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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UPR chapter.

Ever since I was a kid, I envisioned college as this new world where we would no longer be tied to our homes, and thus have absolute freedom to do anything we wanted. I would finally meet people that understood me. After years of feeling like an outcast, I would go to loads of parties, try various recreational substances, and at long last, meet my future partner. Until reality hit.

College has been anything but. Sure, you can do anything you want, but you also have responsibilities to attend to. You can go to parties, but in my experience, “partying” usually means sitting around in a living room while eating chips and drinking beer. You can make friends, but they’re typically just campus friends, and it becomes awkward hanging out with them anywhere other than campus. Then there are those friends that are only there for a single semester ー i.e. buddies that you meet during a class ーto help each other out and once done, never speak to each other again. Friendships aside, finding a partner that wants to commit to you can be incredibly difficult, at least from my point of view. Basically, college is your free trial at what adulthood looks like; only here, you can’t cancel your subscription. 

When you’re starting out, either as a freshman or a transfer student, you might feel scared. Campus is bigger than your school, there are a lot more students, the hallways are always crowded, everyone’s moving around in a hurry, every student seems to know where they’re going, and you’re the only one holding on to your class schedule while desperately trying to find the right classroom. You might even sit in a classroom and take the wrong class. These mistakes happen quite often, and you’ll have to struggle with the decision of whether to stay the whole hour or leave embarrassingly as the rest of the students stare and chuckle at you on your way out. 

This situation actually happened to me, and I was truly surprised at the outcome. Once I walked into an incorrect classroom, and I stayed.  Although that might have seemed like no big deal, since it’s only the first day of class, it is in fact a huge deal. Unlike high school, where teachers spend the first day discussing the syllabus, professors send the syllabus beforehand and it’s your responsibility to read it over. They will discuss it briefly and then start the class, probably assigning some homework for the next meeting. That’s how I learned the hard way that the first day of class is crucial for kicking off the semester on the right foot. Even if you arrive a few minutes late, just get there while you can. If you end up ditching, going to the next lecture will most likely feel like being thrown into a level 50 boss fight when you’re not even past level 1. 

Another mistake I see most college students make is picking a major that isn’t quite right for them. All students have different reasons for choosing a specific major, whether it is because you chose it on a whim or because your parents wanted you to major in it. Let me tell you, it’s seriously way more beneficial to study something you’re actually passionate about, than waste your college years being miserable because you’re doing something you don’t want to do. Don’t waste your energy in worrying about what other people think ー this is your future we’re talking about, not theirs.  

There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to courses ー from their selection to organizing the class schedule. Just because you took 7 different classes in high school doesn’t mean it’ll be as doable to enroll in the same amount of college courses. When it comes to registration, depending on when your slot is, the class could be full or given at a time that doesn’t exactly fit in with the rest of your schedule. That’s happened to me before; where I managed to find a course at the exact time I wanted it, but the only available slot for the next one was about 5 hours later, whereas I would prefer it back-to-back. Sure, having a bit of space in-between your classes is great so you have some time to recharge and study for the next one, but what will you do during a 5-hour gap, when the rest of your friends are in class? In my experience, waiting such long periods in between classes ends draining me, considering I get bored during this time frame. Once the time was up and the next class would finally begin, I just didn’t even want to go anymore. Since then, I have been extra wary to pick back-to-back classes in order to stay focused. 

Now, how many courses to take? Sure, taking on more credits may help you graduate sooner, but enrolling in too many classes at once can also take a toll on your body. In my experience, taking 4 courses a semester has proven relatively manageable. Depending on how you distribute them, you can also have a 4-day weekend. I’ve managed to have 4 days off due to how I distributed them, but remember, the more courses you take on the same day, the higher the probability that you’ll have exams, group presentations and assignments due on the same day. You can talk to your professors about your predicament of having multiple exams on the same day, and they’ll most likely provide you with an alternate date to take the exam, or they’ll change the date for the class altogether. 

When it comes to a course selection in your major, you can always email the professor offering the course you’re looking into and ask them if they can leave a spot open for you. In my experience, the departments leave spots open for specific courses so students within that major can take it. Also, if your schedule is a mess like I mentioned previously, you can always wait till late registration comes up. At that point, courses may open up due to some students dropping out, so you can always check again to see if the course time slot you wanted is open. 

Now that I mentioned professors, let’s talk about them. Although you might feel shy about participating in class, since you never participated in high school or maybe your professor looks intimidating, you have to set that shyness aside and talk to your professors. You have to give them a reason to remember you, because when it comes down to applying for internships, studying abroad, or applying for grad school, you will need letters of recommendation ーand incredibly positive ones at that. So, getting along with your professors is an absolute must. Although approaching them may be intimidating at first, a lot of professors are very pro-students. Pro tip: never ask a professor for help concerning an exam or assignment that’s due the next day, especially at night. Put yourself in their position: the student has had weeks to ask for their help, but instead they left it all for last minute? Also, if they’re contacted after hours, chances are they won’t be awake and, if they are, they will not even reply, they will most likely perceive you as a careless student and will not give you that recommendation letter you so longed for. I suggest you talk to them a week before; it’s likely that they’ll be more than happy to help you if you reach out within a reasonable time frame. 

 When it comes to seeking help with essay-writing, it’s a good idea to visit the writing lab. Your assignments will then be peer reviewed by grad students and maybe even other professors, for free. I can’t count the amount of times I went to the writing lab, and ended up with a lot of helpful feedback for improving my papers.. I think of it as getting a better grade, only for free. Just say thank you and maybe bring them donuts next time you swing by. 

I also suggest you take a look at the attendance policy in your syllabus, because it will specify  the amount of classes you’re allowed to miss before the professor starts deducting points to your final grade and increasing your chances of failing the course.I’m highlighting attendance as a key element to take note of, because at moments in your college life, you’ll inevitably face tough crossroads ー skip a class in order to study for another one, or take the class while feeling underprepared for the next one. The first time I cut class so I could fulfill other academic responsibilities, I felt so irresponsible. Thankfully, due to the class policy, my grade was never affected. 

As for class materials, it’s always worth a shot to check if there are free PDF versions of your required textbooks available online. Technology-wise, most professors don’t mind their students bringing their laptops or cellphones.  However, when in doubt, you can always just ask them directly.

Before graduating, I can’t stress this enough: get an internship or study abroad. Internships are a great way of gaining experience in your field while also getting paid. Even if the internship has nothing to do with your field of study, it still counts as work experience that you can then add to your resume. Also, student exchange programs and internships abroad will help you expand your horizons and meet all kinds of new people. In the long run, these kinds of experiences have the potential to turn into unforgettable memories. So, make the most out of your college experience, open yourself up to new experiences, come out of your shell, and try everything at least once, so you’ll never look back and wonder about all the what ifs. 

Pierucci Aponte is a graduate student at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus. She is doing her M.A on English Linguistics and has a minor in Communications. When not studying, Pierucci either plays video games or watches movies on Netflix. Although her passion is writing, she hopes to become an educator one day.