Ninety Ways to Thrive in College
Follow these tips to get the most out of your college years.
Posted Sep 17, 2013
This is a guest post from Erin McNaughton. Erin studied psychology at the University of Arizona. She currently works as a copywriter for online business and crowdfundind campaigns. Check out her blog, Analyfe, for articles on personal development.
She recently penned this list of tips for her college-bound sister and graciously agreed to share them with us here.
Here are her tips, grouped by category:
Learning and Education
- Take responsibility for your own learning. Revisit your syllabus and stay on top of assignments. Teachers won’t always remind you when homework, quizzes, and tests are coming up. Be proactive and persistence in your studies.
- You may not be sure what you want to major in. That’s okay. See your academic advisor for help. Pay attention to the classes and assignments you most enjoy, as these may be clues to your passion.
- Show up to class on time (or early). Sit in the front of the classroom. This will encourage you to pay attention and participate.
- Speaking of which, participate. Ask question, answer questions, and stay engaged. Be involved in class discussions and group work, when appropriate. You will learn and retain far more if you’re actively involved in class.
- Take advantage of free tutoring on campus. There are programs in place to help you do well in school. Don’t let your pride get in the way of your academic success.
- Form study groups–a group of 2-3 is ideal for focused, productive work. This is a great way to review the material you learn in class, to test your knowledge, and to discuss and better understand topics.
- Meet you professors, teaching assistants, and advisors early on. Share your excitement about the class, your eagerness to learn, and your willingness to ask for and accept help, if need be. Put a face to a name. Professors are fascinating, brilliant, and knowledgeable individuals who want to help you succeed–all you have to do is ask.
- Get to know one or two of professors or faculty members well. Talk about the subjects that interest you, potential career paths, and ways in which to be a successful student. These mentors can also serve as references if you need a letter of recommendation for scholarships, volunteer work, or a job.
- Take a few fun and creative classes, alongside the more rigorous ones.
- Think about your grades and strive for success. Think about what you want to have achieved four years from now when you walk across that stage and are handed your diploma. I wish I had aimed higher; I challenge you to.
- Set a goal to study abroad. That’s something I wish I had made a priority. Set an intention to study in a foreign country for a semester (perhaps your junior year) and keep you eyes open for anything that might help you achieve that goal (scholarships, info sessions, relevant classes etc.) Do what you can to cover the costs, but taking out a small loan for the opportunity to experience a new culture will be well-worth it.
- Use your planner (and/or Google Calendar) to plot out assignments, tests, social events, fitness classes, and community service. What you say you care about are not necessarily your priorities; what you make time for on a regular basis are. Consider your top priorities and build your schedule around what really matters.
- Make a daily to-do list. List out the 20 or things that need to be be done, prioritize them, and make sure that the 3 most important tasks are completed by the end of the day. Sometimes it’s good to take care of the “musts” first thing in the morning before other distractions arise.
- Keep your short and long term priorities in mind and know that it okay to say “no” to opportunities that don’t contribute to you core principles and big goals.
- Alongside a daily planner, print out the semester on a page and note when you big assignments are due and tests will take place. This will help you mange you time wisely when you have multiple big things going on within the same week or two.
- Don’t wait until the night before they’re due to begin assignments. Give yourself time to develop ideas and revise your papers. College is not about turning in work for your teachers; college is about developing skills that will help you in the real world. Self-discipline, efficiency, and the ability to fully develop concepts will serve you more in life than procrastination and the ability to hurriedly throw mediocre ideas together.
- Have blocks of uninterrupted study time. Close out Facebook and turn off your phone for 30 minutes of efficient work, and then allow yourself 10 minute breaks to surf the internet, text your friends, or read. Friendships are important, but while you’re in school, school needs to be your priority.
- Communicate your schedule to others so that you are not being interrupted while you are in class or studying. That goes for family back home, friends on campus, and your roommate. It’s okay to say, “I’m busy right now. Can we catch up in a bit?”
- If you can peacefully live with someone in a 20×20 foot space, you can do just about anything. Respect each others’ space and habits. Draft out a contract and plan out how you’ll handle certain circumstances and obstacles before they arise. See the challenges as opportunities to learn and grow.
- The more underwear you have, the less laundry you’ll have to do. You can (and will) wear the same jeans a few times in-between washes. As long as it looks and smells clean, you can re-wear the same shirts.
- Do NOT wash your cute blouses and dresses with jeans, even if you did at home. Denim will bleed and stain. Dorm washing machines are devious, sock-devouring creatures. Don’t trust them.
- Keep your dorm room locked (or at least closed) at all times, even if you just step out for a second. Stuff gets stolen; don’t be a victim.
- Stock your fridge with the essentials. It will save you a bit of money to buy fresh groceries at the store, as opposed to on campus.
- Wash your hands. Avoid people who are sick. The viral flu spreads more quickly than viral YouTube videos in the dorms and in classrooms.
