A Senior Spills on How to Rock Your College Experience

I started college with a solid plan…or so I thought. Go to University of South Florida, major in nursing, graduate in four years, continue my graduate degree there and become a neonatal nurse. I thought it wouldn’t matter if I barely knew anyone at my school. I thought I could handle a long-distance relationship. I thought it wouldn’t make a difference if I wasn’t involved in school activities. Now, at the end of my four years, I realize how wrong I was about a lot of things.

First, I thought I’d have the same experience no matter where I went. For my freshman year, I went to a college I’d driven by once. I hadn’t even gotten out of the car. I knew this school had good accreditations, and I thought only that mattered. Yeah…don’t do that. In the end, I ended up transferring to a different college after fall semester of my freshman year. I actually moved home and took a semester of online classes just so I could get away from the college I’d chosen.

You don’t want to imitate me. Do your research before making this decision. Either schedule a planned tour with a tour guide, or get out of the car and walk around campus and talk to people. Familiarize yourself with the things you see. Do you like  food on campus? Does it seem like you’ll have to do more walking than you can handle? How is parking? Walk by certain things that interest you such as the gym, campus housing or the student center. Do you like what you see so far?

Or ask your friends about their plans. Of course you don’t just want to follow them and possibly miss out on what you truly want to do. But I say this because chances are, you’ve stayed friends for years, and you probably have a lot in common. You might find that they have a pretty strong reasoning for choosing their school and that it could be a good school for you too. Or maybe their words can actually help you decide on a different school.

What’s next? You’ll need to decide on which classes to take AND the professors you want to take them with. After fall semester of my sophomore year, I decided to check on how on my progress to make sure I was on the right track to graduating in two years. But to my surprise, I was at least a semester behind. Why? Turns out I was taking the wrong classes. I thought they counted for certain credits, but they actually didn’t.

So I wish I’d listened to everyone who told me to meet with an advisor at the beginning of college and every year after that. Don’t think you need to do everything on your own. You’ll find out the hard way like I did that you just wasted a semester and a lot of money because you didn’t need the class you took and you didn’t take the class you needed.

You’ll find advisors extremely helpful when it comes to helping you create a manageable schedule, in addition to making sure you graduate in a timely manner. If you find yourself seriously against seeking help, at least see if your college has a “suggested course schedule” for your major. Trust me, it will really come in handy. They put specific courses during specific years/semesters for a reason. Believe it or not, you may need certain classes before being able to take others, and you don’t want to get confronted with this problem during one of your last semesters.

Hand in hand with creating the perfect course schedule, you should also check the professors teaching the classes. Contrary to what you might think, they are NOT all amazing just because they teach at a college level. Check out ratemyprofessor.com. Or, if you know someone who already took a certain class with a specific professor, ask about their teaching style and level of difficulty.

Okay, so if you have the perfect course schedule with some of the better professors, classes should be a breeze, right? Not so fast. It took until my senior year of college to get my studying technique down, and I struggled to find one that worked. Don’t let this happen to you. Try different approaches, ask your friends how they study for classes or even ask your professor for advice. Sometimes it takes completing the first exam to get a better feel for the material that your professor likes to nitpick. That doesn’t mean you failed. You just have to use the first exam as a learning experience and tweak your studying for the future.

Finally, I wish I’d taken more time to relax. At the beginning of fall semester of my junior year, I decided to take four classes and two labs, and I also had a part time job working four days a week. I quickly learned I needed to cut those work hours in half at the very least. Now in my senior year, I work two part-time jobs and I am taking just four courses. And guess what? I haven’t been to one football game or tailgate in my four years.

So trust me when I say that you need to find some time for yourself. This can mean getting involved in a club that you enjoy, planning time to see your friends or just carving out time for a hobby. Go to a tailgate and stay for the game, plan a day to go to the beach or invite your friends to dinner. As cliché as it sounds, you should always work hard, play hard, am I right?

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