Making The Most of College: Tips from the S360 Team
If you’ve just started college, think of the next few years as a blank canvas and the potential paths in front of you as colors on your palette. From campus clubs, internships, and part-time jobs to sports, research projects, and Greek life, there are endless ways to paint a picture of your undergrad years. While you can make your college experience anything you want it to be, the possibilities presented by a blank canvas can be overwhelming in the beginning. That’s why we’ve put together a list of college advice to help you navigate college. All five of these tips are based on the collective advice of our team here at Scholarships 360.
Also see: First year of college: How to prepare
1. Make a plan
When it comes to college, things usually go smoother when you have a loose plan. As you figure out what you want to study, be thoughtful about the courses you choose to take. Content writer Kayla Korzekwinski, who graduated from UNC Chapel Hill, recommends that students seek courses that fulfill credits for both their major and general education requirements.
“I spent my first 1.5 years of college taking classes specifically because they fulfilled [general education credits], not because they were in my major,” Kayla said. “Then the next 2.5 years, I realized that so many of my required major courses also fulfilled those credits! By the time I graduated, I had most gen ed credits at least twice. I’d advise a college student, especially early in their career, to look at the classes that are required for their major, and see what credits they fulfill.”
Meet with your advisor early on and put together an academic plan that works for you.
Also read: Guide to double major
2. Be flexible
While it’s important to create a plan for yourself, it’s just as important to be flexible and allow that plan to change. During your college years, there’s a good chance you’ll end up switching majors, rethinking your career path, or even transferring schools. For instance, content writer Lisa Freedland studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before transferring to the University of Southern California. She shared some college advice here:
“Going into college, I was in a unique position where I was quite sure about what I wanted to do: get my bachelor’s in psychology and, after a gap year or two, my Ph.D in clinical psychology,” Lisa said. “Over the course of my time in college, however, much has changed. Unexpectedly, I ended up transferring to another school, did not end up studying abroad as I had planned to, and am now quite sure that I want to do most anything but pursuing a Ph.D in clinical psychology. Despite this, and despite not being as sure of what I want to do in the next few years as I once was, I’ve never been happier and more relieved that I’ve realized I was on a path I didn’t want to be on.”
Flexibility also applies to knowing when to step back from too many campus activities.
S360’s social media director Emily Wong, a recent Northwestern University graduate, offers some great advice for a well- balanced college experience.
Joining extracurriculars is a great way to get involved on campus, but it can also be overwhelming. It’s easy to feel like you’re not doing enough unless you’re filling up your schedule all the time. Remember to take a break every once in a while, and don’t feel pressured to do more just to keep up with everyone else. College is full of so many opportunities, and you don’t want to waste your time on something you’re not passionate about.
Ultimately, it’s okay (and totally normal) for your plans to change throughout college. And if you’re not sure what you want to do yet, take the time to explore a variety of interests.
3. Embrace exploration
Speaking of exploration, college is one of the best places for it. Now’s the time to learn more about yourself and figure out what you like and don’t like. Even if you’re certain about your major or career path, content editor Gabe Jimenez-Ekman says it’s a good idea to take courses that may seem out of your wheelhouse.
“Try looking at a department you’d never think to consider and check if there are any courses you’d be interested in taking. You may find a class that sparks a whole new interest in you. College is a rare opportunity to have lots of time to think, so it’s a good idea to spend it thinking about a wide variety of subjects,” Gabe said.
Your exploration shouldn’t be limited to the academic realm, either. Don’t be afraid to try out different campus clubs, welcome new people into your social circle, and embrace new experiences. Some of the most important personal growth occurs when you leave your comfort zone, so make it a point to seek out situations that challenge you. You’ll be surprised to learn what you’re capable of when you take risks.
Also read: How to get involved on campus
4. Chart your own path
The beauty of college is that everyone’s journey is different. Just take Maria Geiger, for instance. Maria, who is the Director of Content at S360, followed a nontraditional path by earning her undergraduate degree at age 47.
“My advice would definitely be that you are never, ever too old to start!” Maria said. “I started college the same year as my oldest son, Scholarships360 co-founder Will Geiger. At first, I remember feeling self-conscious about being the oldest person in nearly every class. The thrill of learning helped me quickly get over feeling a tad awkward. In the end, graduating from college is at the top of my life accomplishments. No matter how old you are, if you want to earn a college degree (or two!), go for it!”
Maria’s journey goes to show that nothing is off the table when it comes to your college education. Things that may seem out of reach are entirely possible if you put your mind to it. Sometimes your goals and decisions won’t align with what’s considered “normal”, but that’s okay! Do what’s best for you, even if it means straying from the crowd.
Also read: Top scholarships for nontraditional students
5. Enjoy the ride!
If you remember just one piece of college advice from this post, let it be this – have fun! We know that college can be busy, stressful, and downright overwhelming at times. But in the midst of it all, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. College is an exciting time that only comes around once, so make sure to soak it all in. Bill Jack, one of our Educational Review Board Advisors, says that students should take the time to slow down and relax.
“One of the reasons I was such a happy undergrad was because I took the time to breathe, to relax, and to enjoy those precious four years,” Bill said.
It’s easier to enjoy the ride when you know your priorities. Excelling academically is important, but making friends and building relationships is just as (if not more) important. As S360 co-founder Brian Geiger says, try not to worry too much about achieving a perfect GPA or landing the prestigious summer internship. These things are designed to be competitive, and by their very nature only few can obtain them. Here’s his college advice:
“Instead, devote time to the richest, most enduring parts of life, the things available to everyone – building relationships with friends, discovering the projects and problems that intrinsically fascinate you, developing your unique worldview,” Brian said. “You might not graduate with a 4.0, but you will graduate with a better sense of who you are and where you might be headed.”
And while you should strive for good grades, remember they’re not everything. In fact, S360 co-founder Will Geiger says some of the most important learning occurs outside the classroom.
“It’s so important to build relationships with your classmates, make friends, and just put yourself out there,” Will said. “These friends will become an incredible support system both during your college years, but also as an alum. College is about an education, yes, but it is also an incredible social network to be a part of.”
Final thoughts on college advice
The road from first-year student to college graduate is a winding one, filled with unexpected turns, bumps, and even dead ends. But it’s also an incredibly exciting road, and one that you should savor as much as you can. Remember to stay open, and take college advice from many different people in your life. The canvas in front of you may be blank, but lean into the unknown and paint with confidence, determination, and excitement.
Also see: How to make the most of your senior year