Curious about university life? Can’t wait to just start your college career? Well, maybe you should take a step back and enjoy the last couple days of high school before you embark on your higher education journey. As a current junior in college, I know the anticipation to join university life especially while you wait for college decisions. This article focuses on the three fundamental areas of information regarding university life that you’ll want to know ahead of time before the first day of classes: academics (like picking majors/minors), getting involved in extracurriculars on campus and most importantly, staying alive (personal health/ wellness). I know it all sounds pretty boring but don’t worry, we’ll talk about social life and making friends too!
Read on to educate yourself on the major parts of a four-year education that can take place either 20 minutes away from home or on the other side of the country.
Academics – Majors
Huh, college equals studying? Yeah, it unfortunately forces you to study a lot but I like to think of college as a space where I get to explore my interests with other young adults who either know what they want to do for the next 20 years or they don’t know at all but want to try new experiences. Don’t feel like you need to rush through college because adulthood can wait, especially if you don’t believe in your contribution to the working world. You can learn how to gain job-oriented skills AND the ability to confidently market yourself to the job market at university.
Alright before we talk about majors, let’s briefly go over the difference between university and college (yes, there’s a difference). Colleges house various departments focusing on specific subject areas or topics that fit in with certain industries like science and engineering and humanities in addition to programs that essentially do the same thing but will contain less faculty members and students. Thus, a university consists of a combination of all of these colleges that gets recognized under the same name. Need an example? George Washington University consists of 10 colleges like the Elliott School of International Affairs (ESIA), the Milken Institute School of Public Health and the School of Business.
So you think you need a major (or minor)?
A major means an area of study that you will specialize in and specifically understand its past, present and future effects on the world. Your Bachelor’s Degree in Arts of Science will highlight this major, signaling to job recruiters that you aim to further the topic in some sort of way e.g., research, teaching to others or solving problems with it in a different subject area. A minor, depending on your university’s requirements, entails taking the same classes as you would for a major, but just a smaller amount of it. Lots of students in undergrad usually add on minors because they like a particular subject area, but not to the extent that they want to major in it. You decide the worth of your university education, so definitely check out courses and research projects that interest you when exploring potential majors and minors.
When figuring out a major to declare, ask yourself these questions: What field of study or topic interests you the most that you can attend a lot of classes for? Do you envision yourself working with this topic in either conducting research for it or using it as a tool to better understand other complex concepts? How would you pursue your passion for the field or interest as an adult in the next five to 10 years? These questions can help you get an understanding of your academic interests that can tie into personal interests as well!
Depending on your university, you may need to declare it —meaning the school knows what industry you might join post-graduation— at the end of your sophomore year.
This declaration concept definitely confused me in freshman year since I registered under the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) housed in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences (CCAS) at GW. SMPA considered me as a direct admit, meaning I didn’t need to declare my Journalism & Mass Communications major and automatically recognized as a SMPA student to the GW administration. Different colleges can host different majors and sometimes you can pursue two majors that require classes from two different colleges. Take for example, how I added International Affairs as a double major in the summer before my sophomore year, which means I get to take classes in both ESIA and CCAS because of my requirements for each major.
Make sure to check how your specific university and its colleges conduct major declarations and double major registrations (if you choose to double major) since schools can vary. Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to undergraduate advisors since their job literally consists of helping students like freshmen understand how the bachelor’s degree program even works. Take time out to meet with one in-person or over a Zoom call and ask all of your questions, even if it sounds stupid. At the end of the day, you or your family will spend thousands of dollars at a higher education institution for you to receive that higher education, so understanding how your specific degree and its requirements operate remains essential.
Extracurricular Activities – Student Organizations
Think making new friends in university (especially if the school you go to is far away from home) is scary? Join a student organization! Seriously, it actually works because some of your classmates might share the same career goals or even personal interests as you. You most likely won’t possess the time to talk about these hobbies or aspirations during class time, but you definitely can in student organizations.
Clubs like recreational sports teams, student media and even dance groups can encourage you to meet and get closer to people similar in age and personal interests. Even better, you won’t need to stress about partner or group projects if your club friends share the same classes with you (you can also convince your friends to take the same classes as you if y’all share the same majors).
I know GW itself hosts about 500 student organizations that can fulfill whatever normal or weird hobby you may be into. To shout out a few, there’s the Cheese Club, Ultimate Frisbee team and of course, the GW Hatchet — GW’s independent, student-run newspaper — for all the aspiring Anderson Coopers and student journalists in general. Other universities, depending their size, may offer a different amount of student organizations but the standard ones usually appear on every campus. If your school doesn’t offer a certain club, consider proposing an idea and creating your own student-run organizations.
I made some of my own best friends at college by first seeing them in class and actually talking to them when I saw them in the same student organizations.
Also, definitely get over the idea of creating cliques or collecting a bunch of friends like Pokémon. Find who you work and vibe with the best and stick with a good two or three friends or even one to two friend groups. Don’t force yourself to hang out with more people than you can handle and the biggest tip: not everyone will like you, so don’t feel obligated to like everyone too.
When can you join clubs? Should you join at the beginning of the semester or should you focus on school and then join an organization? Honestly, you decide as to when you want to join an extracurricular activity since it depends on your schedule and your time.
Remember, student organizations serve as extracurricular activities as in they should serve as a social break from school, which should rank as your number one priority. Of course, you should network, socialize and create relationships with all kinds of people (professionals or not) but you also need to graduate at some point. Make sure to not join an organization that stresses you out because then its purpose aligns more closely with a job and not an activity.
Stayin’ Alive, Stayin’ Alive – Eating Regularly AND Sleeping on Time
Finally, the most important part about surviving a college semester requires you to at least eat least two meals a day and get sleep EVERY night (yes, you can achieve this). I personally experienced the consequences of not eating or even sleeping enough, which ended up impacting my mood towards academics and extracurriculars. I felt broken down and helpless at one point this past spring semester because I overworked myself and forgot to eat dinner on one too many nights. Of course, I also lost sleep since I would stay up until 3 or 4 a.m., which made me not want to go to classes and do my overall homework.
You MUST eat in college! Make a list of meals you can cook for yourself that don’t take up too much of your time, schedule time to go to your nearest dining halls or grocery stores or find places on campus where you can pick up food if in a hurry. If you need to remind yourself through an app or even your roommate, go ahead and do it. Students can definitely underestimate the downfalls of both poor time and self-management, so set up a plan to ensure that you get some sort of nutrients into your body at some point in the day. I personally don’t like breakfast, but I purposefully picked foods like squeezable applesauce and bananas where I can eat it while walking to classes in the morning. Adjust your eating habits to your daily schedule as it will help you stay awake and alert in your classes whether they take place at 8 a.m. or 8 p.m.
Hold up! Don’t think that I forgot about sleeping on time because if eating at least two full meals a day can keep you running, then sleeping every night for at least five hours can relax your mind and body.
Take a nap if you need to! No harm in resting for short periods of time, so definitely indulge in naps as it can serve as your best friend during midterms and finals seasons. What’s the point of going to classes if you can’t retract any of the information in your head because you always feel hangry and sleepy? Fixing your sleep schedule at the beginning, middle and even the end of your semester will change how you orient yourself in classes. Don’t believe in the idea that you can’t do so without trying first.
Binged those indie young adult films in your early teens? Yeah, your university life may not exactly reflect that kind of aesthetic but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it! Whether you choose to dorm at college or commute locally, you get the opportunity to learn how to manage yourself. You won’t get it right the very first semester (I know I certainly haven’t). That doesn’t mean that you can’t start at any point to try new things, fix old habits and overall improve your academic life and even personal health.