Ask Matt

He's been there, done that, and will answer your college-planning questions!

Ask Matt

Got a question? Write Ask Matt at matt@nextSTEPmag.com or 86 W. Main St.; Victor, NY 14564.

Q: I often look around my school and am disappointed. I feel like I have been deprived of a “real” high school experience. We don’t have a football team, no study hall to cut, very little school spirit, and our proms aren’t as exciting as those I see on TV. Advice? —Kelly Young, Philadelphia

A: The problem you are facing is that you are mixing up TV (fake) with your high school (reality). TV high schools don’t exist. Those places are sensationalized to keep your interest so that you will watch the show and stick with it through the commercials so that the TV people can make some money.

In reality, high school is all about getting good grades, getting ready for life after high school, and dealing with the mini dramas that are at every school in America. Life is not a 30-minute sitcom where everything always works out.

Your high school experience will prepare you for college as long as you learn the discipline of time management, understand the value of studying and understanding the material, and learn how to process information onto paper or a computer screen. If you can do that, your first year of college may even feel easy compared to high school!

So focus on your grades and skills in high school. Keep studying, and stop worrying about missing out on your experience. You can make up for lost fun while you’re at a college you actually pick out yourself!

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Q: What are some guidelines to follow in order to live successfully with my roommate in college? —Richard Twumasi
A: Living with a stranger in college is going to be a new experience for both you and your roommate. Sharing close quarters with a stranger is going to be an eye-opening experience. You are going to learn things about your roommate that you would probably never learn otherwise.

The main thing is to try to be respectful of your roommate’s personal belongings and space. There is nothing worse than a person who ignores a sleeping roommate and turns on the TV or stereo because they don’t feel tired. Or a roommate who doesn’t help clean up. If you have a mutual respect for each other, most other issues can be worked out. Respect is key, everything hinges on that.

Q: Is it necessary to be the best at everything to get into your dream college? How hard is it really to get accepted into college? Do standardized tests hold the most weight when a college is accepting student? —Caitlin Goforth
A: The best thing that you can do to maximize your chances of getting into one of your top three college choices is to keep making good grades in high school.

Your grades are mostly what influences an admissions counselor’s decision to admit you or not. Extracurricular activities are just the cherries on top of the cake. If you have a high GPA, you have taken some challenging classes, and you show that you can write in your admissions essay, you will definitely have a leg up over students with mediocre grades but a lot of extracurricular activities.

Good grades show that you can perform in a classroom, and ultimately that is what college is about.

Q: I have the worst attention span of anyone I know. There’s always distractions around my house, like my 5-year-old sister, 13-year-old brother and my 17-year-old brother… I’m having a hard time doing my homework, and it’s affecting my grades. Any advice?
—April Frazier, Cleveland, Ohio
A: April, I would talk to your parents about your problem of being distracted. Maybe your parents could help you find some quiet time in your home.

Find a room far away from the television; a room where you can close the door and be alone. Try using your bedroom to minimize your distractions from your siblings. Also, utilize the days that you can stay after school to work on your homework. Even if you can only stay after school once a week, then you only have to find a quiet place in your home four days each week.
 
Is there a coffee shop or restaurant near you where you could study for an hour or so each day?

Communication with your parents about your need for a place to study with fewer distractions is the most important thing you can do for your situation. Maybe your parents can help you with a more specific solution to your problem. Talk to them, and something better will happen.

Q: How do you go about picking a major and a college? I’m so baffled. I don’t know what I want to do or where—or why—I want to go! HELP! —Lisa Wade, Condon, Ore.
A: Lisa, most high school students are not 100 percent sure of where they want to go or what they want to study in college.

Some students are not even sure if they want to go to college or pursue another option, such as the military, a gap year, or a trade school or technical college.

I’d like to suggest that you do this: Make a list of what you know you want. After you make that list, go through it and see what you have to do to get what is on the list. I find that making a list and figuring out how to go about reaching those goals helps me narrow my thoughts to only ideas that are relevant to my goals.

If you find you’re really into a specific goal, then you will have a much more narrow search for colleges.

If you are not really set on any one thing, I would suggest going to your local community college to take the courses that you’ll need no matter what college you graduate from. You can save yourself money and buy yourself some time to determine what you would like to do with your future.

Q: As I look into colleges more, I don't know where to apply. How do I know if I belong at a particular college? How can I tell?  –Kalyn Schofield, Glassboro, N.J. 
A: You need to feel like you fit in at your college.

