Succeed in College
Congratulations, you are a college student! During college, you’ll have opportunities to grow academically and personally, and to chart your path for life after school. While it’s important to make it to the finish line with your degree, college is also about making connections to your campus and building relationships with fellow students.
I have so much more homework than I did in high school; how am I supposed to finish all of it?
In college, you can expect to have fewer hours of class but more homework outside of class. Full-time students take between 12 and 15 hours of classes per week; these classes may be more challenging, and will likely be structured differently than in high school. You should expect to spend at least 2 – 4 hours a day studying outside of class. To keep yourself on track, find a good study environment without distraction (for example, go to the library and turn off the internet on your phone or computer so you won't be tempted to procrastinate) and sign up for peer tutoring or academic advisement to build good study habits. Many professors or teaching assistants will hold office hours where you can ask questions about class readings, or get help on assignments. If you are falling behind on your coursework, reach out to someone immediately. You are more likely to get an extension on a project if you plan ahead and ask early than if you ask the night before an assignment is due. For big projects or assignments, make a checklist of smaller tasks you need to complete to get there.
Do I really need to read the syllabus my professor gave me?
YES! Your syllabus has a lot of important information on it. It has basic information – such as when and where the class meets and the professor’s office hours and contact information. Often times, syllabi also have a listing of class reading or assignments as well as exam and paper dates, which are important to make note of when planning your study schedule. Pay close attention to the attendance policy or what to do when you miss a class – professors have procedures in place that they expect you to know. For example, if you miss a quiz the professor may send you to the learning center to make it up. Without reading the syllabus, you wouldn’t know this critical information!
Our professor says that class participation is part of our grade, what does that mean and how can I make sure I’m doing well in that section?
In college, professors like to ensure that their students understand the material that is being taught in class. One of the best ways to show the professor that you are listening to the lecture or discussion is to speak up. Make sure you’re prepared to do this by doing your homework, and reading for class. Then, during class time, you can:
1.) Ask a question about the material. Don’t be afraid to ask! If you have a question about something, other students are probably wondering about it too. Asking questions shows that you are listening to the discussion.
2.) Agree with and provide additional support for what the professor or another classmate said.
3.) Provide a different opinion than your professor or another classmate.
While it is important to contribute to class discussion, it is equally important to do so in a productive and respectful manner! Try starting your comments with “I agree because…” or “I disagree because…”
Do I really need to buy all of my books? I didn’t know they were going to be so expensive and I haven’t gotten my refund check yet! What are cheaper options for getting books besides buying them at the campus bookstore?
Yes, you really need to get all of your books, but no you don’t have to buy all of them!
There are less expensive options than buying them full price at the bookstore. First, try to get there early – there might be some used books available that you can buy. You can also find them online on websites like amazon.com or half.com. You also have the option to rent books for the semester at websites such as chegg.com. Check your syllabi to see which books you need within the first couple weeks of class and make sure to get those first if you can’t get all of them at once. While you’re waiting for your books to arrive, you can also go to the library and borrow books on reserve. You can’t take the book home with you, but you’ll be able to use it for a set amount of time while in the library.
What happens if I just stop going to a class?
If you stop going to class without "dropping" or "withdrawing" through the Registrar’s Office, you will almost certainly get an F in the class, which brings down your GPA. You can usually withdraw up until the midpoint of the semester (check with the Registrar’s Office at your college to confirm the withdrawal deadline), and receive a W (or Withdrawn) on your transcript, which doesn’t affect your GPA (though some colleges may note this differently). Even with a “W”, you will not gain credit, and you will not get a refund on the tuition you paid. If you are struggling in a class, don’t wait to reach out to your professor and academic advisors to get support and discuss your options.
What are remedial classes?
Before enrolling in college-credit courses, many students need to take remedial, or developmental education classes. These zero-credit classes are designed to provide extra preparation for students who haven’t yet tested into college-level courses. If you are required to take any remedial or developmental education classes, complete them as soon as possible (ideally, in the summer before you enroll!). You’ll need to complete these requirements before you can take the classes you need to graduate.
Are remedial classes free? Do they use up any of my financial aid?
