Friday, October 13, 2006
The First Day
The first day is possibly the second best day of college. The first would be your graduation day. If your professors are kind and caring people, you won't have much to do on the first day. You'll get a syllabus that lists the rules of the class and the readings and assignments you need to do throughout the semester. Your professors will spend time going over every fine point of the rules to make sure the class understands what he or she expects from you. Just pretend you are paying attention.
Your professors might also ask you to fill out a card or something with your name, contact information, and other points of interest (like your major or hobbies). This seems to be a method of taking attendance, and getting to know the students better. Unless you're doing terribly in class, don't worry about your professor contacting you at home.
The final thing, which depends on your professor, is actually learning something on the first day. Some professors don't like to waste time, and begin teaching right away. Try not to fall asleep. If you're lucky, your professor will just kick everyone out of the classroom after explaining the rules. Hope for this to happen.
That's basically it for the first day of college. After time, this routine will become predictable and boring, unless something odd happens. If your first day was strange, I'd love to hear about it.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
All About Orientation
Orientation is an event (usually lasting from a few hours to, in some cases, a full week) that allows soon-to-be students to get a feel for the school. There is usually a tour of the campus and cheap food involved. At some point, you'll probably meet the president of the college (and never see this person again until you graduate) , who will say a few words (like "good luck") and then disappear into the darkness.
In between the tour and the speech, it's likely that you'll fill out some forms and surveys (nothing too difficult, unless you don't know your name). Also, if your college is big on "community spirit" it's likely that they'll have games and activities that force you to get to know your fellow students. I remember having to sit at a round table, with everyone taking turns learning the name of each person at the table. I haven't seen that group of people since then.
Other than those activities, you'll probably learn some important things about the college, like the rules, and how to choose your courses if you need help doing so. Overall, orientation isn't too bad. You show up for a few hours, eat some cheap food, meet some people, goof off, and then go home. Easy stuff. Good luck!
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Going To A "Commuter College"
A college where everyone commutes to attend class is, for the most part, the same as a college where people live in dorms. There is still a diverse student body; there are still many clubs and activities to join, and the food is still expensive (and in some cases, not very tasty). Things are pretty much the same, except for one difference.
From my experience, it's much harder to get to meet people (and become really good friends) at a college where everyone commutes. Most students just want to show up for class, hurry up and learn something, and then leave. Some students even leave while class is still in session! Plenty of students seem to have a job (or two), or family responsibilities. It's just not in their best interest to hang around after class. As someone I once had a class with said: "I think of you as co-workers." Ouch.
Don't get discouraged, because there is still hope for you if you want to make some friends. Remember when I said (or wrote) that there are activities and clubs? Joining one (or more) of those will help you find some like-minded students who also want to make friends. You could try striking up a conversation with someone in the cafeteria who might look lonely, or to the person seating next to you in class. Also, try to notice if anyone shares more than one class with you. It's a great icebreaker if you walk up to them and say "aren't you in my other class?" It's worked for me more than once.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
What It's Like To Live In A Dorm
Living on a dorm gives you a fair amount of responsibility, should that be what you're after. You'll have to decide what to do, when to do it, and how to do it without anyone telling you what to do. It can be both liberating and a bit scary. Do you go to each class when you should, or do you skip class to hang out with friends? It's all up to you, but if you spend time skipping classes and not doing work, don't be too shocked when you're back home because the school kicked you out. It can (and does) happen.
If you like feeling a sense of community with your fellow students, a dorm is a good place to be. There are usually activities for each dorm to participate in. My school had "dorm wars", competitive games between the different buildings. There were also a variety of parties, with many involving food (which is a plus for me).
As well as a sense of community, a dorm gives you a chance to spend time with people you might not normally hang out with. Some colleges work hard to diversify the students living in dorms to give everyone the chance to meet people of different backgrounds, ideas, and personalities. It can be very interesting, and you might make a few good friends.
One possible downside to dorms is that since everyone is living in such close quarters, there will likely be some not-so-wonderful moments. For example, you might not get along with your roommate, or the neighbors might be blasting their music at night. Also, things can get loud and rowdy in the hall, so it's a good idea to find a place away from the dorms in your search for inner peace. Hopefully your dorm will have a rule about "quiet hours" so you can sleep well at night.
