Starting college can be an overwhelming process. Between the massive new campus, the countless student clubs and organizations, sports teams, new social environment, living away from home, and new classes, it can certainly take a while to get your bearings and settle into your new environment. Although this is an experience almost every college student will go through, jumping ahead and planning your future can provide a great advantage.
1) Plan Housing for the Next Few Years
One of the biggest challenges of living away from home is making all the arrangements for having your own living space. Many students spend their first year in the dorms as part of the “college experience”, and the dorms tend to be a great way to ease yourself into your new college life without having to worry about maintaining your own home, paying for things like food and utilities, and commuting to school. One thing to note about the dorms, however, is that they tend to be quite expensive (and pretty small). Many students find it in their best interests to look for off-campus housing with a few roommates after their first year of college, but fail to realize this is something that should be looked into as soon as possible.
A lot of colleges are centered in big, populated areas, so it follows that both the difficulty of finding a place and finding one at a good price are significant. When you first start college, it’s likely you’ll be so overwhelmed by your new environment that things like housing will escape your mind, however, if you start early enough, you gain a significant head start and a better opportunity to arrange the best-possible housing for future years. For one, start considering who you want as your roommates early on; don’t wait too long only to find out that all your friends have already made their own arrangements. When evaluating people as potential roommates, go beyond thinking about how much fun you have with them: consider things like cleanliness, sleeping habits, ability to do basic chores, and studying practices. Getting stuck with roommates that hinder your ability to perform in college can be a huge burden, and it’s best you prioritize who you want early on.
Another thing to consider early is the housing itself. How many roommates will you have? How close do you want to live to campus? What’s your budget? Where are the safest neighborhoods? Asking yourself these questions helps you narrow down what type of housing you need early on. This is an advantage because looking for housing before the rest of your peers opens up both availability and favorable pricing, and having a larger set of choices is only a good thing. This is especially important for universities located in big cities — once housing starts filling up, you’ll be faced with either extremely high prices or very long commutes, both of which can ruin college for you.
2) Internships and Other Activities
Internships are valuable, temporary full-time positions made available to college students (mostly during the summer) in a variety of fields, allowing students to gain real-world experience and heavily bolstering their resumes. What many fail to realize is that just because internships occur in the summer doesn’t mean the deadlines to apply are also in the summer; in fact, some internships look to hire as early as autumn the year before! For example, internships in investment banking start taking applications as early as October the year before the internship, well ahead of what many freshman students may expect. You’ll hear that most students do their first internship after their second year of college, but starting a year early can give you a massive boost and accelerate your path to a full time job. Don’t get caught up in the newness of college and instead remember how early some internship applications can come; while the rest of your classmates are still figuring out the best local restaurants, you’ll be interviewing for your first internships and be well ahead of the curve.
This applies to other activities as well. Large student organizations and school sports don’t wait for students to get accustomed to college first, because their memberships open up as early as a month into classes. Some college clubs are actually selective, so you won’t be guaranteed membership just by signing up and may actually have to turn in an application and perhaps even interview for membership (this is because clubs in college tend to be a lot more hands-on, and provide several experiences that are magnitudes more useful and interactive than those of high school organizations). Again, don’t lose yourself to your new world and start applying to organizations as soon as you can to beat your peers and secure yourself the best-possible opportunities your university has to offer.
3) Figure Out Your Major
Many, many students switch majors while in college as they take the right classes and learn more about where they want to end up after school, so it’s perfectly okay if you aren’t too sure about your career aspirations the moment you start college. However, figuring this out as soon as you can is only a good thing — you’ll be taking the required classes sooner, and will waste less time taking classes for other majors. Unless you went in undeclared, you already have a major in mind. The best thing to do is take a few requirements for that major your first two semesters, but not a lot, so that you can get a feel for that major without taking too many unnecessary classes (in case you end up switching). Colleges often have general requirements that all students have to take regardless of their major, so mix things up! Take a few general requirements and a few major requirements, and in the event that you do decide to switch majors, at least you’ll have covered some of the other requirements needed for graduation.
To figure out if a major is the right choice for you while you take the required classes, try to get a feel for the coursework and ask yourself it it’s something you would to regularly. If you’re in computer science and have an A+ but can’t stand coding for more than an hour because it bores you too much, don’t let your good grades get in the way of good judgement. On the flip side, if you’re in business and find that the projects are extremely fun, you may be in the right place. If you’re in the right major, you should be able to enjoy, or at least appreciate, the coursework. Constantly ask yourself whether what you’re doing is something you can do for the next forty or so years, and don’t stop until the answer is a definitive yes.