- Just because you have a TV in your room, that doesn’t mean it needs to be on at all times.
- Get to know your Resident Assistant. Ask questions about what she does. Consider becoming an RA next year.
- Make new friends. Talk to the people next to you in the minutes leading up to class. Compliment the girl in front of you on her Giving Tree tattoo (she’s as awesome as she looks!) and spark a conversation with the guy in your dorm on his Dr. Who socks. Approach the shy-looking girl in the corner, because she wants a friend and is too nervous to approach you. Everyone feels a little lost and overwhelmed at the start of the school year–be the first to share a smile.
- Check out Google Hangouts. Have hangout sessions with your high school besties and collaborate on group projects. This is a tool that I did not have in college, but think would be an awesome for you to keep in touch with people.
- Balance your social and academic lives. Don’t let friends or boys distract you from your studies. On the other hand, don’t become so engrossed in school that you neglect your friends and social life.
- Call your mother. Send her “just because” cards.
- Snapchat your siblings some ridiculous pictures every now and then.
- You may sometimes feel like your parents are hovering too much. Consider this: they’ve been taking care of you since you were in diapers, and they care deeply about you and want the best for you. Cut them some slack. Exercise your independence and make wise decisions; the most good choices you make on your own, the more they will have confidence in your abilities to act as an adult.
- Do not miss Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter.
- Keep in touch with your friends from back home and across the country. The reality is that you’ll lose touch with many friends; make a strong effort to keep in contact with those who you most love.
- Be open to meeting people of all different cultures and interests. Consider attending programs on diversity, or other leadership camps. These experiences will drastically change your perspective.
- Be yourself. Do NOT change to impress others. If you like a boy and he insist you change anything about yourself, say “Sorry, bro,” and move on. On that note, don’t date bros.
- Have high standards for yourself.
- Demand respect. Do net settle for less. Don’t try to fill a void.
- Fall in love, but don’t lose yourself to someone else.
- Treat others with kindness. Karma is not a bitch unless you are.
- Watch what you spend. $5 and $10 here and there can add up quickly.
- Have a few nice outfits and lots of comfy clothes to start off, then limit your clothes spending. Classes are not a fashion show or competition.
- Spend your “fun money” on experiences, not things. See a show, go to the zoo, or out to dinner with friends. The memories will last far longer than that cute and trendy new outfit.
- Fix food in your dorm when possible.
- Don’t upgrade your meal. The soda and fries are extra money with little nutritional value. Not a great investment.
- Don’t visit Urban Outfitters or the other boutiques just off campus. If you do, leave your wallet behind. Resist the urge to impulse buy.
- Save the credit card for emergencies.
- Set a budget. Follow it.
- Save receipts from school-related purchases, such as books and supplies. Most of these expenses are tax-deductible, so mom, dad, and the financial planner will all be very pleased.
- Monitor your bank account monthly, if not a bit more often. Use mint.com and the Mint phone app.
- Sign up for interesting clubs and extracurricular activities. Remain open-minded and try new things. You never know who you’ll meet or what that’ll have to teach you. Everyone you encounter has something to teach you.
- Have one or more study buddy in each class. Work on projects, study, share notes if someone is out sick, and hold each other accountable. Build a your small tribe and work together.
- Continue being charitable and volunteering with causes that resonate with you. One of my favorites: charity: water. Benefits: feel good, make a difference, meet great people, build up resume, qualify for scholarships.
- Donate money to causes you believe in–a little bit can make a big difference, and make you feel like you’re saving the world. Mirco-lend through Kiva and recycle the $25 over and over again.
- Perform random acts of kindness. I used to leave inspirational notes and love letters around campus for strangers to find. It was free and always brightened my day to imagine people finding them and smiling.
- Keep your eyes open for any internship opportunities and ask you advisor for suggestions. I spent 3 years working in a psychology lab, and it was one of my favorite college experiences. Find something that you are fiercely interested in and obtain firsthand experience in the field. That involvement could lead you towards you passion and dream career.
- Stay active. Attend yoga, cardio, and other classes. Workout with friends and make it a fun time. Go hiking. Dance in the hallway with your roommate. Move your body a little bit each day.
- Choose veggies over french fries whenever there’s an option. Try to eat fruits and veggies as often as possible and avoid processed foods when you can.
- Eating right is not about calories or harsh dieting, it’s about respecting and caring for your body.
- If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, walk away. Don’t worry about what people will think or say. Listen to your gut.
- Walk with friends at night or use SafeRide and SafeWalk. Most universities offers free services to help keep you safe. Don’t be too independent and proud to ask for help.
- Don’t give out your passwords or keys. (This sounds like common sense, I know. Practice caution.)
- When you go out, make sure that someone knows where you are going and when you expect to get back. Make sure you let that person know if the plans change. Make sure someone will be worrying if something bad were to happen.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Be conscientious, and don’t put yourself in situations with untrustworthy people. Your mother would add: carry pepper spray or a whistle, just in case.
