The Freshman 15: Finding Happiness in College

findinghappinessincollegeFor those who attend my alma mater (and many other universities throughout the world), today is the first day of school! Growing up, I always loved this time of the year, as I stocked up on fresh school supplies, spruced up my wardrobe and hoped that a cute new boy would move to town and be in all of my classes. Now in my second year out of school, it still feels crazy for me not to experience that “first day” excitement, as my inner nerd aches to read through a new syllabus and crack open a new textbook.

Many of you are starting college today (or next week, or early next month) for the first time ever. I congratulate you! College can be overwhelming, exhausting and, at times, heartbreaking. Completing your undergraduate degree is no laughing matter. But when I look back on the past 23 (almost 24) years of my life, I remember that many of the happiest moments took place during my university years.

Over the years, several of my readers have asked, “How can I find happiness in college?” Today, as you embark on this new and exciting adventure that is your undergraduate career, I’d like to share 15 of my own tips for truly living your college experience in a positive way.

The Freshman 15: Finding Happiness in College

1. Get involved on campus.
You will get out of your college experience what you put into it. What you do in the classroom is one key to your success, but keep in mind that it isn’t the only key. By joining a club or committee that interests you, you will not only gain valuable experience that you can’t obtain from a textbook, but you will also meet new people and challenge yourself in new ways. For tips on how to get involved on campus, check out my handy guide here.

*

13589981289522. Smile.
Did you know that the first Friday of October is World Smile Day? 🙂 Sometimes even a simple smile can brighten your day and turn your mood around. People respond better to you when you look happier, but people are less likely to approach you with a scowl on your face. It’s simple: Smile more, and happy things will follow.

*

3. Eat a more nutritious diet, and cut out the chemicals.
Seriously. This was always something my dad preached in our house, and I never wanted to believe it, but it’s true. I find that when I eat a diet rich in whole foods (as opposed to raiding the vending machine at work and binging on fast food), I’m a lot more even-tempered and less likely to overreact to minor things. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. Not only will this make you happier in the long run, but it will make your waistline happier, too.

*

4. Talk to your friends…
We all need somebody to lean on. You’ll make friends as you adjust to your new environment, and as you grow closer, you will likely turn to each other for support. This is a good thing, because it will allow you to grow closer and form more meaningful relationships.

*

thcaaxvjkd5. … But don’t lean on one person too much.
When you rely on one person too heavily, you may wind up putting too much pressure on him or her to solve your problems and be that shoulder to lean on. You don’t want to be that one negative friend that people dread talking to, so be sure to keep that in check when confiding in others.

*

6. Utilize the university counseling center if necessary.
If you’re having trouble adjusting to college life or are having some emotional difficulties, a good resource to take advantage of is the school’s counseling center. Chances are, your tuition and student activity fees actually pay for counseling services anyway, so it is a free resource that you might as well use. This can help you find new ways to cope with your problems and talk to someone who isn’t as close to the situation as your friends are.

*

7. Whenever you start to doubt yourself, listen to an emergency compliment.
I love this site, Emergency Compliment, because it’s exactly what it sounds like. The page generates a new “emergency compliment” every time you refresh, and the compliments will definitely make you smile. Similarly, you can write down all of the positive things people have said about you, and read them on the tougher days to remind yourself of how great you really are.

*

free+time18. Get organized.
Make checklists and keep a calendar to stay on task with your school work, extracurriculars and social obligations. This will ensure that you don’t forget anything important and therefore cause yourself even more stress and anxiety than you were already facing from those two papers and three midterms. For tips on managing your time effectively in college, visit my guide here.

*

9. Take each day one at a time.
Don’t try to solve all of the world’s problems at once. When you try to do too much, you stop doing any of it very well. Be careful not to spread yourself too thin!

*

10. Go outside.
Enjoy the fresh air and beauty of nature, even if you are inundated with schoolwork and group projects. As a student, I often brought my books outside when the weather was nice, and I found that this had a major impact on my overall mood. If you can, try to study or meet for lunch with friends outside once in a while… the change in scenery will (quite literally) brighten your day.

*

endorphins11. Move around.
Does your university have a free gym for students? Use it! The endorphins will boost your mood and help relieve some of the stress you’re facing. Plus, it’s a very healthy way to get your mind off of some of the things that may be bothering you!

*

12. Find a major you really love, and stick to it.
If you enjoy what you’re doing and have an end goal in sight, it will make it that much easier for you to push past your challenges. You may hate that organic chemistry class you’re taking, but if you are passionate about your other pre-med classes and excited about the idea of becoming a doctor someday, you’ll have an easier time forcing yourself to study. Don’t pursue a major just to impress others or check it off your list — instead, find something you’re passionate about. For tips on how to choose the right major, click here.

