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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.

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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.

IT’S THE END OF THE SEMESTER ALREADY?! I STILL HAVE SO MUCH WORK TO DO!

We’ve all been there. No matter how hard we try to be productive, our best friend–procrastination always comes knocking at our door asking to play. How do we manage?

Check out this awesome link with 12 tips on aceing our finals. Keep these in mind for midterms in the Spring semester.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/01/study-tips-for-exams-12-ways-to-ace-your-finals_n_789731.html#s193495&title=Study_In_Chunks

Good Luck!

At this very moment you are probably indulging in leftovers from the holiday.  While now is a good time to enjoy the break from school, this is also a good time for you to reflect on the semester. When you first arrived to campus you must have had some sort of expectations, a picture, or thoughts of what you thought college would be.  Were you accurate?  Have your experiences surpassed your expectations or have your experiences underwhelmed what you hoped college would be?

Thanksgiving break is an excellent time to reflect on your first semester. This is the time (especially if you go home) when family will ask how is college going? They will ask about grades and friends and professors and organizations and any special people that may be in your life. Consider your responses to these questions. Are you happy (satisfied) with your college experience thus far. If your answer is “no,” take this time to consider if it is you or the institution.  Ask yourself the following:

·     Are you doing all that you can do to make your college experience the best one you can make?

·     Are you giving your all to your studies?

·     Have you joined a student organization?

·     Are you stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things and meeting new people?

·     Are you growing as a person? Are you the same person today that you were at the beginning of the semester?

If you can say that you have done all that you could do and you are can still say that your college experience is not measuring up to what you’d expected, then you may want to consider making a change or transferring schools. If you are not happy and you see ways you can make a change, I encourage you to make those changes.  Be brave; start your own club or run for a student government position to help evoke change and leave your mark on campus.  If evoking change on campus does not suite you, consider researching schools that speak to who you are or who you would like to become. 

These are tough questions to ask and will need to answer at some point in your college career.  The earlier you can get to bottom of these questions the sooner you can make the necessary changes.  These are difficult decisions and you should not have to process them alone.  There are counselors on campus that can help process your thoughts, feelings, and concerns.  Make an appointment and see if you can get to the bottom of making your college experience the best it can be.

With the holidays arriving, everyone can imagine that feeling of being entirely way to stuffed with food, yet we all somehow mange to eat a piece of pie or have a dish of ice cream. Sometimes, our college lives can get just as packed as our holiday stomachs. From personal experience, I have always had the need to be busy. If I wasn’t busy then I felt like I was unproductive. This semester I took on an incredible load. I was trying to handle three jobs–a clerical assistant job for 3 hours a week, my RA position, and an environmental educator assitant postion for 16 hours a week. As well, I was taking 5 academic courses, which meet for 3 hours a week and the whole 6 hours of studying that accompany each one. I also needed time to sleep, eat, and be sociable. In short, this was just WAY too much. I was a stubborn student and ignored all of the advice from those who care most about me.

I eventually had to withdraw from my co-op (the 16 hour a week job). It was too much to handle with also trying to write my senior thesis. Lesson to be learned: It’s great to be involved and be involved in more than one organization. It’s great to have jobs and take on certificate programs. Just watch how much you take on. You don’t need to stuff your plate SO high that you can’t enjoy it all.

Any questions about  this topic?! Email the iRA team. We’ll be happy to share our advice.