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As we settle in for the start of another academic year, it is important to reflect on what went well and maybe not so well last year. We are all life long learners, inside and outside of the classroom. Learning from past experiences is the best way to improve yourself and continue to grow.

Here are three ways to get the school year started on the right foot:

1. Set goals

Setting goals is a great way to stay on track throughout the school year and achieve success. There are many goals you can set for yourself and they don’t necessarily have to be GPA related. Maybe you realize you were extremely sleep deprived last year. You can set a goal for how many hours of sleep you want to get each night and organize your days better so you can get plenty of rest. A goal like getting more sleep has a positive ripple effect on many aspects of your life, including improved memory and learning abilities. Maybe another goal could be exercising a few times a week. Often, when we are busy, we forget to prioritize our body’s health. A goal like exercising more enhances your mood and energy levels, which can help you in your academic year. These are common goals we all likely share, but I challenge you to think outside of the box when it comes to goals. What are objectives, specific to you and your studies that could help do better this year? Identify a weakness you have or something you would like to develop. Then, think about how you can work on bettering yourself while staying motivated. For example, maintaining friendships can be challenging, especially when you are on a demanding academic schedule. A goal could be to keep up with friends more often this school year. Whatever your goal may be, be proud of yourself for aiming for bigger and better things!

2. Create a Schedule and WRITE IT DOWN!

Yeah…yeah… yeah… we all know schedules are good. But Hey! Do not ignore this tip. This is the best tip of all tips! No, really. Studies show that writing down to-do lists has remarkable positive effects on your brain. Staying organized is the key to academic success. You can be a brilliant person, but if you can’t keep track of all the due dates and responsibilities you have, then it means nothing. You are no longer in high school or middle school where teachers write the homework on the board each day. This is college. You likely have several courses with various endless due dates. Write it down. You can do this in a planner, a calendar or maybe daily to do lists. Whatever organizational style floats your boat – just as long as you are writing things down. Your brain isn’t superhuman. We all forget things; so don’t rely on your brain alone. Your philosophy professor is not going to accept “I forgot” as excuse for missing the paper deadline.

3. Get Involved

Become better connected with your school and campus by getting involved with student activities. You can meet new people while boosting your resume and doing something that you love! Campuses have various student organizations such as Greek life, service trips, volunteer groups and intramural sports. College may be the only time in your life when you are able to go on a weeklong service trip – so seize the opportunity and do it with your peers during spring break! Maybe you played sports your whole life and you are really missing it now that you are in college. Look into what your school has to offer because there are plenty of club and intramural teams available to you. If you are interested in a career in TV production, maybe your campus has a TV studio where you can help out. Getting involved helps make college feel like home. You truly do meet great people by getting involved outside of the classroom. The extra curricular activities I participate in have taught me what career path I want to go on, more so then my classes have taught me. Take advantage of opportunities sitting at your disposal on your campus.

Dun… Dun… Dun…. (probably) the most dreaded moment of your high school career has arrived… Standardized testing. AH! Your teachers, parents and friends have been talking about it for years and it’s probably stressing you out. Unfortunately, there is no study guide that will help you get a perfect score and there is no secret formula to absolutely blowing the test out of the water. BUT there are a few things you CAN do to score higher on standardized testing.

Here is one secret that more people should know: The SATs and ACTs are becoming increasingly irrelevant to many college admissions processes. Yes, I said it: irrelevant. Many schools are now test optional, meaning that you do not have submit your tests scores. Even schools that do require an SAT or ACT score are recognizing that standardized test scores provide a less prominent role in admissions decisions than in pervious decades. So, deep breath fellow scholars, standardized testing is not a matter of life and death. However, for those applying to schools that take into account testing scores, here is some advice that can help you battle through this stressful process with grace:

1. Pick the test that caters to your skills

The SAT and the ACT are very different. Some students excel on the SAT but not so much on the ACT and vise versa. Take a practice test of each and analyze which test format better fits your learning style.