*

13. Volunteer.
Helping others, instead of focusing on the things that have gone wrong in your life, will cheer you up and allow you to give back to the community. Join a volunteer organization at your university, or look for a local non-profit whose mission speaks to you.

*

-114. Develop some school spirit!
If you take pride in your school, you will be less homesick and have an easier time adjusting to the challenges you face on campus. Attend a few athletic events and wear your university’s colors proudly! This also helps you to connect with others on campus and you may even make friends at the games.

*

15. If you expect wonderful things to happen, they will.
My friend Nicole always says this, and I completely agree! Good things will come when you have a positive attitude and expect them to. When you’re going through a rough adjustment, keep your chin up and hope for the best. Positive thoughts can attract positive outcomes.

*

What are some of your tips for finding happiness in college? Freshmen, what topics would you like to see on The Freshman 15?

The Seven Deadly Sins of College Life

sevendeadlysinscollegeNow that freshman orientation sessions are in full bloom, it’s time to start thinking about your first year in college. It can be tricky to navigate those first few semesters of your undergraduate career, but with the right tools and resources, you can still succeed both academically and personally.

As you prepare for a new life on campus, keep these “deadly sins” in mind, and be sure to avoid them at all costs!

The Seven Deadly Sins of College Life

1. Lust.
Whether you’re new to the dating world or you just ended things with your high school sweetheart, it is easy to fall prey to this first vice. Unless you attend a religious school, you’ll most likely have more dating freedom than ever before when you first set foot on campus. You should take advantage of that freedom… to an extent. Meet new people, but don’t date every guy who lives in your dorm building just for the convenience or excitement factor. Remember that college is also a time to form other important relationships, like lasting friendships and mentorships. (For tips on how to survive your college relationships, visit my Freshman 15 post here.)

*

2. Gluttony.
Once you’ve moved into the dorms, you will be exposed to more free junk food than you’ve possibly ever seen in your life. If you’re not careful, pizza can and will become a staple in your diet, as it seems to be served at most campus events and nearly every day in the dining halls. With more access to unhealthy food than you know what to do with, you may experience weight gain or other unwanted health issues. Allow yourself to indulge every now and then, but make sure you still get your fruits and vegetables, too!

*

3. Greed.
If you decide to live in the dorms, chances are you will have a roommate. Regardless of your floor plan, you will need to learn to share your spaces effectively. Don’t be greedy and allow your belongings to take up the entire dorm room! Instead, talk to your roommate about those shared spaces so that you can coexist peacefully. (For other ideas on topics to discuss with roommates before move-in, click here.)

*

No, not THAT kind of sloth!

No, not THAT kind of sloth!

4. Sloth.
Don’t let yourself get lazy in college! This often happens because of the freedom college allows students to choose their own class times and be accountable for their own work. Your class might not take attendance, but you will still see repercussions if you decide not to show up. You may have the ability to take all of your classes after noon, but if you run the risk of sleeping in even later and losing productivity time, is it really worth it? Without your parents or guardians around to wake you up for school or urge you to finish your homework, you have to push yourself to do these things on your own. Set alarms. Make lists. Learn how to manage your time effectively. These things will not only help you succeed in college, but they will also benefit you long after graduation.

*

5. Wrath.
Because of all the changes you will experience in college, you may be dealing with a lot of emotions. You also might have trouble coping with difficult situations because you are still getting used to a new support system and environment. However, it’s important not to take these things out on the people in your life. Learn how to control your emotions and find what makes you happy when you’re struggling the most. When in doubt, visit an advisor or your university’s counseling center for a shoulder to lean on. These resources can truly make all the difference when you need a nudge in the right direction.

*

6. Envy.
While you’re in school, you’ll likely meet a few people who seem to Have It All. These people seem to be in perfect relationships, are super involved on campus, win every award known to man, have more friends than they know what to do with and seem to be Better Than You in Every Way. I certainly knew a few people like this when I was in college, and it’s easy to become jealous. Of course, you’ll realize in time that everyone you meet is fighting a battle of their own, and that no one is living the perfect life. The best way to stop envying others for the lives they are living is to create the life you want for yourself. Get involved in the activities that interest you. Volunteer. Make new friends. Immerse yourself in your major. Figure out what will make you happy, and do that instead of dwelling on how much happier everyone else is. Your happiness will soon follow.

