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6 Valuable Tips for College Life Beyond the Classroom

Student writer Zia just finished her first semester of college and wants to share her newfound wisdom to make your first semester the most successful it can be.

I just finished my first semester at Loyola University New Orleans, where I’m working toward a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations. I live on campus and have become actively involved with a number of organizations, including the school paper and Gamma Phi Beta sorority. In my first few months, I learned through a lot of trial and error how to actively function as a pseudo-adult, so while I can’t speak to how everyone’s semester went, I want to share advice based on my experiences that may help other students in (or about to be in) college.

1. Use a planner

Everyone will tell you this. It’s not a new concept, and a lot people do have a planner they carry with them. The problem is using it consistently. Write in it every day, create checklists, and check off items as you finish them! It’s usually easy to start the semester doing this, and you might even do it for a few weeks. But as schedules start to firm up and you get into a routine, it can be easy to think that you can keep track of everything without a planner. I certainly thought I had a handle on everything until about three weeks into the semester, and it kicked my butt. I ended up double-booking myself because I would forget about a meeting or an assignment until I got a text reminding me. Once I realized what I was doing to myself, I wrote down all of my appointments in hard copy. After that, it became much easier to stay on top of my schedule. And speaking of a schedule…

Related: How to Improve Your Time Management and Study Skills

2. Schedule everything

I like to keep busy. In all honesty, a little too busy. Because of this, I fought severe burn-out shortly after midterms. Every hour of my day was spent in class, in meetings, at work, or doing homework. A lot of the time, these activities would even overlap. There was a good two weeks where my roommate only saw me once or twice, and she sleeps literally three feet away from me. In order to break this cycle, I sat down with a spreadsheet and wrote out every hour of my day, starting from waking up all the way to going to bed, including when I would eat, do homework, and have free time. I made sure to schedule time to see friends, call my family, and get a minimum of six hours of sleep every night. Yes, it was tedious. It was miserable. However, it helped me realize how valuable my time is and taught me to prioritize my days. To a less extreme, I also began getting serious about making plans. It’s really easy when you’re busy to say, “I’d love to get lunch” and never follow up. So when friends asked to make plans, I started offering free dates and times to help me stick to plans and find balance, which leads me to my next lesson.

3. Find your work-life balance

I’ve always been a self-described workaholic, and I used to be proud of it. I threw myself into many organizations and was constantly in a meeting or doing an assignment, so I didn’t have much time to socialize for fun, which is hard for an extrovert who thrives on social interaction. While this is still a work in progress, I found a good starting point my first semester. To find your balance in college, start by making a list of all of your hobbies and responsibilities. If just the thought of doing that is stressful, it’s probably a good indication that you’re doing too much and need to drop something. In finding my balance, I also learned the importance of seeing friends, and I made it a point to spend at least a half an hour every day just hanging out. Even if I was just sitting in my dorm or watching a musical with my roommate, I made sure to get in some social interaction.

4. Caffeine isn’t a substitute for sleep

Please, for the love of all things good, don’t convince yourself an espresso will make up for only getting three hours of sleep a night. Trust me. Even if there are three shots of espresso in your coffee, you will be exhausted and angry for a week. Get a good night's rest instead; sleep is important to academic success, and you should be aiming to get around seven to eight hours of quality shut-eye a night. If that isn't possible, you may want to go back to your planner and manage your time better so you can go to bed at a decent hour. Your grades, your body, and your stress levels will thank you. 

Related: Top Sleep Hygiene Advice for Tired Students

5. Have a mini rebellion

When I say mini rebellion, I don’t mean party like crazy or do other reckless things. However, in many cases, college is a young person's first real taste of independence, and there’s something so rewarding about doing something just for yourself. For example, I got a tattoo, one of my friends dyed their hair, another one became a vegetarian. This is the perfect time to express yourself and be who you want to be. Whatever you choose, just go out and do something you’ve always wanted to do (as long as it’s safe and legal, of course!).

6. Communication is key

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned my first semester of college was to openly communicate. It can be a lifesaver in many facets of your life. If there was something I didn’t understand in class, it was easier to learn the material when I went out of my way to see a professor during office hours, or study with a friend from class or one who had taken it before. The most difficult class I took first semester was an overview of Surrealism, and I let myself suffer for weeks. It wasn’t productive, and when I finally talked to my professor about certain aspects I was struggling with, she sat down with me and helped me get a better grasp on the concepts.

Communicating about your emotions is also important. I had a number of problems arise back home, over a thousand miles away, during the semester. While everyone at home told me that nothing was serious enough for me to fly back for, I was worried sick and afraid to even talk to anyone about it. I felt stuck and a little hopeless. However, when I did eventually talk to friends, I became less scared. Even better, I went to the University Counseling Center, which helped me cope with being far away from everything going on. Most campuses offer therapy and counseling that’s included in all your college costs, so take advantage of it if you think you need it.

Related: How to Ask for and Get Important Help in College

During my first semester, I found out that college is hard and can be a little scary. But it’s also wonderful and amazing and so much more than anyone ever told me it would be. I can’t wait to keep learning and growing, and hopefully you'll have a great head start with this advice.

Find more advice on how to do your best as an undergrad in our Majors and Academics section.

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About Zia Sampson

Zia Sampson

I am currently a first-year student at Loyola University New Orleans, where I'm majoring in Mass Communications, both Strategic Communications and Journalism, and minoring in Sociology. I'm in the University Honors Program and the Social Justice Scholars Program. In my free time, I like to watch Netflix, sleep, and read. I am a big animal lover, with four cats and two dogs, and I have two older brothers and a twin sister. You can follow me on Twitter @ZiaSampson.


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