Alright, so you’ve been on campus a few weeks. You know where your classes are. You know where to buy your favorite meals. You’ve got some friends. You’re golden, right? Wrong! It’s time to start thinking about the future a little more broadly and seriously. Ugh, I know. But I’m a junior now and this stuff is real. You’ll thank me later.
1) Talk to your professors in class and visit their office hours
Okay, everyone tells you this advice and I didn’t follow it as a first year student. I get it, you’re in a bunch of general education classes that you were forced to take and you don’t care about the content or the professors. It’s not a situation that’s conducive to you feeling motivated or engaged. But professors are humans, they want to talk to students and honestly? Many of them are prone to bias and if they at least know your name, they’ll be more likely to help you if you ask for it. Less cynically, you might surprise yourself and form a genuine connection with someone.
2) Fix your work habits NOW
I’m fully aware that for some people, my past self included, this one is nearly impossible. I have always been a deeply chronic procrastinator. I read every guide I could find on how to improve my time management skills and nothing ever worked. The only thing that helped me in the end was getting to a point in my life where I was so busy that I literally couldn’t get by day-to-day without prioritizing work. It also helped when I reached the point where I really cared about the work I was doing. You’ll be able to get there too, but not this semester.
I feel like during my first semester I started falling behind but thought to myself, “I can’t fix this, so I’ll just start fresh next semester.” Don’t fall into this line of thinking. You need to do everything you can to make sure that you don’t end this semester with bad grades. Your GPA will be completely based off of your grades this semester and if it’s too low you’re going to be locked out of a lot of opportunities. A screwed-up GPA from your first semester can potentially follow you for years. My GPA is still lower than some of my friends’ whose semesterly GPAs have been similar to mine ever since I got my act together. We are only about ⅓ of the way through the semester, it’s NOT too late to fix your grades. A high first semester GPA can help you as much as a low one can hurt you. Make it a priority.
3) Start committing to clubs
Up until now you’ve probably been shopping around and visiting a lot of clubs that seemed interesting to you at the student organization expo or that your friends made you try. It’s time to figure out which clubs you’d like to keep attending and which ones you’re not going back to. If you haven’t found clubs that really hold your interest, keep looking until you do. It’s much harder to join new clubs as an upperclassman than as a first year student, so take advantage of being young. On the flipside, make sure to keep your club load manageable so that you can sincerely allocate time to each one.
In college, clubs are way more than just recreational. They have the potential to open a lot of doors for you. When I joined the Pride Alliance at Geneseo, I had no idea that I would one day be its president, nor did I know that it would put me on a path to having two internships and an academic minor. That’s not even considering all the friends (and girlfriend!) that I’ve met along the way. If you play your cards right, your clubs will be one of the most rewarding parts of your college experience.
4) Keep your friend situation under control
You may be getting to the point in the semester where you’re drifting apart from your “survival” friends and forming connections with people whose friendship you can foresee will be a little bit more long-term. That’s great! Friendship is wonderful. In high school, I didn’t have many close friends, so when I started making really good friends at Geneseo, I was ecstatic. There’s nowhere easier than college to spend a TON of time with your friends, which is great in a lot of ways. That being said, I know that personally I fell into the trap of making friendship too much of a priority. Remember what I said above about fixing your work habits? It’s okay to say “no” or “let’s do it later” or “I can’t go to that” to your friends. They’ll be there when you’re done with your time-sensitive work. This is a hard pill to swallow if you’ve never had such good friends before, but it’s true. You’ll be a happier, more present friend to them if you’re not failing all of your classes anyway.
5) Watch that meal plan
Whether you tend to spend a lot on food or not very much, try and check your balance at least once every couple of weeks throughout the semester to make sure you’re on track. It’s possible you’ll need to add funds as finals draw near and you don’t want to surprise yourself/your parents/whoever is funding your education with that expense. It’s helpful to really examine what you’re ordering and see if you can sub anything out of that salad, sandwich or burger to reduce the price. It’s also possible you’ll end up with a ton of extra money, in which case you should spend it on me. Me specifically. Buy me food.
No but for real, it’s not fun trying to spend $400 during the last week of the semester. Everyone else is doing the same thing and so the dining halls sell out of everything good. Either start spending more on your meals (Starbucks helps), start stocking up on non-perishable foods you really like or just buy a lot of non-perishables to donate. The school runs food drives at the end of each semester to help people like you who didn’t want to buy me food. No hard feelings though. I guess.
6) Visit the upperclassmen residence halls
I’m gonna be real with you, some of the residence halls on this campus are nice and some of them are nightmares. I’m not gonna name names, but just tour around and make your own judgements. When it comes time to decide where you’re going to live next year you’ll feel less stressed if you already know which halls you’re interested in. You can ask your RAs and upperclassmen friends for their opinions as well.
7) Remember where you came from
If you’re anything like me your college experience has been worlds better than your high school one. If it hasn’t been for you, I’m sorry. If you’re truly unhappy, transferring to somewhere that will fit you better is an option that you should sincerely consider.
If you’re happy here, that’s amazing! I have loved being at Geneseo for the last two years. However, you should know that the longer you spend here, the more you’ll be able to see underneath the surface. You will gradually become aware of all of the disfunction and deficiency that exists campus-wide in every organization, department and program. No campus is perfect, or even close to perfect. It’s a good thing to be critical and demand change. It’s good to disagree with the administration and feel a sense of injustice when things go wrong. We should recognize the shortcomings of this college and strive to improve it. With all of that said, I hope you will not become cynical and jaded. I hope you will not stop recognizing the good along with the bad.
Over time high school will fade from your memory and cease to be a conscious point of comparison to college. If you’re happier here than you were there, remember how that feels. Cherish each new opportunity and experience. Remember that you are always moving forward. You have a wonderful future to look forward to.