the aspects that were most important to me (working with animals, making their lives better, understanding and modifying their behavior in beneficial ways) and held onto those; I’ve been very flexible about the rest. This has opened my eyes to opportunities I would otherwise not have had; but I have also had to be persistent to make those opportunities happen. I’ve taken to envisioning myself as water – it may take a while, but I WILL find the cracks and trickle through.

    Now, questions:

    Any suggestions for getting into grad school in biology? (I specify because it appears that sciences are different to apply for than arts.) I hadn’t even considered grad school until last fall, when my advisor suggested that I should at least consider it, since I have an affinity and aptitude for school. So I haven’t as much research experience as some, and I have no published research.

    Some people are telling me that I need to be either published or have funding before I will be accepted, but I’m not clear on how that might happen at this point, with apps due in December. I’m also worried about writing my Statement of Purpose, since it sounds like that needs to be different from anything else I’ve ever written. So any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • You don’t have to be published or have funding to get into grad school in biology. I got into a pretty prestigious program with neither. What you do need is to have some idea of what you want to pursue, and you need to be in love with it. Really in love. I crashed and burned in that prestigious program because I was interested in everything and consumed by nothing. So look for who’s doing the research you want to do, and contact them. Let that guide your choices of where to apply. Lean on your advisor’s expertise, too, for guidance about how to navigate all this.

      The personal statement part isn’t as bad as it seems. Basically, they want to know why you want to go to grad school in general, and why you want to go there in particular. Be honest and grammatically correct and you’re most of the way there.

    • So I’m in an animal behavior/evolution PhD program, which isn’t exactly the sort of place you’ll be looking at, but isn’t that far off either. Hopefully I can be of some use!

      First of, you do not need to be published or have funding before you’re accepted to a program. Most of my yearmates (including me!) had neither of those things. Those are things that undeniably look super amazingly good on an application but are not, in fact, required at all. They’re cherries on your application cake, not the whole shebang.

      Research experience is considerably more important. You say you have research experience, but not as much as some people? You might be okay if you have at least a year of experience down, but even if you don’t, all is not lost. In my field, it’s not particularly common for people to go directly from undergrad to grad school, and one of the things that people often do instead if they want to strengthen their research experience is to take a paid position as a lab tech for a year or two before they apply. If you’re really worried about your research record, you could do this, or you could apply for graduate positions and lab positions simultaneously. I also know a lot of people who continued on as a paid tech in the same labs they worked in as undergraduates; if your PI has the money to do that, that can be a really nice thing for both you and your PI, since you get some more experience and they get a tech who should need very little training and already know the lab and how it works very well.

      Another really important thing you can do as you start applying is to email researchers working on things you think are super cool and say “Hi! My name is X, I’m a student at Y working on Z. I ran across your recent paper on humanely training bombardier beetles to dance and I thought it was really fascinating–did you have a lot of trouble devising effective rewards for the clicker training? I did some similar work on singing bedbugs in undergraduate, and that was a big problem we had. I’m currently applying to graduate schools right now; are you taking students right now?” The goal is to be specific about their work, let them know a little bit about your background, and ask whether they potentially have room for you in the fall.

      Something like that will let prospective advisers know that you’re very interested in their work, and they’ll remember you when it comes time to decide on final admissions. In many programs, you straight up won’t be admitted unless a PI wants you as their grad student, especially if you don’t do rotations. And if they aren’t taking students for whatever reason, you’ll find that out really early, which will be useful to you as you apply. You’ll also get a chance to talk to prospective PIs early on and see whether you get on with them, which is extremely important in PhD programs–you should be evaluating them just as carefully as they’re evaluating you for a good fit.

      Re: the Statement of Purpose, mine had a few paragraphs on my specific interests within my field, several paragraphs on my experience and previous work, a paragraph on why grad school, and a paragraph at the end tailored to the specific program I was applying to and why I was interested in that program. Talk about your previous work in enough detail to show that you’re confident discussing it and that you fully understand what you were doing and why. They want to see that you can demonstrate intellectual ownership of your research now, even if the original idea and experiments came from your old advisor–that’s normal. If you have other animal welfare or behavior-related experiences like old jobs that you can use to demonstrate your understanding of the field, list those as well and talk about the insights they give you that no one else will have!

      This is getting seriously TL;DR so I’m going to cut it off here–let me know if you have further questions!

    • keelyellenmarie said:

      Re: bio grad school

      I didn’t have anything published or have funding when I applied, and I got in to some very good programs. I did have three years of research experience, but I think I could have done just as well with one or two so long as I could talk about them well. Basically, write a great personal statement (ask a trusted prof or grad student for help if you can), get good recommendations, and go for it!

      A few words of caution though–

      1) This is the easy one… getting into PhD science programs in the US is usually a two part process. If your application is good, you make it through the first round, and then you have interviews. Schools will usually pay to fly you out, put you up for the weekend, show you campus, and have 4-5 professors interview you in a day. This may not be accurate if you’re applying to smaller/more specialized programs, but there will be SOME kind of interview process. And it will mean a lot of time and energy during the late winter/early spring of your last year of undergrad. So PLAN for that. If you’re taking any classes you need to graduate, work ahead so interview weekends won’t throw you off too much. If you work during the year, make sure you can reduce your hours for a little while during interview season.

      2) This is the hard one– think REALLY, REALLY hard about whether you want to do this, and pick your program REALLY, REALLY carefully. I don’t want to scare you or be a buzzkill, but funding for research is unbelievably tight right now, and that is really hurting a lot of schools/programs. Most decent programs will guarantee you a stipend for at least 5 years, but having some certainty of a paycheck doesn’t exempt you from dealing with the effects of research budget woes. Many labs are doing less-ambitious projects, running on skeleton-teams of staff, working with minimal and/or outdated equipment. Grad students are often asked to TA more often to help pay their stipend when the lab budget is tight, which is great for teaching experience, but will leave you less time to do your research and make it take longer to graduate. Worst case, your lab could run out of money OR you could decide your lab is a poor fit but not be able to leave because no other lab has the money to take you. And just in general, working in a place where everyone is under extra extreme pressure to produce in order to scrape enough money together to keep going… that’s stressful, on top of the already enormous stress of grad school itself.. So it may seem rude, but you NEED to ask about funding during the interview process AND before you join a specific lab. Ask students in the labs at the schools you interview at how bad things are for the program, their lab, etc. If you contact specific professors, ask them if they have funding to support a grad student. If a lot of them say they “probably” do, that means they are waiting on a grant to come in, and –hello sequester!– it just might not. A few profs uncertain about money in a program where you have several options may be ok, but if you are joining a program to work with a specific professor, you had better be DAMN sure that they have the money.

      Good luck! If you decide to apply, feel free to hit me up when it roles around to interview time… I interviewed at a bajillion schools and did pretty well, learned a thing or two.

  65. Lieutenant Right said:

    Class of 2011! What I think is important is mining your college’s resources. I only really understood this best as a graduate student, but that’s because I didn’t realize the potential in undergrad (though I did take as much advantage as possible). You have a slew of clubs that give out food and host (usually free!) events, random events all over your campus, and if you have a school that is known for something (film, art, science), they will have FREE screenings, lectures, and gallery showings/ticket giveaways EVERYWHERE. Soak in as much knowledge as possible.

    You can find postings everywhere, but you can also just explore your campus between classes — check out the library, the buildings that you don’t have classes in, the far off reaches of other schools/majors within your college with people you’d never meet in your classes.

    In terms of people…if you like hanging out with someone, tell them. I know it’s hard for people, but I would sometimes hold back from hanging out with friends because I was shy and thus would end up a bit lonely. Some with professors: if you find yourself talking excitedly about their subject after class, find time to see them during office hours. My dad’s a professor, and he always suggested that partly because he’d spend his office hours incredibly bored.

    Also: write in a journal, if you like writing. College can be really confusing — writing in a journal sorts out your thoughts and feelings. The Captain once said that “feelings aren’t reasons,” but there’s a reason for your feelings. It’s also good for meditating on your sense of self, values, and what you’ve learned (whether in class or outside of it).

  66. CJ said:

    Hope this falls under the periphery of college questions: student from Canada here, going into my (hopefully) final year. Last year, I had an abusive asshole of a professor (shaming students in front of the class, verbal harassment, that sort of thing). He’s not on-campus anymore, but is still associated with the school: doing anything big about his prior behaviour — like going to the deans — isn’t within my current power, but I don’t want to be silent about my experience either. Anyone have advice on what’s appropriate to say/not say within the college, to other students and to other professors? Should I just smile and nod when people talk about his classes?

    • 3last said:

      It is TOTALLY appropriate to talk about his behaviour! Especially if it’s friends or professors that you feel really comfortable with. If others are singing his praises and it doesn’t feel like the time or place for a more “serious” conversation about it, you can say something that is both professional and true to your own experiences, such as:

      “Hm, my experiences in his class/with him as a professor were not like that – unfortunately, [something true, eg. he was verbally abusive to many of his students when I took his class] – but [something positive, eg. I'm glad that you have had positive experiences interacting with him OR thankfully it sounds like others have had different experiences]!”

      It’s all about tone. Matter of fact/confident, not apologetic/ashamed, opens the conversation if the other person wants to talk more about it but also gives an out to move on to something else.