In general, even though remedial courses do not count towards degree credit, they use your financial aid, which is not unlimited. Some schools offer free summer classes to students in remedial subjects; you should check to see if your college offers them because it can save you lots of money.
How should I pick what classes to take?
Hopefully you’ll be able to go to a New Student Orientation before school starts, or to set up a meeting with an advisor in your school’s Academic Advising Office. They should be able to help you pick out a good set of classes to get started with. Here are some other things to keep in mind:
- Take a full load. If you plan to graduate in 4 years, you’re probably going to have to take about 15 credits (or 4-5 classes) per semester. It might sound like a lot of classes but it will help you on your way to your degree!
- Understand your degree requirements. Most schools have set of required courses you need to take to graduate, like Introduction to College Writing or a foreign language requirement. It’s a good idea to start taking some of these requirements first semester.
- Explore majors. It’s ok if you don’t know what you want to major in yet! But if you have some ideas of potential majors you’re considering, take a class from that department to try it on for size.
How do I pick a major? Should I consider double majoring or earning a minor?
Each school is different when it comes to majors and minors, but an academic advisor, professor, or peer tutor can help you choose what is best for you. Think about your favorite classes in high school as well as your career interests, but keep an open mind and gather as much information as possible. Many students use their first year to explore different interests before deciding on a major, and many are surprised to love classes they never liked or took in high school. Also look carefully at credits, especially if you want to transfer to another school, and finish remedial courses as soon as possible. Be realistic about double majoring and minoring--it might be great for your interests, but if it won't fit in your schedule, you can still explore other fields by taking classes or joining related clubs and activities.
What do I do if my school doesn’t offer the major for my career interest?
Meeting with your school's career services office and with academic advisors from the very beginning of your time in college will help you pick courses and a major that will get you through college and to a great career. You may be able to major in something related to your interest even if it isn't an exact match. Your professors and administrators may be able to help you hold "informational interviews" with professionals currently working in the career you're interested in, which will also help you determine if it's truly necessary to have a certain major. You can also explore your career interest and become a competitive applicant through internships, student clubs, and volunteering. If you are interested in a specialized major that only a select number of other colleges offer, you may also want to explore the possibility of transferring. Make sure you reach out to advisors and professors on your campus to discuss all your options.
Should I join student clubs or other non-academic programs like a sports team or a musical group?
Student clubs and outside programs operating on campus are a great way to explore career and academic interests as well as build relationships. If you are trying to pick a major or a career path, a leadership position in a related student club can help you explore that interest. Applying for leadership programs and fellowships is a great way to get additional support, guidance, and even money. Visit your school's scholarship, student life, and career offices to see where you can get involved.
I’m going to be commuting and I’m worried about feeling like I’m just still in high school since I won’t be living on campus.
College is a big change from high school, even if you’re living at home and commuting. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- You can still get involved on campus and it’s a great way to meet new people. Most schools have a club or activity fair at the beginning of the school year so you can see what’s out there. Love Anime? Find the Anime Club! Want to help the community? Join the Service Society. Want a way to socialize with other students? A lot of commuter schools still have fraternities and sororities.
- Your campus still has a lot to offer you, even if you don’t live there. It’s easy to just show up on campus for class and leave right afterwards, but spending time on campus is a great way to feel connected. Study in the library with a friend, play basketball in the gym in between classes, grab lunch with some of your classmates after class. You can still find a community at a commuter school, but you might have to put in the effort to find it!
- College classes are a lot different from high school classes, even if you’re commuting. You’ll still get to explore new subjects that you didn’t know about in high school, and you can still visit professors in office hours to hear about their research and discuss course topics.
I heard that at college you have to be really independent and people aren’t there to help you! Is that true?
You certainly have to be independent, but there are lots of people at college to help you! Professors have spent their lives researching and studying the topic they are teaching, so they typically welcome questions and conversations from students. Don’t hesitate to email them or stop by their office hours to chat about any topics you have questions about or are excited about. Colleges also have tutoring and writing resources on campus. Tutors are often upperclassmen who have done really well in that class and are available to help you (often for free!). Colleges also often have a writing center that is staffed by students who are really great writers and editors. Bring drafts of your papers there to have them help you make it perfect before you submit it to your professor. Sometimes professors will even give extra credit to students who go to tutoring or the writing center. Take advantage of these resources! You are paying for it along with your cost of attendance.