*

7. Pride.
Admit your shortcomings and accept help from others. Early on in college, I knew quite a few people who felt they could do everything on their own, even when they couldn’t.  Although they struggled in some of their classes, they felt they were too smart to attend tutoring sessions or visit the professor during office hours. Their grades suffered because of this. I don’t know why our society raises us to think that asking for help is a sign of weakness, but you have to let go of that notion from the moment you start taking college classes. Don’t be “too smart” for your own good.

*

If you could add an eighth deadly sin for college life, what would it be? Add your own in the comments section below!

The Post-Grad 15: Advice from Readers

graduationTime to turn your tassels, ladies and gentlemen. Graduation is in the air! :)

Normally in May, I collect 15 tips from college students and alumni specifically geared toward your undergraduate years (see Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3), but my focus shifted slightly after receiving my Bachelor of Arts last year. After a year in the workforce, I shared 15 of the lessons I learned since graduation, and decided that this year’s advice from readers should also focus on life after graduation.

Whether you just graduated or are just beginning your college career, you will learn a lot from this month’s blog. Several talented bloggers and professionals have come together to provide their insight into life beyond the classroom, and I am happy to share their words of wisdom with each of you! Be sure to check out their blogs and social media, and add your own tips and questions in the comments section below.

Oh, and to all of those recent/upcoming graduates, congratulations!

The Post-Grad 15: Advice from Readers

1. “Make a list of every possible career path you can take with your degree, along with things that you find yourself doing in your spare time. Don’t immediately reject any opportunity you may come across either, no matter how off the wall it seems and especially if it’s on your list. Finally, stay positive throughout it all. You’ll figure out your career with time, so just enjoy this chapter of your life and know that the best is yet to come.”
– Nicole Simmons, University of Central Florida, Advertising/Public Relations major (Website: Nicole M. Simmons)

*

perfectionist-image2. “Not everyone is going to work as hard as you. I’d like to believe I have always been a hard-working and diligent perfectionist. If I promise something is going to be done, it will get done (even if it means I practically sleep at the office). I have learned however, that even seasoned professionals don’t always work as hard as they should. Not everyone cares as much as you do, and it’s an obstacle you need to mentally overcome. Don’t let it discourage you from working to your potential.”
– Christina Frost, University of Florida, Applied Physiology & Kinesthesiology major

*

3. “It’s a tough world and finding a job here in the UK, even as a graduate, is hard. Just go to Uni/College, do something you love and enjoy every minute. Employers don’t mind too much what your degree was in; they want to see you stuck to something that a lot of people can’t, and they will see you were determined to better yourself.”
– Kenzie Harvey, Sheffield Hallam University (United Kingdom), Performance for Stage & Screen major (Blog: Lemonaid Lies, Twitter: @LemonaidLies)

*

4. “It’s okay to feel completely lost straight out of school. You spent the past 18ish years educating yourself and the world is a big adjustment, but you’re not alone. No one in their 20s has life all figured out, and if they do, they’re probably missing something huge. And always take time to take care of yourself.”
– Jennifer Zhou, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Chemical Engineering major (Twitter: @sprawlingdivide)

*

lifebeginssmall5. “Step out of your comfort zone. If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.  Don’t be afraid to take chances.  One decision may change your life, but it certainly won’t ruin it.    It wasn’t until I left my job and blindly backpacked through Europe, that I found true happiness and purpose in my life.  Take the leap.  Believe in yourself.  Opportunities are everywhere, and it’s up to you to make your dreams come true.”
– Max Pankow, University of Florida, Finance major (Blog: Motivate Your Plate)

*

6. “Here’s two things you should definitely do before you graduate: Apply for a study-abroad program and get an internship. You will be hard pressed to find a more eye-opening experience than living abroad on your own, and a degree is virtually useless without hands-on experience in today’s market.
– Jorge Rincón, University of Central Florida, Economics major

*

7. “My advice is for college students to meet as many people as possible. Go to networking events, meetings and socials; join social and mentorship organizations; sign up or run for leadership positions to boost your presence in the community and show people what you can do. Make an impression. In the future, you’ll be remembered for your involvement and contributions, and your network will become one of the things you’re most thankful for.”
– Kevina Lee, University of Florida, Journalism major (Website: Kevina-Lee.com, Twitter:
@kevina_lee)

*

72e0ad8cc08481dced5879b8099ea09c8. “A big change when moving from college to post-college life is that a lot of your built-in daily support system is displaced: roommates, friends, professors, RAs and other fixtures of college life are no longer quite as accessible as they once were. Sometimes the newfound ‘alone time’ or ‘quiet time’ feels strange or isolating as you navigate early adulthood.