2. Take practice tests

This is not like your average midterm exam. You cannot simply review and memorize the material taught in the last few sections of the textbook. Instead, it will be helpful to become familiar with the test format. The time constraints for each section and the question carefully worded to require critical thinking, are pretty unique to standardized testing. Knowing what to expect is half the battle.

3. If possible, use test prep services

Educational centers like Princeton Review and Kaplan offer courses to help prepare students for the SATs or ACTs. These classes can review material that commonly appears on these tests. They also provide strategies on how to deduce the correct answer. If this option is financially viable, I highly suggest taking advantage of it. If not, don’t fret. There are books that you can rent or buy that cover the same material as these courses. There are online resources available, as well! See what services your school offers to help students prepare for these tests. Sometimes, they incorporate practice tests and tips into curriculum or host test review sessions after school hours.

4. Take care of yourself

At the end of the day, you can spend endless hours preparing for these tests, but it means nothing if you are not well rested. Getting enough sleep and eating a good meal before the exam is key to full brainpower and your ability to focus. Also, remember that it is not the end of the world. If you feel too stressed, you may sabotage your own ability to succeed. As always, remind yourself that this test score does not define you.

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It’s perfectly fine to be undecided about your major, but if you are looking to make a decision, here are some things you can do to help discern which major is best for you. Here are three key points to remember…

1. Stay open minded
Choosing a major can be a difficult process that involves some serious self-reflection. During your discernment period, it is important to explore all potential options. Try not to give yourself a label of what “type of person” you are to pick a type of major you “should be”. Unfortunately, people often share opinions of what major you “should” select. Whether it’s a parent or a friend weighing in, know that you can think for yourself on this one. No one knows you better than you!

Consider your interests. What do you enjoy doing in your free time? When are you happiest? Maybe your favorite thing is meeting new people and investing in friendships. Perhaps that could translate into studying communication or psychology. Maybe your relationships interest you because of the engaging and thought provoking conversations you have. If so, studying philosophy might be fascinating. Let’s say you love watching and playing soccer. Even though you may think your love of soccer could not turn into a career, check it out. Do your research. Maybe you could work sports marketing for a soccer team. Or possibly, your experience of playing soccer could lead to an interesting career in physical therapy or sports medicine. Follow your passion and explore how it can develop into a lifelong career.

Being open minded also means paying attention in your core curricular classes. Most schools require students to take a wide range of core courses. If you are unsure about a major, take the required core classes first. This way you don’t waste any credits and you can get a taste of several areas of study that you may not have anticipated enjoying. Perhaps political science is an option for a core requirement. That class could uncover your interests and lead to a career in law, public policy, social work, etc. Be aware of what you like to do and what classes you find interesting. This awareness can translate to an easier decision.

2. Job shadow
Shadowing someone at work is a great way to get a sneak peak into the daily lifestyle of a certain career path. Many colleges have career centers that can help you get matched with a job shadowing opportunity. You can also network in your personal relationships to set up a shadowing day. Maybe your friend’s mother is a newscaster and that career seems interesting to you. If you love what you see, it can open your mind to pursuing a career in that field. If you are not a fan, who cares! It was one day and a positive learning experience. Finding out what you do not want to pursue is just as important as finding out your passion.

3. Know that a major does not define you.
Picking your major can be stressful. There’s often an air of anxiety around making a monumental decision that shapes your college experience. However, remind yourself that this decision does not define you. It may impact the career options you have down the road, but it certainly does not control your future. Many majors apply to many things. Meet with your advisors to discuss the flexibility you have before making a decision. Be open and honest about not knowing what you want to do. They likely have good ideas and resources to help you.

Remember that changing majors is always an option but specifically early on. Don’t be afraid to transition to a new area of study if you start to feel that this major isn’t for you. Keep in mind the sooner you switch the better so that you can graduate on time!