- Create an emergency contact list (ICE) in your phone. Exchange family and medical numbers with your roommate. Again, better safe than sorry.
- Head to the campus health care center if you get sick. They’ll take good care of you. I would know.
- There will be nights of sitting up all night with your roommate, laughing until you cry and crying until you laugh. There will be all-nighters before a big test. There will be parties and adventures and ridiculousness. Get a good night’s rest on the days in-between. The morning always seems to come too soon.
- Actively work to figure out what excites you, what makes you come alive, what you are most passionate about.
- Consider taking classes that sound interesting, or classes by for professors that sound interesting. (Even if it is not within your degree program.) Don’t forget to check Rate Your Professor for student reviews of professors.
- Discover and practice whatever form of spirituality works for you. I began college attending Catholic mass, as I had been for the past 18 years. It’s okay to question what YOU believe. Read religious text and explore different belief systems. Pray, meditate, and connect to God/the universe/divine energy in whichever way feels right to you. The core of all belief systems is loving kindness; be a good person and follow the truth in your heart. How that manifests itself is less important than the belief itself.
- Contrary to whispered rumors and blatant complaints, college degrees are not “worthless sheets of paper.” However, in this economic climate, a degree is no guarantee of your dream job, but that just means you need to supplement your qualifications. Become a high school AP history if that’s what you want to do, for chistsake. Follow your heart and ignore the naysayers. Become an expert in your field: excel in school, network like crazy throughout college, find your voice and shout from the rooftops. Write books, speak at events, and find a way to not only get by, but thrive, doing with your love. Don’t allow others to kill your big dreams. It’s not about the money, it’s about waking up each day, driven by purpose and filled with passion.
- Your purpose on earth is to love unconditionally and positively benefit every life you cross. If you focus on kindness and helping others, everything else will fall into place. I promise.
- Discover the point at which your passion, skills, and principle values overlap. That is the sweet spot where you can, and WILL, change the world and find fulfillment. Never stop seeking that perfectly balanced overlap.
- Hold yourself to high standards. Expect more from yourself than your teachers, peers, and parents. Go above and beyond bases minimum and stand out from the crowd. Be an over-achiever. But be humble about it.
- Make time for leisure reading and creative projects. Make time for child-like wonder and exploration. Make time for playfulness and fun.
- Learn something new every day. Go to class, meet new people, subscribe to podcasts, watch TEDtalks. Never go a day without building up your repository of knowledge.
- Take responsibility for your thoughts and actions. You cannot control others’ behaviors, but you can control your own reactions. Maintain grace and be the bigger person, always. The things that knock you down and break your heart in this moment will be inconsequential in the long run, unless you choose dwell on them.
- Each day, do something that scares you. Compliment a stranger on her necklace. Ask that cute and nerdy boy next to you in class if he’d like to study with you. Attend a club meeting for the first time. Visit the on-campus art museum alone. Try a new food. Ask a question in class. The little things will stretch your comfort zone and help you grow each day.
- Use the career resource center. Don’t wait until you’re about to graduate. Go talk to the advisors now. The sooner you choose your path, the better prepared you’ll be to follow that path upon graduation.
- Set goals–make sure some are easily attainable while others will be hugely challenging, but also hugely rewarding.
- It’s okay if plans change. My major shifted from pre-med to undecided to anthropology, before I settled on Psychology. Post-graduation, my plan has shifted from pursuing a doctoral degree to following my heart’s whims. Life is a continually transitional state. Don’t worry about having a set-in-stone plan.
- Take advantage of the free events on campus. There will be concerts, movie screenings, freshman-only events, lectures, and much more. Check them out.
- Explore your campus–there are usually some neat pieces of public art tucked in-between the buildings you’ll pass everyday.
- There are usually art museums and galleries on campus. Look up the hours, invite a friend, and check them out. They’re free to students, and always feature something interesting.
- Have fun. Don’t do anything illegal.
- Don’t post anything on Facebook that you might regret later.
- It’s okay to dress like a bum sometimes, especially if you’re feeling under-the-weather.
- Stay on campus on the weekends. You’ll miss out on much of the college experience if you drive home all the time because you’re homesick. (I know, I know, you won’t be. Just you wait.)
- Check out local venues. Check out concerts. Explore the city and watch out for interesting events. This will be your home for the next four years, so make it feel like home.
- Consider starting a blog. It’s a great way to explore your interests, capture your best days, and exercise your creativity. (Wink, wink.)
Shyness is nice and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to.
–Ask, by The Smiths (Read how we named our blog.)
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I am the co-author of Dying of Embarrassment, Painfully Shy, and Nurturing the Shy Child. Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia was found to be one of the most useful and scientifically grounded self-help books in a research study published in Professional Psychology, Research and Practice. I’ve also been featured in the award-winning PBS documentary, Afraid of People. Greg and I also co-authored Illuminating the Heart: Steps Toward a More Spiritual Marriage.