College is a whole new world providing a totally unique array of opportunities. The more students take advantage of this environment, the more they can get from the experience.
Aside from the obvious importance of maintaining a steady GPA, the life skills and relationships that you develop during your time at college are equally as important and can influence the rest of your life.
Here’s how to make the most out of your time at college.
1. Take advantage of living on campus
The biggest advantage of living on campus is that everything your college has to offer is at your doorstep.
This includes roommates and the other students in your residence. You have daily opportunities to meet people and make friends – which could turn into lasting relationships.
College freshmen, who may be living away from home for the first time, have enough new stuff going on without learning a whole new city and transportation system too. Life on campus is convenient. Everything is provided, laid out simply, and within walking distance.
Amongst all this, there are more perks to living on campus. Your dining hall will typically require you to have a meal plan if you’re living in a dorm without a kitchen. This means you don’t have to worry about getting groceries and cooking for yourself.
You may have to do your own laundry, but at least the facilities are there (with instructions).
Basically, living on campus keeps you central to everything that you need to access. From classes to even just needing to schedule a doctor’s appointment, the resources are all right at your fingertips.
Dorm sweet dorm life
Making the most out of dorm life is essential to getting the most out of on-campus living. Dorm life really is a once in a lifetime experience you most likely won’t ever be able to recreate again.
First and foremost, dorm living teaches you how to cooperate and compromise with a roommate(s) in close quarters, a skill that you will carry with you forever whether you live alone or in a house of many others down the line.
- Strengthen your communication skills by being open and honest with your roommate(s).
- Strengthen your respect skills by truly listening and honoring the requests of your roommate(s).
- Strengthen your tidying skills by keeping your things organized and in their place.
- Strengthen your decorating skills by making your tiny space unique to you.
You also have the opportunity to decorate your dorm however you’d like. Though your space might be small, it’s important to make it feel like your new home. Make your bed comfy and your work area organized.
The great part of dorm life is how effortless and easy it can be to meet new people. When you’re a freshman, almost everyone is in the same position and wants to make new friends, therefore it can be a little less intimidating to put yourself out there.
If you have older siblings or older friends, they will probably tell you they met their best college friends in their freshman year dorms!
You should also practice keeping your door open (if your roommate agrees) and see just how many people pop in to say “hello!”
A couple of years is the perfect amount of time to spend in your college’s dorms if they allow it. By that point, you will have friends and other ambitions to seek bigger and better living situations for the remainder of your time in college.
Joining clubs, societies, and sports teams
You may think you have better things to do with your time than joining clubs at college – like studying. While your schoolwork always has to come first, there are benefits to being an honor society member that can make the time commitment worthwhile.
You can learn skills that are transferable to jobs, and which you don’t always learn in the classroom. These include personal development skills, time management skills, and problem-solving and communication skills. Over time, you might be able to move into a leadership position, whether the captain of a sports team or debate club.
Clubs, teams, and societies are perfect venues in which to make friendships and establish valuable networks. College faculty members are often involved, so you can get to know them and personally connect with professionals who have similar interests.
Overall, this can make you feel like a part of the greater community of your college. And give you something else to talk about other than just studying 24/7.
2. Make the most out of your friendships
Let’s face it, a large part of college life is forging lasting friendships that you will cherish forever. Why? Because you’re all going through the same experience together, bonds grow quickly.
College friends are there to support you both emotionally and academically.
The friends you spend the most time with and with whom you have similar interests are the ones you’ll likely stay in touch in the future. This is why college is the perfect time to make these friendships, as you’re finding out what you like and what you don’t like.
Friendships in college actually tend to be a lot more serious. As a young adult, you are beginning to construct your own set of values and have a list of traits you’re looking for in friends.
You are no longer bound to the confines of your hometown where you remained friends with people merely because you grew up going through the same grades together.
And what’s even better about college friends? Aside from all the memories you’ll make together that you’ll look back on for years to come, these friends can be great to have in your professional network.
How to make friends in college
If you need help making friends here are some tips:
- If you’re living in the dorms, keep your door open. This will invite people into your space without even having to try.
- Attend smaller on-campus events. Sometimes large events are hard because people will come in groups, smaller events can be more intimate ways to meet people.
- Sign up for a club or intramural sports league.
Talk to people you see in class a lot, ask them if they like the class, or bring up something relevant about the topic to start a conversation. Having friends within your major gives you an automatic study buddy/group.
- Get an on-campus job.
- Rush a fraternity or sorority if your school offers Greek life.
The social opportunities in college are seemingly endless, from fraternities and sororities to intramural sports teams, you are bound to find something that clicks.
Having a good group of friends, or even just a few close friends you can confide in can make college feel a lot more like home.
And it means you can do lots of fun things like host Friendsgiving when the holidays roll around and do white elephant gift exchanges. Bringing home to college starts with having the right people around to share the good and the bad memories with!