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

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Roommates: Whether you’re approaching your freshman or sophomore year, it’s time to think about roommates. What are your deal breakers and what have you learned? Here’s some advice on how to have a positive roommate experience:

The key to a successful relationship with your roommate is communication.

  • No one can read your mind, so communicate your wants and needs. Even if you think it is obvious that you would like all the lights to be off when you fall asleep, you can’t assume that your roommate knows that. Before you move in together or when you first meet, ask about his or her study habits, sleeping habits, whether they consider themselves a neat freak, etc. This way you understand how to be a respectful roommate. Passive aggressive hints are counterproductive so be open and honest about your pet peeves and deal breakers.
  • Some communication tips: use “I feel” so that statements do not come across as attacks or accusations. Also, stay away from definitive words such as “always” and “never.” For example, “you never take out the trash, its rude,” is an accusation. Whereas, “I feel like I take out the trash a lot, can you grab it this time?” is a more respectful request.

It’s all about compromise.

  • It is impossible for two people to completely agree on everything, especially when you’re stuck together in what seems to be a 2 by 2 cement box. Maybe you need to use your headphones instead of blaring music out loud. Maybe you need to kindly ask your roommate to talk on the phone in the longue while you are trying to sleep. Equal negations are key.

Have realistic expectation.

  • Let’s face it: even if your roommate is the perfect match, you may get on each other’s nerves. It is important to accept this fact or else things may snowball. If you are feeling frustrated about something, try to approach the issue and stay resolution focused. Some people may expect to be best friends with their roommate and that may not always happen. Regardless of whether you end up as BFFs or not, it is important to be a courteous living partner.

It takes effort

  • Living harmoniously with someone takes effort. Even married couples in the honeymoon stage struggle with it. We are all creatures of habit so be conscious of your habits and how they may affect a living partner. Communicate, compromise and have realistic expectations! Read chapter 3 of The Freshman Survival Guide for expert advise on navigating the roommate journey.
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Whether you’re accepted to your top school, waitlisted, or having doubts, here’s how to deal, and what to consider, for each scenario. Here are three important mindset mantras:

  1. Don’t Beat Yourself Up
  2. College is What You Make it
  3. Doubts Happen

 Don’t Beat Yourself Up

If you got rejected or waitlisted from your dream school, you may be thinking: Why didn’t I study harder? Why didn’t I prepare for the SATs more? Why didn’t I take that AP course? However, I want to point out that there are a million valid reasons why you did not do each of those things.

You and I, we are not superhuman. We have other priorities in life that are more important than becoming a slave to schoolwork and the SATs or ACTs. For instance, taking care of yourself should always be a main priority. Some nights you need to go to bed early instead of adding another hour of studying. Some nights you need to relax and hang out with your friends instead of getting a head start on that next paper. Other times you may have a sports practice, student council meeting or work that prevents you from dedicating all the time in the world to studying. These are healthy priorities. It could become unhealthy and concerning if your only focus in life were to form the best college application out there.

Applying to college is an accomplishment within itself, so kudos to you for wanting to pursue a higher level of education. A rejection letter or wait-list notification does not define you or your intellectual abilities. Maybe those schools aren’t even the right fit, so trust the process. (Please tell me there is a Sixers fan somewhere reading this).

College Is What You Make It

Accepting the reality of not getting into your top school or not being able to financially afford your favorite school is challenging. It is okay to grieve the loss of this plan you had in mind, but try to remain positive. Simply put, college is what you make it. Students who have an open mind and are involved on campus truly enjoy the experience, even if the school they attend was not their first choice. See chapter 18, “Get Involved…but Not Too Involved” to figure out how to navigate all the opportunities your school has to offer.

No school is going to paint the perfect college experience for you. It is impossible for a few buildings with a sign that says “Blah Blah College” to accomplish all your hopes and wants. College is an experience, not a destination. You form a positive experience through interacting with new people and investing time and effort in your campus. Old folks reflect on “college glory days” because of the people they met and the memories they made. College isn’t the good old days because someone got accepted to their dream school.