But oftentimes, the moments that feel the most lonely are sometimes the best reminders you are connected to everyone else. Because everybody on this planet has experienced sadness, felt heartbreak, been sensitive to rejection, laid in bed at night with tears coming down their face. The moments that feel the most isolating are usually when you are experiencing the most universal feelings.

With that in mind, my best advice for post-college is to not be afraid to reach out when things feel tough. Something as simple as a text message that says “I feel sad today” to a friend or a parent can get you a little support, and help you deal with some unhappy feelings until things get better. Which they always do. Everything in life, and especially in your 20’s, is always getting just a tiny bit better, even if some weeks the ‘tiny bit’ feels extra tiny.”
– Molly Ford, Northeastern University, Smart Pretty and Awkward*

9. “Always remember that being good at something doesn’t make it exciting. Find what it is you’re passionate about and chase it for as long as it takes. Five years from now, you’ll be happy you did.”
– Mercedes Reinhard, University of Central Florida, Advertising/Public Relations major (LinkedIn: Mercedes Reinhard, Twitter: @isitbutadream_)

*

Maybe this isn't the best example of mentorship, but you get the idea!

Maybe this isn’t the best example of mentorship, but you get the idea!

10. “My piece of post-grad advice is to find mentors who are able to guide you in areas of your life beyond just your career (but you need the career ones too) and seek out their advice when you need it or just check in and bounce ideas off of them. And no matter where your life plans and path take you, stay in touch!
– Kaitlin Border, University of Central Florida, Accounting major

*

11. “My first year as a post graduate and young professional was wrought with highs and lows. I’ve learned so much that college didn’t prepare me for, but I wish someone has advised me to make time for myself and the things I find most important. I love my job, but I made a mistake in devoting myself COMPLETELY to my career. My advice is to focus on your career, but be sure to also make time for yourself, your friends, your family, and your health.”
– Beth Ginsburg, University of Central Florida, Elementary Education major

*

12. “Talk to strangers. Actually, talk to everyone. This goes against one of the cardinal rules your parents taught you growing up, but now that you’re a “grown up,” toss that piece of advice out the window with your twin XL sheets and your astronomy textbook. Everyone has a story, or an idea, or a friend, or a piece of advice that has the potential to simply, yet chaotically, flip your entire world upside down. It’s important that you silence the butterflies in your stomach and reach your hand out to say hello and to introduce yourself to every person around you. Maybe you’re at a networking event and you’re just hanging, idly, by the bar. Or you’re sitting on a park bench, in silence, next to a guy who is also sitting there, in silence. Perhaps you’re on the subway admiring someone’s nail polish color or you’re in the elevator and the person is getting off at the same floor as you. That one ‘first move’ hello is all it takes in this real world to teach you something new. And in this real world, you won’t find lectures or a syllabus or a textbook the size of your coffee table to teach you things. The most important things you’ll learn out here come from the people standing right next to you. It’s that simple.”
– Jen Glantz, University of Central Florida, English and Journalism major (Blog: The Things I Learned From, Book: All My Friends Are Engaged, Twitter: @tthingsilearned

*

prof-farnsworth13. “University leaders will be your advocate. It is very easy to get wrapped up in academics, friends, and social life that you might forget about the other people on your college campus who have the potential to strengthen your network.  Some of the most influential and interesting people at college are the employees that work at your university.  The directors of the departments, the deans of admission and administration, the list goes on. These people can not only mentor you throughout your undergraduate career but can also help set groundwork for your career by inviting you to attend important dinners with university leaders or even make a call to a friend for your first job interview. In my personal experience, the leaders at my university laid the groundwork for some of the most important experiences on my resume.  I participated in small job opportunities in their organization and that small job turned into lifelong relationships that still positively influence my professional journey.”
– Lexi Butler, Stanford University, Communications and Spanish major (CEO of The Grown Up Truth, Twitter: @lbee27)

*

14. “Don’t take things, or yourself, too seriously, and stop worrying about the little things outside of your control. You are still young, in your early- to mid-twenties, and contrary to what you may think, you do not know everything. You’ll face adversity in time, so be prepared to roll with the punches that life will throw you, and remind yourself that you are not entitled to anything (besides being treated decently by others, which you should do as well). Work hard and be persistent with what you want in life, but be sure to make the time to take care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually.”
– Branden McCreary, University of Central Florida, Pre-Clinical Health Sciences

*

15. “If a recent graduate has a specific job in mind during the application process, I would advise them to research former employees who had the same position. As important as it is to get to know who you’d be working with, it’s even more important to learn where a job might lead – did those individuals get the skills they needed in this position to land a killer job at the next level? If you feel it’s appropriate, you should even reach out to them to ask how their experience was.
– Kacie Boniberger, University of Central Florida, Advertising/Public Relations (Twitter: @kacieboniberger)

*

A huge thank you to our wonderful contributors! 🙂 Be sure to check out their blogs and social media.

