It’s been almost two weeks since I graced the stage and officially became a college graduate. It still feels unreal to me, but I’m absolutely excited for the next chapter!! Whether you may be looking to start at your local community college or at your choice of four-year universities across the country, navigating the collegiate waters can sometimes be daunting (Take it from this gal who was once a high school senior terrified at the idea of college as if it were an academic Godzilla).
Trust me – it definitely is a million times easier once you get the lay of the land. Here are some things that I wish I knew going into college that will make it smooth(er) sailing for you:
This may seem really obvious, but it’s something that I still find myself needing to remind myself to do. Whether it’s fitting in a few episodes of a really great show on Netflix, reading something for yourself, enjoying a few moments of bliss with a great snack, or soaking up some sunny Vitamin D on a stroll around campus – we all need breaks from the pressures of the semester. Plus you never know – a break might provide you some new perspective on a project or paper. It’s also not a bad idea to give your eyes a break from screen time whether it’s for work or relaxing – you won’t have as much eye strain and your eyes will definitely thank you!
Make Use of the Library
When all else fails – do as Hermione Jean Granger and use the library. Whether you may be like me and struggle to focus when nearby dorm neighbors are too noisy or you want to get moving on that paper, the library can often provide a serene setting for your brain to throw some serious neuron firepower. Just be sure to bring some headphones should it get too distracting.
Check in on your Health
While in the grand scheme of things it may seem your classes come absolutely first, you should always make time for checking in on your health and wellness. And yes – that includes mental health too! Whether you feel like the stress might be bogging down your immune system or you need a mental health check-in, don’t be afraid to take pause and take care of yourself too. Wellness covers a lot of group including self-care such as sleep, physical health, and mental health wellness. Checking in on mental health is important because our mental health affects our school performance which in turn can affect our mental health which might impact our physical health.
Most colleges offer on-campus health supports (many of them free to students!) so you should definitely look into the services provided at your school. Be aware though, that some of these centers might have limited hours. My campus health center was only open Mondays through Friday from 8 am until 5 pm so being prepared with over-the-counter supplements is especially great should you have a sudden ailment in the middle of the night. Getting yourself some homeopathic options are also a good way to nip that cold in the bud , or to be prepared when something yucky is making its away around campus. I started off with taking some vitamin c capsules, but allergies have been brutal for me this year so stocking up on a good throat spray and some Sambucol is great if you’re muddling with allergies. Those two goodies have become things that I swear by for warding off sickness, as well as fighting allergies and generally giving my immune system a little support. I also stick to a small vitamin regimen at night that I personally find helps me stick to a good bedtime routine, plus I feel like it helps how I feel. This is just what worked for me, and I’m not a doctor, so you do you – get you’re own info and do what feels right for you!
Try to Adhere to a Budget
Staying on top financially can truly be a struggle in college with the expenses of attending classes, not to mention campus groups asking for money for various reasons. Plus if you’re anything like me when you’re stressed from academic pressures, ordering in pizza sounds really great. Creating a budget to ensure you’re covered for the fun expenses as well as the bleh purchases you need to make (adulting am I right) can definitely help save your sanity in the long run.
It’s important to remember that while trying to stick to a budget is good, there’s always going to be times where you need to treat yourself. Got an A on a paper you busted your butt on? Treat yourself! Got past what seemed like an impossible week? Treat yourself to a little Netflix and Namaste! You need breaks and you need to reward yourself. And the best part? Even if you’re a little strapped for cash, you can reward yourself with something fun like watching something funny or a really good book.
Don’t Overthink Things
There’s an old saying that suggests not to make a mountain out of a molehill. I’m absolutely guilty of doing just that during my time as an undergrad student. There were countless times that I would worry or think incessantly about an assignment, a major project – really anything. Perhaps it’s in part to my struggles with perfectionism or anxious thoughts filling in, but the best way to conquer that? Breathe and just as the mantra in one of my favorite movies (What About Bob) suggests Baby Steps. I try to remind myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day (probably for the best – think how shoddy the Colosseum would’ve been then) and neither will the particular assignment, but you can tackle it in chunks. Maybe today you start the introduction of a paper and see where it takes you.
