Miscellaneous College Tips

From commuting to scheduling and from group projects to parents, there are many other aspects of college you might have to consider.  Here are tips for all the issues that didn’t fit neatly into any other category.


1.) Be a cautious commuter.

* Should you commute?  It depends.
- Commuting to and from school can save thousands and thousands of dollars.  Plus, it can let you stay home with your parents or guardians if you don’t feel ready to be out on your own.  Or you can live somewhere else off-campus if you’d like. 
- But keep in mind that every minute you spend driving to and from school is a minute not spent studying (or having fun).  Having to drive eats up your time, so you should probably live in the dorms if your commute’s forty minutes or more.  After all, that’s eighty or more minutes to and from school every day.
- Also be sure to ask yourself how safe your college and the area around it are.  This is especially important if you plan on taking a number of classes in the evening.  You may not want to be in campus parking lots in the dark.  Ask your college if it has a shuttle service to get you to and from locations on campus safely.

* If you do decide to commute, I’d recommend making a few dry runs to and from the school to make sure you understand the route well.

* How long should you give yourself to commute?  Plenty and plenty of time, that’s for sure.
- Open MapQuest or anything else that gives directions.  Put in your location and your school’s address.  See how long it takes to get there.  Take that amount and add one hour to it. 
- I’m serious: I had a thirty-minute commute, so I always left one hour and thirty minutes before my first class.  Terrible traffic jams never made me late, nor did the one rear-end accident I was in. 
- If anything would make you late, then you’re not leaving soon enough.
- Having plenty of extra time will save you a lot of stress.  You don’t need to be looking at a clock and sweating whenever you hit a red light. 
- Your professors all commute, but they’re on time, so you should be too. 
- Remember that if the professor gives a short quiz at the beginning of class and you’re too late to take it, they might just flunk you on it. 
- Being late to an exam gives you less time to take it.  Some professors may not even let students in late!

* You’ll usually be quite early if you follow my extra-hour rule.  But don’t you worry: you can go to the library to read and study.  You’ll always have plenty to read and study at college.  Of course, you could hang out at other places instead.

* Oh, and sorry, but if there’s a big event going on at your school (especially something sports-related), then leave even earlier.  Parking will be at a premium.

* If there are any roads that are prone to accidents or closures, plot out alternate routes.  And if your usual path has any steep hills or narrow, twisty roads, see if there are any paths that would be safer in severe weather.

* Use mapping programs online to see if there are any good restaurants or stores near your route.  You could stop by those places on the way home to save some time.

- There are often different permits for different parking lots, so make sure your permit is the right one for that lot. 
- Also, some lots are open only at certain times of the day.  Always have this information in your glove compartment, and look it over if you’re ever unsure about the timeframes.  Remember, the campus police love giving tickets. 
- Keep in mind that the permitted parking areas and timeframes may change between semesters, so whenever you get your new permit, ask if there are any new rules. 
- The college may have special rules for parking during big events, especially those related to sports, so be prepared.

* If you have tons of studying to do, here’s one crazy tip for doing it while you drive.  Use a computer to record yourself reading your notes out loud.  Save the file and put it on your music device of choice.  Listen to it while you drive. 
- Since you should be concentrating on your driving, this probably won’t help too much, but it can give a little boost.  The very act of reading notes aloud might help in and of itself.

* But usually, driving is just a chance to relax.  Keep your eyes on the road, stay ready for anything, and enjoy the ride.  Quiet times during your college years are good times.

* Since commuters aren’t forced to be around people in the dorms, meeting others might be more difficult for you.  Remember, you have to put in effort to meet your fellow students and make friends.  Relationships usually don’t appear out of nowhere.

* Schedule your classes carefully. 
- You want to keep your classes close together so that you don’t have too much time between them. 
- If you need a lunch break between your classes, then it’s up to you to give yourself plenty of time for that. 
- Also, don’t schedule more than four classes in a day.  You’ll probably burn yourself out if you do.
- If you have one class early in the day but one much later, keep in mind that commuting back home and then returning to school is a lot of lost time and can be downright exhausting.  Unless absolutely necessary, stay at school from the beginning of your first class to the end of your final class each day.
- For tips on scheduling that apply to everyone, not just commuters, see below.

2.) Schedule your classes wisely.

