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When I started my freshman year, I felt like I was just pretending I knew how to be a college student while everyone around me seemed to have it down. By the end of my senior year, I had a much better grasp on it, but there were a lot of things I learned as an upperclassman I wished I'd known before starting freshman year.

Here's 4 essential pieces of advice that I wish had been passed along to me at the beginning of my college journey.

  1. Apply for as many outside scholarships as you can.
    When I was a senior in high school, my English teacher made everyone in our class apply to at least one scholarship each week, and I, along with every other student, rolled my eyes and groaned. We applied to the easiest scholarships possible -- the ones that just required you to enter a name and email address -- to avoid the agony of writing essays and submitting transcripts.
    Once I started college, I realized that it would have been a lot smarter to look for smaller essay competitions or niche scholarships that I had a better chance of getting in order to cover some of the cost of my liberal arts school. Scholarship aggregators like Fastweb and College Greenlight are useful tools to search for those relevant awards.
     
  2. Join extracurriculars, but don't get carried away. When I went to my college's Activity Fair, I was convinced that I was going to join about 10 different clubs. After just a few weeks, I'd boiled down those activities to just a few that I really wanted to do. Extracurriculars look great on your resume, but take on too many and you'll get burnt out, have no free time, and struggle with your academic workload.
  3. Get to know your professors. This doesn't mean sucking up -- it means intelligently participating in class, asking questions when you need clarification, and attending your professor's office hours when you need more help. This way you'll get more out of the class, and you'll also be forming a relationship with a professor who can then write you a strong letter of recommendation when you're applying for grad school or your first post-college job.
     
  4. Don't jump headfirst into a major. Focus on getting your general requirement classes out of the way during your freshman year -- this will give you a sampling of your school's different departments and provide you with a better sense of what you're interested in. 55% to 60% of college students change their major at least once (I was one of them), so don't feel like you need to immediately commit to something.

BOTTOM LINE

Be flexible and willing to learn as you go along. Keep my previous four tips in mind, but know that the college experience is different for everyone, and you will figure it out once you throw yourself into campus life.

Photo by CollegeDegrees360 via cc