What you put in is what you get out. If you are miserable on move-in day because you had your mind set on another institution, then chances are you are going to be miserable for quite awhile. It is important to note that nerves and homesickness are normal feelings that will likely improve with time. Chapter 5 offers ways to combat homesickness. Nevertheless, if you keep an open mind about making the school your own and your home, you will find it easier to make friends, enjoy your classes and get better acquainted with the college.

Doubts Happen

Give the schools you are considering more than one chance. Here’s a personal anecdote to show you that a making a huge decision, such as which college to attend, is not always plain and simple.

(Don’t try this at home): I visited two schools five times EACH, before choosing which college I was going to attend. Yes, you read that right. That is ten college visits between two schools…. Not to mention the other universities I toured. Bless my parents’ and siblings’ souls for accompanying me on those visits. Anyway, you might think I am crazy, but I learned something very important on the multitude of visits.

I discovered that the perfect school does not exist. You can pick any place apart and point out countless drawbacks and cons. A college becomes a home only when you make it your own. When you get involved in activities that you love, you begin meeting people with similar interests and priorities, which make it an enjoyable environment. So remain patient if you did not experience love at first sight with your school.

It is normal for your mind to wander into the thought, “what if I chose another school?” Those thoughts may pop into your head frequently during the transition from high school to college. Lean on your friends and family who can talk you through these nerves and be patient with the adjustment. If you are truly unhappy and considering transferring, chapter 28 can help you decipher what path to take.

Let’s revisit my journey of picking which college I wanted to attend. After my 500 visit days (sarcastic number estimate that is not unfortunately not too far off), I finally had to sit alone with my thoughts. Which college could I picture myself attending more? Which school has the best program for my major? Can my family and I take on those financial loans? Is this school too far from home? Is that school too close to home? I was overwhelmed.

Everyone told me to write a pro and con list for each school. I rolled my eyes and laughed at my guidance counselors and family when they suggested that option. Then I tried it and realized it is actually a solid idea. Emotions get jumbled when you try to rack your brain for the answers, so writing your thoughts down on good old pen and paper help. I suggest you try it if you are torn between a few schools.

The moment that I knew which school I wanted to attend was when I truly examined how I felt as a visitor on each campus. I realized that at La Salle University, my school, I felt important as a visitor. People genuinely cared about my interest in the university. Students spoke with enthusiasm and passion about their campus. Faculty took the time to introduce themselves and help me understand what the school can offer. Overall, I got the sense that everyone was happy to be there. This academically and emotionally supportive environment led me to choose La Salle.

So when you have doubts, try to remember that no school is the perfect school and that you have power and control over your experience. The months leading up to college probably evoke a sweaty mixture of fear, nerves, and excitement. Embrace those feelings because they are to be expected of such a monumental life change. This book, the Freshman Survival Guide, is a resource to help alleviate those feelings of the unknown college beast. You can also reach out via the “ask the iRA” section of this website for more personalized assistance. Personal questions can go to ra@nullthefreshmansurvivalguide.com or public questions can be made in the comment section of any blog.

As you face these stressful months of acceptance letters or rejection notifications and the soon to be decision deadline, remember:

  1. Don’t Beat Yourself Up
  2. College is What You Make it.
  3. Doubts Happen

The team over here at The Freshman Survival Guide is rooting for you and hope you find your home away from home.

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Hollywood makes college spring break appear to be the epitome of party life. Movies depict a carefree, weeklong, tropical vacation with twenty of your closest friends. For college freshmen, this Hollywood phenomenon may give off the wrong impression of the typical spring break experience. Unfortunately, it often means a full week of work or studying for upcoming midterms. It is important to find the perfect balance between relaxing and enjoying your break, while also preparing for upcoming assignments. Here are five ways you can have a fun and productive spring break:

  1. Sleep

Okay, so this may seem very obvious. However, it is easy to get carried away with the excitement of spring break. Maybe you plan to visit your high school friend’s college because they are not on break. Maybe you try to line up several hang out sessions with all of your home friends. And maybe you overextend yourself and set up a full week of work. Whatever you end up doing, one week flies by. So make sure you schedule in time to sleep and recharge your batteries.