    • graciesonnet said:

      Phfew, bad professors. I guess, based on my own experiences, it would depend on who’s asking you about him. If it’s another student asking, “hey, didn’t you have Professor So-and-So for Fountain Pen Tuning 101? What was that like?” then I think you can definitely say as much or as little as you want, even if it’s just “OH GOD, RUN, JUST RUN WHY AREN’T YOU RUNNING YET?!” over and over.
      If the subject of This Guy comes up among other professors or some other “authority figure”…I don’t know. I think that’s a bit trickier and again, I think a lot of it depends on your audience. Like, the other professors or dean might know how much of an asshole he is and would sympathize, or they might not care so you’d better not complain either, or they might think he’s the greatest thing since my Spotify subscription and will not be dissuaded. In cases like that, you might have to just smile, nod, and keep changing the subject until you can get away.
      I had a few Bad Professors like that in undergraduate school (and one in grad school) but luckily, only had to put up with them until the semester ended– except for the department head of my major. And of course, three or four of his classes were requirements for that major– no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Sigh. And of course, he was well beyond his adjunct days so I could have accused him of puppy murdering in the course evaluations and it wouldn’t have made a difference. Que sera.

    • Tehanu said:

      Hi CJ – the standard answer is indeed “go to the dean” (or to the chair of the department, if the prof isn’t the chair). I hear you about the power; while most departments/universities will take student complaints seriously, there’s no guarantee they’ll handle the situation well, or that the outcome will be positive. As well, if a prof has tenure that makes it a bit more challenging. It does sound though like this person may not be full-time? If the teaching evaluations for that class were bad, the department may have already chosen in future not to hire him to teach.

      I hear you, too, about not wanting to be silent about it. It’s a rotten position he’s put you in (abusive people so often count on their power!). Instead of a formal complaint to the dean, another likely more confidential option is if your university has an ombuds department or human rights office. Those may be an excellent places to get advice (and you wouldn’t have to name the prof until you’re ready), and perhaps some kind of resolution. You could also ask them about the power dynamics and how they would address them if you were to make a complaint. If you are in your final year, and you do feel that pursuing it will be something you want to do, another possibility is waiting until you’re ready to graduate. As well, how about the other students in the class, would they be willing to support a complaint, so you wouldn’t feel like you’re on your own? I know these things are hard, and as someone who experienced the prof’s abusiveness, I think it’s important to do what you feel is best for you.

      If people ask about the instructor, and you’re concerned about the power dynamics if it gets to the wrong person, you could say something like: “yes, I took his class, it wasn’t a good experience for me, and I don’t really want to talk about it.” Then it’s pretty clear how you feel about him, but you’re talking about your own experience.

      I hate hearing about abusive professors. So many of them really do care about students and learning … but the bad ones can negate all of that.

      For other students: When you have the choice about what course to take, ask around (especially upper year students) when picking classes about who the best profs are. I ended up taking over half the courses for my major from one professor because she was so amazing. Having a prof who’s enthusiastic, stimulating, passionate about their subject … at that point it doesn’t really matter what they’re teaching!

    • M Dubz said:

      Does your school have a professor rating site? I know that my school did when I was in college, and it game me some valuable insight into professors’ teaching styles and who I should and should not take class from. You might consider posting to a similar site if it exists.

      • SoItBegins said:

        A global (or at least semi-global— it covers the US and Canada at least) site is RateMyProfessors.com. This site has helped me avoid at least one course that would have been terrible (a 3rd year poli-sci course with me an opinionated debater and the prof having a huge ego)— and NOT checking it led me to take a horrible course (a calculus prof who made you want to fall asleep and couldn’t explain well). I recommend screening all your professors.

        Don’t take one student’s word without the traditional grain of salt. They may have had a bad experience. But if almost everyone who comments says a prof is hard to follow or has a temper, keep it in mind when signing up.

    • MamaCheshire said:

      This may or may not be relevant in your particular situation, but Spouse had a professor like that last year, and the person he ended up going to about it was the head of the Disability Services office, especially since the professor was being an ableist shithead in some of the worst ways. I mean, “don’t verbally abuse your students” shouldn’t have to be requested as a reasonable accommodation, but a slightly more politely-worded version of that actually *did*. :(

  67. MuddieMae said:

    A sort of random collection of things I wish I had known or known sooner:

    1. If your college offers gym classes, check them out even if you hated gym in high school. College gym is, IME, totally different. When I was in college I took yoga, massage, and horseback riding (bareback) as gym classes and they were all amazing. I wish I had taken weight training. My BF at the time took, among other things, a canoeing class.

    2. Try to take advantage of a work or study abroad program that will allow you to live in another country for at least a couple of months. There is something really valuable about living in another country and it is so much easier to do in college because of the programs.

    3. Work part time during college. On-campus jobs can be great for this because they are usually very understanding about college things like finals or everyone leaving during break. Getting work experience is critical no matter what you think you might be doing after college.

  68. 3last said:

    I live in Canada (Alberta). I’m in my mid-20s, have worked full-time in student services at a major university for three years, and have been an on-again-off-again part-time student at both that same university and a smaller more “community college”-esque university for several years.

    My experiences have shown me that the current expectations placed on students (implicitly and explicitly) are OUT OF CONTROL. Here is my wisdom, such as it is:

    1) DO LESS AT ONCE. There is so much pressure to do *all the things*. You do not need to do all the things. BUT HOW CAN I POSSIBLY DO LESS?! you might ask. That brings us to…

    2) TAKE LONGER THAN 4 YEARS TO GRADUATE. Take less than a full course load (I’ve seen people do really well with 3 courses per term), maybe take one or two courses over the summer, but don’t sacrifice your entire holiday to do so. This will give you time to do incredibly valuable things like…

    3) Find a fulfilling volunteer opportunity at a campus service or with a student group that likely has a healthy, supportive environment. E.g. Peer counselling centre, campus food bank, student activist groups, sexual health/consent club, etc. Bonus points if it’s related to a field you are interested in (this can greatly help with finding a job after graduation), but no worries if it’s not or you’re not sure what field you’re interested in.

    4) Use your newfound support network from volunteering to get advice about classes, professors, part-time job opportunities, services on campus, etc.

    5) BE part of a support system to others too. Set boundaries around your time and energy, but within your ability to do so, try to expend some social capital. Reciprocal social/support networks are how you start to build the good life for yourself (whatever that means to you).

    6) Take advantage of programs like Community Service Learning or Co-ops.

    7) Work part-time if/when you can and save as much money as you can. But treat yourself frequently too. Take any and all money available to you that does not come with any strings (scholarships, grants, loans, research jobs, gifts from parents/relatives/friends/sugarz). Don’t take money that comes with strings you can’t/would rather not live with.

    8) Check out the student services and use your student health benefits. If you’re volunteering on campus, it’ll probably help you get a sense of what’s available to you. If not, just poke around on websites or stop by various offices. Most of them are free and if you can’t find the right fit, they’re usually really good at making referrals. Relatedly…

    9) If you experience violence, harassment, or discrimination (or even if you’re not sure but something *just doesn’t feel right*), find out who you can talk to about it confidentially. Most schools have a whole range of things like a human rights office, counselling centre, sexual assault centre/counsellor, student ombuds service (information about your rights as a student), legal aid, etc. They are usually staffed with AMAZING, CARING people who want to help you.

    10) DON’T LET ANYONE PRESSURE YOU INTO DOING SCHOOL/WORK/LIFE IN A PARTICULAR WAY, *especially* if that way would be more demanding or stress-inducing to you. It is YOUR life and YOUR education. If you end up doing some of the things I’ve mentioned, you might get blasted by some people for the unconventionality of it all. SCREW ‘EM. Even if you feel terrified and unsure and not-at-all-confident some of/all the time, try to present as confident and sure of yourself. Practice it ’til you feel it. And…

    11) If something about your experience is sucking (housing, class, job, the school itself, anything) or you are just miserable… CHANGE IT. You are not stuck. Even if you think you’re stuck, you’re probably not and could use some support (see #7).

    Ultimately, don’t think of your time in school as a means to and end or something you just have to grit your teeth through. Treat it like your LIFE, because it is, and do things that are interesting and fulfilling to you. Experience fun and joy and growth.

    • dawnofthenerds said:

      Thank you so much for this. I’m headed into my last year of my Master’s, and I am not far from burning out. I don’t want to take a year off, but this will all be very good to keep in mind as I figure out how to balance school and life. Turns out that pushing and pushing and pushing yourself can bite you in the ass HARD.

  69. Sea-Tides of the Soul said:

    Graduated from a women’s college in Massachusetts this May, here’s my advice:

    –Explore the area around your college or university. It was February 2013 before I walked up the street next to my campus and just kept going. It turned into a several-hour walk and I was not wearing good shoes, but it was a really good way to clear my head out and also see where I’d been living for the past three and a half years.
    –If you join a club your first semester because you’re new and lonely and scared and trying to latch on to something, but that club doesn’t work out for you, try something new! The activities you start in your first week or so don’t have to define the rest of your experience.
    –Talk to your professors. I wish I had done that more.
    –Once you decide on a major, make a rough map for the rest of your time. Not necessarily blocking out “I will take this course then and this course then”, but “okay, to finish the major I need to take x 200-levels and y 300-levels, and I have z semesters to do that in. How many classes do I need to take each semester to finish without pulling all my hair out?” Do this for your minor, too.
    –I definitely agree with the recommendation to take a “what the hell” class every semester. One of those for me was Religion and Science Fiction, and it was awesome.

    Best of luck to everyone going back to school soon!

  70. As an instructor, I’ve got a few pieces of advice, too. I’m going to chime in with a big “what they said” regarding office hours, contacting your instructors if you’re having trouble, etc. Other than that:

    First, I wholeheartedly agree with Anti, above, regarding finding and making use of your campus’s academic resource center. These things go by all kinds of names, but what you’re looking for is a place that works with students on study skills. Quality of resources can vary from school to school, but a good resource center like this is great, and even a mediocre one can be very helpful. If you’re smart enough that high school was easy, you probably don’t have a good feel for how you learn best. Getting that figured out will help you be much more efficient with your time and effort.

