College 101: How to Thrive at University
Originally published Jun 27, 2013 at beijingkids Magazine.
When I graduated high school, I was so ready to leave my dusty small town and head off to West Lafayette, Indiana, home to Purdue University. Purdue was everything that I wanted in a college. It is prestigious; the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, is an alumnus (as are my dad and brother), and most people mistakenly think Purdue is in the Ivy League, when it is actually a much less expensive state school. Purdue has 40,000 students, 211 majors, and one of the highest percentages of international student bodies.
I was nervous to start school at first, but now I yearn to go back for my junior year in the fall. In my opinion, I have had a successful college career, with incredible memories and a vital education. Nonetheless, adjustment to university life can be difficult in the first year, and with a lot of students preparing to enter university this fall, they may need a few pointers.
Go to class every single day
This seems fairly straight forward, but even I slipped up when I had class at 7.30am. Don’t skip class. Meeting people, going out, or even partying are important parts of university life, but the number one thing to do at college is to get an education. No matter how tired, sick, or hung-over you might be, go to class. It is the easiest way to get a good grade and establish a routine, and skipping class usually catches up with you, and not in a good way. The more often you show up, take good notes and study everyday, the more likely you will be successful.
Build Job Experience
I am an English major at a predominately science-based university in a country that has a rapidly increasing unemployment rate. I realized that after selecting my major, I would have to do things to make my resume stand out from other applicants without relying too heavily on the name of my school.
I started working for The Exponent, the student run daily newspaper at Purdue. I started as a reporter and last year was promoted to an editor position. After two years, I quit to focus on my school work, but, I still gained nearly two years of writing skills, which helped me land an internship in Beijing through Purdue’s study abroad program
Getting a job, internship, or working intensively at a school organization can help you stand out as a future job or grad school candidate. Even the most seemingly dull internships and summer jobs help you get hired later, so get experience early to get ahead of the game.
It’s important to get involved in something you love during your first year. Not only does it provide a circle of people with similar interests who can quickly become friends and give you a support network, two things crucial to social adjustment at university. Plus, it can lead to broader experiences, like trips away or the chance to meet well-known professionals.
When my dad was at Purdue, he was in the marching band and encouraged me to get into the band culture. When I, an alto-sax player, arrived at freshman band camp auditions, I didn’t know anyone. I put myself out there, and I think that it was the best decision of my college career.
I belonged to the band and the other alto saxophones became my family away from home. I had an almost immediate support system of over 350 band, and joining the Purdue band has made me so proud to be a “Boilermaker.” (Purdue’s mascot is the Boilermaker)
I have seen every football game, gone to two bowl games over Christmas and this past spring, I participated in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland, which is an incredible life experience. I encourage anyone to get involved in an organization that they love; it will truly define your years at school.
Give it time
If you go to class, get involved, and build job experience but still feel the adjustment has been difficult, give yourself time. While some people get established at school within a month, it takes lots of students longer, sometimes even a year or two. You may try out a few different organizations before you find the right fit; you may go through a few circles of friend before you find the people you like best, and that’s okay.
Enjoy your last summer before university, but get excited about the next part of your life. University is when you learn to be an adult while surrounded by kids your age. Make the best of it, and make it a great experience.