One of the best ways to determine if a college fits you as a prospective student is to actually go and visit the schools that you are interested in attending.

College visits are a part of the selection process. You may think prior to visiting a college that the school is a perfect fit. But you may go visit your “perfect” college and find that the atmosphere just isn’t the right fit for you. 

Q: How might a freshman best manage both the rush of university-level course material and demands, with the sudden responsibility that comes with living on your own? –Adam Moscoe, Ottawa, Canada
A: Many students are surprised when, in college, they have only one or two classes in the morning, one more class in the afternoon, and no classes in between.

Many students procrastinate with long-term projects common in college. There are students who routinely wait to the last minute and who then pull all-nighters and try to crank out term papers the night before they’re due.

These types of activities only make college more difficult.

Proper time management will help you prevent low grades, lower your stress level, and give you more time to enjoy your new freedom.

Time management is a skill that is best developed by practice, and it is never too late to start. Just making a daily list of things to accomplish is a step in the right direction. Get a day planner to give structure to your days and to keep your schedule productive. Whatever you decide works best for you, make sure you keep practicing time management; it is a skill that will translate well into a professional career and every other aspect of your life.

Q: In what year of college is a student allowed to pick their own choice of classes? – Grace Dong, California
A: Grace, most schools allow you some freedom in picking your classes—depending, of course, on the school and on the major that you choose to study. Some schools with a rigid curriculum have less room for individual choice; some colleges give you lots of choices right away. Regardless of the freedom you get in choosing your courses, make sure you make well-informed decisions about your classes. They can be expensive, and you don’t want to end up taking any that don’t count toward graduating college. Do some research and determine if a class that you are interested in taking will ultimately count toward your major. Your academic adviser is a good person to ask.

Q: What makes a great college great? – Jasmine Williams, Ohio
A: What makes a great college great is a bit subjective. Name recognition and a high standard of the academic curriculum is probably on top of most people’s list. I think you should focus your energy on what college would be a great fit for you as a prospective student. Try and figure out which college you can be a great student at, and you will then find out what makes a college great.
 
Q: Is it hard to maintain a good average in college while working? – Eunice Ochuonyo, N.Y.
A: Maintaining a good GPA in college depends on your study habits. It is possible to work a part-time job as an undergrad and still maintain a good GPA; it all depends on
the amount of time and effort you are willing to devote to studying.

Time management skills are important if you want to accomplish all of your responsibilities. So yes, it is more difficult to maintain good grades when you have a part-time job, but the skills of balancing work and school will help prepare you for life after college.

I recommend that most students have part-time jobs. It is good to have some income to support yourself, and it also gives you real-world work experience to enrich your time at college.

Q: I am unsure what courses I should take in college, because I do not know what my major will be. What should I do?

A: It is normal to not know exactly what you are going to be majoring in at college when you first arrive.

Hopefully, you have given yourself some options of majors.
I recommend contacting the student services center (or other similarly named department) to ask them about getting assigned to an adviser ASAP.

If you cannot meet with an academic adviser prior to registering for your first-semester classes, then I recommend taking basic courses that are graduation requirements for almost all degree programs. These general-education classes usually include English composition, the history of America, college algebra, or an entry-level science course, such as basic biology. You’ll need these kinds of classes to graduate, regardless of if you are studying pre-law or journalism.

By taking classes that are almost universally required, you will buy yourself some time to determine a major as well as sample some different educational genres.

Q: I am interested in playing sports in college, but I am not going to be playing for the college teams. Are there any options for an athlete who’s interested in competition but is not competing on the official sports team?
A: Most major colleges and universities have some sort of department that organizes a recreational league of sports.

The school that I went to had a large student recreational department that included three AstroTurf playing fields, two rubberized tracks (one indoor and one outdoor), two sand volleyball courts, and a large student rec center that offered aerobics classes, kayak rentals, racquetball, squash and an exercise center.

Many students use a college’s rec center offerings as a deciding factor in their college choice. Lots of schools highlight the programs they offer in their information packets and online.
If your potential college does not offer an extensive intramural league, start one up on your own, and ask the school to pay for the cost of creating it! You never know; you may create a successful and huge program at your school.

No matter the details, recreational intramural leagues are a great way to stay fit and healthy as well as meet new friends.