    Second, read the syllabus and other associated course documentation. The course documents for the class I’m involved with include some VERY good advice on how to prepare for tests and quizzes, including statements like “If it was in the assigned reading but not discussed in lecture, we won’t test you on it.” The number of students who come to me halfway through the semester for help improving their performance who are studying almost entirely from the textbook always makes me very sad.

    Third, be nice to the staff. They know a lot and can help you out in ways you might not anticipate. This goes triple for department secretaries.

    Fourth, if you’re on work-study, take it seriously. Treat it like a job, because it is. When you’re looking for work after graduation, your work-study supervisor(s) can be excellent references.

    Fifth, and this is highly specific for particular circumstances, develop strategies for communicating with people who don’t speak English well. If you’re in the US, going to a major research university, and pursuing one of the STEM fields, you’re going to encounter a lot of grad students and a few professors who have difficulties with spoken English. It’s not particularly fair to undergrads, but it’s true, and it tends to be truest in the big intro courses.

    What kind of strategies to use will vary with the circumstances. A common one is a TA whose written English is fairly good but whose spoken English is less so. This might be a case where it’s better not to go to your TA’s office hours, but to ask questions by email instead. There may be other TAs associated with the course whose English is easier for you to understand. Ask if they mind if you come to their office hours. You don’t have to say why. You can also go to the professor’s office hours.

    If you get stuck with a TA whose spoken and written English are both poor, try to transfer to another section. If you can’t, find some friends who have a more fluent TA to study with. And, as above, try going to other people’s office hours. The professor is likely to be very sympathetic to your predicament. If it’s a course large enough to have a Head TA or lab coordinator, they are also likely to be sympathetic, and can probably give you help and advice.

  71. Okay, has anyone else noticed that learning can be lots more draining than employment? Especially when you don’t take summer off? I figured that as an adult I worked year round so I could do school year round, but the summer term has just been grueling, to the point where I get home from class and collapse into bed until dinner. Now partially it’s because I took an eight am class as a night owl and never once felt adjusted to the schedule, but partially it’s just hard to keep the momentum going, especially as a high academic achiever. Am I weak and pathetic or is this a thing?

    • M Dubz said:

      You are not weak and pathetic. I think I find both full-time work and academic work about equally grueling. The one summer that I didn’t take off from classes, I wasn’t working, so I was able to focus much more on doing things that made me happy, like dance classes and exploring the area I went to school, and it ended up being slightly less stressful than a semester of college.

    • Laboratory Unicorn said:

      You are definitely not weak for doing that! It is also tiring, and it’s something that gets overlooked often. Remember to give yourself some self care and a break from it all. I know you feel as an older student you should have a handle on this but it is a different routine.

    • Summer classes where I am are more intensive than the rest of the year, and now that I’m into the fall semester, my life feels EASY. (They cram the regular 15-16 weeks of a semester into 10. This is significant.)

      Also, doing work that you know how to do is easier on your brain than learning things you don’t already know. Learning things is exhausting.

      So: It’s a thing. Definitely. I live for the breaks.

  72. Emmych said:

    If you suddenly start feeling like a big bag of ass and super depressed/anxious, GO TO THE FUCKING DOCTOR. Some mental health issues like to jump out on you when you’re in a period of transition, and university is a huge fucking change in your wee life.

    Take care of your mental health, lest you end up like college drop out Emmych! (I’m going back, though. I just missed out on a year or two of living and lost a shit tonne of money by not staying on top of my health.)

    • Zillah said:

      Agreed! Also, there are a lot of chronic mental illnesses that tend to rear their heads when you’re in your late teens and early twenties, and it’s always best to take them seriously and head them off before they really push you to the breaking point. It’s totally possible to come back from that – I’ve had friends who finished their degrees after being hospitalized – but it does make things tougher.

      • Amy Pond said:

        And if you do have aproblem because of depression or other mental illness, and need help with it, don’t be ashamed/think no one will help you/try to tough it out. Most universities have systems in place to help people who have disabilities or mental illnesses, like procedures for extensions and student services departments and stuff. And most good lecturers, if you talk to them honestly about how you need help with a thing because of reason X, will help negotiate some sort of response to that where they can. Part of the reason I failed my first year of college my first year out of school (among other factors) was that I didn’t want special treatment and thought I wouldn’t get it anyway, when in fact there was a support system designed for people with the problems I was having.

  73. Alex said:

    Any advice for folks doing part time undergrad? I left school years back, I work full time now, and I am starting night school to finish my degree (oh wow, it’s really soon now). My fear is mostly around the balancing act this will require, and I am hoping for any strategies or encouragement!

    • Ophen said:

      I did night school for a while (mostly didn’t have a job though). It was there to get a teaching degree, somewhere in Europe. Some tips:

      – Most people will be in the same situation. This is an advantage. Teachers know this and will adjust the program accordingly. By teaching in a different style (because people in their 20’s/30’s/40’s have different experiences than 18 year olds) and sometimes testing differently or giving extra information about what was important. They really want you to get your degree and understand you have other obligations. I think the advice giving before in this thread is good: ask them for help, if/when you need it.
      – Other students are also balancing and very, very willing to cooperate. Getting the textbook and dividing it in parts and everyone will summarize a part. Or giving you their summary. Or sharing notes. That kind of stuff. I also found the strange times we were in class together (drama from 8:30 to 10 p.m. anyone?) made us bond. We weren’t friends, but we gave each other pep talks and vented at each other. (I guess if I had finished, I would have made friends.)
      – Talking of friends: the library is your friend! I spent quite some time there and it helped to really set aside time to study. When I was in the library my brain just knew I had to focus and I got so much more done then.
      – Quit your perfectionism. Hand in something, even if it is not finished. Not going for an A, but just passing the class.

      I hope this is helpful. And good luck! It might be hard, but I always think who try part-time study are so motivated and most of them get where they want to be, in the end. Go for it!

  74. M Dubz said:

    Class of 2010. Here are my thoughts:

    – Take at least one class that has nothing to do with your intended major, preferably freshman year. It’s how I ended up switching to the major I ended up with.

    – Read. Read the articles and books and take notes on them. But don’t read everything. There is absolutely no need to read everything.

    – Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself. Try out a new club, a new hobby, traveling, becoming religious, discovering atheism, dumping all of your freshman year friends. Whatever you need, don’t be afraid to do it. This is your time to be a little bit selfish with discovering who you are.

    – Do your best to get out of the college environment and have other adventures. College doesn’t last forever; part of the purpose is to help you grow into who you are going to be as an adult and build resilience. If you can afford to study abroad, you should. If that is not the right choice for you, maybe try taking a summer job or volunteer opportunity in another city. I did both, and the sense of freedom was amazing and helped me to feel like living on my own after college was NBD.

    – If you have no interest in drinking, be proud and don’t worry about it. If you are going to drink, start slow and figure out what your tolerance is. Don’t drink until you are about to pass out or puke on your friends.

    – Don’t be afraid to sleep with lots of people. But don’t do that if you don’t want to. Hold out for exactly what you want, whether that is lots of hookups or a serious relationship or no relationship at all. And what you want gets to change at different points in your college career.

  75. tinytop said:

    There’s been a lot of advice, but I haven’t seen this particular thing said, so here’s my 2 cents. (I graduated in 2010).

    If it is a thing you are interested in, look into study abroad options at your school. Figure out if it’s feasible, do your research on where you’d like to go and what would be a good fit, and go for it! For me France was an obvious choice– I was a French major, I needed more French Lit courses– but I still had a TON of freedom to decide what city I’d like to go to and so forth. The program I did treated tuition and scholarships identically to my own school, so the financial impact was nil, and I got to live in France for a semester. They were some of the best months of my life, though of course moving abroad is a little nerve-wracking too. It was an incredible opportunity, and if you’re travel-inclined, at least check out your options. I especially recommend it for language majors, but you can go abroad no matter what you study. My college had a wonderfully helpful study abroad office with huge amounts of material and options, and they were also able to help walk me through the labyrinth of visa paperwork.

  76. foolsgame said:

    Academic Skills Advisor at an Australian Uni, here.
    Time management: within the first week of semester, you should have all the information you need to figure out what the next twenty-odd weeks will be like. Sit down with your planner – get a planner – and spend an afternoon putting yourself together a schedule of when stuff is due, how big your assessment pieces are, etc. Figure out what’s expected of you. There’ll points during the semester when you will likely have multiple things due within a few days; this shouldn’t be a surprise, and you can plan for it.
    Resources: Head to your student centre! Figure out where counsellors, disability, student advisors, careers, etc all are. Take a library tour – libraries can have insane and incredibly useful amount of resources. You can borrow not just books but DVDs/CDs, audiobooks, video cameras, laptops, all sorts of stuff, and librarians are magic. MAGIC.
    Learnings: Show up to your classes and take notes. Note-taking – writing information down in your own words – is one the best and surest ways of making the information stick in your head. Put aside some time once a week to go over and organise your notes. Do the readings – you’l need to have that information in your brain for writing your assignments later. Learn to skim-read, to look for keywords to read the first and last sentence of a paragraph to get the gist.
    Writing assignments: Write drafts of stuff and run them by the people that are there to have assignments run by them. Learn how to use endnote or refworks. Learn how academic structure works; how humans read and process information in certain predicatable ways; how teachers who have to read a hundred and fifty assignments on the same topic will be so grateful they could cry for an essay or paper which is logically, coherently structured.
    I’ve got more, but I think that’s probably enough from me today. :)

    • Keith said:

      Very good points except, especially for people new to college/university, doing the plan in the first week might be a bit overwhelming. I would suggest staging it: in the first week, work out the next couple of weeks; by two weeks, know the next month; by the end of the month, know the semester.

