Ah, college. That place where you can watch a professor in a tweed jacket zip on a scooter around someone holding a “Free Hugs” sign. You’d stop to appreciate the moment, but you’re rushing to class so you can turn in your paper on “The Behaviors of Quantum Physics in Relation to Temporal Mechanics as Implied by ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.’” Nearby, a guy’s under a tree strumming a guitar. Poorly. He’s not wearing shoes for some reason.

College sounds weird.

No matter how surreal the explanations you’ve heard about college are, whether stories from the people you know or what you’ve seen on TV, there’s a lot to unpack when you start, both literally and figuratively.

One of the best parts about college is that you get to make it your own unique experience. But there are a few universals about the college experience that can help you make the most of these next few years of your life.

Biggest Things to Consider when Starting College

You Control Your Schedule Now

You’ll have a lot more say in your schedule, but that makes for more responsibility. Plan ahead and stick to your commitments. You have a lot more to balance in your life now, and no one will be there to make sure you get out the door on time in the morning.

Consider getting a planner to manage your time; block out time for your classes, homework, student activities, or a job. And don’t forget to make time for your social life!

Plan ahead and keep yourself on task, and you’ll find this responsibility much easier to manage.

Understand Your Budget and Expenses

You’re in charge of your budget now. This applies to covering your tuition and other education-related costs as well as your day-to-day expenses, like food, gas, and entertainment.

When it comes to securing financial aid, make sure to consider all of your options: scholarships, grants, loans, and more. You’ll need to make sure you maintain your eligibility year to year— absolutely do not forget to file your FAFSA by April 15.

You’ll of course need to think about books and class supplies. But if you live off campus, you’ll need to budget your rent and utilities—usually several hundred dollars per month. Not to mention your groceries, phone bill, transportation, laundry, and other expenses you’ll face day to day.

Students talking

You’ll Feel Uncertain or Overwhelmed—And that’s Normal!

There’s a lot to take in, especially when you first arrive: a new place, new people, a new stage of your life. A lot of things will feel unfamiliar, and you will find yourself immersed in an environment filled with people from all walks of life.

Here’s the thing—virtually everyone around you is going through the same thing in some form or fashion.

Plus, you’ll have an entire university’s resources at your disposal, for both academic and personal needs.

Common Misconceptions about College

No, You Don’t Need to Have Your Life Mapped Out on Day 1

It’s good to start trying to pick a major or even thinking about a career when you’re in high school. That doesn’t mean you have to adhere to it no matter what.

Changing your mind about what you want to do in life is common—roughly one in three undergraduate students change their majors at least once in their first three years of college, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

College is about exploring your future as much as it is planning for it. You’ll have plenty of time to participate a variety of classes and activities, introducing you to any number of possible futures. Take this time to figure out what you want in life.

Yes, You Have to Go to Class

It’s true that not every college professor is going to take attendance, and they won’t necessarily follow up with you if you don’t come. But a.) a lot of faculty do take attendance as part of your grade, and b.) if you don’t go to class, you’ll probably regret it.

You’re in college to learn, and that goes well beyond homework and tests. Skipping class means you’ll miss out on discussions and the chance to get to know your professors and other students. Meanwhile, a lot of class lectures go well beyond any required reading or homework, and that lesson you missed is just as likely to appear on the final exam.

It’ll Take More than a Few Days to Make Lifelong Friends

The scene is painfully cliché: parents drop off their child outside their residence hall, the student walks into their room or sits down at an orientation session, they have a brief exchange with another student, and voila—friends for life.

Pure Hollywood.

College is an amazing opportunity to develop deep, lasting friendships with people who you may remain close to for decades to come. But think about the friends you made before college and think about how long you’ve known some of them. Those types of bonds take years to form, and college isn’t much different in that regard.

The advantage here is almost everyone around you is in the same position, and you’ll be surrounded by others who want to make new friends just as eagerly as you do.

Students talking

Suggestions for New College Students

Get Involved

Joining a student organization or intramural sports team is one of the best ways to meet other students and discover new experiences. This will also give you the chance to find new passions and pursue them outside of a classroom setting while gaining valuable skills.

This also doesn’t have to be formal. Simply getting out of your room and getting together with other people—especially your first year—will give you the chance to get to know people and make new friends.

Use University Resources

Some parts of college can be tough to navigate even for students about to graduate. You have faculty, offices and support staff throughout the campus who can help.

Academic advisers, tutors, financial aid officers, counselors, career coaches, and other support staff are available at most universities. If you’re new and don’t know where to turn, consider turning to a resident assistant, academic adviser or professor who may be able to guide you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Know Your Professors

Your professors genuinely care about your success, and they want to help you get there. Even once you’ve completed a class, college faculty are a valuable resource as mentors and advisors as you prepare for your future career. And some of them may be able to connect you with opportunities in your field of study after you graduate.

Don’t Forget about Your Family and Friends Back Home

Call them. Your family and friends miss you as much as you miss them. They’re the reason you got to where you are, and they will be there to support you through college and beyond. Keep them updated on how you’re doing. They want to see you succeed.

Find Your Passion and Purpose

At Ball State University, our beautiful campus, welcoming culture, outstanding professors and focus on innovation and collaboration provide the perfect place for you to continue your lifelong journey to a fulfilling career and meaningful life.

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