  1. Hang out with friends and family

You may be tempted to hop in bed and binge watch Netflix shows all day and night, but make sure you socialize too. If you live on campus, college significantly takes away from the amount of time you get to spend with family and friends. So use spring break to reconnect with the supportive and positive people in your life. The time you invest hanging out with your family or catching up with old friends can help make your break productive and fulfilling.

  1. Create your own staycation

A cheap and easy way to have fun over spring break is to create your own “staycation”. In other words, plan a vacation at home. You can try new things in your area such as paintballing, going to the zoo or taking a hike. A staycation could even encompass a movie marathon of your choice. Grab some popcorn and snuggle up to enjoy a day of your favorite flicks. The important thing is to relax and enjoy a break from the typical routine.

  1. Organize

Whether it’s your dorm room, study schedule or exercise plan, break is a great time to get organized. When it comes to midterms, time-management is key. It is impossible to properly prepare for five midterms in one week of time. Attempts to do so may lead to stress eating, sleep deprivation, mental breakdowns or the simply “I give up phase;” none of which translate well for your health or your grades. Planning when to study for an exam or when to write a paper is crucial. If you don’t plan, you may put all your energy into one midterm and cause your performance on the subsequent assignments to suffer. Buying a planner or making daily to-do lists are great ways to stay on top of your responsibilities.

  1. Study

Did I really just say that? Yes, yes I did, but hear me out. After you catch up on sleep and hang out with your friends, it’s a good idea to view your upcoming assignments. You owe it to your future self to take advantage of the break and study so that you don’t have a major headache when classes resume. You will thank yourself for getting a head start on that monster paper. Oh, and if you are one of the college students that do have midterms after break, of course you should study! Procrastination does not lead to successful results, especially during midterms. Find a sunny spot in your house or go to a local library to set up shop and hit the books.

Spring break can be a fun and refreshing mid-semester pause. It is important for your health that you truly take a “break” from your responsibilities. Going for a walk, hanging out with friends or catching up on some sleep are all great ways to unwind from a hectic semester.

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By: Kiersten McDonald

Winter is here and the slump is real. Research shows that winter months can take a massive toll on our moods. The start of college can be a daunting, life-altering adjustment that leaves freshmen vulnerable to a winter crash. Here are seven tips and tricks on how to combat those dreadful winter blues:

  1. Exercise

Exercise is a sure-fire way to boost your mood. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with an exercise routine when you’re in school juggling the demands of academic work, extra-curricular activities and a job all at once. You should “pencil in” particular times during the week for exercise. Making it a part of your schedule helps you remember the importance to stick to your health commitment. Health is extremely important and should not fall through the cracks because of other responsibilities. Something as simple as walking to your class on the other side of campus, instead of taking the shuttle bus, can brighten your day.

  1. Go Outside (even when it’s cold!)

One of the major contributors to winter blues is lack of sunlight. You can combat the depressive effects of winter by going outside, despite the chilly temps. The benefits of an outdoor walk or run are endless and outweigh the drawback of having to bundle up. The sun does some pretty amazing things for our body like helping the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that boosts mood and energy levels. The more sun exposure we have, the more our bodies produce serotonin. When serotonin levels in our body are high, we are happier. Vigorous exercise also releases endorphins, which create a sense of euphoria. These feel-good neurotransmitters can create what’s called a “runner’s high.” Regular exercise promotes health, increases confidence and boosts your overall mood. This mini biology recap lesson screams that our poor winter souls need sun and exercise – STAT.