      • foolsgame said:

        Yes, absolutely! I just find a general overview of the semester is a great thing to work out ASAP – so you can see at a glance that you have 3 major things due in week six, but a big chunk of low-stress time right after. Not the nitty-gritty, but a big picture.

  77. Just Plain Neddy said:

    Nonacademic uni employee here. Main thing: ask for help, extensions, etc as early as you can (ie not on the day an assignment is due) and be honest about why you need them. It’s better to admit that you’re just plain stressed out and struggling than to make up some crap about your aunt being sick. (If your aunt IS sick, then be honest about that, too, but people who work at universities get good at spotting bullshit excuses). Academics in particular are a strange and disparate bunch, but they have something in common: they’re intelligent people. When dealing with a professor about the worst thing you can possibly do is to insult his or her intelligence. They want you to succeed and will often cut you a lot of slack if you’re honest about why things are going badly. But if you’re obviously talking crap you give the impression that you think they’re stupid enough to believe you. Yeah… That tends to go down badly.

  78. Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

    UK-based member of student support staff here. A few thoughts, in no particular order.

    You do not have to drink to excess, or drink at all, if you don’t want to. Students often feel pressured to drink, especially during freshers’ week – sometimes this is overt, but just often it’s this weird situation where new students feel like everyone expects them to drink loads, so they do, so everyone is drinking loads, so they feel like everyone expects them to drink loads… and so on. It’s fine not to want to be part of that, and to say so, but if you really don’t feel confident saying so then there are lots of strategies you can use to manage the situation – like drinking mixers (people will assume they have shots in them), or the old “I’m gutted, I’m on medication at the moment that means I’m can’t drink”. (If, on the other hand, you do want to drink loads, please give yourself at least one night off in freshers, OK? Please?)

    Register with a local GP when you get to uni (or before, if you can). Do not wait until you are ill. You do not want to do paperwork when you are ill. Also, stock up on a basic medicine cabinet of upset stomach remedies, hangover cures, and so on; and keep handy a supply of whatever it is you like to eat when you’re ill. You will not want to go and get these things when you are ill, and your mum (or whomever you lived with before uni) will not be there to bring you them. And in terms of the likelihood of that illness-getting, remember that you’re stepping into an environment where people from around the world are bringing together new and interesting germs your immune system has never encountered before… Freshers’ flu is pretty much going to happen. Oh, and you might want to discuss your immunisations with your GP before you go – find out what you have and haven’t had, and consider whether you want to get any shots you aren’t up to date on. It’s not uncommon for illnesses like, say, mumps, to do the rounds at uni.

    It is completely and absolutely normal for the first term to be a massive, massive rollercoaster, due to homesickness. You may, at times, feel absolutely horrible. You may feel as though everyone else is having a great time, and you’re the only one crying in your room. (You aren’t; and someone somewhere will be looking at you and think ‘I wish I was having as good a time as him/her…’ just like you do about them.) The cure for this, generally, is time; supplemented by getting involved in things. Try not to fall into the trap of feeling that if you change something, you’ll feel better – sometimes making a change will be a positive thing, but I often come across students who, only a couple of weeks after arriving, want to move room/change their course/do some other drastic thing, because they think that will make them stop feeling the way they’re feeling. Weigh up your motivations carefully before committing to anything.

    You are not normal. OK, that’s a bit harsh – but what I mean is, at uni you’ll be coming into contact with loads of other people’s lifestyles for the first time, in much closer focus than you ever have before. Every aspect of what’s normal for them will be strange to you – what they consider acceptable breakfast foods, the way they order their things in kitchen cupboards, the timing and frequency of their household cleaning, their habits and likes and dislikes – everything. In my experience, the most intractable and long-running flatmate arguments tend to stem from a clash of two ‘normals’ – often over the pettiest things. (Like, a months-long debate over which way up to put knives in the drainer, once you’ve washed them up. Seriously.) In a setting where everything is new and strange, it can sometimes feel as though people who think your way is the wrong way of washing up a mug, or cooking a piece of chicken, or whatever other activity, are conducting some sort of personal attack on you, your family, and your entire life. Remember, they probably don’t intend it in that way, and responding to it with that level of seriousness will tend to escalate the conflict way beyond whatever the subject warrants. Be prepared to discuss things, be prepared to compromise, be yourself but remember that you aren’t inherently right just because you’re you, and know when to say “Hang on… we’re arguing about toast. This is silly.”

    Structure and routine are your friends. Try to get into a pattern of eating (actual food, with some sort of fruit/vegetable component), sleeping, working, socialising, and doing some exercise, as soon as you can. This might be a different pattern to the one you had at home, but try not to let it be completely nocturnal; it’ll be a pain in the arse to get stuff done and you’ll end up feeling crappy. Remember also that uni terms can involve a much longer period of sustained effort than you’ve ever had to put in before – school tends to be punctuated by half-term every five minutes, so it can be a shock. Looking after yourself will help you manage that.

    The biggest thing to know about your first weeks at uni is that there will, almost inevitably, be a big clash between the expectations you’ve built up about it (whether consciously or otherwise) and what it’s actually like. When that’s happening and it’s messing with your head, try to take a mental step back from things and recognise that part of why you’re feeling what you’re feeling is because you’d anticipated things going differently. Just note it, and move on. It’s normal, and fine, and will gradually settle down as you adjust. Don’t let it freak you out. (On the other hand, if it’s a good clash – where you were expecting something bad and find out you’re having a great time – then enjoy it!)

    • Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

      Oh – also… if things start to go awry, try not to become an ostrich. One part of my job is essentially to try and track down students who have stopped attending lectures/handing in work/responding to normal means of contact, see what’s gone wrong, get them in touch with sources of help and support, and try to smooth the way for them to get back on track academically. Sometimes people get so overwhelmed with worry about whatever aspect of their life or studies isn’t going well, that they reach the point where they aren’t leaving their room at all, don’t check their university e-mails (because they know they’ll be getting messages from their academic department, and can’t bring themselves to engage with that), stop collecting their mail (ditto), and can get into complicated situations where they don’t feel able to tell friends or family what’s happening, so either avoid them or lie about how things are… all of which ends in that student feeling even worse and less able to cope.

      In my experience, pretty much all these situations are resolveable, even when they’ve gone quite a long way down that road… but, they will eventually reach a point where they can’t be resolved. If you start to feel that way, please go and get some help. Go to your doctor, and see what they can offer; speak to a counsellor; tell a friend; talk to your tutor. It will be tiring and horrible to do, but sitting in your room trying not to think about it, on and on forever, is ten times more tiring and horrible. It can and will get better, but not if no-one knows you need help.

  79. I’m totally late to the game here, and haven’t managed to read even half of the (very helpful) comments, but here goes anyway…

    I’m a junior, transferring from a community college to a giant university. This is my first semester here, and what with dealing with a disability that limits the amount of things I can do (chronic fatigue syndrome), it’s been really hectic and stressful to sort things out.

    Learning that all my organic chemistry exams were from 8:20 to 9:50 at night, when I am often unable to think or concentrate? Wow, that was hard to deal with–I had no idea that you could even have exams at such drastically different times than class time, on days you don’t have class scheduled!

    Everything is (nearly) sorted now, but at one point someone in the (otherwise very helpful) disability office told me that changing the times of exams would “alter the fundamental nature of the course,” and I spent several days envisioning flunking out and ruining my health trying to take the exams.

    I’m currently avoiding studying organic chemistry, which is the exact opposite reaction than my professor probably hoped for when his first lecture consisted of statements such as “if you don’t play the game, the game will play you” and “you will do problems until you puke, and then you will do some more.” I know I’m smart, and I know I can work hard, but when I heard things like that I start to doubt that I’ll have enough energy to actually do all the work I need to do to succeed in such a time-consuming and difficult course.

    It’s really helpful to read what other people dealing with disabilities (of whatever nature) go through, so I’m definitely going to read the rest of this comment thread when I get a chance. It’s just sometimes so disheartening to see the majority of students who are able-bodied… not that I begrudge them that! I’ve just found that being here at a larger university has thus far reminded me of all the things I can’t do due to my lack of energy/spoons– extracurricular activities, study groups, a full course load, pulling all-nighters to finish assignments, riding my bike to and from class, living alone without my mum driving down regularly to help me out…

    Anyway, I don’t want to end my long rambling on a depressing note! This may be terrifying, and maybe it will turn out to be too much for me to handle, but it’s also exciting. Or so I tell myself. :D

  80. I graduated in 2010 and spent the last three years farting around substitute teaching and picking up courses piecemeal to get a teaching license – I got a job first, but I’m sure that was pure luck. The most important advice I have is this: have a backup plan! Figure out the ways you can turn the fascinating intellectual subject you are studying into things people will pay you money for, and then find out what courses you need to do that and then take them.

    My “plan” for college was, “Eh, it’ll work itself out eventually, it always has.” This plan morphed into “I’ll just go to grad school in my second major and then get a doctorate and then teach at some mythical college that has professorships available for people in my field from schools that aren’t Harvard;” this plan fell apart when I got the rejection letters. I didn’t take the classes I needed for public school teaching for reasons which made a lot of sense (too much of X for one year, small department, schedule conflicts with my other major, this major had two paths and I felt more comfortable with the one that’s teachable) but put me at a huge disadvantage when it came time to find a job. One school system sent me an email flatly saying “we won’t hire you because you don’t have enough credits.”