Q: How did you pay for college?
A: I paid for college three ways.

First, I was lucky to have parents who helped me pay for essential things like books and fees when I started college.

Second, I was able to secure a grant for another portion of my fees. I took out a small student loan to cover the remainder of my tuition and fees.

Third, I worked part-time jobs to make ends meet while at school. As you can see by my example, you do not have to secure all of the money that you will need from just one source. Instead, diversify how you pay for college.

Q: I’m not used to living with anyone besides Mom and Dad. Do you have any roommate tips?
A: Living with a roommate or roommates is a large part of the college-life experience. My best advice to you would be to be patient and try to exert a laid-back attitude.
Many of the small things that your roommate will do probably will not bother you in the beginning. By the end of a semester, those small issues that have been festering for a long time will reach a boiling point.

The key to dealing with roommate issues is to be respectful of each other and have open communication. Showing respect for others and being able to express your feelings or perceptions to another person is a great tool to have in life.
Roommates can be really good or really bad—you will have to learn how to deal with your own circumstances as the issues arise. If you’re in a situation you can’t handle, ask your resident adviser for help. In the worst cases, you may be able to swap your roommate for another.

Q: When and where did you do your homework in college? Did you always work in your dorm room?
A: I did my homework at different times and in many places. I studied and read for class at coffee shops, bagel shops and while waiting around for the bus when I lived off campus.
I was lucky to have a part-time job that allowed me to do some reading and homework while working at the school pool. I had access to many 24-hour computer labs to work on papers overnight if I had to. I joined study groups my freshman year. I was the student who would visit a professor if I had a problem with an assignment. I used the college writing lab as a place to get my papers proofread before I turned them in.

I guess the bottom line is that you can study in a lot of places that you probably would not study in high school.

I am a pretty flexible person; I did not need crypt-like silence to work at my full potential. But if you need peace and quiet, try the library for a large, vast expanse of quiet solitude.

Q: Which is better: pursuing your dream (a music career), or going to college right away? —Tom Budge, Ontario
A: Well, Tom, it really all depends on how good of a musician you are. If you have record companies beating down your door to sign you up for a recording contract, then I would say that you can afford to put college off for a while.

If you dream of a music career but you do not have any immediate opportunities to make money from it, I would urge you to go to college now. You can work around your college schedule and do your music career on the side.

I would wager to say that you could make yourself a better musician if you go to school for many reasons. First, take a personal finance or business class; you will then be able to tell if someone is ripping you off with your music contract.

Second, you gain life experiences by living the college lifestyle. And what better fodder for music is there than something that most people relate to as being a fun time in life?

Third, if your music career does not pan out for whatever reason, at least you have an education.

Q: If I want to change a major in college, how will it affect me financially and time-wise? —Cynthia Kuang, New York
A: Changing your major in college affects you differently depending on when you decide to change. If you decide in your first semester that you no longer want to be an English teacher and would rather teach social studies, that’s not a huge jump.

Switching majors in your first year of college is probably the best time to switch because you have not accumulated much credit in one particular area. Most college freshmen take survey courses, also known as introductory courses or the 100 level. Many of these survey classes fulfill the college’s general education requirements, which are required for all majors. Typical gen ed classes include: college algebra, history of America or Western civilization and basic English courses.

Changing your major during your sophomore or junior years is going to pose more problems than if you did it freshman year. If you drastically change your major—say, from business administration to nursing, then you may have taken some classes that do not count for anything toward your new major.

Switching majors during your second and third years in college can affect when you graduate. It all depends on the transferability of the credits you have already earned.

As far as being affected financially, the worst that can happen is that you take courses that you don’t really need or that aren’t counted toward your new major. If this happens, consider it a broadening of your horizons. Try not to think of it as wasted money, as these courses still affect your GPA.

If you change majors as a senior, plan on most likely not graduating in four years. Your best bet at that point may be to finish your current degree, then research grad schools, dual-degree programs or jobs that combine your new passion with your old skills. Check with your college adviser before you get too far.

Q: What is the biggest difference between high school and college? —Michael S., New York
A: For some people, it is the freedom to make choices without parental oversight. For others, it is the idea of going to school for themselves, instead of because someone else tells them they have to go. For me, it was moving away from everyone I knew and having to start over.

Being far from home and not knowing anyone really helped me grow up and mature far faster than I would have had I stayed in the city in which I grew up.

