In my previous posts, I discussed what I wish I had known before college and what I wish I had known before studying abroad. You can read them HERE and HERE. This post lists even more things I wish I had known before college, with tips ranging from getting an internship or a part-time job to gain work experience and using resources available at your college to learning to take care of yourself physically and mentally. Hope these lists will equip you with many head-start knowledge to make the best of your college experience!
- Actually go to class, do your reading and homework.
- Wait until after the first day (or first week) of classes to buy your textbooks.
- It’s perfectly fine to transfer to a different school.
- No one judges you if you wear pajama to class.
- Likewise, no one judges you if you sleep in the library.
- Get an internship or a part-time job.
- Don’t be afraid to let other people know that you need help.
- Learn to take care of yourself – physically and mentally.
- Get enough sleep so you can wake up early.
- You will lose touch with the people who meet during freshmen orientation.
- Your freshmen roommates probably won’t become your BFFs.
- Apply for a credit card and start accumulating your credit now.
- It’s OK if you’re not into dating/ sex/ hookup/ drinking/ partying.
- Be involved with school activities.
- Learn to manage and prioritize your time.
- Don’t forget to explore campus and your surrounding!
- Have fun!
It’s really easy to skip class and fall behind in college. Depending on your class size and professors, attendance may or may not be mandatory. The larger your class size is, the easier it is for you to skip class. While it’s tempting to do so, actually go to class! Not only are you wasting your tuition money by ditching, but you’re also making yourself fall behind and have to work extra hard to catch up with the work that you missed. Only skip class if you have to, not because you can and want to. If you can’t go to class, ask your classmates and email your professor/TA to catch up on any notes and assignments that you may have missed.
Don’t forget to do your reading and homework as well! Textbooks aren’t the most fun thing to read, I totally agree. But materials in your textbooks and additional assigned readings are very likely to be on the exams, so you better read them whether you like it or not. Ideally, you should have finished the assigned readings before class so you can have a better understanding when the professor goes over them in class. But being a college student myself, I’m sure that many of us either read after class or wait until it’s near exams to rush-read. Focus on important sections when you’re reading instead of reading every single word. You just need to skim through the page, hi-light keywords, concepts, important phrases and pay attention to them. Doing practice questions and homework is a highly recommended way to practice and evaluate what you’re learning in class.
Don’t buy all your textbooks before classes! This is because some books may only be optional and you can easily borrow them from someone else or the library (AKA you’ll only use them once or twice for a certain assignment and they’ll end up being unused for the rest of the semester). Wait until after the first day of classes, or at least until after your professor goes through the syllabus and explains which ones are the required readings/books. You may also want to wait until the first week of classes before buying textbooks, since you may decide to drop a particular class. Avoid buying brand new textbooks from the bookstore (unless it’s a brand new edition that’s just released and you’re forced to use it)! I spent hundreds of dollars during my freshman year of college on new textbooks – don’t make the same mistake that I did! Used textbooks will work just as fine (consider you’re most likely going to sell them to other people at the end of the semester anyway), and they’re a whole lot cheaper!
You’re very likely to change your major at least once in college. You may also realize that the college you’re attending now isn’t the right fit for you and want to change school. That’s perfectly fine. Tons of people have done that, myself included. I transferred from Occidental College to USC after the end of my sophomore year because I want to major in business administration and be exposed to a larger community with more opportunities. There are both pros and cons of transferring, so talk to your friends, classmates, professors, advisers if you need help with understanding the process and making the decision. If you decide to transfer, be excited about the opportunities and journey ahead. Seek help with the settling down process if you need it to avoid regretting what could have happened if you had stayed. You’ll enjoy your time at the new school a lot more that way, I promise.
Pajama (sweatpants, T-shirt, sweater) is a fashion staple in college. Seriously. Just walk around your campus and count how many people casually walking around in their sweatpants, T-shirt and/or sweater. In high school, you may feel the need to dress to impress, but college is different. You’re free to wear whatever you want and however you want, as long as it’s appropriate, and you’re comfortable and feel good about it. Going to class in a pajama isn’t different. I’ve seen people who actually wore legit pajama to class. So if you’re someone who doesn’t want to spend a lot of time deciding which outfits to wear, simply put on a pajama and voilà, you have your OOTD (outfit-of-the-day). But if you’re into fashion and want to experiment with different styles, definitely do so and nail it!