Speaking of hours, most dorm services have opening and closing times (just like in real life). Don't expect the cafeteria to stay open all night long. Try to take note of when services end for the day, so you aren't stuck eating vending machine snacks for dinner. While you're at it, it's a smart idea to get a local transportation schedule and map so you don't get lost (or stuck walking back to the dorms late at night).
Finally, be sure to bring some rolls of quarters with you for laundry, just in case.
Getting That Golden Letter
- Make sure you are doing well in the class - A professor is more likely to say "yes" to you and write a positive review if you are actually doing well in the class. Be sure to turn in all of your papers and assignments on time, and study hard to do well on the tests. Participation in class is an added bonus.
- Make sure your professor knows you exist - If you sat in the back and never said one word for the whole semester, your professor might not know who you are, and will be puzzled as to why you're asking for a recommendation letter. Take some time out to make sure you are remembered. Arrive a little bit before class begins and chat with the professor about the class. Showing up during office hours is a good idea too, since many professors whine about how no one visits them. Take the extra time to be that one visitor.
- Make sure your professor is a good writer - You might be the star student in class and your professor might adore you, but if he or she can't write a comprehensible sentence, don't expect to get a good recommendation letter. The result will be a letter, and it will recommend you, but it won't be of a high enough quality that you'd want to give it to your ideal school.
- Mention other activities you participate in - If you are a member of any clubs or societies, try to mention them to your professor before the letter is written. Your professor might add those things into the letter, making you look like a more well-rounded student.
- Thank your professor - This is the final (and first) step. Professors are human too, and would like to be treated with respect, so be sure to thank them for spending their time and effort on writing your recommendation letter.
With these tips, you are well on your way to getting the recommendation letter of your dreams.
Monday, October 09, 2006
The Best Seat In The Room...
Sitting right in front of the professor has many advantages. For one, you'll hear every word uttered (even some of the more colorful words your professor thinks no one can hear - I've certainly heard a few). You also won't have to strain your neck to see what's written down on the boards, so note-taking is simplified.
Those are benefits, but there is one more that's very important. By sitting right in the front every day, you are showing your professor that you are dedicated to the class. If you participate, that's even better. Your professor will definitely remember your face (and probably your name too if the class is small enough). In the future, you might want to use this recognition should you ever need a recommendation. Your professor will surely be happy to give a glowing one to such a dedicated student, and that's why the best seat in the class is front and center.
Down to the Final Round: Choosing the Right College
Imagine the following scenario:
You open your mailbox to find it stuffed to the point of overflow with college brochures and applications. You are so desirable in fact, that your local post office humbly (and repeatedly) asks you to pick up the rest of your mail that couldn't fit in your mailbox. Sorting through this pile of information, you easily discard the schools who fail to meet your standards. The rest of the mail falls under either the “yes” or “eh, maybe” pile.
You look through your “maybe” brochures. Wow, they all look good! Pretty pictures of buildings, lawns, and smiling students. All of them have the obligatory “chemistry professor holding the test tube while surrounded by a group of impressed students” picture. All of them stress how safe their school is, and how dedicated the staff (and students) are to the learning environment. In other words, every school wants you to believe that it is perfect. With so many options to choose from, how can you weed out the colleges you don't want, so you can focus on the ones you do want? Here are some things that I'd think about when deciding which colleges to consider before sending out applications:
Did this college take time out to personalize their mail, or contact me personally?
In a time when most people are little more than a social security number, it's always nice when someone (or a large entity like a college) actually takes a little bit of time to get to know you. Why not check out all of those letters you received from the colleges? Do they address you as “Dear student” or as “Dear (Your Name)”? Even if my name was added in by a computer, I would be happy knowing that the college as least put some effort into personalizing their letters to me.