3. Find your most effective study habits
If there’s one thing you must learn in college to not waste all your time, it’s how to study effectively. A lot of bright high school kids sail through grade school without much effort and then are shocked at the workload required in college.
If you learn how to study smarter, not harder, you’ll set yourself up for success.
Stephen Chew, a professor of psychology at Samford University in Birmingham, produced a series of videos about how to study effectively in college.
He teaches smart learning strategies, so students can get the most learning out of their study time.
In the first video, for instance, he says, ‘the more accurate your beliefs about studying are, the better you’ll learn.’
Chew explains that most freshmen grossly underestimate how long it takes to complete assignments or study material effectively. The belief that “learning is fast” is simply untrue and can hurt your efforts.
Start with your major
The first step to doing well in college courses is to actually like and be engaged with the content you’re learning. And that starts with picking a major that you love.
It’s very common to not know that right away, and many students switch majors a couple of times before they find what works for them.
Going in blind can be helpful, as long as you’re taking a variety of general education courses to expand your horizons and try new things you might like.
There’s a lot of majors to choose from, and it can be overwhelming but follow your gut and your heart.
If you really hate something you’re studying, chances are you’re not going to like going into a career similar.
The more you’re interested in your studies, the more likely you are to get better grades and not feel like you’re wasting your time.
Finding your study style
As you start to understand how your brain works a little more with age, you will also start to notice patterns in how you better digest information.
There are many different study styles to explore, including:
- Visual (spatial): You learn better with pictures, images, and a spatial understanding of how things relate to each other.
- Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer sound and music to learn and remember things or to prime your brain into it’s best learning environment.
- Verbal (linguistic): You prefer to use words both in speech and in writing.
- Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body and hands, learning with touch.
- Logical (mathematical): you prefer to use logic, reasoning, and systems.
Finding a technique that works for you and requires the least amount of effort for your brain to work its best will be the study habit you’ll want to expand upon during your college years.
You’ll quickly find out that these ways of studying will carry with you as you enter your career. The patterns that you grow and develop will only strengthen with time. Not to mention, learning doesn’t stop when school stops. Learn how to be a lifelong learner, a skill you will carry way past your college years.
Finding your study space
Perhaps more important to finding your study style is finding your study space. This should be a place where you feel equally motivated and focused.
There are lots of places on campus to explore to find the perfect place. Walk around your library scoping out all the nooks and crannies. Some of the best study spaces are the ones that not many people know about because they take the first seat they see when they walk in.
Other places you can check out could be:
- Coffee shops
- Common areas in academic buildings
- Your dorm’s community area
- The classroom you know is always empty at the same time daily or weekly
Try to steer clear of places you tend to go to relax and hang out with friends in. Your brain can get confused when trying to separate work and play when you do both in the same area.
This can be a big reason why college students develop such bad sleeping habits, because they are studying for their exams in their beds and then trying to sleep there too.
Having a study space that you designate for studying and doing homework can make massive differences in how you retain information. Your GPA will probably see massive improvements once you lock in your study space and style.
4. Get a job on-campus that you don’t hate
About one-half of full-time undergraduate students work during school. The most convenient are on-campus jobs. These can include restaurant or cafeteria jobs or part-time positions in the library, bookstore, or athletic facility.
Other than the obvious advantage of earning some money for expenses, working part-time throughout your college career can come with a lot of added benefits:
- Reduce the overall amount you need to borrow for school loans.
- Help you make friends.
- Teach you how to budget your money
- Looks good on your resume that you can juggle being a full-time student while still holding down a part-time job. (Kudos if you’re getting experience that you can transfer to your career).
- Force you to not procrastinate. The busier you are, the more you have to get your work done on time, having a job can force you to do that.
- Free coffee/food if you work in the food and beverage industry.
Let’s be honest, any job – even if it’s completely unrelated to your field of study – gives you transferable skills, like time management and goal setting.
Plus, expanding your social circle with coworkers and management staff is always a win. This can provide you with sources for referral letters and professional networking opportunities that can come in clutch later on.
5. Don’t let your health get away from you
You’re young, you’re super busy, and you certainly don’t have time to be sick.
If you can learn to keep a healthy lifestyle in college, it’ll benefit you now and in the future.
The usual common-sense advice prevails here:
- Get enough sleep!!
- Eat balanced meals and keep healthy snacks on hand (fruit, veggies, nuts, trail mix).
- Exercise regularly – even if it’s just walking to class vs. taking the bus.
- Get a mini-fridge for your dorm room to keep yogurt and fresh fruit
- Don’t pig out (too much) on junk food and limit late-night eating.
- Keep an eye on your alcohol consumption.
- Don’t skip meals – that can actually lead to binge eating and weight gain. It also decreases your ability to concentrate.