Well, maybe a little if you snore loudly. Similar to wearing pajama to class above, fellow college students don’t really care if you fall asleep in the library. They may just stare at you for a few seconds, then continue with whatever they’re doing. If you’re studying in the library late at night and feel the need to take a quick nap, go ahead! Find a cubicle, a chair and desk, a corner, or if you’re lucky, a legit couch to fall asleep on. Avoid disturbing your neighbors who are still working in the quiet library with your super loud alarms when you need to wake up though!
Even if your current GPA is a 4.0, you still need some sort of work experience in your college years, whether it’s from an internship or an unpaid/paid part-time job. Excellent GPA makes you stand out, but impressive work experience (especially what you learned and how you’re able to contribute) sells a lot more to recruiters. These work experience will provide you with a lot of useful knowledge and hands-on experience, most of the time even more than what you’re learning in class. If you’re unsure of how to begin with the internship/job search, visit the career center at your college. They are a great resource in helping you to find jobs, proofread your resume and cover letter, and even conduct mock interviews for you. Check out job search websites to see which positions are available, as well as utilizing your social network and your college’s alumni network for available jobs and referrals.
This is especially true when you’re a freshman or transfer student, because everyone else will be as clueless as you are (if not even more). As tough as you think you may be, there will certainly be times that you feel confused, lonely, homesick, and probably just want to give up and go home. When that happens, don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability and seek help from other people. You may think that you can deal with the homesickness and loneliness on your own, but sometimes all you need to feel better is a reassurance or encouragement from those close to you, or those you look up to. Talk to a friend, your school professors/ counselors/ advisers, or call your family. Let them know how you feel and what you’re struggling with so they can help you. It’s better if you let it all out instead of building it all up inside you and risk turning it into depression.
The career/ adviser/ health centers are there to help you, so don’t forget to use these (mostly free) resources when you need help! If you’re looking for resume/ cover letter/ interview tips, visit your college’s career center. If you need help with deciding which class to take and getting career advice, visit or email your college’s adviser/counselor. And if you want to check up on your health, learn more about staying healthy, or simply need someone to talk to, visit your college’s health center. Theses great places and great resources are always available for you to use, so don’t forget to use them!
It’s extremely important to always take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. You don’t want to get sick from unhealthy habits such as staying up really late at night studying and not getting enough sleep, eating tons of junk food and unhealthy snacks, and not exercising at all. Taking care of yourself physically and mentally means that you need to love yourself and your body. It makes you happy, more productive, and confident. Having a healthy mind is as equally important as having a healthy body. Have balanced meals, drink lots of water, get enough sleep every night, exercise for at least 30 minutes every day, do self-reflection, talk to someone you trust when you’re feeling down, and seek help when you need it. Read HERE for more tips and advice on staying healthy.
By “enough” sleep, I mean at least 7 hours or more (preferably 8 hours). Being a night-owl myself, I struggled a lot with this one – staying up super late at night to study and then having to wake up early the next day for class or work. If you believe that you’ll get more than 8 hours of sleep every single day in college, think again my friend! With no one to force you to go to bed on-time, you’re free to stay up as late as you want. Don’t let being sleep-deprived become a habit of yours. While you may think that you can pull it off, being sleep-deprived has negative affects to your mental health. You’ll be constantly tired, find it harder to focus, have headaches, and look like a zombie with panda-eyes all the time. I’m sure you wouldn’t want that, would you?
You may think that the people you meet in your freshmen orientation group will become your BFFs, but in reality, that’s typically not the case. Instead, there’s a high possibility that you’ll meet them, hang out with them during freshmen orientation (and maybe a week or 2 after that), find new friends from your dorm and classes, then for the rest of the school year barely see them again. I still keep in touch with some of the people I met in my orientation group. Those are the ones who happened to live in the same dorm and have the same classes as I did. But for the remaining people, although I still remember (vaguely) what they look like, I just ended up forgetting their names and didn’t bump into them until months and even years later.