There was one college in particular that I have positive memories of. Before I had even sent out an application, a representative of the college had called my home, wanting to speak with me. We spent about a half-hour talking about the college and the surrounding neighborhood. She wanted to know about me and my hobbies, and encouraged me to ask any questions about the school that I had. While I never did apply to that school (at the time, I wasn't interested in leaving the state for college), I was left being VERY impressed by this school's approach. As far as I'm concerned, if there is a college that is willing to call you long-distance and have a one-on-one conversation with you, that college (if all other requirements fit) should be near the top of the list.
Are the professors good at what they do?
This is something that I didn't take much notice of when I was applying for college, so I'm writing this in the hopes that you don't make the same mistake. Since you're going to college to learn, it makes sense to learn from the best professors you can, right? If you already have your college major decided, then it would be a good idea to focus on the professors in that department. You can go online and do some research at the college website, and learn what degrees, awards, research grants, and previous experience these professors have. Some of the better professors are the ones who are active in their field of study.
By the way, you might have heard of a popular website students use to rate their professors, and you might be tempted to visit and see what students have to say about the professors you are researching. My personal suggestion is to take those opinions with a block of salt. Rankings on there tend to be biased, and don't always accurately reflect how the professor teaches. I've had plenty of well-educated professors who were given bad rankings because they were serious about their subject of study and gave the students real work. Unfortunately, there are more than a few students who believe that an “A” grade should be easy to get.
Will I be taught by the professors?
I'm pretty sure I know what you're thinking. It's probably along the lines of: “What kind of a stupid question is that!? Of course the professors will be teaching me. That's what they're there for.” The reality is that you might not be taught by a professor, but by another member of the faculty who is qualified to teach, but not qualified enough to technically be called a professor. Instead of a professor, you might be taught by a graduate student, an adjunct, or an assistant professor. Some of them might be competent, while others shouldn't be allowed to teach a finger painting class.
Just so you don't get turned off by the idea of not being taught by a professor, let me share some of my experiences with you. I once took an Economics course where the 50 minute lecture was taught by a professor, and the longer discussion periods (where we went over homework, key concepts, and test preparation) were conducted by a graduate student. The professor was highly qualified, but was terrible at teaching the class. He would often rush through concepts without explaining them well. Many students looked puzzled by what he was saying. On the other hand, the graduate student was great at explaining things, and he would repeat his explanations until we completely understood the concepts.
However, the opposite can also be true. I once had a Calculus class where the professor was easy to understand, while the adjunct who helped us with homework problems would repeatedly tell us the wrong answers. He even once wrote that 3 times 2 equals 9, and didn't realize his mistake until a student pointed it out around five minutes later!
What do current students have to say about the school?
This is a key question, since the majority of students will probably be honest when answering. If you can, it would be worth it to visit the colleges you're interested in before sending them your application. Lots of colleges hold tours for prospective students, and a few of those will even allow you to spend the night in the dorms with a current student. If you're lucky enough to come across that opportunity, definitely take it. It might help to prepare a list of questions you'd like to ask the students before you meet them.
If you can't visit the campus, there are other ways to find out how current students feel about their college. Try searching for message boards about the colleges you're considering, and ask your questions to the students there. Also, if you can, try to get your hands on a copy of the student-run newspaper. They are often critical of their schools, and will not hesitate to list what's wrong with the college administration if things are not being done. This can be helpful when their college is trying to keep their image as clean as possible.
I know this post was really long, but the idea behind it is to help you think about some factors that might not have crossed your mind. If you found this post useful, please feel free to send a link to others or direct them here. I'm also very welcome to comments, so feel free to send those too.
How NOT To Choose A College
- Picking a college based on what the school mascot is
- Picking a college because you like the way it sounds when you say it
- Picking a college because all of your friends are going there...you might not be friends anymore by the time classes start
- Picking a college because the voices in your head/ aliens who abduct you at night/ online gaming group told you to go there
- By throwing a dart at a map and deciding that ANY college in that location will do (what if it hit the Atlantic Ocean, what then?)
- Picking a college because it looks just like a school featured in an anime you like
- Picking a college because the people are good-looking
- Picking a college based on the first application your parrot pooped on when you lined his/her birdcage with them
- Choosing a college because the application process didn't require an essay
If you don't do any of the above, you're well on your way to making a better informed college choice.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
So Many Choices It Makes Your Head Spin: Which College Is Right For You?
