16 Things Every Freshman Should Know Part 1: The First 8

Freshmen make mistakes. Lots of them. But other people's experiences can help you avoid a few. 

Ask an upperclassman or college graduate what words they associate with “freshman” and we guarantee you that “clueless” shows up near the top of the list. It’s not the freshman’s fault. For the most part, going to college is a totally new experience. And having new experiences means making a whole bunch of new mistakes.

Fortunately, you’re not the first one to go to college. And while the college of today might look different from the college of the past (online classes, the Internet, and mobile devices, for example) the truth is, college today hasn’t changed as much as you’d think.

Worried about looking like a total N00b when you go to college?

Ask people who’ve been there before what they wish they would have known as freshmen—particularly the real deal, insider stuff that’s often only learned through experience.

This is the first installment in a two-part series featuring some of the best freshman advice we’ve heard. Here are the first eight nuggets of wisdom:

  1. Full-time tuition = all you can eat education buffet. If you’re paying as a “full-timer,” you can take as many classes as you want. Yes, there’s a limit based on your time, ability, and desire to have some sort of social life. But remember: You’re never going to have this kind of opportunity again in your life. Unless of course you’re independently wealthy or retired.
  2. Living in the dorms is a rip-off (but if you don’t do it at least once, you’ll wish you had). It’s true: nothing truly equals the dorm experience like the dorm experience. The stories. The hijinks. The lessons. But in many cases, it doesn’t make good financial sense. Here’s the reality: You’ll be paying $10,000 over 9 months to share a room with someone; that works out to $1,111 per month in rent and food. Assuming you have one roommate, that means that the two of you are basically renting a studio apartment (and feeding yourselves) for $2,222/month. If you can’t live at home or don’t want to, you might save money by finding a place of your own off campus.
  3. Make it a point to learn all the important dates in the “Academic Calendar.” All colleges maintain an academic calendar which lists important dates that can impact you as a student. First day of class. Last day of class. Add dates. Drop dates. Exam week. The date your professors have to turn in your grades. Knowing these dates can help you avoid common mistakes like dropping a class too late (and ending up with the dreaded “W” on your transcript) or even help you negotiate an extension with your professors.
  4. Make your schedule match your lifestyle (as much as you can). Unlike high school, you don’t have to go to class every day in college (unless you have a class…duh!). Depending on the flexibility of your major and the structure of your general education (gen ed) requirements, you may find that many of the classes you need are offered at a variety of different times and days of the week. Night person? Look for classes in the afternoon and evening. Need to work? Try to schedule all your classes in either two or three day blocks (Tuesday/Thursday or Monday/Wednesday/Friday generally). Need more flexibility? Look for online classes which don’t meet at any particular time.
  5. It rarely matters which edition of a textbook you buy (as long as it’s not ancient). Some may argue with us, but we suspect that they’re just shills being paid by textbook companies. We’ll let you in on a little secret: professors don’t pay for books. As a result, they don’t know what they cost. Textbook companies give them a free version of the book with the expectation that they’ll add it to their reading list—and that you’ll pay for it. Unless a professor is a real tool and absolutely insists on a specific version of a textbook, you can probably get away with scoring an older edition off of eBay or Craigslist. We wouldn’t recommend anything older than two or three years though.
  6. Buying books for any class where you’re reading stuff more than 75 years old is a waste of money. Again, unless your professor insists on a particular edition of a book, the truth is you can find almost any “classic”  somewhere for free (or almost free). For example, if you need a book for a literature, history, or philosophy class and the author’s long dead, you can probably download it for free from sites like Project Gutenberg.
  7. Librarians are dying to help you. We’re absolutely NOT kidding about this. With a few exceptions, librarians are librarians because they like information, and they like helping people find it. Why drive yourself crazy fruitlessly Googling or scouring library databases for something when there’s a human being who will gladly help you locate what you’re looking for?
  8. In fact, there are lots of other people dying to help you. Here’s one of the most important tips you’ll ever read about college: It’s in the school’s best interest that you succeed. Just about every measure that’s used to rank colleges is based on student success. And those who lead colleges LOVE raising the rankings of their school. Sure, you’ll encounter rude/lazy/uncaring people here and there. In general, though, you’ll do a lot better if you realize that everyone who gets a paycheck at a college is incentivized to make you successful.

Read Part Two

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