Things I Wish I Knew as a First-Year Student
When we are freshmen, we’re anxious about classes, life on campus, how to manage our time wisely, our social life, jobs, and countless other things that are in an undergraduate’s life. Even with all of the resources we have now where we can research what to expect online, there’s always something that we learn in our first year on campus that no online forum or YouTube video has covered yet. Below are things that I haven’t yet read or heard be given as advice that I hope will be useful to freshmen and sophomores!
Social Life, Friends, and Being Alone
1. It’s ok to be alone. And not just walking to class. Being alone sometimes is great as it gives you a chance to figure out what you really want to do, and allows you to manage your time without the pressure of seeming like the friend who never wants to hang out. One of the things that surprised me the most during NSO (New Student Orientation), and my first few weeks at UMass was how aggressively we all added each other on Snapchat and Instagram for no other reason other than the fact that we just didn’t want to be alone. The truth is, over 90 percent of the people I thought I was going to be having a blast with I could barely recognize in a line up. Don’t rush to make friends on campus, and sometimes the people you’ll later become close friends with you’ll meet in the most unexpected ways.
But in case you are actively trying to make friends, I have become great friends with people who I met in classes, clubs, on my floor, and through a friend of a friend.
2. Go to class and take notes. I have tried a variety of study habits for all of my classes, but nothing has beat sitting down, paying attention, and taking notes as a prequel to having to study later for midterms and finals.
I remember making a beautiful and extensive study guide for a class I didn’t pay a lot of attention to, and that guide became useless because I didn’t know how to apply that information to the questions on the exams. If you don’t like taking notes, try asking a couple of questions after class, or find other ways of engaging with the material you’re learning. For me, that’s note taking for large lectures, or writing things down in seminars and discussion based classes. Doing your assignments is a pretty obvious piece of advice for how to do well in class, but it’s also harder to do readings, write ups, and projects if we aren’t paying attention in the first place!
3. Meet with your advisors. Usually I try to meet with my academic advisor twice a semester. Once at the beginning of the semester to go over the classes I’m taking and what requirements they fill, and then during class selection so that I know what are my options for the next semester. I’ve known a few students who had to take extra classes or classes during a break because they didn’t know they fell off track for their expected graduation date until they had finally met with an advisor. My advisor has also been a great resource for giving advice that has to do with extracurricular activities and career services as well.
4. Space out your GenEds. If you have a more flexible schedule in terms of what classes you can take and when, I recommend spacing out your GenEd (General Education) requirements as much as you can. I was actually given this advice by a graduate student who taught a GenEd I was in. His reasoning was that having that one class that’s a break from your major classes helped him reduce his burnout and also kept him paying attention.
There’s a plethora of things I’m missing here. We all learn different things while we’re at UMass, no college experience is the same! My number one piece of advice is to ask questions when you need clarification or are confused. I know it can be daunting to ask when it seems like everyone else has it figured out, but in reality sometimes we’re all waiting for someone to speak up.