If you haven't picked a college yet, this question has probably appeared in your head at least once. It makes sense, since you'll be spending a few years at whichever college you choose. A few years that you can't rewind and take back. While I can't tell you what college is perfect for you, I can point out some things you might want to consider when making your decision. I obviously can't cover everything, but the following three questions I'll write about are some of the major ones to ask.
1. Should I Choose a Two-year or a Four-Year College?
Generally speaking, the difference between a two-year college and a four-year college mirrorsthe difference between a junior high and a high school. Think of a two-year college as a warm-up to the lengthy stay of a four-year college. Most people I know who went to a two-year college (which was the local community college) enrolled in a four-year college after earning their associates degree. With that in mind, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of both a two-year and four-year college.
Positives of a Two-Year College
- Can get an associates degree in a short amount of time.
- Gives you an introduction to what life at a four-year college is like.
- If your grades in high school weren't so great, a two-year college can give you a nice second chance if you weren't accepted into a four-year college.
- If you continue to a four-year college, there is a chance you'll be able to transfer some credits over from the two-year college, which means less time in the four-year college.
Negatives of a Two-Year College
- If you continue at a four-year college and manage to stay all four years, you would have spent a longer amount of time in school.
- Some four-year colleges might not accept the credits you've earned at the two-year college, which means you would have wasted two years.
- If your experience turns out to be less than wonderful, you might be reluctant to continue your education.
Positives of a Four-Year College
- When you graduate you'll (at the very least) earn a bachelor's degree in something, which is helpful when searching for a job.
- You can skip that whole “two-year college plus four-year college” situation.
- You'll get school other with faster and with a higher degree, if that's your intention.
Negatives of a Four-Year College
- Generally, the standards needed to be accepted tend to be a bit higher than at a two-year school (but not impossibly harder – so don't get discouraged).
- It's typical today for people to take longer than four years to graduate (but I'll tell you how to avoid that at a later time).
2. Should I Choose a Public College or a Private College?
There really isn't much to say here, so I can keep this section pretty simple. The difference between a public and a private college is (basically) like the difference between a public and private high school.
Public colleges (like a City College, for example) tend to get government and tax funding. As long as your grades are good enough and you live in the area you'll probably get in without much hassle. If you don't live in the area, you might get charged some sort of extra fee. On a positive note, public colleges tend to be substantially cheaper than their private counterparts. Also, despite what some people may believe or tell you, it's quite possible to find many high-quality and intelligent professors teaching classes at a public college.
Private colleges are typically the ones where you pay outrageous amounts of money in tuition. Ivy League schools tend to fall into this category. The tuition tends to be high because these colleges don't get financial help from the government, so the students end up paying the bills. I can't say anything about the quality of the professors, because I attended a public college, but I have had some of my professors mention that they previously taught at a private college, which I found extremely interesting.
This is another easy section for me to write about. The answer is: “it depends.”
3. Should I Choose a Small College or a Large College?
At a small college, you'll probably have smaller classes, which means you'll get to know both your classmates and professors better than if you were in a larger class. You're also more likely to get individualized attention, which can be great if you need help understanding something.
At a large college (like the one I graduated from), you'll be lucky if you find yourself in a class with less than 30 students. You'll also be lucky if you can successfully register for all of the classes you need during the semester. You'll often be in competition with other students who also need/want to take the same class. In addition, the professors of the largest classes often won't (or can't) take the time to learn your name or who you are, so it's up to you to stand out. However, if you like being anonymous, maybe a larger school is for you. On a positive note, large colleges often have a multitude of clubs and activities you can participate in.
Well, that's all for this entry. Please come back again tomorrow. The topic will be a surprise, mainly because I haven't decided it yet. There are just so many things to choose from. College is a pretty complex subject, after all.
Is college right for you?