College is different from high school for many reasons, but mostly just because with time, things change, people change, and time moves on. It’s up to you to accept that there will be changes. Don’t be the guy who tries to hang on to the glory days of high school well after everyone else has moved on. Instead, embrace the changes and don’t look back until your 10-year high school reunion. Peace, Mike!

Q: How do I know what career is best for me? —Aireana A., Texas
A: Whatever you do, do not think that you will have to decide exactly what your career will be the minute you receive your high school diploma!

Try what I do when faced with a big decision: Breathe in deeply, exhale loudly, casually make way to TV to watch syndicated episodes of “Seinfeld” or “The Simpsons,” then see if the problem has resolved itself.

Ha ha! Really though, relax. You will have plenty of time to decide what work you will do for the rest of your life. To get started on the process, make a list of things you like to do and see if there is a way to make a living doing those things. Or get a part-time job to try something new. You can always change your major if you find something else that’s more of a path you want to follow. And if all of this fails, you can change your career after college, too.

Q: Is living on campus and away from home hard? —Saniyah L., Ohio
A: Is it hard to balance doing your laundry, finding time to feed yourself, buying essentials for existence and making sufficient time to study? If you answered yes, then you may have some adjusting to do to be comfortable away from home.

If you enjoy the freedom of making your own schedule and doing things at your own pace, then living on campus may seem easy. If you enjoy your parents doing your laundry, preparing your dinner and buying your toilet paper and toothpaste, you may have a more difficult time.

Most people have some transition period after moving away from home for the first time. That homesickness is overcome with a lot of practice doing the things Mom and Dad used to do for you. Some day (sooner than you think!), you will thrive in an adult world of self-purchased toiletries, clean clothes and homemade food. Sniff, sniff; can you smell that? It’s your first self-made dinner in the oven. Success!

Q: How do you get comfortable with the idea of living with a complete stranger and trusting them? —Jessica L., Ontario, Canada
A: The idea of living with a complete stranger is pretty daunting. After all, trust is something that is built up over time. But you can trust that you are both in the same situation, and that whatever problems occur can be overcome.

You and your roommate do not need to be perfect friends. Your relationship should be based on mutual respect and the knowledge that making life difficult for the other person only makes yours miserable, too. Talk to your resident adviser if you think there’s no hope for an amicable roomie relationship, but talk to your roommate about the problem first.

Q: Should you go into debt (meaning large student loans) to go to the college of your choice, or choose a less expensive college? — Joseph Dickens, Kentucky
A: First we should understand that there are two kinds of debt, “good” debt and “bad” debt. Good debt is when you invest in yourself to make you a more profitable individual. Using student loans for college is considered good debt. A house mortgage is considered good debt. Bad debt is the kind of debt you get from overspending and maxing out your credit cards.

Now that we know that debt isn’t always completely bad, we can answer your question. How committed are you to the expensive college of your choice? Are you going there because you have heard it is a good school? Is it the only place you will be completely satisfied?

Consider your options carefully. If you go to the expensive school with less than a complete understanding of your college goals, you are wasting money. Instead, consider going easier on your bank account by spending the first two years of college taking general education requirements at a community college. It makes sense to take your general education classes at a less expensive college than to pay five times as much somewhere else when you’re not sure why you’re there.

Q: How do you know what major to pick? What if two or three majors interest you?
—Ayano Ogura, California
A: I attended college for the majority of the time not having a single firm idea as to what I wanted to major in. I found out that I could claim “undeclared” status, and was free to pretty much take whatever classes I wanted to take. The downside of not really knowing what major to declare is that you might take classes that are not applicable to the major you pick later. If you have narrowed your choices to one or two, pick one and work at it. If you find out the one you’ve picked does not suit you well, switch majors and try another one.

I had the unique experience of switching majors seven times! Understand that you are not locked into one major. You are in control as long as you are paying for your education. Get out there and try stuff; you never know what you might be good at.

Q: How much free time do college students have, and how do you recommend it be spent?  —Joe Engels, New York
A: You will have as much free time as you want in college. You can skip class and ditch studying if you really find that desirable. The flip side to this is that you will shortly find yourself a college dropout.

Most full-time students average about 10 to 25 hours per week studying outside of the classroom. The typical class load is 12 to 15 credit hours for full-time students. Most three-credit-hour courses meet in class for about three hours per week. So plan on about 35 or more hours a week strictly dedicated to school.

