An Underclassman College Survival Guide
With college around the corner, it’s important to know what you’re walking into.
By Zephanie Battle, Texas State University
My high school recently invited me back for Alumni Day, where the graduating classes of 2016 (me) and 2015 were to inform the innocent boys and girls about the marvelous wonders of college.
Unfortunately, there were more horror stories than tales of contentment, which I’m sure gave my underclassman peers something to think about. It was like a college edition of “Beyond Scared Straight.”
I came from a college-prep high school in Houston that lets its students take dual-enrollment courses while still in high school. As far as I’m concerned, a college-prep school is supposed to PREP the students for COLLEGE. Why was I being asked to tell the current seniors what to do before graduation if it’s already being taught?
Little did I know, because of the transitional struggles of most of my peers, there were several key issues the underclassmen needed to know. Here are the seven things that every high school senior needs to know about college.
1. College Distance
When my classmates and I graduated, it was tacitly understood that all colleges are one of two distances, either close enough to travel back home to every weekend, or just far away enough to allow frequent, but not common visits from the parents.
My university in San Marcos, Texas, is only three hours away from my home in Houston, so it’s a perfect balance of being far but not too far. On the other hand, there are some students who choose colleges less than 45 minutes away.
Determining the distance you want between your college and your family is a personal choice, and it’s all up to you. If you know yourself well enough to be okay with living farther away from home, then go for it. If you know you’ll miss your mom’s cooking or your siblings, then it’s safe to say you’ll want a college a little closer to home.
2. Scholarships Help
I’ve heard from many people that there is no press for scholarship searches in high school. At my school, it was mandatory—fifteen scholarships a week for the grade. Of course, if the teacher says anything’s for a grade, you’re more reluctant to do it.
Truth is, there’s so much free money in the world that there’s no reason you shouldn’t apply to just about every scholarship. Most have certain eligibility requirements, which can benefit you in multiple ways. Most notably, they can help narrow your search, giving you an advantage over those who don’t meet their criteria.
You’ll be grateful for all the hours you spent applying for scholarships when you reap the rewards, and you don’t have to sit and worry about how you’re paying for your education.
3. Know the Cost
Don’t apply for colleges without fully understanding the costs. Most of you think that college is free, and you’ll just go to class, get a degree and be done.
Nowadays, college is so expensive that it will seem like you’re paying for everything, right down to the air you breathe. Instead of getting hit with a semester bill of fees you knew nothing about, do your research and find out exactly what you’ll be throwing your money at.
First thing’s first: Never buy textbooks your first week of college. Besides your tuition and room and board, textbooks will be the most expensive thing you buy in college.
The first week of classes is known as syllabus week, where professors review class objectives and outline the semester’s schedule. No use of a textbook at this time whatsoever.
After already having purchased your textbook, the most upsetting thing you can hear from a professor is that you won’t be needing it. Talk about being pissed off.
Instead, wait until after syllabus week to buy books. In most cases, there will be someone in the class who bought the book already and may be willing to share. Make friends with that person immediately. You can drop them after you’ve passed the class.
5. Credit Transfer
I cannot say this enough. For those of you coming into college with college/dual-credit hours, make sure your credits transfer to the university you’re applying to.
Because my high school offered the dual enrollment program, I earned over 61 college credits by the time I graduated high school. That means, by classification, I’m officially a junior in college at 18-years-old.
This would not be the case though, if I hadn’t compared my credits to the courses my university provided. Most colleges will have a transfer list of courses for you to compare your credits to, letting you know just how many credits you get to keep and how many you don’t.
Utilize this resource and be prepared to refer to your second- or third-choice colleges in case your first choice makes you retake classes.
6. C’s and D’s Do Not Get Degrees
I hope you know that skating by with mediocre grades will not work for you like it may have in high school. College is the big league; it’s go hard or go home. So, I say this to you: By any means necessary, do NOT let yourself fail a class.
Honestly, it’s not even about how good your GPA is by the time you graduate. Just think about all of the time, energy and money you’re using up to enroll in classes. If you decide to skip class or blow off your assignments, you’re only kicking yourself in the butt.
Notice how I said don’t let yourself fail; your future is in your hands. If you don’t take your future by the reins and steer it into control, no one else will, unless you ask someone for help.
It might be cliché by now to say your professor is your best friend, but for you, I’ll say it again. Your professor is your BPFFTS—Best Professional Friend For The Semester. Sure, I made that up, but I hope you’re getting the gist of where I’m going with this.
If you feel yourself sinking into the sea of bad grades, your professor is your lifeboat. Don’t just assume that because they’re your teacher that you can’t be painfully honest with them.
I have to tell some of my professors all the time, “This here [subject] is not my forte. I’m doing the best I can, but I would like to know how I can do more to help myself pass this class.” It’s that easy.
Yes, there will be those fire-breathing dragon professors who are only there for the paycheck, but you’ll also find the ones who are just as enthusiastic about helping you as they are about teaching. They are there to help you in any way they can.
7. Building Your Resume
You thought those two hours of resume building you did in high school were enough to get you through college? You thought wrong.
According to several professors, the contents in your high school resume don’t even matter by your second semester of college. Forget about being National Honor Society president and all of those volunteer hours you did on the weekends; your college resume should reflect your accomplishments in college.
So, as soon as you step foot on campus, make a name for yourself. Get involved in student organizations and volunteer. It may seem hard to do with the ever-growing list of responsibilities college entails, but it’s not hard to do resume-worthy tasks in your first year of college.
If you ever have a chance to get invited back to your old stomping grounds, make sure you go back with knowledge. You know all the hardships and struggles of college, so be the one to inform your younger peers how to survive. You’ll make more of an impact than you think.