Five Tips for the First Time College Student

As a staff member of a large, successful community college, particularly through my work in enrollment and assessment, I’ve seen it all. New and prospective college students can be prepared and ready for anything, or entirely unprepared with a ‘deer in the headlights’ glaze in their eyes. Starting college is like starting a new job, except a new job doesn’t (usually) demand that you fork over large sums of money, go into debt, and purchase almost all of your own office supplies, for starters.

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I’ve written up five suggestions for the first time college student, the regular person trying to get their degree and get ahead in life, who only has so much time and money to work with, and doesn’t need any more stress in their life. Some of these suggestions may not apply to your specific case, or they may already be known to you, and if that’s so, then congratulations, you’re already ahead. For everyone else, in no particular order:

First: Apply online. I know that might sound like a simple and basic suggestion, but believe me, it’s an effective one. By submitting a carefully filled-out application for , through the college’s web site, you preemptively eliminate a whole swath of problems. Your online application is far less likely to be lost, misdirected, or damaged, and is already within the college’s computer database, whereas a paper application has to be put into the system, which takes time, especially during the crunch before a semester begins. If there are questions or problems, your online application can be called up easily and quickly, for referral or alteration.

Second: If you must take an assessment test to determine what classes you can enroll in, keep a few things in mind. For starters, you may have previous college credit or high SAT scores that get you out of assessment testing. Be sure to share that information, and relevant transcripts, with the college or assessor. If you must test, ask if a practice test or sample questions are available. Many colleges provide such things in online format, allowing you to study ahead of time and enter the testing situation with knowledge of what to expect. Finally, try not to take a placement or assessment test directly after leaving work, or directly before a meal. These are both high-stress times for your body and mind, and cause you to test at less than your full capability.

Third: If you are going to be making use of financial aid, apply early! This cannot be stressed enough. In my experience, far too many students, especially first-time students, have no idea how much financial aid they can receive, or how long it may take to receive said aid. Visit your college’s financial aid advisor, as they will be able to answer your questions and help you make the right choices for your goals. Just as with applying, see the financial aid advisor early! If you wait until the new semester is about to begin, it is very likely that you will not be able to get an appointment, as throngs of other students have already booked them well before you.

Fourth: Take courses that you can handle and are capable of. I will say this, despite working at a college myself: The final decision as to your courses should always rest with you and your personal goals, and no one else. If an advisor pushes you to take a class online, but you are not comfortable with computers or would rather have an in-classroom experience, don’t let the advisor goad you into it. Conversely, if you can’t or don’t want to visit campus for your classes, due to travel or time costs, ask for online courses even if the advisor pressures you to take the same class on campus. A good advisor is there to help you fulfill your needs through college courses. Likewise, don’t sign up for a course unless you are sure you can handle the workload, in both academic and personal time commitments. There is nothing worse than having to drop a class that you are perfectly capable of completing, except that you do not have sufficient time to do so.

Fifth: When it’s time to purchase your textbooks, consider your options before handing over your cash. Textbooks are a major college expense, given the limited time you will use the individual books, and you can easily waste a lot of money. Your college will likely have a thriving used textbook market; take advantage of it! Here’s another trick: Go to the official campus bookstore, and see if they will let you examine the books. Some bookstores keep all the books behind the counter, while others have them on accessible shelves. If possible, copy down the ISBN numbers from the textbooks. With this information, you can then search for the very same books online, likely purchasing them for far less than the college will charge. Make sure that any textbook you purchase online has the exact same ISBN number, and if any additional class supplements come with the book, you will have to ensure that you receive those materials (such as a DVD or study guide.)

These five tips aren’t everything a brand new college student needs to know, but they are a small head start. Good luck!