I am feeling really overwhelmed and stressed out; what resources are there for me?
It's important to reach out to services around you. If you are living on campus, reach out to your Residence Hall staff so that they can help guide you to proper resources. In addition, reaching out to counseling services is always a good option. Counselors are available to talk with you about stress and to help you come up with tangible solutions. Often your school's website has information regarding counseling services.
How do I decide which classes to take, and what do I do if some of the ones I need for my major are already full?
Selecting classes can be incredibly daunting because of how many there are. A good start is to meet with your academic advisor to come up with a plan of action. Do you have to take core classes? If so, when is the best time? How can you stay on track to complete all the requirements for your major? Your advisor can help you figure these things out. If some classes for your major are full, its great to be proactive and advocate for yourself. Emailing the professor, sitting in on the first class, and building a relationship with the professor are great ways to increase your chances of being added to the class.
I failed my last math quiz and have class during my professor’s office hours. What should I do?!
Take a look at your syllabus to check if the professor listed other resources available for your class, such as a TA or tutor. If not, you can email the professor with your concern about your grade and ask if he or she can meet you outside office hours. You should also explore other campus resources – if there is not a math-specific tutoring center, go to the general learning center and sign up for an appointment for extra help! One poor grade does not mean you will not do well in the class, as long as you are proactive about seeking help to bring your grade up.
What should I do if I really don’t like one of my classes/professors but it is too late to drop the class?
Unfortunately, it's very rare that every student will love every professor they have and every class they take. Unless you choose to withdraw through the Registrar’s Office, it's important to continue on in the class, and to find support systems to make it through. Find other classmates who you can work with, or other professors or tutors who can provide extra help and encouragement. For the future, keep in mind what you did and did not like about your experience in the class, so that next time you can pick classes and professors more aligned with your interests and needs.
How can I raise my GPA?
It's always important to start off your semester strong! Develop a study plan to ensure that you have enough time to complete course readings and assignments outside of class. In addition, make time to attend professors’ office hours, and take advantage of tutoring opportunities available on campus, including those offered through the writing center. Know what works for you when creating a study plan: if you need time to study on your own, find a quiet corner in the library; if you work best with others, don’t be afraid to form a study group with your classmates. Finally, set concrete goals for yourself, and talk to your advisors and supporters about your efforts to improve your grades. They can provide extra guidance and encouragement to keep you on track towards a 4.0!
I really need a job to make some money during the school year, but I’m also taking a lot of classes this semester, playing on the soccer team, and I’m the vice president of the Spanish club! How do I balance my time for all of this?!
Time management is a big concern for most college students. The first thing to do is to take a look at all of your weekly activities and estimate how much time you will need for each. Remember to take into account time for homework, meals, commuting to and from class, and downtime with your friends; all of these things are important to maintaining a healthy balance in college. After you have calculated the time needed for your activities, create a weekly schedule for yourself that lists the days of the week, and each hour of the day, and what you plan to do during that time. Follow the schedule that you have created for yourself for a week; if it does not seem like it’s working, make some changes for the following week and see if it helps. If it looks like there will not be enough time to do any one thing very well, consider dropping an activity. Remember to prioritize class time, and homework time; this is college, and you’re here to learn before anything else.
Will my financial aid (federal and state grants, scholarships, work study, and loans) stay the same each year I’m in college?
Your financial aid will be re-evaluated every year, which means that you must complete the FAFSA every year. Each new financial aid package you receive will take into account changing school costs, new information about your family’s income and resources, as well as whether you are meeting GPA and academic progress requirements. In general, if your family’s situation remains stable, your aid should not change much. Scholarships, on the other hand, vary greatly: some may not be renewable, or may have a particular process for renewal. Students should speak to the Financial Aid Office at their school for more information.
Why am I not getting all of the TAP I thought I would? I heard if you drop classes, don’t take enough credits, or get a high enough GPA this can happen – is that true?