Which leads me to my next point. Everybody is going to expect you to put them first – whether it’s a campus group asking you to help with a volunteer opportunity, a professor assigning a rather bulky workload, the college itself wanting your help with recruitment, and countless others. Since you probably aren’t Hermione Granger and are not in possession of your very own Time-Turner, you don’t have the option of time travel and it’s a simple fact that not everything will get done and always on time. It’s a fact because we are all humans and we make mistakes, but the beauty of college is that it provides the learning experience to move on when we do make blunders and even perhaps get a laugh from our mistakes. Nobody is perfect and that’s absolutely okay.
College isn’t all about papers, projects, and degrees. It’s also about having fun with friends. Whether it’s shooting nerf guns at styrofoam bowls, playing Guitar Hero, or cranking some really good tunes before a night out. Work hard, play hard. Think of college kind of like The Office – some work does get done, but it’s always the stupid shenanigans that put a smile on your face and you’ll remember years later either with laughter or cringing.
Sleep + Coffee
Ah, my favorite collegiate activity – sleep. There were so many times I cut back on sleep or pulled all-nighters for the sake of an assignment, but without sleep, I’m essentially useless. That is unless I also don’t have a cup of coffee. Like so many college students before me, I too run on the sweet bean juice and it has provided me the ability to conquer so many assignments and projects. In a small somewhat serious way, I would say I owe my degrees to coffee because without it those assignments would’ve been impossible or much more difficult to accomplish. In all seriousness though, sleep is the real key to being successful in college so whenever possible catch up on some Zzzs (I personally recommend sleeping in on weekends whenever possible).
When In Doubt, Ask For Help
Whether it’s an assignment you’re unclear on, a subject that is incomprehensible (I’m looking at you, math and science), or just needing some guidance in the actual adjustment to college life, seeking out a helping hand can often make it so much better. Don’t be afraid to reach out to one of your RA’s, disability services if applicable, your school’s mental health services, professors, and tutors. It’s also a really good idea to connect with at least one person from each of your classes. This is a great support system because they can help if there’s an assignment you have a question on or were absent and want to know what you missed. Sometimes it’s also quicker to ask another student rather than wait on a professor replying! Plus you might bond together with your classmates through lending a helping hand. There’s no shame in getting help for whatever reason. In almost all cases, you’ll thank yourself once you have!
Advocate For Yourself
This goes along with asking for help when you need it. As a student on the Autism Spectrum, how I learn is different than how most may learn. With that comes a need for modified supports and the best way to do that is follow the sage advice of my mother who always taught me to advocate for myself. I have struggled with really bad test anxiety, but advocating for accommodations with an alternative setting and extended time has made taking a test so much easier. Sometimes you may need to advocate a little harder for the support you need to be most successful, but it is being heard and recognized that is important (After all, nobody could know you need something unless you verbalize it and make it known)!
Stop Comparing Yourself To Others
The temptation is often there to compare ourselves to other people, but it does so much harm to our perception of ourselves. Someone once said to me, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It really is so true because we rob ourselves of happiness when we look to others as a way of evaluating ourselves (and I’m absolutely guilty of this too). We all know those people who are crazy busy with campus groups, internships, volunteering, working a job in addition to being a star student – but the next time you start to compare yourself to them, stop and remember that you are your own person and you’ve come a long way. You’re doing great – you don’t need someone else who is a completely different person to stack yourself up to. Follow your own dreams, not someone else’s.
Put Some Pep in Your Step
Sometimes college is just hard. 8 AM classes, a mountain of assignments that are looking more and more like Mount Doom each day, plus any other responsibilities… Sometimes you just need to give yourself some pep talks. It may sound cheesy, but reminding yourself of the things you accomplished in the past that you thought were hard or even putting inspirational Disney quotes onto your weekly calendar can help awaken your inner superhero.
Honestly one of the biggest ways to stay on top is to stay organized. One of the best things that I learned from a teacher was how simple yet powerful organization can be. Writing assignments daily and then assigning a priority to each can help immensely, but also planning your week can provide you an idea of when things can be done if finding time is a struggle. I personally find that color-coding classes and responsibilities can also help spell things out for me. Another plus about organization for me is that I can allow my creativity to have a little fun when I plan my week on Sunday mornings – whether I doodle, place some stickers, or write some fun Disney quotes to put a smile on my face.
With my undergraduate degrees in the past, I am so excited for what graduate school has in store. Whether you’re starting your college journey, or have been in the trenches for awhile, I hope that these tips are helpful to you. If you know someone who’s about to enter the world of academia, pass these tips along! It may seem scary at first, but you’ll quickly fall in love with the time as it speeds by (perhaps way too fast). What are some tips you would add? Share some of your favorite college tips in the comments!