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This is for the freshmen…

It’s the last week of August which means (a) students all around the country are beginning the fall term or getting ready to, (b) all my friends who teach and work at colleges are lamenting the end of summer, and (c) most importantly, my birthday is right around the corner.

This also means I’m almost done meeting 100+ freshmen and getting them prepared for the fall quarter which begins in a month. My summer won’t be officially over until then, but I don’t feel like it ever really started as summers tend to be busier than the fall, winter and spring terms. (And I’m swamped with my own academic work… yeah, I’m still working on that PhD.)

Since I think I’ve learned something after 6 years of working with hundreds of college freshmen, I thought I’d impart a little advice.


1. Ditch the cutesy email address, e.g., xxbabygurl23xx@blahblah.com when it comes to your official school contact info. Your professors and staff can see this on class rosters. Replace it with something simple like firstname.lastname@school.edu or your first initial followed by your last name. I laugh at students’ emails all the time and so do my co-workers.

2. Make sure your financial aid is squared away. Ask lots of questions of financial aid staff even if it feels like you’re bugging them. You don’t want to find out two weeks later that you’re 1 unit/credit short of qualifying for a Pell Grant or something.

3. Tell your parents to back off. It happens every year. I get emails and calls from parents trying to plan their child’s courses. I know you’re barely an adult, but you need to start becoming independent at some point. If you let your mom or dad intervene on your behalf, you’ll (a) never learn how to do this yourself and (b) annoy staff members.

4. Immediately go through all your syllabi and find the days exams will be held or you’re required to turn in a paper. Include these all in your planner.

5. Oh yeah, get a planner and check out time management workshops.

6. If you live on campus, get to know your RA. In a bind, he/she can really help you.

7. Whenever you stop by to see a professor, counselor or other staff member introduce yourself. I can’t count how many times students call me and start explaining their problem. My first questions is always, “what’s your name?” I can’t help you unless I know your name.

8. Avoid skipping class. Education is expensive and every class you skip, you’re missing out on a valuable piece of your education. And future you (if you have loans)/your parents/the taxpayers funding your grants are just wasting their money if you don’t go.

9. There’s no such thing as an easy A course. You’re in college. Those courses are all planned by faculty who spent a lot of time crafting this class and making sure it meets minimum standards. If it’s 4 units, expect to spent 4 hours per unit/per week studying for that class.

10. Don’t rely solely on friends for info on regulations or graduation requirements. Go to a counselor, they’re well versed in these regulations and can often approve exceptions, if needed. You can also get important info from your departmental counselor on which term would be best to take a required course. This can help you stay on track and graduate in a timely manner. It amazes me how few students don’t take advantage of counselors until it’s too late.

Y de pilón, be nice to your grad student TAs who do a big chunk of the teaching and grade most of your work. I’ve never TA’ed. I know some people have great experiences and others hate it, mainly because of the entitled students.

Feel free to add your own about other aspects of college life. I didn’t even get into getting involved on campus or managing your academic/social life, or even managing your family’s expectations (e.g., how to break the news to your mom that you can’t go to your cousin’s birthday party because you have a midterm on Monday.)

Next up, a list of my biggest college regrets.

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6 thoughts on “This is for the freshmen…

  1. My $0.02 – If you go to school close to home, don’t go home every weekend. It makes it that much harder to engage yourself in the social life of your college or university. Go home during breaks and special events, but keep your weekends to yourself. There’s so much to learn outside of the classroom, too!

    And I CANNOT stress #3 enough. I work in student services at Cal and helicopter parents are enough to make me want to ban all parents from campus sometimes. CUT THE CORD. It will only help you in the end.

  2. I still disagree with #3. I can see your point. But the larger point is that these kids are new to college and if they have an experienced person helping them, be it their parents or older brother, all the better.

    What classes you take or dont take, what major you select or dont select, can be a big deal over ones lifetime. It can also be a big deal to the parents – who is usually paying for a good chunk of the education – wallet. All these points are non-trivial and I would argue vastly more important than letting the 18 year old fend for herself, IMHO. 🙂

  3. Yeah, these kids are new to college, but there are things set up within the college to help the student transition and develop in to adults who don’t rely on their parents to do every little thing for them. I have parents sending me emails about courses. That’s just weird.

    Parents/siblings give advice that could be outdated or even harmful if they’re not well aware of the regulations. I think parents picking classes for students is BAD same as choosing a major. The parent may be partially funding the classes, but he/she is not going to take those courses or do that work. When you figure that you have 4 (or 5) years of classes for a major, you better hope you’re prepared and interested in it enough to complete it.

    Last, there’s a difference between “help” and “do for.” The helicopter parents Astrid and I refer to are “doing for” and probably not helping their kids much in the long run.

  4. Chisp says:

    What about having someone call you in the mornings when you have a final to make sure you get up? =)

  5. This is totally irrelevant, but at work, I couldn’t get my usual #17 emergency bucket, so I got the next best number, #31. 🙂

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