There are a few reasons why this might happen. To receive TAP, you must be in good academic standing, which consists of “pursuit of program” and “satisfactory academic progress.” Basically, you have to (a) get a grade in a certain percentage of classes (this means you have to be careful about withdrawing from too many classes!) and (b) maintain a minimum GPA per credits received during the semesters you receive TAP. Eligibility requirements are found here, under section g: http://www.hesc.ny.gov/content.nsf/CA/Chapter_3_Student_Information. You can view the chart to determine if you are making “satisfactory academic progress” according to TAP here: http://www.hesc.ny.gov/content.nsf/CA/TAP_Coach_Satisfactory_Academic_Progress.
Another reason you might not receive a full TAP award could be if you are retaking a class that you’ve already passed. TAP requires that you have a full schedule (at least 12 credits) to be eligible for the full aid amount. If you passed the class, TAP won’t count the credits towards being full time, even if your college does. If you previously failed the class or are retaking it at a different college because your previous grade was not high enough for their academic requirements, the class will count towards being a full time student according to TAP standards.
Yet another reason could be the courses you are taking. TAP requires that all classes be applied towards your program of study as a general education requirement, major requirement, or elective. If you are taking classes that fall outside these requirements you can either (a) change your schedule or (b) temporarily change your major to become more general or “undecided” – this is especially useful advice for freshmen.
Also, by registering for fewer than 12 credits (including equated creditsfrom remedial classes), you are not eligible for a full-time TAP award, but may be eligible for a part time award (APTS – Aid for Part Time Study).
A fourth reason could be that your TAP wasn’t yet processed when your college estimated your award. Once TAP is confirmed, the aid amount might be slightly different than the estimated amount. Or, it still might not be processed – by logging into your TAP account online, you can see if that’s the case and what they are missing to complete the TAP application. If you still have questions, call the HESC hotline (1-888-NYSHESC – 1-888-697-4372).
Whatever the problem may be, check with your Financial Aid Office to see what the hold-up is – they’ll be able to help you and direct you to ways to fix it.
Should I study abroad?
Studying abroad is a spectacular way to broaden your perspective. Not only will you learn a lot by studying abroad, but it looks good on your resume. However, before you decide to study abroad, look into how much it will cost and make sure you can take the classes you need for your major. Consider the strength of the study abroad program as well as the country you would like to visit and speak to your adviser before making the decision. If you get homesick, you should think carefully before choosing to study abroad; but, remember that opportunities to study abroad do not come around often. Learning a new language can prove difficult, but it will be a benefit to you in the long run.
I want to study abroad during college, but I’m not sure if an entire semester is a good idea for me. What are my options?
There are a lot of study abroad options out there for all kinds of interests and comfort levels. There are semester and year-long programs as well as month-long programs, depending on your school. You can even study at another university within the U.S. if you want to stay local. If your school doesn't offer the specific program you want, you can often study abroad with partner colleges. Check out your study abroad (or advising office) for more information.
I’m thinking about transferring. What issues should I consider?
If you are considering transferring, it’s important to understand the potential advantages and disadvantages of attending a different college. Will you gain access to new degree programs? Have the chance to live closer – or farther away from – home, or to attend a college that may be a better fit for you? When exploring the answers to these questions, make sure you reach out to advisors and professors on your campus to discuss all your options. It may be that your own campus has programs and resources you didn’t know about that you’ll want to pursue before you choose to transfer. When exploring the possibility of attending a different college, it’s also important to have a clear understanding of transfer application deadlines, and to know which of your credits will transfer to the new college. Additionally, you’ll want to find out about the cost of attendance at the colleges you’re considering, and about how your financial aid package might change.
How do I transfer from a community college to a 4-year college?
If you would like to transfer from a community college to a 4-year college, visit the transfer office at your community college; this is a good place to start. Advisors at the transfer office will be able to help you explore your options and find out which of your credits will transfer to your new college. Often, the best way to transfer without losing credits is by earning an associate degree at your community college before you go elsewhere.
I think I might need to take a semester off; what should I do?
