Are you packed? In a few short months, a dorm will be your new home. Once there, you will have unlimited access to all that college has to offer: freedom and fun, time to learn and explore interests in ways unmatched during any other time in your life. With opportunities like that, you'd better learn how to pack in your days to maximize your campus experience. Believe me, how you use your college years, days and even hours will effect your future more than you'd like to admit. So take it from a girl who earned four degrees in five years: you can make the most of your college career and still have a social life, with help from these solid tips.
To explore your interests while avoiding the staggering costs of tuition, consider a community college. After all, inexpensive doesn't mean ineffectual. With a slightly lighter workload and a wide variety of courses, a community college can be the first step towards making your college days count. During the first two years of my college life, I attended Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. I had an overloaded schedule every semester, through which I explored drama, voice, piano, literature, writing, religious groups, honors courses, French, and community activities. When I was done, I had not only completed the fundamental requirements most institutions require during freshman and sophomore years, but also I had explored more career options and activities than I'd ever thought possible. To top it off, I ran around the graduation field to fetch two associate's degrees: liberal arts and a performing arts degree in music.
Once you hit the level of higher education, it doesn't matter whether you have a one-track concentration or a cartload of conflicting pursuits. Either way, you must desire to absorb knowledge. After transferring to the University of Rochester in New York, I visited a man unofficially deemed "The Friendliest Guy on Campus." The university's dean of students, Paul Burgett, quickly identified three things an undergraduate should focus on during her college years, regardless of her major. "First," he says, "you need to develop skills to access and apprehend data, and in some cases create data, which we call research. Second, you need to develop skills of analysis. That is, taking the thing apart and putting it back together again - mechanical and intellectual exercises we call thinking and practice. Having done that, it can be said that someone knows something. The third skill is perfecting one's expression of that knowledge through writing, speaking, and graphic representation such as on the computer." Access. Analyze. Express. It sounds simply enough, but learning how to successfully translate those principles into practice meant managing time and mastering effective study habits.
Since time is money, budget it wisely. One might say I went a little overboard during my college years, locking in every minute with some activity or another, even scheduling meetings when I could take a break from studying. But diligently planning your days can pay off, as long as you realize your schedule will inevitably change during the day. Your day planner will become your personal gold mine. To make the most of your time, studying must be efficient, pointed, and focused. Trying to combine social time with studying won't work. Set time aside, keep on top of your daily workload and avoid being stuck with 500 pages to read two days before a midterm. And when you do read a plethora of pages, learn to glean the key points by using the professor's lecture as your guide. If the teacher mentioned a topic, pull more info about it from the text.
Optimizing your school life doesn't mean all work and no play. But how you play can make or break your college career. By getting involved in extracurricular activities that relate or add to your major, you can bulk up on job skills, discover unknown talents and expand your circle of friends. Plus, you get to have fun. As it turns out, all my extracurricular activities merged with my eventual majors. At the U of R, the college newspaper, jazz ensemble, gospel choir, theater trips and studying abroad kept my schedule packed. I auditioned and began piano lessons with world-renown faculty. I packed in as much as possible, realizing these opportunities would be gone in a matter of semesters.
PURSUE YOUR PASSIONS
All this studying, time management, and active involvement proves useless if passions don't drive your experience. If you hate your major or find activities boring or unrewarding, your attitude won't magically change out in the "real world." By persisting in your interests, you can make even hard work feel like fun. Don't be afraid to venture into new terrains with your career pursuits and majors. With interests in English, French, music and art, I didn't quite fit in the normal curricular package. But that forced me to make the most of every opportunity. During my senior year, I applied to U of R's fifth-year scholars program, opting to study comparative arts of late-19th century France. Finally, my majors of literature and music merged with my interests in art and French. Not only did I love what I studied, but also, the tuition-free year resulted in a fourth degree and a solid idea of what graduate programs I should pursue.
Establishing professional relationships with your professors, academic-support advisors and counselors will also significantly enhance your college career. It's inevitable that you'll have at least one college crisis during your four years. If you've built up a working relationship with your advisors and teachers, they will help you get through the injury, family crisis or academic meltdown. Once you discover a mentor who shares similar academic interests, work hard for him/her. Demonstrate your interest by showing him/her you care enough to work for it through extra papers or independent studies. Not only will he/she respect that, but he/she will also help you tunnel your ideas and teach you a great deal. Your post-graduate self can also benefit from cultivating these relationships. The same teachers who mentor you during school may help you sort through graduate programs, job offers and career alternatives.
FIND A CENTER
With all the new freedom and fun college has to offer, it will be easy to get sidetracked from long-term goals for short-term satisfaction. Temptations and distractions will bombard you from every angle. So before you go, establish a personal objective. Maybe you want to fulfill a lifetime dream, pursue an inner calling, or benefit society in some form of service. Personally, the ability to make the most of my college experience stemmed from my faith. I felt I was given gifts that I had an obligation to cultivate, train, and use. Without that center in my life, I could never have maximized each day so successfully. But with a solid center and faith, I found that I really could make the most of my college experience. And have a blast in the process.
COUNT THE COSTS
With tuition rising in the new millennium, you can't afford to breeze through college. According to the U.S. Department of Education's Digest of Education Statistics 1999, the average total cost of higher education is $19,410. That's $118 a day, $24 an hour and a hefty 40-cents a minute. Being 15 minutes late to class could add up to an hour of your work-study pay. If you end up at a private institution, these numbers can be even higher. Tuition, room and board averaged $32,000 at my alma mater, the University of Rochester in New York. That means one skipped class could cost me (or my parents) a whopping $43! That's a lot of cappuccinos.
Making the most out of your college years means using resources both in and out of the classroom as fully as possible. Summer is a great time to do just that. Internships, classes and summer study abroad programs can put you ahead in more ways than one. Internships give you professional experience, letting you explore your potential post-graduate career in a non-committal environment. Sometimes, they even lead to your future job. Hey, I used to intern for The Next Step Magazine. Cramming a quick course into the summer can free you up for more fun during the school term. In early summer, I often took the required courses that didn't interest me very much, such as statistics and geology. Not only did four-week courses fly by, but also, my grades benefited, as I had to spend time on just one subject. Summer study-abroad programs abound, with scholarships and financial aid often available. If a semester study abroad program is either not possible or is too much time away, a few months in another country can be a wonderful compromise. Experiencing a foreign culture and society may change your perspective, and maybe even your major. Plus, future employers will love to see that on you resume.
Web resources: For information on maximizing your college experience, check out these Web sites: www.review.com www.powerstudents.com www.studentadvantage.com www.collegea2z.com