My Advice for Incoming College Students

A collection of my advice for incoming college students that I wrote and compiled right before I graduated.

This article was tagged with: College

There are 1545 words in this article, and it will probably take you less than 8 minutes to read it.

This article was published 2022-05-04 00:00:00 -0400, which makes this post and me old when I published it.

College is hard, there are so many moving parts, and lots of things beneath the surface that you wouldn’t be aware of unless someone told you. That is why advice from people who have already gone to college is so valuable. However, not everyone has the privilege of having someone else in their family or close friends going to college, so I have tried to compile some advice I would have for any incoming college student.

  • Get involved!
    • If your major has a society or council (i.e. Economics Council of Majors), you can join that to meet more people in your major. This is helpful because your peers are your #1 most valuable source of information for what courses to take and with who.
    • A lot of colleges have centers/departments to coordinate community service. Service is rewarding in so many ways. If you’re interested, it definitely looks good on resumes, and will help you get jobs, scholarships, awards, and leadership opportunities.
    • There are tons of clubs and organizations on campus that are just for fun, so be sure to join one that matches a hobby or interest of yours.
  • Don’t skip class because it just becomes super easy to skip class more.
  • It is quite hard to find an internship when you are a freshman, but it can be done and there’s no real harm in trying.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things, but also don’t be afraid to quit things that are no longer serving you.
    • Society looks down on quitting as weakness or lack of determination, but really if you know something is not empowering you to grow, or worse, actively bringing you down, then you should quit it. Obviously, you have to consider if you have a position or responsibilities within the activity and plan accordingly to not leave people hanging, but quit when it is time.
    • Joining clubs is a really good way to meet new people and socialize with them in a structured manner, but if the club gets to be too much, you can always leave and still keep in touch with those people outside of the club. If you explain to them why you left, they will understand, and if they don’t, that means that they really don’t care about you.
    • Even if you already know your major, try to take courses outside of your major that interest you, sometimes this will be required by your GEP. Be careful of what courses you take though, because they can be difficult, so always check RateMyProfessor, Student Course Evaluations, Grade Distribution Data (if available).
      • With that being said, try as hard as you can to get these to apply to your GEP requirements, this way it balances out your “risk”. Even if you don’t like the course or the career associated with it, at least you got a GEP requirement out of the way.
  • Don’t overextend yourself.
    • You can easily get over excited and jump into a lot of different activities in college, but the unfortunate truth is that you just do not have enough time in the day for everything. The traditional presentation of this is sometimes called the “College Trilemma”. The three things you can have are Sleep/Health-Social Life-Good Grades, but you can only ever have two out of the three because that necessarily comes at the expense of the third.
    • I usually say “Pick 2 and a Side,” adapted from a mentor that I had in college. He said that usually your time can support 2 bigger commitments, whether that be leadership or other larger time commitments, and then also one side thing that you maybe do off-and-on, or not as much, usually a more fun thing.
    • In college, there are always events happening, so you can do a lot of one-off events without being swept up in all the things related to a club.
    • You should schedule time for yourself just to relax.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to make new friends because chances are, everyone else wants to too, but is too scared as well.
    • In Freshman year especially, everyone is nervous and scared about making new friends, starting college, etc. It is really easy to project onto other people thinking that they have it all together, have enough friends, or don’t want to be friends for whatever reason. Sometimes you just have to risk rejection and try to make friends with them. Small talk can be painful, but often it leads to good things. Probing people about where they’re from, what they’re studying, what they’re interested in, or what they like to do for fun are all ways to potentially find common ground/places where you can connect with each other.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others too much.
    • Sometimes it is good to understand where you stand against other people as a baseline, but everyone’s college journey is so different and everyone starts from different places, with some people restarting their journey multiple times. There is no realistic way to compare achievements, grades, activities, time, etc with other people because they all have different situations.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially from your peers.
    • Expressing that you’re struggling is not looked down upon in college, in fact, in a perverse way, sometimes it’s celebrated. Everyone in college is struggling, so people don’t tend to look down on people who express it. College is a unique social environment where people are going through very similar experiences, and there are services set up by the university to ease a lot of the pain points that you are experiencing. Most schools have some kind of Writing Center, Student Disabilities Services, Counseling Center, Tutoring, Advising, Support Groups, etc.
    • Your peers have so many resources because chances are, they have been through a similar situation.
  • Keep in touch with your old friends.
    • This means your high school friends when you first start college, but there will be a lot of transitions in college where you may find yourself more distanced from your other friends. Sometimes growth apart is natural, but if you really value that person and the circumstances are just different because of timing or location, you should at least try to keep in electronic contact.
  • Don’t over rely on old friends because that can make you not want to seek out new friends in college, but at the same time, being able to communicate with old friends grounds you.
    • It’s all a balance because at the same time it is alright if you don’t make too many friends in college. Don’t apply pressure on yourself based on expectations of how college life was going to go, or about what people are telling you should or should not do.
  • Take all advice with a grain of salt, even this!
    • Advice can be sensitive to context, but oftentimes it’s vague on purpose to appeal to the most people as possible. In this way, you should take bits and pieces of advice to apply to your life as they serve you, but I don’t think it’s necessary to live your life by pieces of advice.
    • You are the person who knows the most about your situation, sometimes people can see your blindspots, but at the same time, you can’t let someone else dictate how you’re going to live your life.
  • Find ways of moving your body that are fun to you.
    • Consistency is key, so you want it to be something that you enjoy doing, rather something that you have to force yourself to do.
  • Talk to your professors, both in an academic and personal sense.
    • Talking to professors in office hours will definitely yield benefits like them liking you more which could help at the end if they possibly round up your grade at the end of the semester if you are close.
    • By letting your professor know that you’re interested in pursuing research, you can find out if they do research or if they have colleagues that do research in your area(s) of interest.
  • Trying living on campus (at least for your first year).
    • As a commuter, transportation time and planning takes mental and physical energy away from when you could be studying or relaxing. However, if you want to save money, then living off-campus or just commuting from home is definitely the best option.
    • I think that living on campus is most impactful when done your freshman year. If you are to live on campus at all, your first year would be the best. Joining a Living Learning Community (LLC) would be the best too because you are surrounded by people who have similar interests or goals as you (depending on what LLC you join).
  • It’s best to have a mix of friends, some which you can have fun with, but some that can study hard and bring you up. Sometimes people serve several roles. Don’t be judgmental.
  • GPA doesn’t matter as much as you think (unless you are pursuing graduate school, prestigious scholarships, or are in a more competitive field for internships).

Other College Articles

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Pick Two and A Side

A framework for planning extracurricular involvement in order to achieve balance in your college life.

College Goal Setting

A holistic framework for setting goals for the various aspects of your life during college.

My Philosophy Degree in a Nutshell

A retrospective at all the courses I took at UMBC for my Philosophy B.A.

My CS Degree in a Nutshell

A retrospective at all the courses I took at UMBC for my Computer Science B.S.