Before I get to the “fun” stuff, I figured that someone reading this might be wondering the answer to this question. When I was in high school, I thought about the same thing while I was mailing my applications. I thought, “college isn't for everyone,” and “you don't need college to have a good career.” While those statements may be truthful for some people (like Bill Gates, who's a genius at what he does), they just don't apply for the majority of people. For the most part, if you want a chance at a high-paying job (or any job nowadays), you'll need some sort of paper saying that you passed some sort of requirements that some school has set in place. In other words, you'll need a degree just to get your foot in the door.
With employers wanting to hire the best workers they can, one way to “weed out the worthy enough” is to require some type of degree. It's not an entirely fair process. Some people can't afford college, or other circumstances may prevent them from attending. Some people just don't do well in the traditional college learning environment, but are smart and capable of doing the work. Sadly, those people who are otherwise capable are held back by a “degree requirement” when seeking employment.
So, to return to the original question, my humble answer would have to be “yes.” Generally, if you want to get a decent (non-minimum wage) job, you'll probably need a degree of some sort to compete with all the other applicants who want the same job. A degree will at least put you on equal footing. There are other factors that decide who gets the job too, but a degree tends to be the first one listed.
In short, you should go to college and get a degree if:
- You want the chance to have a decent job.
- You want to be marketable as a person.
However, you DON'T need to attend college and earn a degree if:
- You honestly don't care.
- You are ridiculously rich (In which case, you might want to go to college anyway if you get bored with doing “rich people activities”).
- You are a werewolf, vampire, some other supernatural entity, or dead.
That's the long and short of it. On a personal note, I'm glad that I went to college, toughed it out, and have something to show for my effort. I hope this article gave you some food for thought if you're still on the fence about this.
Tomorrow's topic: Which college is right for you? Two-year or four-year? Small or large? Public or private?
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Surviving College: The Beginning
Hi! If you found your way here, I can (safely, I hope) assume that you are on your way to enrolling in a college or university somewhere on this planet, or maybe you're newly enrolled. You might be fresh out of high school, or considering going to/returning to college after a stint in the “real world.” Maybe you're just scoping out random blogs for fun. Either way, I welcome you.
By now, you might be wondering who I am, and why I'm blogging about college (and not my life story, which is exponentially more boring than anything I could ever say about college). I am a recent college graduate. How recently did I graduate? Last month. Out of curiosity (and a bit of boredom too), I decided to go online and search for “surviving college” and “college survival tips.” The results were a bit lacking. Here's a rundown of what I found:
- Blogs that were not added to in years/months,
- Blogs that never continued beyond the first post,
- Websites that served as nothing but portals to convince you to buy something,
- Websites that are about college survival, but only as it applies to one specific college.
My problem with these sites is that they typically:
- Lack quality – Many of these sites are either too generic (and discuss very little), too specific, or discuss less important things (like where to party).
- Lack consistency – Like I mentioned before, some of these sites and blogs were left abandoned, or weren't updated regularly.
- Some of these places just want you to buy stuff.
ALL of the above insult your time and intelligence.
College is an important time. You learn, you grow, you have fun. The last thing you need is to experience those years negatively, or be confused as to what to do. Being a zombie isn't fun, and being angry isn't fun either. I created this blog to share my “college knowledge” with you in hopes that you can avoid some of the confusion and mental breakdowns. I'm providing all of these tips for free, because I don't believe in capitalizing on information that everyone should have. That's like being charged a fee for breathing air or using your own toilet.
As proof of my “quality and consistency” guarantee, I'll give you my e-mail address. It's survived_college AT yahoo.com. Feel free to send me an e-mail or comment on the blog, especially if you see me getting lazy. I can't promise to individually answer everyone, but there's a higher chance of me doing so if you just comment on the blog. Also, if you have any college-related topics that you really want to see on here (ex: what to do about a terrible roommate, which doesn't involve anyone getting arrested), feel free to suggest them through e-mail. As long as my computer's working, I'll be checking it.
Since this introduction has gone a bit long (and I have nothing left to say), I'll just say so long until tomorrow. Tomorrow's topic: Is college right for you?
Oops. I noticed I never properly introduced myself. You can call me “A.” It's good and generic, and the first letter of the alphabet. Nice to meet you.