* When scheduling your classes for next semester, have a clear plan for the exact courses you’ll take and how they’ll bring you closer to your graduation requirements. 

* Make sure you have the right requirements to take each class.  Some classes will only let you in if you’re a major in a certain subject or have taken certain courses already.

* Make sure the classes don’t overlap in terms of time, and make sure you aren’t overloading yourself on certain days.

* In your earlier semesters, focus on getting required courses into your schedule.  If you reach your final semester and a certain required course can’t fit in your schedule or has too many students, you’re doomed to graduate late.  This problem is especially common at smaller colleges. 

* Do not count on your academic advisor to come up with good schedules for you. 
- All of my advisors were useless at best, and I haven’t heard good things from other people at different colleges either. 
- Sometimes, their advice might be downright wrong, so be sure to do some fact-checking for yourself.  For instance, one of my advisors told me that a certain class counted as a fine arts credit, but I learned a few weeks into the course that it didn’t.  Don’t let that happen to you.

* As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, talking to professors about their classes can help you get a good feel for them.  You can also find out if the professor has a thick accent.

* Some people love working in groups.  Others hate it.  If you fall on one end of the spectrum, you might want to find out which classes have lots of group work and which ones don’t.
- Use RateMyProfessors.com, past students you know personally, or the professor themselves to find out.
- Keep this in mind when you’re scheduling.  You probably don’t want to juggle too many group projects in one semester.

* You’re only at college for so long, so if a class sounds interesting or helpful, then take it! 
- For example, if you’re horrible at public speaking, why not change that by taking a public speaking course? 
- Classes can be very helpful for enhancing your strengths and mending your weaknesses.  Consider that whenever you’re scheduling. 
- And don’t run from any useful class that sounds difficult.  Ultimately, learning a certain skill will be far more helpful than a GPA that’s 0.1 higher.  Returning to the previous example, stressing out over public speaking can hurt your job prospects and just plain make life harder for you in the long run.  So while a public speaking course might be difficult, the benefits would probably outweigh the costs.

* Keep practical concerns in mind when scheduling your classes. 
- When are you going to eat every day? 
- What time of day are you most focused, and is that time of day best spent studying alone or taking a class? 
- How many classes do you have in a day?  I wouldn’t recommend trying to go over three hours of class time a day, especially since the studying and homework afterwards are even more taxing.
- Some classes will be scheduled to meet on weekends.  Personally, I couldn’t survive without that break, but that’s something to consider as well.
- Needless to say, you should try balancing the difficulty level of each semester.  If you take a bunch of easy classes one semester, you might be stuck taking a bunch of hard classes another semester. 

* Most colleges have a required course on diversity and tolerance. 
- At my college, it was called E Pluribus Unum, which is Latin for, “Out of the many, one.”  It was only worth one credit hour and had almost no real work, but the school offered the chance to get it over with in one weekend.  Although it took up most of a Saturday and a Sunday, getting that class out of the way was helpful.  It freed up my selection of normal, semester-long classes.
- See if there are any courses at your college that can be knocked out in a weekend or two like that.

* Only a certain number of students can be in each class.  So, be sure to have plenty of back-up classes ready in case a class fills up before you can sign up for it.  I had to use my back-ups a number of times.
- At larger colleges, this probably won’t be a huge issue until you get into higher-level classes.  They tend to be offered less often, so they fill up more quickly.

* With your desired schedule and back-up classes in mind, you should sign up for classes the moment you’re allowed to. 
- Most schools do scheduling online and let you know exactly when your sign-up time begins. 
- Most schools allow seniors to schedule first, then juniors, then sophomores, then freshmen.  So the newer you are to college, the more likely it is for people to fill up your classes before you can schedule.  Back-up classes are therefore especially important for freshmen and sophomores.
- If your window of opportunity for scheduling begins in the middle of a class, then ask your professor in advance if it would be okay to take a quick break to register on your laptop.  They should understand that scheduling is very important to a student.
- If the professor doesn’t understand, then you might need to consider leaving the class temporarily, leaving it early, or skipping it altogether if there are classes you absolutely need to take next semester.  How likely the classes are to fill up fast may also influence your decisions.
- You might want to ask a professor who teaches a certain class how quickly it fills up during the scheduling rush.
- If you try to take a higher-level course earlier than usual, don’t be surprised if it fills up quickly.  Lots of students who have been at college longer than you have will be taking the course.