If you have a part-time job, your time will dwindle even quicker. Factor in sleep time and meals and, well, you are not exactly rolling in free time.

But fear not! College students are masters of multitasking and having fun! You will be surprised how much reading you can do while doing laundry. And luckily, most traditional colleges spare students the agony of weekend classes.

What’s even better, you may be able to fix your schedule so that you only have classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays or some other variation. Spend the alternate days working, interning or participating in a club or sport.

I recommend you spend your free time at college having a good, safe time. College is the last period of your life where you will be relatively worry-free. Soon enough, you might have a house payment, diapers to change and a cranky boss at work. Enjoy your time in college, but make sure you do what you came to do: Get an education!

Q: If I do poorly on the SAT, is my chance at a good college shot?
A: Yes. Find a discarded cardboard refrigerator box to live in for the duration of your shortened, meaningless life, you who bombed the SAT.

Actually, please disregard the first sentence and read from here, because you have the honored privilege of taking the SAT as many times as your heart and wallet desire. No matter what, though, your SAT scores do not determine your total intellectual potential. Nor do they make you a good or a bad person. Your SAT score reflects little more than how well you, well, scored on the SAT. Too many people get hung up on their SAT scores and use them to see who they are “smarter” than. But people who do this comparative nonsense are either destined to become admission directors, or they are shallow. Retake the test if you want a better score, apply to colleges that consider more than your test grades for admission, and please don’t base your future goals on one Saturday-morning exam.


Q: I cannot seem to focus on senior year. Is it really that important?
A: Senior year, important? Now why would 25 percent of your high school existence be important? (Note the sarcasm.)

The short answer to your question is that your academic performance in senior year is very important. Some colleges will not allow admitted students to enroll if senior year became an academic blowoff. College acceptances are conditional—meaning you, as a student in your senior year of high school, promise to continue to prepare yourself academically for college.

I cannot stress enough the importance of continuing to put forth your best effort in your senior year academics. The senior slide mentality is a dangerous slope. You may find that a slide has more of a negative impact than doing poorly on the SAT. You can retake your SAT in an afternoon, but it takes all year to redo senior year.

Q: I have seven months left until graduation. What are some experiences that I should definitely fit into high school?

A: You should get out and try a new thing as often as possible. I had a friend who always wanted to try out for the baseball team in high school—and finally did senior year.

Visiting colleges is another experience that you should have. Visit more than one to get a feel for what college life is all about.

If you do not want to attend college, setting up an apprenticeship or meeting with an armed forces recruiter is an experience you may want to explore. Many high school seniors who are interested in military careers start them directly after high school.

For those of you with no plans for after high school, line up a job for the summer. Working at a camp is an awesome experience, a lot of fun, and you make money and new friends quickly.

Don’t forget to do your homework, study for tests and hang out with your friends. The success rate of keeping high school friends past college is staggeringly low, so have fun with them while you can.

Your senior year is one of the last years of your life where you have the freedom of a kid with some of the options of an adult. If you don’t believe me, wait five years and reflect back on your time as a high school senior.


Q: I’m worried that I will really miss my family when I go away to school. Am I the only person who feels like this?

A: Missing parents and family is a common feeling for many who are leaving their hometowns. But homesickness is really quite easy to get over. You just need to become busy. Immerse yourself in your studies and meet new people. Join some clubs and groups that interest you. Whatever you do, just don’t sit around your room and mope. Getting out, trying new things and eventually having fun are the easiest ways to get over missing your loved ones. You will see your family again. So have some fun until the next time you get together so you have interesting college stories to share.

Q: I’m an average student who’s going to be attending a large state school. Does it matter that I’m probably not going to graduate at the top of my college class?
A: Most people worry about just graduating from college, not where they’re going to fall in the final lineup. Worry about doing the best that you can, not about how well everyone else is doing. Being the top graduate does bestow some nice perks, such as being able to write on your resume that were the top graduate. But who really cares about your college GPA after you secure a job? Not many. Think about it—are you going to start friendships by comparing your class ranks? Only one person can be the top dog in any graduating class, so don’t worry about it. Just work on getting that diploma and lining up a job after graduation.

