A Few Basic Tips for Your First Semester
Welcome new students of UMSL! As you are preparing for your new collegiate life, hopefully you are beginning to realize that this is a much different experience from the one you are probably used to from high school. Many of you will be independent for the first time, often away from home, and you will be dealing with an environment completely foreign to the first eighteen years of your life. In dealing with these changes, many students will find themselves out of their element, and it is only after learning by trial and experience that they re-acclimate themselves. For this reason, I hope to offer a few useful tips that will help you adjust more quickly to your new home.
Learn to Manage Your Time
Part of the culture shock of coming to college is that almost immediately you will probably realize the huge amount of free time you have. Instead of attending class for 35 hours a week like in high school, you are now expected to attend lectures for, on average, 15. Additionally, it is unlikely that you will be involved in many organizations your first few weeks here, and many of you may have not yet found a job close to campus. While this provides you the opportunity to enjoy your college experience, new students are often unaware of the extra layer of responsibility it provides. Namely, that nobody else is managing your time for you. You will be expected to do hours of studying each week for every class you are in, whether or not it is assigned. If you wait to do your work until the night before a big test, you will not do well. And if you learn this lesson too late in the semester, the result is that you will be stuck with a GPA much lower than the one you are capable of, and you will spend your next few semesters attempting to drag your GPA up rather than maintain it. How do you avoid this problem? Set aside a few hours each day (or night, whichever you prefer) to take care of your responsibilities, whether they be school-related or otherwise. With only 15 hours of classes each week, I promise there is more than enough time to have fun and take care of everything you need to. And let’s be honest, that time you are sacrificing was probably just going to be on Facebook or Netflix anyway, so may as well get some productivity out of your computer.
You Will Actually Need to Study
Think back to high school—How many hours a week would you say you actually spent studying? I am not talking about doing homework but actually studying the material your teacher was testing you over. For most students, the answer is next to none. And how did it turn out? I would wager that most of you, attending a university, probably did quite well in your classes. This is because the material you were expected to know was covered both in class and through homework. Rarely would you actually have to crack open the textbook and take in the information for yourself. This is a huge difference from the reality of a university. Your professor’s lectures are supplementary, and the readings they assign are expected for you to be familiar with, and that material will show up on the test. This means, likely for the first time in your life, the burden of learning is entirely on you, not the teacher. Many students will complain after their first college test that “the professor didn’t teach us x and y.” Maybe that’s true, but I can wager that in 90% of those situations that material was in the reading, and students who did not read it and actively study it would have no way of knowing that. Your grades are dependent on your ability to learn, not your professor’s ability to teach.
Get Involved in an Organization
If you spent any time talking with your orientation leaders at New Student Orientation, you probably realized that most of us are involved in more organizations than we can keep track of. I am not recommending you do that. But what I do recommend is picking one organization (maybe two if you are feeling ambitious) to involve yourself with right from the beginning. Why? Organizations are how you meet people. They allow you to have a connection to campus other than your classes (and people are generally much more eager to meet other students outside of class). By getting to know even a handful of people at school, you will find you have opportunities to go out and be social, to get involved in other organizations and activities, and slowly but surely build a family at UMSL. This process cannot begin until you go out and meet people, and organizations are the single best way to do just that. Students that are highly involved on campus do so because they love this campus and the people here, and they are always looking to add more to their family.
Get to Know Faculty
As great as meeting your fellow students can be, faculty members are often just as important to know. In terms of how much they can do for you, nobody on this campus will be able to provide you as many opportunities as the right faculty members. Many professors can write outstanding letters of recommendation, but they are not likely to do so if they have no idea who you are. Get to know them well enough, and you may even have the opportunity to participate in their research projects. Advisors, likewise, will often be the most valuable source of academic advice you can find on campus, and I would recommend seeing them more often than just to create your schedule. Additionally, the Office of Student Life has a number of people who collectively know just about everything occurring on campus, and can be an invaluable link both before and after you have gotten involved in other organizations. Everywhere you go at UMSL there are staff members whose primary purpose is to help you succeed and get the most out of your college education, so use them. They would not be here if they did not love helping students.
Just as important as anything else on this list, make sure to enjoy yourself here at UMSL. College has the potential to be the best time of your life, but that is not going to happen is you spend all day sitting in your room (you can do that at your parent’s house). Take advantage of these myriad opportunities all around you, and I promise you won’t regret any part of your college experience. Balancing the workload with an active social life is one of the most satisfying things you can do here, and there is certainly no shortage of people to help you do just that. Good luck with everything this first semester, and I look forward to seeing you all in August.
Your Orientation Leader, Mike