First, evaluate the reason(s) why you feel you need to take time off. If you're feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, think about paying a visit to counseling services on your campus, or talk to another advisor, mentor, friend, or family member about your challenges to find ways to cope. Keep in mind the effects of taking a semester off on your scholarships, school health insurance, class registration, and loans (most creditors provide a 6-month grace period before you have to start repaying your loans, so if you're only taking one semester off, you likely won't need to start repayment, but call and check to be sure!).
Do I need to do an internship during college? How do I find one?
Internships are a very effective way to find a job after graduation, and build skills and experience to make you an attractive applicant. You may end up taking an unpaid internship; while this could be hard financially in the short-term, it can have long-term financial advantages. In fact, according to a recent Rutgers study, students who did internships during their college years had a 15% higher starting salary after college than those who did not do internships. You can find internships through your school's career services office, through outside organizations and fellowship programs, and by searching online or talking to contacts and professors. Remember: you have to look for internships early; many deadlines for summer internship applications are January-March, so don't wait until May to apply!
What exactly is “networking” and how can I do it in college if I don’t know any professionals?
Networking is a term for identifying and building relationships with a group of people who share a similar interest, such as a passion for a particular industry. Networking will be important throughout our entire professional life, but it is especially essential while you are exploring fields of interests and applying for jobs. In fact, many job openings are never even posted, and most people get jobs by hearing about them from someone they have met. Even if you don't know any professionals in college, there are many ways to establish and grow your network, including talking to other students who share your interests, attending company presentations, getting to know your professors, contacting alumni from your college through the career services office, and visiting career fairs.
How do I decide between a higher paying job or career path and one that I’m really interested in?
The best way to make a decision between two career paths is to be as informed as possible. You may discover roles that pay a wide range of salaries within the career path that you love, or you may find a function that you really enjoy in a higher paying job. In order to learn more about different careers and the lifestyles associated with those careers, consider taking steps such as visiting your career services office, or requesting an informational interview with someone who has your dream job. In addition to trying to gain a better understanding of careers, make a sincere effort to reflect on yourself and what is most important to you.
I want to go to graduate school but don’t know where to start. Help!
First off, seek help at your college’s career services office! They can help you decide if graduate school is the right decision for you, and they have valuable information about programs, requirements, and timelines for applying to graduate school. You can do some research on sites such as gradprofiles.com or gradschools.com to further explore different programs offered and learn about specific requirements. You should also make sure you are aware of the required tests and application deadlines for your desired program. Finally, make sure and start early! If you know you need to go to a graduate program for your intended career – such as medical school or law school – you should be thinking about prepping for tests and applications your junior year.
When do I start applying to jobs or graduate school?
Before you think about applying to jobs and graduate school, it's important to work on building a resume that will make you a competitive applicant for any program or position. From your first day at college, begin by focusing on leadership opportunities, internships, and student clubs related to your long-term goals. Timelines for applying to jobs and graduate school can vary greatly across different industries. With this in mind, visit your career services center no later than the fall of your second year to start exploring timelines and requirements for particular graduate school programs and jobs that you find interesting.
What do I do if the companies or organizations I’m interested in working for don’t recruit on my campus?
You are not limited to interning or working for companies that recruit on your campus. If you are interested in a particular organization that is not represented on campus, visit their website to learn about their recruiting process and deadlines for applying to work there. In addition, examine your own network and reach out to your college’s career services office to find alumni from your college who work there. By asking for advice or an informational interview, you may be able to increase your chances of working at their company. Finally, explore the qualities that you like about your companies of interest, and then look for those same qualities in companies that do recruit through your college. After all, you do not want to miss an excellent opportunity right on campus.
I’m about to graduate from college but I will not start my new job until several weeks after my graduation. I took out a few loans to pay for my tuition in college; do I have to start paying them back right after I graduate? I don’t think I can afford that!
Loan companies understand that most students will not be able to start paying back their loans immediately upon graduation. Therefore, they have what is called a “grace period” of about 6 months right after you graduate; this means that for the first 6 months after you finish college, you will not be expected to make payments on your loan. However, you should contact the company that granted you the loan before you graduate and confirm the date on which they expect you to start paying, and the amount you will be asked to pay each month.