Q: I’m having trouble figuring out what major I want to declare. Everyone is telling me I should make up my mind now, before I get to college. Do I really have to decide right this minute?
A: Declaring your major can be one of the most important decisions of your academic career. I would take time to thoroughly consider your options. Do not choose a major just to choose one. If you haven’t decided, you can always defer to an undeclared status, which means that you’ll take some generic courses that you need for any major. But do not wait too long. Taking years to decide your major will ultimately push back your graduation date. Take a deep breath and know that you do not need to know what you are going to major in right now. But work toward figuring it out (take some classes in areas that interest you to see what fits), and plan to declare by at least the first semester of your sophomore year.

Q: What if I hate my college roommate?
A: Roommates are an interesting issue, because they’re not only a kind of relationship, but there is also money involved. (Money makes things complicated.) If you live in a dorm or other kind of college-run housing, you may be able to move away from your roommate without penalty. But you also may not. It depends on the grounds of your so-called hatred. If you can plead a medical condition, such as, “This person smokes, and I’m allergic to cigarettes,” then you’ll soon be packing up your stuff and moving somewhere else. But if it’s a petty issue, such as, “I don’t like Jessica Simpson posters on the wall,” then you may have problems switching. You could always try communicating your issues to your roommate and resolving them together. Ask your RA for help. If you live in an apartment with a lease, well then, you’ve got an entirely different beast to slay. Good luck trying to get your roommate to move out or for you to get out of paying your half of the rent. You may just be better off sucking it up, living with the annoying roommate and chalking the whole thing up to a learning experience.

Side note: Best friends don’t always make the best roommates. Do you really want to find out how messy your high school buddies are?

Q: What was the biggest surprise you found at college?
A: The immense amount of freedom you’ll have. If you so choose, you can go credit-card crazy and fill out dozens of credit card applications. (Resist that urge!) You can plan your schedule so that you don’t have to go to class until the afternoon. Rarely do professors take attendance, so there is no calling in sick or doctor’s notes to get. You have the freedom to stay up late and do homework until 2 a.m. You have the freedom to choose to do what you want with your life after high school. Be careful; many students fare poorly because of procrastination and frequent absences. Be your own motivator, and try to make good choices while having some fun.

Q: How often do college students go home?
A: It really depends on how far away they are from home and what their relation-ships are like there. My freshman year roommate went home nearly every weekend to help his parents on the family farm during the planting and harvesting seasons. (Mid-Missouri residents consider this normal.) I rarely went home throughout college, except for holidays and family birthdays. I had my life at college, and I had my high school life back home two hours away. It was never easy for me to transition from one to the other.

Students get homesick for many reasons: a girlfriend back home, missing the family poodle, whatever. Others like myself figured it was just more fun to live a college lifestyle. I find that students make fewer visits home as time progresses. A balance of visiting and calling home is nice—your parents will appreciate it, and so will you in the long run. Never forget where you came from, but also never forget where you want to go.

Q: How much stuff from home should I bring to college my freshman year?
A: The first semester of freshman year in college is a time of change for many students. Gone are the days of high school and your childhood bedroom. You will most likely have a roommate or suitemates. You will be surprised at how fast your living space will fill up with clutter in college. Have you ever wanted to be the proud owner of a lava lamp or Chia Pet? Now you can be. Leave most of your sentimental stuff at home. It will be nice to return to your high school stuff when you come home for a break. I’ve discovered that I have distinctly different stuff from different times in my life. I have a box from when I was in high school and a couple of boxes of stuff from my college years. Leave most of your stuff home.

Q: I’ve heard that in college, you have to write a lot of papers. I’m a terrible writer. Am I doomed?
A: Writing papers in college is similar to nap time in preschool: Nobody wants to do it, but you must. I am having a hard time coming up with an example of a college that doesn’t require you to complete papers as part of the curriculum. “Writing a lot of papers” seems to accurately describe my college experience. A college paper is an excellent way for professors and instructors to gauge how well students have understood the course information. If writing papers is not your strength, fear not—there are plenty of resources available to help you succeed. Communicate with your professors about your situation. If you have a diagnosed condition, such as dyslexia, your method of getting help will be different than if you don’t. Most colleges and universities have some kind of writing resource center; you are not the first person who has had trouble. Talking to your professors about your paper-writing issues should put you in the right direction for success. Tools such as word processing programs, spell checkers and writing style guides should also help. All of these resources will be at your fingertips at most colleges.