Readers, what tips would you offer to upcoming/recent grads?

The Freshman 15: Tips For Choosing College Classes

For many of us, it is time to begin a brand new school year! On Monday, August 20th, I officially began my senior year of college, and with it came four awesome new classes (Guest Services Management, Marketing for Hospitality and Tourism, Theme Park Management and Writing for Publications). Ever since high school, I have enjoyed setting up my class schedules and planning out several semesters at a time, but in college, I received formal training on schedule planning through several jobs and advising offices on campus. Therefore, it is my honor to share some of my knowledge with each of you, as you embark on your first year of college (or second, or third, or sixth…) and begin setting up your own schedules for future semesters.

Wishing each of you a wonderful new school year, and looking forward to hearing how it goes!

The Freshman 15: Tips For Choosing College Classes

1. Start your day early.
When students first enroll in college, many are tempted by the idea that they no longer have to start the day at 7:30 a.m. and follow the same schedule they did in high school. Because of this, many end up scheduling all of their classes late in the day, and use the morning and early afternoon to sleep and play video games. Although you certainly have the freedom to do this, I would advise against setting up your schedule this way… instead, try to set up some earlier classes (9 a.m., perhaps, or 10?) to ensure that you’re up early enough to be productive. If you schedule all of your classes in the afternoon and evening, you may be more likely to slack off during the day and miss out on some of your responsibilities, but if you’re already up for a morning class, you will likely have the energy to accomplish more on a daily basis. Do this for your first few semesters, at least, until you have developed a greater sense of discipline in a college setting.

*

2. Start planning ahead of time.
When you first select your major, consider creating a four-year plan based on the required coursework and necessary internships. It’s a good practice, during your freshman year, to know that you will take your prerequisites during specific semesters and your capstone classes as a senior. Have a basic idea of what classes you will need and when you will want to take those, and keep this plan in your records for future registration periods.

*

3. Meet with your adviser.
When you’re creating your four-year plan, don’t forget to make an appointment with an adviser – at least in the beginning! Advisers are often untapped resources, but they have a lot of expertise on various undergraduate programs and can lead you in the right direction when you’re trying to select the track that’s right for you. They can also help you choose elective classes that will complement your major.

*

4. If the class requires an override and you’re still a freshman, chances are you shouldn’t take it yet.
Because of my experiences with accelerated Honors freshmen (pre-med students in particular!), I have definitely met my share of new college students who wanted overrides into classes they weren’t ready to take, such as Organic Chemistry. Now, I absolutely admire their work ethic, and I do not doubt their intelligence, but we almost always advise against enrolling freshmen in classes like these because transitioning to college is already a full-time job. Figuring out how to learn in a university setting instead of a high school classroom can be a challenge in itself, but combine that with other away-from-home responsibilities and the balance of extracurriculars and a social life. You don’t need to start out with your hardest classes right away. Allow yourself to ease into college life, and save Organic Chemistry for another semester or two.

*

5. Be aware of extra components of a class before enrolling.
Does your class have a lab component? Many students don’t consider this before they set up their schedules, and wind up ruining their grades because they didn’t schedule enough time to attend their labs. In addition, some classes require service learning projects, so it is important to be aware of this prior to enrolling in the class to avoid any surprises or disappointments. Pay very close attention to those sometimes-hidden extras when signing up for your classes.

*

6. Your course catalog is your best friend.
Different schools treat their course catalogs differently, but it is important to be aware of what prerequisites and core classes your major requires before scheduling your semester. Simple enough, right? However, it’s important to make sure that even as a communications major, you take the correct math courses, and that as an an engineer, you take the speech class that is designated for your major. You should also be aware of other requirements, such as internships, co-ops, and applications to limited access programs. Keeping your course catalog on hand is an excellent way to stay up-to-date.