* Failing to get into a required course on time could jeopardize your chances of graduating when you’re supposed to.  If this happens to you, explain the situation to the professor and see if they’ll let you into the class even if it’s full.  At the very least, they should say they’ll notify you if a student decides not to take the class after all.
- The professor will be most likely to pity you if it’s a high-level class you couldn’t schedule yourself into.  If you put off taking a low-level class, then they might not be so sympathetic.

* There are some people who will tell you that you might as well plan on graduating in five years since that’s so common nowadays.  Don’t listen to them.  If you schedule wisely and don’t drop more than a class or two, you can usually get out on time.  My college got 70% of its students out in four years.
- This can be difficult for certain majors, though.  In particular, I’ve heard pre-med majors have a tough time wrapping things up in four years.
- An extra year of college is costly.  You’re paying money for that extra year, and you’re not making the money you could have if you had graduated on time and gotten a job.  So don’t let it happen to you.  College is ludicrously expensive as is.

3.) Here are some other tips for surviving college.

* Contact your parents or guardians on a regular basis. 
- You wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for your parents, so you might as well do them a little favor. 
- Note that phone calls with your voice are far more enjoyable than e-mails, particularly for concerned parents. 
- Before heading out for college, specifically establish how often they want to hear from you.  Avoid using vague terms like “every so often” since those could mean different things to different people.
- As time goes on, they’ll probably be comfortable hearing from you less often.
- Don’t call your parents only when you need them.  They’re people, not tools.  (Don’t worry: I forget that sometimes too.)  They want to chat about the little things too, not just your dilemmas.  Plus, be sure to ask them about how they’re doing, how things back home are, and that sort of thing.  No conversation should be all about you.
- While you should feel free to discuss your problems with your parents, remember that one part of college is developing some independence.  Don’t whine about everything that happens to you.  Try to be open about your concerns, but don’t put unnecessary stress on your parents.
- Try to remain on campus as much as possible.  While homesickness is very common among college students, trying to go home as often as possible might just make you yearn for it even more while you’re on campus.
- Overall, stay close to your parents without clinging to your parents.

* Dropping a class might not lower your GPA, but it means you’ve wasted time and money while reducing your chances of graduating on time.  While it’s sometimes necessary to drop a troublesome class, make sure laziness is never the cause of your retreat.

* Even if you’re taking an easy course just for the credit, remember that you might as well learn something from it.  I’ve learned lots of interesting trivia and helpful facts from my side classes, especially psychology-related ones.  You might be surprised what interests you.

* If you’re stuck with a lazy group for a certain project, remember that your grade will live on longer than anything else. 
- It’s better to take the brunt of the work and get a good grade than it is to sit around frustrated with slackers and hurt your GPA. 
- On the flip side of things, try to include others in the project when you can.  Just trying to divvy up tasks can go a long way. 
- If you’re stuck with a bossy person, offer to do whatever you can and try to be polite while you give suggestions. 
- Ultimately, always be polite: sometimes, people act lazy, rude, or bossy without knowing it. 
- Oh, and if someone is bringing the whole group down, to the point you’re thinking of kicking them out, confront the person as a group before you notify the professor about it.  You might still be able to work things out, so at least voice your grievances openly but calmly before throwing their fate into the professor’s hands.

* Many people have busy schedules at college, so the “divide and conquer” strategy works well with groups of people who are reliable.  For instance, divvy up the work based on the topics your group needs to tackle.
- Share contact information such as e-mail addresses and phone numbers immediately.

* Keep important phone numbers on your cell phone.  Look up the phone numbers of various college services and nearby places before you need them rather than panic when you need them immediately.
- If the campus police has its own phone number, then put that in your speed dial.  I’d recommend using 9, the first number of 911, so that it’s easy to remember.

* I heard one person claim that bringing a video game console to your dorm is a stupid idea because you’ll never focus.  Personally, I think you should learn how to enjoy your entertainment without it becoming a mere distraction, especially since you’ll definitely need to relieve stress at college.  But I thought I should throw that opinion out there in case you’re prone to video game addiction.