Q: I’ve heard that there is a lot of drinking at college. Is that true?
A: The short answer is that it’s up to you. If you want to drink a lot in college, then yes, you will find a way to drink a lot in college. If you are absolutely abhorred at the thought of imbibing any amount of alcohol, then you can find a way to avoid alcohol and befriend other people who avoid it, too. Some schools allow alcohol on campus, others are “dry,” meaning there is an alcohol ban on campus. Remember that if you do drink, you’ll be breaking the law. The legal drinking age in the United States is 21. No matter where you drink, on or off campus, the punishments for underage drinkers are strict. Do not break the law. And when you become of age, do not let drinking get in the way of your academic success. Drinking can be a large aspect of college culture; don’t let it be the only aspect of yours.

Q: My parents say I need to have a job in college. I feel that I shouldn’t because it will be too much for me to balance. Can I do school and work?
A: Having a part-time job in college is sometimes the only way for some people to afford school. Time management is a skill that you have to practice to be successful in college. Some part-time jobs allow you to do homework on the job. Others jobs may pertain to your major, helping you in the long run as well as giving you a way to earn some cash. Unless you select a job that is totally unworkable with your course load, you should be able to do both. Life is full of times where you have to divide your energy into more than one task. College is another lesson in preparing yourself for life’s more trying times. Budget your time wisely; you’ll have good grades and some well-earned cash.

Q: What if I’m put on academic probation at college? What does that mean?
A: Academic probation is the education system’s way of keeping your academic efforts out of the proverbial gutter before it’s too late. Academic probation is a status given to a student whose GPA falls below a certain standard. That standard varies from school to school. It may be contingent on your overall GPA or on a semester-by-semester basis. Long story short, you need to get some help. Tutoring, more study time and better class attendance are sure-fire ways to alleviate the academic probation woes. Be aware that some schools have strict punishments if you stay on academic probation for too long. So keep your grades up!

Q: What if I get sick at college and I’m three hours away from my hometown doctor?
A: Fear not, my sick one! Most colleges have some form of on-campus health clinic, a hospital nearby or both! If you want a regular doctor instead of the health center regulars, contact your health insurance provider and ask for a local recommendation. Before you see the doc, make sure you know how much your co-pay will be. A co-pay is the amount you need to pay when you go to the doctor. It’s usually in the $20 ballpark. Your insurance company, if you follow the terms of your insurance correctly, will pick up the rest of the bill.

Q: I blew all the money I’ve made over the summer on my senior trip, and now I’m wondering if I’ll have enough to spend at college. Will I have time to work while at school?
A: I’m sure you will have enough time to do other things than just study for your college classes. Rarely does studying consume every single minute of your day. You have to make time for yourself. (You have to sleep sometime!) The real question is: Can you work a part-time job and still do well in college? The answer is, it depends. Figure out how much time you need for studying and making the grades you want. That should be your first criteria in determining how much you can devote to a part-time job. The less time you find you need for studying, the more likely you will be able to balance a job and school. It all comes down to time management. Keep in mind that it’s better to be poor for four years and get good grades than to be not-so-poor with average or below-average grades. You don’t want to struggle to find a “real job” after college because your college grades were sub-par. College should be your number-one priority. Your part-time job for a disposable income should never jeopardize your education.

Q: What if I don’t know what I want to do for a career yet?
A: You are already well ahead of the rest of us! I recently heard a humorous but true saying: “Long-range career planning is about five years.” Meaning don’t worry right now. You are just beginning to plan your post-high school experience. Make a list of things that you want to do in life. Make some goals, and be as unreasonable as you want. Then get up, get a cookie or something, watch a little TV or go for a run. Come back to your list later and think about what you would have to do to pursue those goals. Figure out if the schools you are considering have majors in any of the areas you’ll have to study. Remember that you are not tied to doing just one thing for the rest of your life. As a freshman, take the general education requirements at your school, such as English, history and entry-level science courses that are basic graduation requirements for most accredited schools of higher education. You’ll need those basic courses to graduate, no matter your major.

Q: I’ve dated my girlfriend since we were sophomores in high school. Two years later, we’re still together. Should we apply to the same colleges? I really think she’s “the one”… –Zack
A: A two-month relationship is an impressive amount of time when you’re in high school. A two-year relationship is tantamount to a millennium. The contributing factor to the short dating cycles in your late high school and early college years is this: The quantity of changes that occur from just getting older are, simply put, staggering. The chances that the two of you will “make it” or be “the one” for each other can be slim to none. At age 17, you have no idea what your significant other will be like when they are 21 or 40, for that matter. Choosing where to go after high school graduation is, most likely, the biggest, most important decision of your life thus far. Going six states away from home to follow your girlfriend’s dream is an unwise decision. Go your own way. If your relationship is strong enough to span the ages of 15 to 21, then choosing a different location to start post-high school life will not wreck your relationship.