*

7. Take your general education classes early.
Most colleges require their students to take a few general classes first, such as English, basic mathematics, foreign language and sciences. However, these classes can also serve as the building blocks for the classes you will have to take later in your major. Therefore, it is usually a good idea to take these in your freshman and sophomore year so that you can then access your more advanced courses. For example, pre-med students usually opt to take their introductory biology and chemistry courses as early as their first semester so that they can move on to anatomy and physiology and other major-specific classes. Taking gen-eds early is also a good idea because it allows you to get the classes you don’t want to take out of the way as early as possible. (I haven’t had to take a math class since the beginning of my freshman year, and I couldn’t be happier!)

*

8. Use RateMyProfessors.com, but do so sparingly.
RateMyProfessors.com can be an excellent resource for learning about your professors ahead of time. You can gain a greater expectation of what your professor typically requires from the class you are going to take, how easy or difficult other students perceive him or her to be, and what the professor’s personality is like. However, be careful when you use this website, because one student’s opinion may completely differ from your own. I took one professor’s class upon reading his reviews on this site, but wounded up hating every minute of his class because I considered him to be bigoted and rude. Conversely, I have taken professors with negative reviews and actually enjoyed their classes. Take each review with a grain of salt.

*

9. Talk to older students.
Yes, advisers can be extremely helpful, but often you can get some of the best advice from students who are just a few years ahead of you. Students are a fantastic resource because they have undergone the same experiences as you not that long ago, and so they are most likely to understand your situation and have the best ideas as far as classes to take, professors to avoid, minors and certificates to consider and organizations to join. Having a mentor can take away a lot of the stress, and will make you feel less alone when selecting classes and solving the problems that can go along with it.

*

10. Be wary of online classes, but take them if you think you can.
I have mixed feelings about online classes. I won’t warn you against them completely, because I think they can be extremely rewarding and they allow you to work at your own pace. However, I don’t suggest taking them in your first semester or two of college, because you are still figuring out your learning style and trying to develop your time management skills, and online classes may provide too much freedom and too little structure for a college freshman. However, once you have adjusted to university life and think you can handle an online class, feel free to try it out!

*

11. Learn the rules of your college and be aware of legislation that could affect your education.
In Florida, the public state schools face “excess hour laws” that limit the number of courses a student can take and still receive in-state benefits. Because of this, students nowadays have to be especially careful when choosing their classes so that they can keep their scholarships. In addition, most scholarships require you to take a certain number of credit hours, so it is important to know about this as well before you decide to “take it easy” one semester. Keep up-to-date on these rules and regulations, and your bank account will thank you later.

*

12. Take at least one class that genuinely excites you.
Let’s face it — it’s difficult to drag yourself out of bed to go to classes that completely bore you. If your schedule consists only of classes that you’re taking to “get them out of the way,” then chances are (unless you have a fantastic professor and discover that you love the subject) you won’t really enjoy your semester. Therefore, it is important to take a class that you are willing to get out of your dorm room to attend. During my freshman year, that class was my Creative Writing class — even as I surrounded myself with math/science classes that I dreaded, I made sure I had a class that I could use as an outlet. This made my semester a whole lot smoother.

*

13. Have backups ready.
During registration periods, classes can fill up quickly. As a freshman, you may not have first priority when selecting your classes, which means that you will have to be flexible and consider viable alternatives. Therefore, before registration periods begin, be sure to have at least three additional classes on the back burner so that if some of your first choices are unavailable, you will still have useful classes to take and won’t feel completely overwhelmed as you rearrange your schedule.

*

14. Be honest with yourself and know what you’re capable of.
If you hate studying and aren’t accustomed to a heavy course load, then don’t sign up for 18 credit hours right off the bat. Ease yourself into a schedule that works for you, and add on additional classes in future semesters after you’ve gotten used to a smaller amount. Don’t bite off more than you can chew in your first semester, because if things don’t go well, you will feel more discouraged in future semesters. Challenge yourself, but don’t overdo it.

*

15. Learn from your experiences.
Evaluate yourself after each semester, and plan your subsequent schedules accordingly. If you find that you aren’t well suited for online classes, for example, then try sticking to face-to-face classes every chance you get. If you take a class with a professor that you love, see if you can take more with him or her. If you’re an engineering student who realizes she hates her math and science classes, consider changing your major. College is full of transitions, and during the next four years, you will learn a lot about yourself, your interests and your personal learning style. Analyze those discoveries and figure out how best to apply them to your life.

*

College freshmen: What questions do you have about choosing college courses? What other questions do you have about the college experience? Is there a particular “Freshman 15” you’d like to see?

Other students and graduates: What advice do you have for students who are trying to plan their class schedules?