    Also, if you have a choice of campus jobs, the library is the best place. Mine stayed open for two full weeks without a break during finals, which means it needed someone around for two full weeks to keep out the drunks and students from less accommodating schools. That meant that, yes, I did get paid to write papers and study for finals. I also learned the ins and outs of the library in a way that very few students did, to the point where I could find a book on any topic pretty much by wandering around in the stacks.

  81. varisha said:

    (Graduated 2011 in STEM from a small liberal arts college) Everyone’s advice to talk to professors in office hours is great. It took me 4 semesters, 1 failed course, and 3 semesters off from school to figure out how to do this in other ways than showing up in the last 3 weeks of the semester crying about how I’d mismanaged everything.

    This may be super obvious to others, but what worked for me was to _always_ use the professor’s office hours as a deadline for a first draft of the homework. That way, I always had questions or a jumping off point. I chronically leave things to the last minute, but even a couple of hours was enough time attempt a few questions and find at least one thing to ask about.

    It turned out that this is how almost all of the successful students in my math or computer science classes were working, and it was a key factor in my turnaround when I went back to school. It’s not showing weakness to not know the answers just from the lectures. In my experience, professors were in fact more likely to be impressed with my intelligence when working on the problems with me than to think I was an idiot for not understanding.

    Another thing I’d suggest is seeking out classes that require presentations in front of the class. This is a skill that can be learned through practice, and I have found it useful in many situations in the working world and when applying for jobs. In a class of peers doing the same thing with supportive teachers/advisors was the best environment for me to do this.

    • Helix_Luco said:

      can you expand on this a little? “build relationships with professors” is included in most of these comments but it seems like a lot of the advice here isn’t for STEM classes.

  82. Ophen said:

    First off all, I am not from the US, but a European country where things work a bit different at universities (someone I know really well did study in the US, so I can compare pretty well). To name a few differences: no campuses, less demanding, significantly cheaper, more people that take way longer than the norm to get their degree.

    I studied before, but due to mental health problems and general bad life dropped out a few times. Last years spent being hospitalized to tackle my MH problems, also ended my dysfunctional relation, arranged a house and got my life more on rails in general.

    And now I will start again next week. New major, finally what I always wanted to do. But I am scared from the tip of my toes to the last cell in my brain. Part of it is not having finances figured out quite yet, past of it is having this struggle with my mom about my new independent position I take, part of it is finishing all administrative things last friday (so everything is quite fuzzy when it comes to time tables and such), part of it is being almost a decade older than most freshmen, part of it is being in transition, but the most part is the fear to fail.

    I am so scared to fail again. To get a new depression (they tend to be pretty severe for me) and to drop out again. With more debts and no idea what I should do, because my dream failed.

    I don’t know what I would like to hear exactly. Maybe some experiences from people who succeeded who recognise anything from what I said? And maybe someone can give me some advice about any of the above mentioned?

    • Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

      I think my big piece of advice would be to get your support system in place *before* you need it, because if you do need it you really won’t want to have to get it sorted then. Hopefully everything will be OK and you won’t find yourself experiencing another period of depression, but if this has been a pattern for you in the past, then I can understand why you’d be concerned about it happening again.

      Because you’ve had real struggles with your mental health before, though, you do know a lot about what’s happening if you start to feel depressed, and about helps you and what doesn’t. Are there certain things that happen when you’re beginning to experience a period of depression? Be alert to those things. Are there types of help that have worked well in the past? Know how you can access them at your university, and perhaps have some introductory contact now, while you’re feeling well, so that if you need to access them during your studies they’ll be familiar with your situation. Living with any sort of potentially-recurring health condition, whether mental or physical, becomes more manageable the more you can put strategies in place to get through times when you feel unwell. It sounds from your post as though you’re viewing it as ‘get depressed > it will be really bad > I will drop out/fail’, which is a scary thing to have in your head. But, does it sound as scary if you can put things in place so the sequence goes more like ‘realise I am beginning to experience a period of depression > do [positive thing that helps me feel better] and access [service able to assist me] > if depression is impacting on my studies, enact [university procedure for dealing with medical situations]‘?

    • Keith said:

      Little steps. As a teacher, I’ve had people terrified of exams. I say: Forget the exam and focus on this week and the next assignment/assessment.

      It’s like running a marathon: if you think I’ve got to run 20 km, you’ll never set off. Instead, you think, I’ve just got to go the next 100 m.

      Writing my PhD thesis, I didn’t start by thinking about the thesis; just the next chapter. And then, I’ve just go to do the Introduction. And then, I’ve just got to do a draft of the Introduction. And so on.

    • To the extent that you can, be kind to yourself. If it’s possible to take a lighter course load, that can help. Talk to your professors early and explain as much as you feel comfortable explaining.

      I left undergrad twice due to major depression. Groovy Biscuit Intervention’s advice to get a support system in place early is golden. At one point, when things were starting to get bad for me, I asked three people to each take two days a week to check in on me and make sure I was eating, sleeping, and going to my classes. (The people in question were a close friend, a relative, and a priest. YMMV.) That way I didn’t feel like I was leaning too hard on any one person, which was really important for me.

      I hope things go well for you.

  83. Maddi/Mattie said:

    I’m a lurker who’s been reading this as my main advice column for about a year now, and I’m going off for my second year of college in about a week. I’m an adult but not of drinking age, AFAB and gender-questioning, and from the US, attending a single-sex college (I’d rather call it that than “all-girl” because I suspect the admissions policy is pretty exclusionary toward trans women, which sucks, and we have students who are AFAB but don’t ID as “women”) in the northeastern US.

    Basically, I’m autistic, and have dysthymic depression and anxiety issues (the autism and depression have diagnoses, the anxiety is self-dx’ed and probably related to the depression and my social issues). I’m not on medication right now for a lot of reasons, some probably more rational than others, but it’s not something I’m willing to reconsider at the moment.I’m looking to pursue a major in Psychology and a minor in English.

    I was able to get through last year with (in all modesty) a really good GPA, a lot of my Gen Eds completed, and some very positive experiences. It’s been way better than high school; my depression has actually gotten markedly better since graduating there and coming here. If the only thing I needed to do in college was make good grades, I’d be set. There were times when it was really difficult to get up and go to classes, especially psych classes because there was a fair amount of gender essentialism, cissexism, and especially ableism in some of the curriculum.

    I think I won’t have much trouble with that side of the psych field when I’m working in it, as opposed to studying it, and I think it’ll also help when I can specialize more within the field. But I hear stories from other autistic and/or disabled people I know who talk about trying to go into the psych field and burning out because of the ableism, and when I couple that with the issues I’ve already had, I wonder if psych is a bad major choice for me. I really like it on the whole, although I’d probably be an English major in an ideal world. The only thing I’d want to do with an English major is write, and a counseling job would help people (especially other autistic/disabled people – they would be able to talk to someone who has a perspective closer to theirs) AND be a day job, so I could write in my free time.

    This is really rambling, sorry. Basically, I guess my anxieties right now center around being wrong about my major, about affording grad school after I graduate, about ever managing to get ANY paying job, let alone one in either of my chosen fields, and about ever living on my own (have I mentioned I also need to get health insurance so I can pay for my diabetic supplies?). I have no doubt that depression/anxiety is making this look more desperate than it is (after all, some of this doesn’t become a problem for a few more years), but I’m literally the only one of my friends without a regular employment history, and getting a job (or not getting one) is really weighing on my mind right now. I’m also worried about getting internships and getting involved on campus and all the other things you have to do to impress grad schools. When I’m at college, I don’t tend to have the energy for much except studying and one really low-key school club (literally all we do is screen sci-fi/fantasy movies one night a week). I can’t see myself being as well-rounded as I think I’d probably need to be for grad school.

    So I guess that’s my list of anxieties; if anyone has any advice, except maybe”take it as it comes” (that’s good advice, it’s just what I’m already trying to do), that’s super-welcome because people on this blog have great ideas…sorry for the giant comment, and I hope I didn’t psyche out anyone who’s going off to college for the first time! I promise it’s a lot better than I’m making it sound!

    • Rachel said:

      I’m a fellow single-sex college attendee who want to work as a counselor (and write as well) but gets burnt out on the ableism in my psych classes, so, nice to meet you!

      As far as grad school, one thing I’m thinking about pretty seriously is social work – although no discipline is perfect or uniform, of course, it seems like the field as a whole is more attuned to social justice issues so there’s hopefully less rampant gender essentialism/ableism/etc, and the fact that a two year, terminal degree, at least in my area, let’s you apply for a license to practice as a counselor makes grad school seem significantly more doable. Anyone in the social work/psych/counseling field want to weigh in?

      “Take it as it comes” is good advice but one that I, at least, as someone with anxiety issues, sometimes have trouble holding too. Talking to career services in your school might be a good idea to figure out what kinds of graduate school might be suited to your tentative goals, and whether or not you need an undergraduate degree in psychology to apply to them. If not, maybe it would be better to be an English major, the way you want to be, and keep the psych classes to a minimum? I try to balance out every psych class I take with English and humanities classes where social justice stuff is talked about in more nuanced, inclusive ways – my school has a disability studies institute, and those classes are a great corrective to the ableism in the psych classes! Arranging my schedule with an eye to what the particular classes are going to do to my mental health (“okay, so I have abnormal psych in these two days, but I have a break so I can cool down, and then I have Greek drama at the end of the day which will clear my head of the upsetting things in psych”) has been really meaningful for me.

      It sounds like you’re really working through a lot right now, and doing some hard work in figuring out what you want, so good job, really! Managing disabilities and college and these kinds of questions about the future isn’t easy, and I think it’s a really wonderful accomplishment that you did so well last year.

