I want to take a little different direction with this post since so many students are preparing to start college in a few short months. I thought it would be helpful to share some tips that I learned during my college experience and while working in higher education from a Christian perspective. My parents both went to a technical college, but neither of them ever attended a four-year college. However, there are still plenty of things I wish I knew when I was working on my bachelor’s degree.
- Get plugged into a campus ministry quickly.
Try a few different ones during your first few weeks. I would encourage students of faith to find a campus ministry where you feel connected to the people there so you will be motivated to continue growing in your faith and attending meetings. Be sure that you fit in with other students in your same graduating class so that you will still have connections after upperclassmen graduate.
- Your major matters.
Before I went to college, I heard that it didn’t matter what you majored in because you could learn skills on the job after graduation. While that is true in some cases, it is often not true. Go to the career center on campus during your first semester to get a better idea of what careers would be a good fit for you so that you can get plugged into the right major early. Look at average salaries for the major you choose and compare those salaries to other fields you may consider.
- Stay connected to the career center as a senior.
Your campus career center will have resources to help you create an impressive resume, learn interview skills, and find jobs that may interest you.
- Pay attention to financial aid.
- If you plan to transfer, you may be losing scholarship opportunities. Contact the financial aid offices of the schools you are considering to see if your financial aid will be affected and by how much. In some cases, it may be worth it to go to a community or technical college for a couple of years and transfer, but in other cases, it may not be worth it.
- Also be sure to pay attention to the amount of loan debt you will have after four years. Students are often offered the best financial aid package as a freshman, so think about the amount of loans you will need to borrow over the course of four years. There are tools at StudentLoans.gov to help you estimate what your monthly payment will be when your loan repayment begins.
- Schools don’t necessarily have hidden money to give everyone who asks like the media tells you. It doesn’t hurt to ask if the school has additional scholarship opportunities, but don’t be surprised if they say no, especially if it is a public college or university.
- Find internships
Experience from internships is invaluable, and I wish I had realized this in college. You will not only gain skills, but you will get a better idea of what you like and what you are good at. Some are paid and others aren’t, but either way, they will look good on your resume when you begin your job search.
- You can find plenty of friends who like to stay out of trouble.
I was fortunate to find friends who weren’t interested in underage or excessive drinking and parties. If you aren’t into those things, there are plenty of others like you if you look in the right places, so don’t feel pressured to participate in activities that make you uncomfortable. Not everyone is going to parties, sleeping around, and drinking as much as the media makes it seem. Remember, if it’s on TV, it’s likely an extreme case. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be entertaining or newsworthy.
- Studying will not look the same as it did in high school.
- College can be hard. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are having a hard time with a class. There are resources such as academic success centers on campus to help with your study skills. Not everyone there is failing their classes either. Some people are in difficult classes and want the extra help to keep their scholarships.
- On the other hand, don’t develop crippling anxiety over your expectations of how difficult college will be. If you are feeling anxious or depressed over classes or for any reason, there are also resources on campus such as counseling centers to help you, and they are often in corners of campus where you won’t be seen going into them.
- Get to know your RA.
If you live on campus, you will likely be assigned to a resident assistant. Get to know them. They can help you navigate college life.
- Learn to budget your money well NOW.
Budgeting is an essential skill to learn early in college so that you can make good financial decisions both during college and after you graduate. Look for personal finance courses and financial literacy resources on campus. These tools may be offered through the financial aid office, the billing office, or another office or organization on campus. You can also find helpful hints at DaveRamsey.com and JosephSangl.com. Look up average salaries for your expected career and think about the lifestyle you will be able to afford. You may think you will have plenty of money after college. As a college student, $20,000-$30,000 may sound like a lot of money, but once you take out giving (if you choose to tithe), taxes, retirement, rent, student loan payments, utilities, cable, Internet, etc., your income will likely be more limited that you expect.
- Join campus organizations.
Find organizations to join on campus, but don’t allow yourself to be overcommitted. Be involved and look for opportunities for leadership positions within your organizations. When you graduate, you probably won’t have an extensive resume, so it will help if you can show initiative through leadership positions and projects that you have done outside of your classes. Find one or two organizations to target your focus, and don’t spread yourself too thin.
I hope you find this list helpful. Feel free to add your thoughts to help our incoming college freshmen prepare for their next four years.