- Get your flu shot and get it early. You’ll be living in close quarters with a lot of people. You don’t want to come down with the flu (which usually hits around exam time).
- Wash your hands – often.
6. Be honest with yourself about your mental health
It’s not news that college students carry a lot of stress. A lot of freshmen have trouble acclimating to being on their own living with people they’ve never met before. Academically, exams and college classes tend to be completely different from high school, and the expectations are much higher and not as straightforward.
College students can have trouble balancing school work with their personal lives. Some might experience impostor syndrome (they don’t feel as though they really belong; that they’re not as smart as everyone else).
There’s pressure to party too much and to use drugs and alcohol. Other students just have a hard time fitting in and making friends; they feel isolated and lonely.
All of this is highly stressful and can make you physically and mentally sick. Try to keep that stress under control by making time for self-care. Exercise and meditation can help. Practice self-compassion: Beating yourself up won’t help.
If you’re struggling, talk with family, friends, or seek a therapist. Your college likely provides simple ways to access these types of services.
Acknowledge and validate your feelings and understand that although you may feel like the only one struggling, mental health issues are common (studies show nearly 40% of college students have suffered from serious depression and other mental health issues).
You can also call or text for help:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness at 800-950-NAMI
- National Helpline at 800-662-HELP
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK or Live Online Chat
- Crisis Text Line – Text HOME to 741741
7. Don’t save networking for your senior year
Networking is all about relationships. Just by framing it differently, you can dynamically build a better network.
The connections you make in college (not just the friendships) can and will be valuable well past graduation. And that goes both ways – just as someone may be able to help you, you may be able to help them.
The earlier you start networking in college, the better. Anyone can be in your network: roommates, friends, college faculty members and staff, club members, and coworkers. These people may directly help you in your professional life later on, or put you in touch with people who can.
You’ll start networking organically, by meeting fellow students at orientation, in residence halls, and in classes. You can boost your networking efforts by attending both social and professional meetings and events.
The trick is to always keep in mind what the other person’s goals are that your networking with. Whether you’re working with a mentor who wants to see you succeed, or with a friend that you know has a goal of working for Google one day. The more information you can remember about the people in your network, the more trust you can build, and the more likely they’ll remember and recommend you when an opportunity arises that they know is a good fit for you.
Networking is a priceless skill that should always be worked on even well past your college years.
Don’t forget to add your contacts as connections to your LinkedIn profile.
8. Attend free events, lectures and guest speakers
It may sound like a boring way to spend your Thursday night, but at what other points in your life do you have access to this type of intellectual property just by being a student in college.
Unique opportunities that can double as a way to meet new people, expand your network, and learn something that might actually interest you is something that you can’t put a price tag on.
You can shake hands with someone who influences you without being pushed and shoved by thousands of people. These events are often exclusive to just students and faculty, so take advantage of this privilege.
If you’re looking for where to find these events, check out your school’s events calendar. You can even invite someone you just met to build a new friendship and have someone to chat about the event with after.
Bonus points if your professor gives you extra credit just for going to the even (this happens all the time believe it or not!)
9. Get an internship
We might be biased, but an internship is actually a really amazing learning experience that can save you a lot of time and wasted effort.
You won’t know if you love a career until you actually roll up your sleeves and try it on for size.
No matter what that career is, an internship can give you an added insight that you might not have gotten by simply reading textbooks or starting in an entry-level position fresh out of college.
You have this amazing opportunity in an internship to ask all the questions, make all the mistakes, and soak up all the knowledge from whoever is giving you tasks and projects to do.
Some colleges make this a requirement for good reason: it is the ultimate resume builder and shows that you are ambitious in the pursuit of finding a true purpose in your career.
There are many different types of internships to choose from, depending on your field of study.
Some might be unpaid but don’t look at these as a waste of time. Unpaid internships can still offer an incredible amount of valuable information and teach you a lot. Think of this as an exchange of information as compensation, rather than a dollar amount.
An internship boosts your chances of getting a job after college and can mean you get a higher paying position simply by trialing out something first. In fact, a lot of companies will hire their part-time interns as full-time employees if it was a good fit for the company culture.
10. Don’t be too serious
College is a time for self-discovery and a time to find something you’re really passionate about and make it into a career. This is serious business, but you don’t have to always be so serious. As incoming freshmen, this can often be hard to grasp, but the same advice goes for everyone.
Just like anything in life, find a healthy balance of work and play. Enjoy the nights out with your friends, but maybe not before a big exam the next day.
You’ll look back and realize that sometimes it’s ok to put the books down and go out with friends, just like sometimes it’s ok to want a night to yourself!
Trust your gut and know that you can have fun in college without being an extreme party animal, and you can get good grades without feeling like a total “nerd.”
The key is to be smart with how you spend your time, who you spend your time with, and what you spend your time on. After all, your time is limited and four years fly by.