Q: I’m scared about losing touch with my high school friends. I’m going to school hours away from where most of them will be. How can I keep their friendships? –Sandra
A: The result of moving away is most likely a guarantee that you will lose touch with your high school friends. But, freshman year of college is all about meeting new people and fostering new relationships. Let meeting new people happen. Let’s face it, if you are not meeting new people and getting out there, you’re going to be boring and lame, staying the same while all your high school friends are meeting new friends and getting on with life. But don’t despair. Unless your high school friends’ parents move, you’ll still have them to bum around with on breaks back home.

Q: I can hardly stand to eat in a cafeteria—let alone eat cafeteria food. How can I eat healthfully on a meal plan? –Tiffany
A: I’ve never really heard the words “healthy” and “meal plan” in the same sentence. “Different” is the word I’ve often heard associated with meal plan food. Meal plan food historically has never really been that healthy. Improvements are being made, though. Most cafeterias provide alternate menus for vegetarians or people with other dietary restrictions. But, there are salad bars, baked potato bars, stir fries and lean meats often available , too. if cafeteria food really bothers you, buy some Rolaids, hummus and bean sprouts on your own. Enjoy the college food experience, and accumulate stories to tell your friends when you’re old and spend time reminiscing about the wild days of college life.

Q: Should I bring my car to college?
A: Most freshmen do not have cars. Reason: Parking permits are issued on a priority basis with faculty and staff, graduate and other upper-level students getting first pick. Basically, as a freshman, you are at the bottom of all those lists. You register for classes last, you are the last to get a parking permit, and so on. Also, any parking that you could get would most likely be in the worst lot, very, very, very far away from any place convenient. So my answer is no, don't bring a car. That is, unless you have to travel regularly for your major, such as to report on stories for a journalism class. If you’d just be bringing your car with you on a whim, “don't” bother. Make friends with someone foolhardy enough to bring a car, then let them deal with all of the hassles and parking tickets while you just ride along, humming to yourself about how smart you were to leave your car at home for your brother to take care of while you’re away.

Q: I’m used to staying out until whenever I want while at college. How am I going to deal with my parents and their rules when I go back home for the summer?
A: This is a common problem. Talk with your parents as soon as you arrive home—don’t wait until after your first conflict involving their curfew or rules. You will be taken more seriously and regarded as an adult if you address the issues as soon as you can. If nothing can be worked out with your folks, how about working at a summer camp, taking summer classes at your school or studying abroad? If you’ve got a summer to play with, you might as well do something fun, like teach kids how to water ski, go hiking in the Swiss Alps, or take a modern-film class at school in the summer.

Q: What were you most nervous about when moving to college?
A: I was afraid that I would forget something that I would need, so I ended up packing just about everything that I owned that wasn’t anchored to the Earth.  I brought my mountain bike (good choice), and I brought a safari hat that I had acquired several Christmases before (not a good choice, as my new roommate ridiculed me about it for the first few days).

Whenever you feel nervous about something related to going to college, remember this: You are not the first person to feel that way. Chances are someone has felt the same way as you are feeling, so try to find an answer to your dilemma. Most likely, you are probably just over-thinking something that will never be the problem that you anticipate. The problems that are difficult to solve are the problems that you are not thinking about.
 
Q: Are some college clubs more important than others?
A: The short answer is no, although some clubs may have more funding, more prestige or more perks than others.

There is no real chain of importance to college clubs. Keep in mind that some may be more organized than others and may be linked to larger organizations. For example, the forensic club at my college worked with the local police department for expertise, advisement and as a way for people to network in the field.  

I am sure that joining a college club has led to an easier transition to a full-time job for people who chose a club that related to their degree. Join the advertising club, and you might get to know a professor who can let you know about jobs and internships, for example.

The main benefit of college clubs is that they allow you to try a multitude of activities without having to major in the subject.


Got a question? Write Ask Matt at matt@nextSTEPmag.com or 86 W. Main St.; Victor, NY 14564.



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