The summer before I started college, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. I was stressed about keeping up with and succeeding in my classes. Most importantly, I was stressed about how much college is going to cost. Now, as a soon to be college graduate, I’ve been able to experience all the stress of the college journey and can hopefully alleviate some of your concerns about college.

I’m concerned I will be exposed to material I’m expected to know already but I don’t?

When I started college, I was very afraid that I would be behind in my knowledge in comparison to my classmates. However, I found that I wasn’t. This is because many introductory college classes are rather similar to AP courses in high school. For example, if you are taking an introduction to Psychology, the professor does not expect you to know anything about Psychology yet, that is what he’s there for. The same goes for courses such as English courses. At my university, all students are required to take at least one English course as freshmen. In the course, we learned research methods, different essay styles, and more. I can honestly say that I learned how to write a proper thesis statement — something you probably learn in high school — when I was a freshman in college. Now, I’m an English major!

I’m scared about being in an environment that I’m not used to.

The environment is definitely a lot different than high school and it may take some getting used to. I used to be in school taking classes from 7:00 AM-3:00 PM in high school but my first college course I ever took was from 1-2 PM. I didn’t have any other classes that day! However, probably one of the biggest shocks to me about the college environment was that I didn’t have to ask my professor if I can use the bathroom. You just get up and go. That took me the longest to get used to. Other environmental differences between high school and college include being more willing to do things alone. You may find that you’re more comfortable doing things alone like going to lunch. On the other hand, in high school, I always did things with my friends. This change isn’t a bad thing, it’s just you adjusting to being more independent and being considerate of the time you have to do certain things, like eat lunch. Lastly, I would consider the size of the student body. I go to a relatively large school which is something I prefer because I’m used to a larger student body. However, you might be more comfortable at a smaller school.  So yes, it may take some time to get used to the environment but you will find it’s very easy to get used to. Don’t be afraid to talk to other students because it’s possible they feel just as lost as you do. In fact, I made one of my closest friends when we both got lost trying to find our classroom. I would say to give yourself at least a month, though, because that will allow you to develop a comfortable routine and you will start finding where you belong in the environment.

Will I be able to keep up with my coursework and still manage a part-time job?

You can definitely maintain a part-time job while going to school! I personally recommend not working during your first semester because that allows you to get used to the college environment and also helps you see how much time you’re dedicating to your school work and how much free time you have after that. However, if you have to work during your first semester, I would recommend looking into work study which is available to undergraduate and graduate students who are full-time or part-time and working in college.

I’m concerned that I will end up with a major I don’t like because I can’t decide on one.

I, too, was concerned about picking a major. I started out as Communications, then switched to Business, then to Education, then I experimented with various concentrations in the English major before I finally decided on my major. One thing I recommend is testing out different courses you find interesting. In my opinion, general education courses are a great way to decide on which subjects you are interested in. If you find that you are really enjoying what you are learning, don’t be afraid to reach out to your professor and ask him/her more questions about career options in that particular major. Another great thing is that you don’t have to declare a major until the end of your sophomore year. That gives you two full years of deciding what you actually want to study.

I’m not sure if I have good time management skills?

One of the hardest things for me when I started college was time management. While you’re in class far fewer hours than you were in high school, you are expected to complete a lot more work outside of class. For example, I was expected to read a 200-page book my first week of classes. While that might not seem like a lot, it was a shock to me because I usually took about a month reading a 200-page book in high school. So one of my biggest recommendations is to get a planner or calendar and then map out when all of your assignments are due. This can done rather easily in college because all professors provide you with a syllabus. The syllabus provides an outline of when you should expect to have exams, quizzes, presentations, essays and other assignments due. When you see how much time you have to do something, you can plan accordingly. For example, if there’s a day where you have two exams and an essay due, start studying and writing in advance! It’s important that you stay on top of your assignments but also make sure to have some time to relax. If you focus on just school, you will feel burnt out by the time midterms come around.

I’m scared I won’t make any friends

Making friends can be hard in college. I go to a commuter school and most students tend to go home right after class. Thus, my recommendation is to sign up for clubs or organizations. Sign up for everything that sounds interesting to you. There are political science clubs, pre-professional organizations, dance squads, and even organizations that cater to foodies! Go to the meetings and see which interests you most. Connect with other people who share your interests and you will quickly find ways to make friends. Another recommendation is to make friends with people in your core major classes. You likely won’t be taking these classes your freshman year but, if you do encounter someone with the same major as you, be sure to befriend them! It’s likely you will be taking the same classes over the next few years.

What if some of the classes are too hard for me?