* Melatonin is an OTC sleep supplement that can help you fall asleep and stay asleep if you take it right before bed. 
- Although it’s not cheap, it’s very useful if you’re having trouble sleeping due to various stress factors, such as upcoming tests. 
- Adjusting to college might not be easy, so I’d bring some right off the bat. 
- Unless you’re a chronic insomniac like me, you should only use the pills as needed. 
- Just a milligram or three milligrams should be enough.  Going too high is a terrible idea.
- Versions of it that dissolve under the tongue act the most quickly. 
- Your body naturally produces melatonin, so it’s pretty darn safe to take.  But keep in mind I’m no medical expert, so be sure to consult your doctor before taking it.  I’m in no way legally liable for damage that could be caused by taking this supplement.  This all is my opinion, not binding medical advice.  So please don’t conjure up some excuse to sue me over this.

* Start planning for post-graduation life at least a year in advance. 
- Nobody at the college will force you into the career center or make you decide what to do once you leave.  That’s up to you. 
- Finding out what job you want and how to pursue it can be difficult, so have a solid, detailed strategy in mind.  It’s better to start planning a bit too soon than a bit too late.
- Picking the correct grad school and applying for it can also take a while.
- This advice is much easier said than done, especially when all your classes are providing you lots of work to contend with.  Try to spend some time over your summer vacations planning for the future.

* Wear a watch or have some other discreet way of seeing what time it is so you don’t have to look at the room’s clock in desperation as your professor rambles on.  They don’t want to see you checking your cell phone during class for any reason either.

* Throughout your college years, you will hear many opinions that are different from yours.  These opinions will come from professors, books, and other students. 
- Be open to such opinions, but don’t accept them blindly just because you heard them somewhere academic! 
- Make sure you’re perfectly open to the opposing side as well.  If one professor has an agenda in their class (and many do), you may want to research resources that disagree with them if it’s about a topic you care about.  That way, you’ll get a more balanced perspective.
- Otherwise, don’t be afraid if you find any of your opinions or interests changing: that’s natural.
- I want to warn Christians that, especially in secular colleges, there tends to be a strong bias toward skepticism over traditional faith.  Remember that there are plenty of accessible, well-researched books out there designed to defend the faith if you find yourself up against a one-sided, atheistic agenda.
- The skeptical bias can also be found at so-called Christian universities, so proceed with caution.

* Absolutely never put up with harassment. 
- Nobody should have to contend with others criticizing them for their sexuality, religion, nationality, or anything of that sort. 
- It’s a crime, not just an annoyance, so if the culprit refuses to stop, get the police involved. 
- And of course, never deal out harassment yourself.  If someone’s offended by your crude comments, apologize and stop immediately rather than keep going with the lame excuse, “I’m just kidding.”  That won’t cut it.

* I already shared the following stuff with the commuters, but it applies to anyone who gets to drive at college. 
- Make sure you know the parking rules inside and out.  There are often different permits for different parking lots, so make sure your permit is the right one for that lot. 
- Also, some lots are open only at certain times of the day.  Always have this information in your glove compartment. 
- Keep in mind that the permitted parking times may change each semester, so whenever you get your new permit, ask if there are any new rules with the timeframes. 
- Remember, the campus police love giving tickets. 
- The college may have special rules for parking during big events, especially those related to sports, so be prepared.  Parking will be at a premium during big events.

* If you have a bad professor, you can either whine about it or keep plugging away.  It’s your choice. 
- And remember that someone who’s arrogant or incompetent as a professor might be a nice person in real life—or at least a tolerable one.  You’re only seeing them in one setting.

* Just because a professor is friendly and laid-back in class doesn’t mean they’re an easy grader. 
- For instance, I had an English professor who once let us finger paint and then analyze one another’s work.  But she was brutal while grading papers. 
- And I once had a professor who was super funny, often played video clips related to the subject matter, and often rambled about off-topic crap.  Well, if you didn’t use his study guides, his exams were super tough. 
- So don’t let an easy appearance make you think that a class doesn’t require hard work.

* I had some professors who called on students who weren’t even raising their hands, but rather just making eye contact.  I learned which professors fell under this category and kept my head down as I took notes.  Whenever I looked up, I never eyed them directly.

