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Ten Things You Should Know Before Going Off to College

by StudyMalaysia.com on September 19, 2014 | Top Stories

So you are finally going off to college. Your bags are packed, you have attended countless farewell parties with friends and dinners with family, you have said your goodbyes – and suddenly, it all seems real yet unreal at the same time.

For some of you, going to college could mean studying abroad or travelling to a different state or city. Others may attend a college near home and not have to deal with shifting to a new place and adapting to a completely different environment. Whether you are going to college a thousand miles away or ten minutes from home, what is obvious is that for the next few years, your life will be devoted largely to college. You will need to balance classes, assignments, group projects, co-curricular activities, spending time with friends, late nights, and more.

Feeling excited? Or are you overcome by anxiety? Even if you feel you have everything under control, here is some advice from students who have been through college and wish this is what they had known.

1. Don't be afraid of your lecturers and professors

Your lecturers and professors can be the best resources you need during college. Few students make it through college without seeking assistance from a lecturer or professor for help at one time or another. If you need more clarification on a subject or want to know why you failed a paper or even get some advice on your choice of major, do find time to approach your lecturer or professor. You may feel shy or afraid of asking a dumb question but it is important you put aside those feelings if you want to do well in college. Make sure you make an appointment first, show up on time, and be prepared for your meeting (that is, know what questions you want to ask and do some homework on the topic beforehand). It is better to ask for help than to feel miserable and let your problem intensify.

2. Get involved

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You may think that you are already up to your eyes with studying and assignments but it is important to get involved in activities on campus. College isn't just about attending classes and getting good grades (though that is important, of course). Getting involved is a chance to make new friends with similar interests. It also helps you discover your strengths and passion (as well as what you do not like). Being more involved also means you have more to build your résumé with – it is never too early to think about how to position yourself in the job market. Do remember that finding an activity you enjoy is an ongoing process. Try an activity at least once before deciding whether you like it or not. If you are an international student, do take part in special programmes organised by the college that are designed to help you to fit in to your new surroundings more quickly.

3. College is all about you

Some of you may know exactly what you want and what you need to do to get there but many students in college drift aimlessly because they are trying to please someone else. Remember that college is for you. You are not in college for your friends, nor your family (though you need to respect them for wanting the best for you). College is for you and about you. Don't make so many decisions for other people that you forget to make them for yourself. If there is something you think you would love doing – even if you don't have any good friends who are willing to jump in with you – take the plunge. It could be the experience of a lifetime.

4. It's time to grow up

The funny thing about being in college is how everyone tells you that you are now an adult (and it is time to grow up) and yet, you probably never thought your life would be governed by so many campus rules and academic guidelines. But rules and regulations aside, college is truly a time where many students learn a lot of their life lessons. There is no fixed curriculum on growing up but there are perhaps a few things you can expect (or not).

First, don't expect your professors or lecturers to give you all the 'answers'. This is not high school. There are no model answers or revision books to prepare you for exams. If you want to do well, you have to start taking the initiative to do more than wait for notes. Second, when there is group work, do your part! You don't want to be the person no one wants in their group because you don't pull your weight. Third, this may be the first time you are living away from home and boy, are you enjoying the freedom, but don't forget why you are in college. Too many parties, late assignments and skipped classes will catch up with you eventually. Really, it will.

5. Be kind

You will meet all sorts of people in college. You will inevitably encounter people who have problems you've never experienced, or come from cultures or backgrounds that are different from your own. Life isn't easy all the time, so don't look down on people who are less fortunate, or snub other people because it is the easy thing to do. Challenge yourself to do something different. Be kind and look out for others – treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. Don't be surprised that these may be the friends you make and keep for a lifetime.

6. When the going gets tough

There will be tough times – don't for a second think that college will be smooth sailing all the way. It could be that a lecturer hates your guts (or vice versa), you just failed a subject, your roommate is impossible to live with, a bad breakup, or some other problem. Whatever the case, things will get tough every now and then but don't set yourself up to fail because you have come too far and college is important. Get help from counsellors, talk to friends or simply re-evaluate your plans. There is almost always a solution. You just need to reach out to get it.

7. Get a job

"What? You expect me to work?" Many students these days are fortunate enough to get enough financial support that they don't need a part-time job in college. However, a part-time job could be an opportunity to learn how to manage your time better and acquire other skills that don't form part of your curriculum. Future employers will like the idea that you worked a little in college instead of partying all the time (which even if you didn't, is what they think all college kids do). Besides, there really is nothing wrong with a little extra money on the side. And if you really don't need the extra cash, there are usually many opportunities to volunteer on campus which you can add on your résumé.

8. Invest in a good laptop

top-stories-before-going-off-to-college.This one is obvious. And it doesn't mean getting a good laptop so you can make use of free campus wifi to watch movies, play games and surf the Internet endlessly (Facebook and Instagram come to mind). Your computer is your lifeline – you don't want it to blow up or frazzle out just before that big assignment is due. And on that note, it might be a good idea to sacrifice a movie or two on your external hard drive to back up your work.

9. Learn to use the library

The campus library is often the place to hang out and look as if you are working hard, or get noticed, or look at other people (and hope to get noticed). But more importantly, you will need to learn how to use the library and all its resources if you want good grades. And in the process you might even discover that you don't have to be in the library (physically) to use the library. Here are some quick tips:

  • Get to know the librarians. Often, librarians offer advice via chat, email, or personal appointments that could save you a lot of time and frustration.
  • College libraries have many, many research databases that may contain magazine articles, journal articles, newspaper articles, encyclopedia articles, books, and primary source materials. You need to learn all about them and how to access these databases.
  • Learn how to define a topic, narrow it, and select key words and phrases to describe the topic.
  • If you rely solely on Google for your research, you're not going to get very far (in your grades).
  • There's a whole other world beyond Wikipedia which your professors expect you to know.
  • You must know the different documentation styles – MLA, APA, Chicago, etc. – and which your style your faculty requires.
  • Learn enough about plagiarism to avoid committing it.
  • There's more to a college library than books. Find out what they are.
  • If you borrow books or other material from the library, take note of when you need to return them. Most colleges will hold your grades or transcripts (that's right, no graduation) for outstanding fees and/or items not returned. It gets pretty expensive too.

10. It's okay to go to bed early

If you tell your friends you want to go to bed at 10pm, you might think you will be laughed at. Don't worry about it. It's okay to have your 'lights out' a little earlier on some days. Your youth will allow you to stay up late for many nights but it won't help at that early 8am class the next day. So skip a late night teh tarik outing every now and then, or resist that gossip session (the gossip will still reach you the next day – trust us!) to catch up on your beauty sleep. Your brains will thank you for it too!

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