      • Maddi/Mattie said:

        Thanks! I’m sort of disinclined to change my major/minor plans unless it gets a lot harder to deal with psych than it currently is, and I also have some pretty big reservations about becoming a social worker, because I don’t think I can take that level of intensity/dark or harsh stuff to deal with on a daily basis. I do plan to get a Master’s in psych rather than a PhD, at least at first, though, and talking to career planning services at college about what grad schools would be best seems like an especially helpful idea. Thanks for responding!

  84. DFTBAwkward said:

    This is super basic but was vital for me. Most classes have some sort of attendance policy where if you miss x number of classes, your grade gets docked. You will probably skip class some (it’s ok, everyone does). But to make sure you protect your grade, KNOW WHICH CLASSES YOU’VE SKIPPED. Find somewhere to write it all out–a phone memo, post it on your desk, in the back of your planner, a dry erase board, wherever, how many times you can miss each class without penalty and then keep a tally when you miss a day so you know where you stand.

    • Maddi/Mattie said:

      Good idea.

  85. Tori said:

    First off, I’m new to this site, so hello! Secondly, by way of introduction, I’m returning to college for my final year after taking a year off for mental health, and my sister is entering college nearby. So I’m about half-awake, but I have a lot to say about this, so here you go!

    First there’s the little things, like how no one’s really themselves on move-in day (and therefore don’t make immediate assumptions about your roommates, good or bad), how you’ll never really be prepared for how you use your room until your in it (true for ANY new living space), how I cannot possibly understate the value of eating properly and taking care of such essential health stuff, etc. But if I could just give one bit of advice, it’d be this:

    You are at college in order to learn about yourself and the world, and to grow as a person. Don’t forget that.

    A lot of people go into college afraid/stressed that they don’t know what they want, but that’s okay. No one really knows who they’re going to be in a few years, or even a few days. Things will work out.

    What can be even worse is people who are afraid of that uncertainty, so they decide what they want and who they are early on and refuse to change or face the harder questions. I did this, and not only did I delay in figuring out what my real passions were, but I stayed in a long-distance, emotionally abusive relationship I’d gotten into in high school for another three years. There were other reasons for my staying, of course, but a big problem was that I was afraid to upset the stability it gave me– and so I hung onto toxic people like that, including some “friends” I made early in freshman year who I knew weren’t the best for me. But instead of meeting new people or getting to know ones who seemed nice, I stuck with whoever was already there, even if they weren’t good for me. I left campus every other weekend to see a guy who treated me like crap but acted committed. Eventually I gave into my depression and fell apart, and I was too proud to ask for help– and too afraid of having to make major life changes in order to fix the problem– until I got desperate. Both my grades and my social life suffered because I was afraid to really commit myself to the unknown.

    But college literally exists to be a transition, so the unknown is okay! Don’t be afraid, and don’t be stubborn for the sake of being stubborn. Follow what really makes you happy and healthy, and study the things that make you WANT to study. And to figure this out, don’t be afraid to try new things! Remember, you’re likely pouring life savings into this and/or putting yourself deeply into debt, so try to get the most you can out of it.

    And as a side note, don’t beat yourself up if you think you’re not doing “enough”. If you look back later and realize you should have done something more or something different, congratulations, you’ll have made a mistake and learned! Life works out that way.

    Basically, it’s all going to be okay. Every second of your education is a gift. Take advantage of it, and more importantly, take care of yourself and enjoy as much of it as you can!

  86. localfreak said:

    Basic Advice:
    + The freedom to party all night and sleep all day can be intoxicating, but keep it to Fresher’s Week and not before the exams- so many people spend their first year pissed and I promise you, you will not thank yourself later on.

    + If you are someone who grew up on a tight budget, stick to it. If you have never had to budget groceries/washing/rent before ask advice from your student services or at least your friends who do know what they’re doing. Don’t go into your overdraft in the first week and spend the rest of the year mooching off others and eating cut-price baked beans. Also please do remember, it’s not just food and textbooks you need to buy but toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, emergency trips to the dentist etc etc.

    + if you have to do group work in any classes, even if you don’t get on with your group make sure you show up to all meetings (even if nothing gets done in half of them). Half of your classmates won’t bother to do this.

    + Combine friends & studying. It doesn’t matter if your friends do totally different subjects, claim a table in the library/study room as yours and have regular meet up sessions. Friends can also make sure you all take regular breaks and eat together.

    + Washing and ironing. Do it Weekly/bi-weekly. Work out the best time to do it (as a morning person, I always found walking to the laundrette at 6am meant that not only could I leave my washing unattended and not be afraid someone would dump it out ont he floor, but I could have everything washed, dried and ironed before my housemates had got out of bed and then have the rest of the day to relax with friends.

    Things I wish I’d known/done when I started

    + Don’t be afraid to try new societies and then drop out if you don’t like them/can’t keep up the commitments long-term. Even just a term or two of experience will prevent you regretting not having a go.

    + Find your uni career service BEFORE your dissertation year and make use of them, make them work for you too

    + shop around for your textbooks, in first year just buy one or two from each reading list as prep but it’s only when you start you’ll find out which are the texts you are most definitely going to need to own (also your course might change/you might switch modules and then you’ll have shelled out a few hundred on books only to then have to find another student to sell them on to). If your subject is different to this and you DO know before hand cross-reference sites, uni messageboards, noticeboards and places on the wider web- I recently bought a textbook that second hand from amazon was over £30 for £2 off ebay. Also a lot of sellers on amazon marketplace/ebay etc have their own sites where they sell even cheaper- another textbook that would have cost me about £15 on ebay I recognised the seller and went to their homepage and got it for a third of the price.

  87. The one thing I wish I’d known is that the more desirable on-campus jobs (That gallery desk job where you get paid to do homework and look at art! Office assistant for the cool people in the study abroad office!) often only hire first year students. They’re looking for people who they think they can train once and have for the next four years. So if you want that job, APPLY RIGHT AWAY. In the first week if possible while they’re still arranging their student work schedules. Some of the cooler positions aren’t listed on the school’s job site, so ask around! Talk to some of the kids at the coffee shop or library and ask how they were hired.

    If you wait you can still find work–it just might be in the school cafeteria or the post office instead of something easy/interesting (Although you might prefer those! Different strokes different folks).

  88. Sascha said:

    Help Desk Staffer at a large university here. My advice to all students (and instructors!) that will get you far: Be nice to the help desk staff. A little bit of kindness goes a HUGE way for support staff, especially tech support staff. Many, if not most, help desks are not staffed 24/7 with tech experts. Many times they are staffed with student workers and a handful of higher-level employees, maybe a couple of managers.

    We are overworked and underpaid. Higher education IT management is all about developing technology, but not staff. We encounter many students, and instructors, on a daily basis who have consumer mentality and demand immediate assistance, oftentimes for problems that can be resolved by looking it up on your school’s website, or just googling it. We are often met with rudeness, condescension, and an unwillingness to follow instructions. We are not Microsoft or Apple with massive customer support centers – we are usually no more than 15-25 employees trying to help thousands of clients with limited resources.

    Here’s a tip: if you contact help desk prepared with your student ID, a thorough description of your problem, screenshots, etc, you will often jump to the top of the queue. Many of us love to help people. If you are kind and and willing to do your part, we will go out of our way to solve your problem. Rude people and those that don’t follow instructions usually end up at the bottom of the priority list.

    Also, If you ever wonder why we sound like broken records with “have you tried turning it off and on again, ” or clearing your browsing history, is because that works in the majority of cases.

  89. dawnofthenerds said:

    I’m just heading into my last year of my Master’s, but here’s a few things I wish I’d figured out a lot sooner.

    Find a way to balance everything in your life in a way that makes you happy. I didn’t. I overworked myself, joined a bunch of clubs, expected nothing less than straight A’s from myself, and had a bunch of family stuff going on all through university. To a certain extent, I thrive on running around like a chicken with my head cut off, but not when the stakes are high (getting into grad school, illnesses and deaths in the family). I barely made it through this last year because I’m incapable of going easy on myself. Do not be me! Therapy has helped a bunch, but these patterns are really ingrained at this point. I wish I had gotten therapy much sooner.

    A couple of tricks that work well for me are to schedule ‘homework time’ more or less as a 40 hour week, acknowledging that when stuff is due, it will get busier. That way I feel less guilty about resting and doing fun stuff. I also buy a paper calendar, write in all the important dates for assignments, dropping classes, family visits etc, and put all four months of a semester up on my wall at once. It feels a little overwhelming to look at, but it’s really nice to have everything in one spot.

    Also, agendas are your friend, and many student unions (in Canada anyways) hand them out for free, complete with all the holidays and important administrative deadlines.

  90. thecynicalromantic said:

    Class of 2010 so I’m barely still relevant! Here’s my main advices:

    1. IT IS NEVER TOO SOON TO LEARN HOW TO MANAGE YOUR MONEY. If you are taking out student loans, even if your parents are co-signing them or whatever, try to make sure you more or less understand what you are getting into. Try and get a credit card as soon as you can (either through your bank or through your school), stick it in your wallet, and forget about it. If you do decide you want to use the credit rather than a debit card for making purchases (which is safer in some ways), pay it off *in full*, *every month*. Make sure you having a savings account that is a different bank account than your checking account, and that both are in your name and you have full access to them, even if you have one of them “joint” with a parent (only do this if you have trustworthy parents; even then, try to get one of just your own).

    2. Keep your dorm clean. A bunch of kids all living in close quarters is disease-breeding enough without all your stuff also being gross and dirty.