There’s a 50/50 chance that you’ll either love your freshmen-year roommates or hate them. Usually, the chances of becoming BFFs aren’t very high for people who are randomly matched without any common interests or characteristics. During my college years, I had a few great roommates who I still stay in touch with, and some not-so-great roommates who I just can’t wait for the year to end to not have to live with them ever again. If you’re one of lucky ones who got matched with a good roommate, congrats! But if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world. Set ground rules that you guys agree to follow, be open-minded and have transparent communication. However, if your roommate completely drives you crazy and wouldn’t be willing to compromise no matter what, then you may want to consider asking for a room-reassignment or switch with someone else.
Having a good credit score plays an extremely important role when it comes to mortgages (buying houses, properties, cars, etc.), so I highly recommend applying for a credit and start accumulating your credit now (if you haven’t already done so). You’ll need to have a U.S. bank account first. Different banks have different credit card types and policies, so spend some times researching them to see which one is the right fit for you. You may need to put down a deposit first and have a lower credit limit at the beginning, but remember to pay your credit bills on-time to obtain a good credit score. It may take months, even years to build a good credit score, but it can take as fast as a few minutes of missed deadlines to ruin your credit score completely!
Don’t feel peer-pressured into doing things that you’re uncomfortable with. This isn’t high school anymore, where you have to impress others and succumb to peer-pressure to become popular. Feel free to explore and experience different things, and stick with what matters to you, that you enjoy and are comfortable with. If you realize that you’re not into dating/ sex/ hookup and want to focus your time on other things instead, that’s OK. If you find out that you’re not a big fan of drinking and partying, but prefer small hang-out environments with a close group of friends, that’s perfectly fine too. After all, it’s your body, your rules. Don’t let anyone peer-pressures you into doing otherwise!
There’s no doubt that academics is crucial, but being involved with different campus activities is as equally important. You’ll stand out as a 4.0 GPA candidate when applying for jobs, but recruiters want to know what extracurricular activities that you’re part of and whether or not you have any leadership roles. Being involved not only provides you with new experience, knowledge and useful skills, but it’s also a great way to make new friends and build your social network.
If you’re unsure of where to start, attend your college’s student organizations/ clubs/ involvement fair. It’s a day that showcases all the active student organizations at your college and for them to get new members. While it’s important to be involved, don’t overload yourself by joining million of clubs either (OK, I exaggerated, but you get the point). You want to save time for other things as well. I suggest signing up for all the clubs that you’re interested in first, then actually attend their first meetings/events before deciding which clubs you want to commit in the long-term.
College is a busy time, with lots of things going on. You’ll need to spend time for academics, of course. But you’ll also participate in extracurricular activities, work, internships, not to mention manage time for friendships and relationships. Learning to manage your time effectively is one of the most important and difficult skills to have in college (as well as post-college). I recommend listing out all your commitments, academically and social, then prioritizing which of those commitments are top on your list, and dedicating certain amount of times for them. Avoid being an over-achiever and overloading yourself, especially in your freshman year!
I didn’t really explore L.A. and its surrounding cities until my junior year of college. I know… Shame on me! Now thinking back, I really regret not exploring L.A. earlier. There are so many different things that you can do in the city, from attending art events and concerts (for those who love art and music) to going to the beach and farmer markets (for foodies like myself) and enjoying the beautiful L.A. scenery.
So start exploring around campus and see what the city you lives in has to offers now if you haven’t done so already! Do something different and go somewhere different once in a while instead of sticking to one familiar activity or place. Make a checklist to visit all the buildings on campus and try all the different dining halls. Instagram each place/dish and write your thoughts about them! If you don’t have a car, don’t let it be an excuse that makes you stay indoor all the time. There are lots of other options available, such as carpooling with friends or through Uber or Lyft, renting a car through Zipcar, GetAround, or Enterprise’s Rent-A-Car, and using public transportation. You’re going to learn a lot more about the city, make new friends, and discover awesome things from exploring your surrounding!
College years will fly by extremely fast! While it’s super important to focus on your academics, make sure to have fun along the way as well! Join extracurricular activities, get an internship/potential job, explore your surrounding, make new friends, discover more about yourself, and last but not least, really enjoy the best of your college years!
About Hue La
Hey there, I'm Hue (pronounced “huay”, not “hue” like how you would normally say it in English). I'm a USC graduate and traveler with 6+ years of study abroad experience in the U.S. I founded Study Abroad Corner with the goals of providing helpful advice and building a social network for fellow study abroaders around the world.