  1. Be Social

I think we can all agree that staying in bed and watching Netflix all day is extremely tempting during the wintertime. Who doesn’t want to stay under the covers when it’s gross and gloomy outside? This urge, however, becomes problematic when Netflix starts to consume an extremely large portion of our waking hours. Routinely binge-watching shows can negatively impact one’s mental health. This is why it is so important to stay social. Socializing boosts energy and mood regardless of whether you are an introvert or extrovert. Friends give us a sense of belonging and help us navigate stress. Connect with positive people who can bring some laughter and joy into your life. On-campus activities and clubs can help you find your niche. Positive socialization helps ward off those dreadful blues.

  1. Try New Things

There comes a point in the winter, where you need to accept that summer is far-gone and spring is off in the distance. When you get to that point, it is important to embrace the [ugly] beast of winter; because hey, winter doesn’t get enough credit! There are tons of activities that can help break up the cold weather monotony.

Winter activities such as skiing, tubing or sledding are great sources of exercise and fun. If you don’t have the access or resources to do these activities, many metropolitan areas have free museums and indoor sights to explore. Also, look out for what your campus has to offer in the winter; schools typically organize free or low cost activities as well as off-campus trips. Winter is a great time to travel to new places; whether it’s in between semesters or over a long weekend, explore indoor and outdoor attractions to combat that cooped-up winter feeling. Blues are perpetuated by boredom, so be sure to change up your routine and try new things whenever you can.

5. Sleep, sleep and sleep. Oh…did I mention sleep?

It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Often, we forget about the importance of self-care. Getting plenty of rest greatly impacts physical wellbeing and mental health. College students typically struggle with a healthy sleeping schedule. “All nighters” or sleeping far into the afternoon on weekends can wreck havoc on our bodies. In order to feel energized throughout the day, a set-sleeping schedule is vital. Falling asleep and waking up around the same time each day helps your body regulate itself. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, makes it difficult to manage stress, mood and energy. Perhaps my favorite fun-fact about sleep is that it dramatically helps your memory function well. Lack of sleep has detrimental effects on your memory. Yes, cramming and pulling all nighters probably have the opposite impact that you intend. (TIP: if you’re looking to ace that exam, study hard but also get your rest!)

6. Food is fuel (and so is water)

An important aspect of self-care is eating healthy and limiting caffeine. Holiday treats and the stress of finals can add up quickly. Unfortunately, college and stress eating go hand-in-hand. The dining hall or your dorm room stash of junk food can take you down a slippery slope of neglecting your body’s nutritional needs. To combat this, remain active and focus on eating foods that will fuel your body. Healthy fruits, veggies and sources of protein will give your body a boost in energy and mood. To compliment these efforts, check out what your school has to offer as far as workout classes!

7. Give Yourself a Break

Perhaps the most important skill to acquire with age is learning how to relax and truly decompress. Contrary to many people’s beliefs, including my own, our bodies cannot endlessly run on Dunkin’. We all need time to unwind. What makes us feel relaxed is subjective, but reading or meditating are some great starting points. Sometimes we need that bowl of ice cream or afternoon of Netflix, so treat yourself in moderation.

8. Soak Up The Sun (even if you’re inside)

Let’s say midterms are coming up and you are feeling swamped. You simply don’t have time to schedule in regular exercise, outdoor time or new adventures with your friends. Fear not, because the mood boosting effects of sunlight can still be experienced when you are inside. Always open the blinds in your dorm, apartment or home right when you wake up. This keeps your body’s circadian rhythm on track, boosting your energy levels and mood. Set up shop next to a window in the library or place your desk next to a window in your dorm. Natural light is a key component in fighting against the winter slump.

#BEATTHEBLUES

These eight tips are just some of the many ways you and I can beat the blues. It is important to understand the difference between occasionally feeling down and the symptoms of depression. Contact your health care provider or a mental health professional if you have any questions or concerns.