    3. In Northern hemisphere temperate latitudes, at least, the last two or three weeks of fall semester are plague season. You are likely to get sick. Most of the people around you will get sick. Try not to schedule in too much other stuff around your finals because whoever you are trying to schedule with is likely to get sick, and so are you. I would recommend to just take Emergen-C or Airborne or something like that every day starting when you get back from Thanksgiving break, or at least try to remember to eat something with fruit in it now and again, even though it is hole-up-and-order-takeout-at-weird-hours season and you’re out of meal passes at the dining hall.

    I also personally recommend living at least one year off-campus if you’re in a school that has decent off-campus housing options (I think this is probably mostly for urban colleges that will have grown a “student ghetto” in the immediate neighborhood); it’s much less stressful not having to be at the mercy of the dorms kicking you out the second finals are over, and you can fuck around trying to learn how to manage living in an apartment like an adult in the company of a lot of other people who are also just figuring it out for the first time.

  91. Quisty said:

    So despite getting through my BA with flying colours and now doing my MA I have a question about study technique.

    I study history. I read fast. Really fast. Up until I began my MA my study technique was: Read it all. Read it again if you can. Highlight some stuff. Maybe scribble in the margins. Collect your A’s. Feel badass.

    Well, I finally hit the point of Can’t Read Faster. With four classes a semester with each class averaging 1500 pages of reading I’m hitting a wall and I’m struggling with how to deal. Some classes are easier because they use a lot of articles which are easier to skim, summarize and go back to.

    The classes with 4-5 extremely dense books just stupefy me. I can’t digest the material and the information well enough to write well on it at the high level expected of me at the MA level. I still pass. I’ve gotten decent grades, but I want to do better since I’m career-minded about this. I’m having a hard time figuring out how to prioritize reading because it tends to be very chronological. Skipping pieces in the middle has consequences.

    I’m working half-time this semester and studying half-time and trying to read ahead of time but any input, tips, advice etc. would be so very very welcome.

    • Sunset said:

      My advice: Don’t read all of it in detail. Figure out what you want to write on. Identify the sections of the reading that are on that. Focus in on those. Don’t worry about the rest of it.

      • At a certain point in the semester I look at the assignments and what I’m going to write about and focus on those. I’ve had classes with entire sections of the curriculum I barely bothered with, though you really want to brush up on what’s likely to be in the exam for that tactic.

    • Mary said:

      Here are some suggestions – some will work for you and some won’t. It’s OK to experiment and figure out which do work and which don’t. Learning how you learn is a really important part of graduate school, and in my experience it’s the stuff that remains valuable about the experience long after the specifics of F.R.Leavis’s argument have faded.

      – Use reviews. Generally speaking, an academic book review is 70-80% summarising the main arguments and content and then 20-30% the author’s opinion on the book. If you can read 3-4 reviews of a book, you’ll have got three or four people’s opinion of what the book’s main argument is and the contents of the various chapters, and that’ll tell you how much time you want to spend on it.

      – Use introductions. Again, a good book introduction should rehearse the argument and tell you chapter by chapter what’s going on. You are allowed to use this knowledge to help you prioritise what the important bits are.

      – Use chapter conclusions. A good conclusion should summarise the learning and argument contained in that chapter, and again will tell you whether or not you need to read the whole thing.

      (Sometimes you will read have read the reviews/introduction/chapter conclusions and it’ll come up in class and you will go, “Oh, wasn’t there something about that in So-and-so’s book? I can’t remember exactly what, but…” That’s OK. Knowing that knowledge is there and being able to go and find it if you need it is valuable. It doesn’t not-count because you don’t have full and perfect recall.)

      – Follow your nose! Read the stuff you find interesting! In my experience (I have a doctorate and tutored undergraduates during my PhD), a really good seminar is one where the class has covered 100% of the reading, but that doesn’t necessarily have to mean each individual student has. A discussion where everyone has read Core Text, and then Person A also loved Text A and Person B really got on with Author B and Person C skim-read Text A and Author B but got massively into Text C is really good.

      – Conversely, half the trick of graduate studies is not getting too freaked out by those times when it feels like everyone has read X except you (in my case, all those boys from private school with the Classics A-levels referring easily and frequently to classical texts) and noticing those times when you have read X and other people haven’t (the same boys looking baffled and slightly terrified when me and the other girls casually refer to Bronte and Jane Austen, which we all devoured in our teens when the boys were disdaining books by women). People have different knowledge. That’s OK. It isn’t necessarily your job to have absolutely 100% of everything, and starting with the stuff you’re just naturally really interested in is a good way to go.

      – Roughly speaking, ignore anything before 1990 (possibly even 1995, depending on your field) unless it is so important and seminal that you encounter it all over the place and you know more or less what it says anyway, or it is the only article on this particular topic available.

      My field is not your field, and I’m also in a different country, so just to caveat again, these are suggestions only and some of them might be actively bad for you. But you know, try stuff, and you’ll work it out. Part of graduate school is having this insane amount of stuff piled on you so that you learn the process of prioritising and triangulating. It’s a skill.

      Good luck!

    • Mary said:

      Oh, I meant to say under the slightly flippant “ignore before 1990″, try reverse chronological. Read the most recent stuff first, and look at who they cite and how. Then go back to those ones to understand where their argument comes from, and see who they cite. You can build up a picture of the field and the conversations that people are having without starting at the beginning and ploughing through to the present day!

  92. Margaret said:

    This is from a dear academic friend of mine. Most of the time, you don’t need to read a whole dense history monograph unless you are mining secondary research from it. For a seminar, you need to know the thesis, how it is supported, and where it fits in the historiography. No one actually needs you to digest the whole thing at this stage.

    http://northwesthistory.blogspot.com/2010/04/how-to-read-book-in-one-hour.html

    • Anthony said:

      I was going to post a reply, but that linked article says everything I was going to, and more, and better.

    • Quisty said:

      Oh wow, thank you so much! This might actually save my life. I knew people were doing this, just now *how*.

  93. L. said:

    Yo! I’m a third-year undergrad at a UK university, although I hail from a different part of the globe entirely. English is my second language. I have mostly struggled with, and have advice on, time management, perfectionism re: academics and related anxiety.

    THINGS I HAVE LEARNED:
    1) Laundry is great. Laundry is fantastic. Firstly, clean clothes are great, and warm clothes coming out of the drier in the middle of winter EVEN BETTER. I recommend folding them straight away, as fold each piece as you take it it out of the drier. Thag way it doesn’t linger in your room unfolded forever. The second thing I learned thanks to laundry was how to budget time for doing a relaxing thing without feeling like I’m Doing Nothing and Wasting My Time (a perennial worry). My first year in halls I would take time out from working on things, or more often from worrying-because-I’m-not-working-on-things by indulging in guiltless Going to Do The Laundry. Then, because I enjoy reading, I’d allow myself some time to read something not-for-studying or not doing anything much for a couple of hours.

    2) Cooking is a really important skill, but it doesn’t have to be a huge hassle. I am a passable cook, so what works for me is: getting ingredients I know how to use in multiple ways, getting a ton of the stuff I know I like and will be eating, and using that to prepare meals a couple of times a week, keeping leftovers in the fridge. Finding food I’ve left in the fridge during a time I don’t feel like cooking is like A GIFT FROM MY PAST SELF. And for those times I don’t feel like cooking and do not have such gifts, I keep a couple ready meals and frozen stuff. That’s okay, too.

    3) There is ALWAYS time to do the basics. Always. I am a perfectionist and I struggle with time management; inevitably I end up doing a million things around deadlines and feeling like every minute I don’t spend studying is a minute wasted arghhh oh no. It’s not that way. The most calming discovery I’ve made is that there’s always time to do those things you think you don’t have time to do. Yes, there is time to go for a short walk. Yes, there is time to cook yourself some lunch. Yes, there is time to go next door and talk to your friends for an hour or two. Yes, there is time to clean your room and yourself up. All these things actually have helped me to be More Productive (which is a worry of mine), even when it feels like there’s simply not enough time to write 9000 words this weekend or whatever it might be.

    4) If making friends is difficult and stressful for you, as it is/was for me, making an effort is important but worrying is not gonna help. Specially if it seems like Everyone is Doing Thing And You Aren’t. Maybe look into finding friends elsewhere, if you’re not hitting it off with people. For me it was helpful to join a society populated mostly by people 8 to 15 years older than me, because it got me in contact with people who were not doing the clubs-all-weekend thing that everyone else seemed to be into and I wasn’t. Volunteering at a local charity shop was also great because it got me out of the university bubble and made me feel more of a part of my town. FINALLY, no, not everyone is doing Thing, even the people who seem like they are. It has helped me to be sincere about this and what I actually do enjoy.

    5) GO TO YOUR COUNSELLING SERVICE. They’re there for you and they’re really helpful and wonderful and will listen and offer resources. In my case they also helped me out when my Horrible Fear of Missing an Important Deadline came true, by supporting my plea to my academic college of ANXIETY SUCKS, and so does my time management, will you please let me off this once.

    THINGS THAT I WOULD LIKE HELP WITH:

    For me a lot of the struggle is that as an International student I don’t feel like I belong in the same way Home students do. It was very alienating during Fresher´s Week for me to have people bonding over experiences I could not relate to. It continues to be very alienating, since I am in a very British, very white course, to have people talk about their lives, with this idea that others have a similar cultural/national background. LANGUAGE has caused me a lot of anxiety. I feel like I will never be able to speak English well enough, ever. I was gonna write something here about how I have found out that in fact it’s not so bad, but frankly it’s still that bad. My English is good, but something there always feels like a failing, and it’s really stressful when you’re trying to do well in a very writing-based subject. I WOULD WELCOME THOUGHTS/ADVICE ON THIS, particularly from people who are also international students, wherever that might be.