The Freshman 15: Choosing a Major

Two years ago, my future seemed completely nebulous. An eager but somewhat lost college freshman, I had no idea what path I wanted to follow. Although I applied to the university as a Journalism major, I knew right away from several years of prior journalism experience that I did not want to pursue it as a career.

Several alternatives stood in front of me — I could become an elementary school teacher, a psychologist or a cultural anthropologist. Or I could major in English, Creative Writing or Humanities (although who knew what I would do with that?).

Fortunately, I entered college with a lot of credits, so I had the option of waiting it out for a while and still graduating on time. Nevertheless, by October of my freshman year, I changed my major to Advertising/Public Relations, where it has firmly remained ever since. Throughout the past two years, I have switched out some of my minors, but for the most part I have been extremely satisfied with my undergraduate major.

For those students who are struggling to find a major, there are ways to narrow it down. (Tweet this!) Hopefully this month’s suggestions will help you to find the area of study that interests you most!

The Freshman 15: Choosing a Major

1. Utilize on-campus resources.
If your school has a Career Services or Experiential Learning Center, make an appointment to speak with one of their counselors! These services are completely free and always worth a shot. The people who work in these places meet countless students in your situation every day, and because of this, they are usually pretty good at helping you along the way. If your school does not have its own equivalent of this office, make an appointment with your undergraduate adviser, who should have some advice or know which direction to point you in.

*

2. Take your General Education Program classes.
Not only will this help you weed out those required classes and keep you on schedule, but it will also give you an idea of what you do and don’t like. For example, as soon as I took my Human Species class at the beginning of freshman year, I lost interest in an Anthropology major. In addition, you might absolutely fall in love with your Macroeconomics class and decide that you want to try out a business-related track.

*

3. Study the course catalogs and required classes for prospective majors.
You don’t need to memorize these, of course, but it’s always wise to get ahold of a course catalog and bookmark the majors that interest you with post-its. You can then take a deeper look later on and ask yourself, “Does this major require more chemistry classes than I am willing to take?” or “Will I be able to fulfill the required 3-hour internship credit by graduation?” It will also make it easier for you to pick out majors that do feature classes that interest you.

*

4. Think about what you wanted to do when you were five.
Although this was never particularly appropriate advice for me personally (when I was five, I wanted to be a princess), I know plenty of people who have wanted to care for others since the beginning of time and have been able to channel that into nursing or education. Did you spend a lot of time with your Easy Bake Oven growing up? Pursue a degree in Restaurant Management! Think about your passions that have remained since you were young and see if they can be cultivated in the professional world.

*

5. Take a career aptitude test.
If your Career Services Center can’t refer you to one of these, then the Internet is full of free tests you can take! This step played the most significant role in helping me land on a major that stuck. When I took this test, the three careers that best suited my interests and natural abilities were public relations specialist, public relations manager and advertising copywriter. It just so happened that my school offered an Advertising/Public Relations major (yes, it combines the two disciplines), and when I took my first two intro classes, I immediately fell in love. Don’t let the test results limit you, but see if they shed any light.

*

6. Do what you want, not what others expect.
Don’t choose your major based on what you think others will consider an “easy major” or a “hard major.” At the college level, no major is an easy major. You will have to work hard to maintain a competitive GPA, participate in additional activities and network with faculty and professionals your field, regardless of what area you end up in. Similarly, you should not choose a major because you think that others expect you to choose it — otherwise, I would have become an English major! Over the years, I have met so many students who started out in engineering and pre-medical majors because of the pressure placed on them by their parents, instead of because of a love for physics or biology. Those students ultimately switched majors after their GPAs completely tanked. Do what makes you happy… after all, it’s your life!

*

7. Take a fun class.
Even if it doesn’t become the basis for your new major, taking a non-required class will broaden your horizons and teach you something you wouldn’t have otherwise learned about! Extra knowledge is never a bad thing, regardless of the discipline it relates to. If the class does spark your interest further, you may have a major in your midst. (Tomorrow I will talk about some of the classes that I found useful!)

*

8. Connect with alumni.
My honors college is great at connecting students with alumni, but if you talk to the right people at your university (advisers, professors, counselors, etc.), you can become linked with a former student who can answer your questions about his or her post-college career. Not only is this the perfect networking opportunity, but it also allows you to talk with a professional in the community who has been through the same situations as you have. I have had the same alumni mentor since my freshman year, a public relations professional who has been there to tell me about the right classes to take, the professors to connect with and the pros and cons of the industry. Speaking with someone who was in your shoes once can give you great perspective.