Classes can be hard but usually, your freshman year, classes are not that hard because they are still focused on the basics. In fact, the material might be relatively easy to understand, but there may be a lot of work you have to finish for the class which is what the hard part might be. There are three things that I recommend doing if you find either the material or the workload too hard to manage. The first is that it  may help you to stay on top of your assignments. Designate a time to work on them so that they will be finished by the due date. Another thing you can do is go to tutoring. If you really are struggling with the material, a tutor can help you go over whatever you find difficult. The third option would be to go to your professor’s office hours. Who better to explain the confusing material than the person teaching it. However, if these three options seem difficult, I would recommend trying to get a feeling for what your classes are like in the first week of the semester. Most colleges allow you to drop a class before the second week of classes is over. If you feel that a certain class will be too much to handle, make sure to drop it before the two weeks is up.

I’m concerned that I won’t earn a full scholarship or at least enough scholarship money that will not have me rack up debt

In my personal experience, it’s been nearly impossible to not accumulate debt during my college journey. Without taking out loans, I would not have been able to attend college. However, I found it extremely important to apply for as many scholarships as you can. After all, you can continue to apply for scholarships while you are in college. Other than scholarships, apply for work study. Also, look for academic competitions. There are essays contests that allow you to win money and even art competitions. While these contests aren’t necessarily classified as scholarships, you can use the money you win towards your tuition.

Will I still have time to do clubs and sports in college?

Something I found about joining clubs in college is that it’s better to be in one or two clubs and be very involved than being just a member in multiple clubs. For example, in high school, I joined as many clubs as I could because I was already at school and thought why not. However, in college, I became involved with clubs that suited my interests and that enabled me to gain leadership skills. So yes, you will have time to do clubs in college. 

While it is totally manageable to do clubs in college, sports can be a different story. In some colleges, if you are doing sports, you often don’t have as much say in your major. I’ve heard stories from some students who said that in order to afford college, they had to participate in sports and, as a result, were not able to pursue the major they wanted because they had to pursue the major recommended by the college. So if you’re serious about the sport you want to play, you have to decide whether the sport or your major is more important to you. Of course, you can always play intramural sports which tend to be less demanding and you can focus on your major then!

I’m scared I’ll get lost during my commute!

My first day of college, I got on the wrong bus and ended up at Navy Pier instead of at UIC. While that is only a 16 minute car ride, I took a CTA bus which meant I was 45 minutes away from school. The reason this happened was because I was trying to look like I fit in when I really should have just asked the bus driver if he’s going to UIC. Basically, getting lost taught me about commuting, for example, I always use the maps app on my phone when I have to go somewhere (which I should have done my first day of school). However, if you’re afraid of getting lost, I recommend walking around campus and learning where all the buildings are. I took pictures of them on my phone so that I can study them. Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask other students on campus where a building is. I have never encountered a student who didn’t try to help me find what I’m looking for. After all, they were freshmen once too. After a week, you should be able to know where all of your classes are! Wear comfortable shoes though, my feet hurt a lot after all the running I did to my classes the first week of classes.

Right now, I don’t know whether I should go to a school that grades by semesters or quarter? 

I personally prefer the semester system because that’s what I am used to. Additionally, I prefer that the semester breaks take place when most other schools are on break. However, there may be reasons why someone might consider quarters over semesters so here are some things to consider. 

  • Would you rather take fewer courses over a shorter period of time or more courses over a longer period of time? 

On a quarter schedule, you will most likely be taking 3-4 courses over 10 weeks. On a semester schedule, you will be taking 5-7 classes over a period of 15-16 weeks. Basically, are you more comfortable with covering material in a short period of time or in a long period of time. 

The semester breaks are different on a quarter schedule vs. a semester schedule. Students on a quarter schedule tend to start school in late September or even early October and they end around Thanksgiving. On the other hand, students on a semester start school in late August or early September and also end around Thanksgiving. However, while students on a semester schedule end school in early May, students on a quarter schedule are usually in school until mid-June.

I’m afraid of failing all of my classes because I won’t be smart enough to understand the material because my high school failed to prepare me

If you’re making some sort of effort and really trying in your classes, you will not fail! I had the same worry. Something that really helped me was going to my professor’s office hours. While it may seem intimidating, professors hold office hours in order to help their students! Don’t be afraid to ask them for help with any material you might be struggling with. Sometimes, individualized instruction can be the key to success. Another great resource on campus is the abundance of tutoring services. There is honestly a tutoring service available for every subject you may be studying. Don’t be afraid to go to tutoring if you really need help with a subject.

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