    THIS CONCLUDES my post about my experience and advice re: universities. Idk.

    P.S. Learning how to structure my essays as Introduction, About Three Arguments with Examples and Some Sub-Arguments, Conclusion was probably one of the most important things I ever learned.

    P.P.S. I am pretty good at writing essays and would be happy to help anyone who needs help with this.

  94. ohiofam said:

    I’m an older undergrad – dropped out, back after ten years.

    The process of grad school admissions intimidates/terrifies me greatly, although I know I can muster some very good resources to my side for this.

    Things I can offer that will maybe help – I’m a nontraditional student who’s never lived on campus and I am self-employed, working 25-30 hours/week on average, for some background:

    * My brain can only handle so much before it bogs down. Recognizing when I hit that point and calling it a day saves me a LOT of time compared to trying to slog through. I can go to bed early, watch trashy TV or read trashy books, and feel ready to tackle the world again the next day.

    * I quit cooking for myself last year and mostly eat frozen or no-prep-required foods now, as well as eating out a lot more. This allows me time to relax and makes for more sanity.

    * Counseling department for the WIN. Free and unlimited at my school. I use it.

    * I have a paper planner. When I get the syllabus, I immediately copy the timeline info into my planner and note the chapters I need to read for the upcoming week on the Saturday before. Weekends are for reading the textbooks (as well as work and laundry). EVERYTHING GOES IN THE PLANNER.

    * I don’t do most of the awesome diverse free stuff that’s offered at the school. It’s kind of a bummer to lose out on that, but I don’t have the energy at the end of the day, and I’m okay with that. It’s a good choice for me to make.

    * Every few months I list my responsibilities, my priorities, how I’m spending my time – and then I look at them and see if I can take anything off the time or responsibility list to make that line up with my priorities better. I try to never turn down an invitation to see friends if I can help it.

    * My brain gets a little nuts by the end of each semester. This is normal for me and I’ve learned to expect it and ride with it.

    * I’m in school for a lot of years. This is not a prequel to my real life, THIS IS MY REAL LIFE. If I can’t actually live while I’m putting myself through school, it’s not working for me. So it’s going to take me a little longer, because I’m taking the minimum number of credits to qualify as a full-time student (because financial aid reasons), but two years of living my real life beats the hell out of a year and a half of putting myself through hell and another six months trying to recover.

  95. Moonlit Night said:

    I’ve done two bachelor’s degrees now, and both times I didn’t drink at all. (I hadn’t found any alcohol that didn’t taste terrible.) It was a bad move in the late 1990s and again in the late 2000s — I missed out on most out-of-class social activities and thus stayed on the edges socially or was downright outcast. There’s a huge difference, socially, between one drink and zero, and making new friends is one of the highlights of higher education. Moderate drinking is still way more “one of us” than not drinking at all. So I strongly recommend discovering at least one preferred drink that any bar can make. Convince someone to open their liquor cabinet in exchange for laughing at the strange faces you make, while you keep trying one sip of everything to find what you like.

    • Mary said:

      And students, if you do drink and meet someone who doesn’t drink, IT IS NOT A BIG DEAL. Maybe they’re Muslim, maybe they have an alcoholic in the family, maybe they are on heavy duty medication that they don’t want to tell you about, maybe they just don’t like the taste. The right response is, “Cool. Do you want tea or water or something?” They do not need a twenty minute conversation that goes, “Not EVER? Really? Seriously? Have you tried beer? What about cider? Tia Maria? I bet you’d like that, it’s really sweet. What about WKD? It hardly tastes of alcohol at all! Or rum and coke?”

      Some people don’t drink and don’t want to, and That Is OK. If they’re judging you for drinking, they are the arsehole, but if they just plain don’t drink, don’t be the arsehole.

  96. Mary said:

    Anyone from the UK reading?

    I worked in student services in the UK as a postgraduate student and an employee for about the last ten years, and the most important message we tried to give new first-years at the beginning of each year is:

    If you have a problem, tell us. Tell us tell us tell us tell us tell us. If you are ill or one of your parents is ill or you’re having housing problems or bereaved or you’re breaking up with your partner or anything else that might have an effect on your ability to complete your work on time and to a standard you can be proud of, just let someone know. Even if you think you’ve got it covered and sorted. If someone comes to us after they’ve failed and says, “My dad was actually really ill at the time and I was coping really badly”, there’s so little we can do. On the other hand, if there is a note on your file saying that you came to see the counsellor because your dad was really ill, we can work with that and quite possibly get you a chance to re-sit, re-submit or even for your degree classification to be recalculated. We can do so much if there’s a paperwork trail, but if we don’t have one it’s really, really hard.

    So just drop in and let a tutor or someone in student services know what’s going on, and that you might need it to be taken into consideration later on. Might never need to happen, but if it does, it means we know.

    • Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

      Actually, to add to what you’ve just said – it’s a bit late for this year, but maybe people will read it in future – when you’re applying for accommodation, if there’s something in particular you need for disability or health reasons, say so, and provide some evidence. Do that *before* you get allocated a room. If you tell us from the get-go, we will do our very best to get you into a room that meets your needs. If you wait until you get your accommodation offer to tell us that actually, you’re going to have real and insurmountable problems if you’re sharing a bathroom/not on campus/on the ground floor/not on the ground floor, or whatever the issue may be, it may be very, very difficult (or impossible) to sort that out, because by that time we’ll already have given the rooms that would have met your needs to someone else.

      I know that sometimes new students are reluctant to mention their physical or mental health issues when applying for accommodation, feeling as though they’d rather not overshadow their new university experience with that label. I think people often also always assume that they will be the person who gets allocated whichever accommodation it is that they perceive as the ‘best’, and think there’s little or no chance they’ll get the ‘worst’ halls. In practice, the latter could easily happen. For most people, the ‘worst’ halls will actually probably provide a great experience and the downsides won’t be anything like what they anticipated… but if the issue is more one of “I wouldn’t physically be able to walk up those stairs” or “The exposed brickwork in that building would cause me major problems because of my OCD”, or similar, then please, please, please declare that when you apply, and back it up with e.g. a doctor’s note. If you don’t tell us, we’ve got no way of knowing. If you do, we’ll work with you to help make sure you’re living in a situation that works for you.

      And actually, that train of thought reminds me of something else. I sometimes have to assist students experiencing a period of mental health crisis and a pattern I’ve noticed is of people having come away to university with (completely reasonable and understandable) hopes of a fresh start and an opportunity to leave behind their problems. However, what can sometimes happen instead is that new students find themselves experiencing a massive period of change, without having whatever support network they’ve been used to there for them. I’ve known people end up in very, very difficult situations. I don’t want to sound like the voice of doom – I’m not saying that people shouldn’t embrace the possibility of new beginnings (and in fairness, I have to acknowledge that when I started uni my own mental health improved massively in ways I hadn’t anticipated – my problems genuinely did just go away, at least at that time). But, if you’re experiencing or have recently experienced mental health issues when you start uni, consider getting a new support network in place when you arrive. There will be services available to help you, and looking after yourself matters.

  97. Anonyeleven said:

    A small piece of advice from a recent college graduate: your classes are important, of course, but don’t push activities and extracurriculars off the priority list. I don’t mean because you should have fun — although I really believe you should, in an ideal world, and hope that all of you heading off to/back to college do! — but because stuff like the advertising effort you worked on for the Amnesty International letter campaign is likely to have an effect on your future happiness in a good way. The posters you worked hard on for Food Gatherers — that’s a potential portfolio item and even if it isn’t, it’s something to be proud of you won’t get graded on. Putting genuine effort into things that don’t get grades, and prioritizing them and documenting them in a real way (not like writing down everything you did, but making the time to make stuff you’ll be able to point to and say “I made that!” or “I did this thing (that’s intangible but I can tell a story about it)!” or “I helped people organize that event!”, even when classes feel incredibly stressful, may be very worth your time. People differ, of course. But I wish I had known that. Those are close to real examples: I would have spent more time on the Amnesty International panel event posters I made. I would probably have procrastinated a paper more to make a website for the tiny lit magazine I was on staff of. Stuff like that.

    The class whose grade never got up to where I wanted it my first semester — that was bitterly upsetting to a very sheltered me at the time, but it has had absolutely no effect upon my success in the job market nor has it made my memories of college worse. I wish someone had told me that, but I also know that if I’d known it, I’d have stressed out about it, so the other piece of advice I personally offer is DON’T WORRY too much about extracurricular stuff. If it’s that stressful to go and talk and deal with people, do something else — even do something yourself, create stuff yourself if you like to, and prioritize that — that is also great.

    If this is the kind of thing that is for you, that is.

    Someone earlier in the comments said something about gaining the skills as well as studying what you love — I echo that and add this.

    Also, for those who didn’t like math in high school, or stats, in high school, BUT were curious about it and just didn’t feel good enough — I strongly suggest poking your head into some courses if you can, even if they make you nervous. Not doing more so is something I regret (even though I loved college and my post grad life is a good one and now I teach kids to program!).

  98. Amy said:

    Here’s two things I wish I’d thought of or knew about in college: while it is illegal, why don’t students in a class pool their money, buy ONE textbook and then scan it so all can use it? And two, don’t buy your textbooks if you can get them through the library. If the library doesn’t own them, ask if they have an interlibrary loan department. In our system you cannot place a hold on an item you have checked out but that is not true for ILL. So, in theory, you could cycle through a few ILLs but never be without your text book for class.

    And finally, if the first staff member tells you ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know,’ it never hurts to ask someone else. Our library employees many students who, while wonderful, are not completely versed in all the services we offer. Keep asking.

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