*

9. Rule out the majors you don’t want.
When I was floundering around my freshman year, there were a few things I knew for sure. I did not want to be a doctor. I did not want to be an engineer. I did not want to pursue a math/science field. That still left a lot of possibilities open, but it still helped me narrow things down somewhat. Knowing what you don’t want is important when you’re trying to decide what you do want.

*

10. Talk to your friends.
If you have a friend whose major sounds interesting to you, ask him or her about it! Find out why your friend chose this major, what he or she wants to do with it after college, what the classes are like and how the professors are. Because my admission to the Advertising/Public Relations program took place just before my sophomore year (it’s a limited access major that you usually enter as a junior), I was able to answer a lot of questions for my friends who were thinking about trying it out. Meanwhile, I declared a Hospitality Management minor during the summer (I will admit that I try on minors the way some girls try on shoes), but before I did so, I was able to ask some of my friends about the program and that helped solidify my decision.

*

11. Pursue job shadowing.
If you think you want to work for an ad agency but you aren’t sure if the pace is right for you, talk to your adviser or a Career Services representative and see if you can shadow an account executive for the day or tour a local agency. Seeing the work setting of a prospective career can help you decide, “Can I see myself doing this in the future?” and “Would I want to spend a good chunk of my life in this field?” If so, you’ve just found yourself some new connections and have new goals to set. If not, you’ve continued to narrow down your interests and are that much closer to finding the major of your dreams.

*

12. Consider your personal values.
If you think that with a certain major, you will end up in a career that makes you question your moral character, then you should rethink your choices. Don’t choose something for the prestige if it will cause you to sacrifice your sense of self — instead, find something that best fits into your desired lifestyle.

*

13. Make a list of interests.
When in doubt, write it out. Seeing your passions on paper might aid in that “a-ha!” moment. You can look at that list and ask yourself, “What careers do these interests fall under?” This will help you find a major that you’re excited about.

*

14. Ask the practical questions.
Once you have figured out a potential major or two, you’ll want to find out how marketable those majors are and what types of careers will be available to you upon graduation. Will you have to attend school for an extra two or four years in order to get a job someday? Will you be able to afford graduate school? Will you be able to commit to the amount of time necessary for a required internship in this field? Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into before you dive in headfirst.

*

15. Find a happy medium.
Once you’ve chosen a major, give it some time. It’s possible that you won’t love every minute of it, so be patient. At the same time, don’t stick with a major that makes you miserable when you know that there is something better out there for you. In other words, don’t change your major at the drop of a hat, but keep your mind open and make sure you don’t resent what you’re doing.

*

My questions for readers:
– Was it easy for you to choose a major? Why or why not?
– What do you struggle most with when considering a future career?
– What other college-related topics would you like to read about in the future? 

Choosing A Major: Why Expectations Aren’t Everything

When you meet someone new in college, one of the first questions you’ll ask or be asked is, What is your major?” It’s a good getting-to-know-you question because it gives us an insight into the other person’s personality, interests, talents and future goals, among other things. It also helps us find common ground (“Oh, you’re a psych major? I’m minoring in psych! What are you taking this semester?” or “Cool, my roommate’s an art major too, do you know him?”) and mentally categorize for further recall.

More and more, however, I’m finding that undergraduate majors have become a new status symbol. I see so many students who take pride in their pre-professional or engineering tracks and not enough who consider their liberal arts majors in a positive light. In fact, we tend to compare our chosen majors to the majors of our peers, in the same (often immature) way that high school students tend to compare the number of AP credits they are taking.

I am proud to be majoring in advertising and public relations — in fact, I will shout it from the mountaintops (if I can find any in Florida)! But I am sad to see that so many students are not quite so comfortable in their chosen career paths because they are worried about what others may think. They believe that because their majors aren’t traditionally “difficult” majors like Molecular & Microbiology or Mechanical Engineering, they might be looked down on, or seen as the lesser achiever of the group.

In all actuality, no major is worth less than any other if it is what you want to do with your life. Although I highly doubt I could survive an Organic Chemistry or Differential Equations class, there are plenty of students in those classes who could not achieve as well in my writing classes or event-planning endeavors. What makes us unique is that we have so many opportunities to cultivate our passions and talents, and that no one path is right for everyone.

In other words, don’t downplay yourself. When someone asks you what you’re majoring in, stand tall and tell them you’re an Animation major, an Event Industry major, a Theatre major or a Computer Engineering major. Conversely, when someone tells you what they are studying, don’t pre-judge it as the easy major or the difficult major. Remind yourself that each of us has his or her strengths and weaknesses; it is what you do with those that makes all the difference. 🙂