* This might sound nuts, but be sure to hold on to notes or memos you receive from professors or other authority figures.  You never know when you’ll need them as a reminder or as evidence, especially in cases when they dole out favors like extra time to complete a project.  You don’t want them to claim, “I don’t remember ever telling you that!”

* Use your college’s website to look up the academic schedule and holiday list.  This will let you know what days you have off, what days mid-term grades are issued, when your last chance to drop a class is, and that sort of thing.
- If your college’s website has a student portal, check it once a day for important announcements.

* When I’m writing something, I tend to keep a separate Word document called “Discarded Material” with it.  Rather than delete a huge, unneeded part of my paper, I cut and paste it to this side document.  That way, if I decide to bring any part of it back, it’s still accessible.
- You might want to save old drafts as separate documents as well.  Just make sure they’re clearly labeled as old.  Be sure to print out the newest one when you hand in the paper!

* Speaking of writing, you might want to ask the English department if there’s any certain grammar and style guide it recommends. 
- I, personally, have had wonderful luck with Rules for Writers by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers.  It makes punctuation rules clear, gives useful tips for researching, and helps out with all sorts of different situations.  For instance, do you know all the rules about whether you should write out a number or just leave it as a few digits?  The book clarifies details like that. 
- Having everything like that together in one convenient and affordable handbook is much easier than looking up all your grammar questions online.  Books of this sort also tend to be more authoritative and reliable than websites.
- Even if you’re not an English major, being able to write in a clear style with impeccable grammar can help you get your points across.  (And that’s why you should read the pages of my website about writing too!)

* When you have a boatload of work to do, perform the hardest tasks first.  That way, you’ll feel fresh for the tough stuff.  Hopefully, you’ll be able to handle the easier work even once you’re exhausted.

* The beginning of each semester can be particularly tough since you don’t have a feel for the professors or the material yet. Plus, you often have to read dry and confusing introductory material.  Don’t panic during this time—or any other time, while you’re at it.  You’ll adjust.

* Remember, you tend to take higher-level classes the further along you are in your college career.  These classes are harder.  That’s obvious.  But I point this out because it means you’d better do your best in your early years so that your GPA gets off to a good start.  Escaping from a low GPA when you’re taking the toughest classes in your major is quite the challenge.

* If you find yourself incredibly busy, still take breaks. 
- At the very least, diversify the tedium.  That is, try switching up the kinds of tasks you’re performing.  For instance, if you’ve been working on a paper for an hour and find yourself thinning away, try doing some reading for a while and then return to your writing.

* It might help you if you use a countdown timer application to set a work goal for yourself.  You could set it for two hours and work until the timer goes off.  If you stay focused that whole time, then you can reward yourself with a fun break.  (I, for one, use Online-Stopwatch.com.)

* Manage your finances carefully.  Do not be afraid to ask your parents or guardians for help.

* Remember this for college and for life: If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

* Be careful about your health, both mental and physical
- Stress and sudden change can affect both the body and mind. 
- If you think something might be wrong, don’t ignore it just because you’re busy.  You’ll only make things worse if you ignore the problem, and having the problem chipping away at you won’t help your work. 
- Don’t wait for a health problem to become severe before addressing it.  The sooner you acknowledge it, the easier it will be to take care of it.
- Besides, good health will help you work more efficiently, not to mention enjoy life more! 
- Campuses have doctors (including psychologists) that you can visit.  They’re often less expensive than off-campus doctors—or even free!  Find out more on your college’s website.

* If you’re having a difficult semester, remember that you need to take breaks.  I’d recommend scheduling a good-sized break once a day for doing something you really enjoy.  That’s much more fulfilling than procrastinating by doing stuff just for the sake of doing it (e.g. browsing random websites or pretending to organize things).

* Don’t get so caught up in the busyness of work and the excitement of socializing that you forget to leave some time for yourself.  Everyone needs alone time. 
- Although your roommate won’t always be in your dorm, I think you need to find a location you can visit anytime that’s nice and quiet so you can clear your mind whenever you need to. 
- Take time to pray, meditate, think, or just enjoy the surroundings. 
- For alone time to be truly peaceful, you need to turn your phone off for a while.  Don’t worry: those messages aren’t going anywhere.
- Just ten minutes of uninterrupted peace and quiet can do wonders for you.

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Last Updated May 7th, 2015

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