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  • Writer's pictureAllen Tsao

First Semester of College: Top 5 Tips

As some of my students are preparing for college in the fall, I've been sharing some of my advice for them. While there are typical suggestions like "study hard" or "don't party too much", those are pretty generic, and part of college life is to explore life on your own in a new environment. For me, college was a place to reinvent my identity and really decide how to live a whole life on my own.

1. Don't pick the 8am Class

Many students, especially studious ones, think that they're used to waking up early and making it to class, so they can continue that in college. This is a really bad idea, unless you are extremely disciplined. If you're on your own in college, there's no one to tell you when to go to bed (there will be plenty of late night socializing), no one who will wake you up and make you go to school, and if you miss a class, no one will be there to track your attendance.

This level of freedom is pretty amazing, and it's really easy to let it get to your head. My college roommate picked the 8am Monday Wedesnday Friday class, and it was pretty regular for me to hear his alarm at 7:30am and watch him turn it off and go back to sleep. And missing class is actually a bad idea, which leads me to the second biggest mistake.

2. Don't skip class

I know this seems obvious, but it's a really bad idea to skip class. In high school, classes are paced more slowly for you to cover material in a whole year. But your AP Calculus AB or AP Physics classes, which are usually a full year in high school, are only one semester in college. So if you felt like AP Physics 1 went by really fast, you haven't seen anything yet. That's why you only take 3-5 classes per semester.

A lot of college students who come to me have fallen behind, and it is extremely hard to catch up. For high school students, we have time because in general, the course pacing is slow enough that there's enough time to catch up on areas that the student didn't do well in. But in college, it's much more difficult to catch up. It's hard enough to keep up with the courses, so playing catch up at the same time is nearly impossible.

3. Do your homework

Some college classes don't even require you to do homework. This is actually a really bad thing. First off, that means your grade is based entirely on tests and the final, which adds a lot of pressure to doing well on those. If homework is graded, it can count a decent portion of your grade, which means the actual tests count less. The tests are still important, but homework can give you some buffer.

But the most important reason to do the homework is that it is the main way you learn the material. Because of the pacing of lectures and material in a college class, the professor spends most of their time just teaching new material. The homework is your only chance to put those ideas into practice. It wasn't unusual for me to spend 5-10 hours on a single class's homework every week, which I never had to do in high school. It is your single biggest chance to actually prepare for the exam, so even if the homework is optional, you should take advantage and actually do the homework.

4. Go to Office Hours

It can be intimidating to talk to professors especially when they teach so many students. And unlike high school, if you make no effort to get to know your professor, they will never know you. Surprisingly, many students don't show up to professor's office hours, and it can be a great way to get to know your professor and build a relationship with them. Some of my professors really helped me understand the subject better, and I really appreciated their depth of knowledge and experience.

5. Build Relationships

Many of my closest friends came from college. For some of you, it'll be your first chance to live away from home. You'll spend meals and free time with your roomate or other people who live close to you. It's good to take time to build friendships that can last a lifetime. It's OK to take breaks and relax sometimes. Life is always about balance and never too much of any one thing: studying, socializing, playing video games, etc.

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