7 Things To Keep In Mind As You Head Off To College For The First Time
This is your new era. Here's how to do it right.
August 12, 2021 at 4:35 pm
College represents an incredible turning point for most people. This year, in particular, school won't be without a few unprecedented limitations and challenges as we continue grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. But some things, like extracurriculars and the staggering chaos of the financial aid office, remain tried and true. We want you to be prepared and make the most out your new chapter.
Here's how to make your college experience a successful one:
1. Take advantage of all your campus has to offer.
College campuses are full of opportunities, from clubs to internships, to studying abroad. Make that college your oyster. There are clubs based on your majors or interests, professional organizations, fraternities and sororities, you name it.
Figure out what it is you’re interested in and find other people who are interested, too. Do not feel like you have to limit your experiences. Join as many clubs as you want and feel them out to see which ones are right for you. You will never be short on things to do outside the classroom, and that is one of the easiest ways to make friends.
The biggest opportunity I took advantage of was studying abroad. Throughout my time at Howard, I was able to go to 12 different countries, just about entirely on someone else’s dime. Studying abroad opened doors for me that I would not have had access to had I not been able to go to college. Check out your school’s study abroad offerings, and what the financial aid offerings are around them.
2. Embrace the diversity.
When I stepped onto Howard’s campus, I met people from not only across the country, but around the world. There was a huge population of students from Caribbean and African countries and some South Asian students from Nepal. Even the people from the same place as me grew up with their own unique experiences.
Along with the diversity of the students, many schools, HBCUs in particular, attract diverse professors. Howard's World Languages department was filled with Black professors from Martinique, Côte d’Ivoire, Panama and Germany, and the opportunity to study African languages like Yoruba and Swahili brought professors from several African countries. My algebra teacher was from Madagascar.
Going to an HBCU taught me that Black people are not a monolith. Having the same skin color as someone does not equate to having the same experiences.
3. Stay on top of your business.
Up there with the bands and the Divine Nine, one of the things schools are notorious for is giving students the runaround. If you — or your parents — are not keeping track of what you need as far as your schedule, housing and financial aid, you might end up in the wrong place (in my case, a remedial English class). And to be clear: you will get the runaround.
Make sure you have the financial aid office’s phone number accessible, but don’t be afraid to show up to the office in person. The most important thing to do is make copies of everything you submit. I cannot count the number of times I went to my financial aid office and they had no record of the documents I submitted.
It is also important to be persistent. You may not get them on the phone the first time, or the second. The aid office line may be long. But once you get it done, it’s a feeling like no other.
Keep a copy of your course scheme and talk to your advisor often, to make sure the courses you are taking will keep you on track to graduate. I’ve heard my share of horror stories about people staying an extra semester or year because they took the wrong classes.
4. Utilize office hours.
Take advantage of office hours. College professors have office hours where you can go in and get help on concepts you don’t understand. Or you can just go in and talk. No matter the class size, it does not hurt to let the professor know who you are and that you’re trying. That can make the difference between passing and failing.
5. Engage with your community outside of the campus.
Your campus does not exist in a bubble. There’s long been contentious relationships between some colleges, their students and the community around them. One thing you can do to maximize your college experience is to engage with the city around you. Join a church or religious group. Volunteer at a school. Talk with people in the community. Engaging with the community outside of your campus will give you a more well-rounded perspective and experience.
6. Watch your back.
There are the usual tips that your parents might have given you: be wary of upperclassmen who prey on freshmen, don’t go anywhere alone at night, don’t sit your drink down or take drinks from people you don’t know.
They may seem like just things your parents say, but unfortunately, bad things happen. Granted, you probably won’t follow all of these rules 100% of the time, but they could make a difference.
Rape culture is prominent on college campuses. According to a 2019 survey, the rate of nonconsensual sexual contact increased from 2015 to 2019 by 3 percent (to 26.4 percent) for undergraduate women, and 1.4 percent for undergraduate men (to 6.9 percent). And according to the Department of Justice, about 80% of sexual violence cases go unreported.
The blame for sexual assault should never be on survivors, but college campuses have a long way to go in addressing that. And until then, you should do everything you can to protect yourself.
7. Know your school’s COVID-19 protocols.
It’d be remiss not to mention this one. Some schools, like Howard, are requiring that students, faculty and staff who will be on campus are fully vaccinated before stepping on school grounds. Some have health checklists. Make sure you are familiar with the rules, so you’re not turned away when you get to campus. And of course, you wouldn’t want to be patient zero of an outbreak.