New Catamounts, chances are you have hundreds of questions, and you may not have anyone to ask. To help you transition from high school to college, the Western Carolinian staff, comprised of college students ourselves and many of whom are about to graduate, would like to pass along some of the things that we wish someone had told us before we ever got to college.
1. Go to class. It’s college, and no one is going to tell you to go to class. No one is going to yell at you, call your parents, or give you detention. However, many professors (and almost all classes, even large ones) have attendance policies. You can take a pretty big hit to your grade just because of absences. Also, every day that you miss class means that you have missed information, and this makes it much more difficult to do well on exams, as most professors do not teach solely from the book. Every time that you miss class, you are also more likely to skip class the next time, until you suddenly realize that you haven’t been to philosophy in a month and you have no idea if there were two papers or three due before Christmas. It happens, trust us. Go to class, and don’t skip unless you have a legitimate reason. Limit myself to one “personal skip” (such as the first nice day of spring) per semester, and try to keep “sick skips” to a minimum.
2. Meet people. Without friends, college will be pretty boring. However, there are thousands of other people who would simply love to meet you. Join a few clubs. The best mix, probably, is as follows: one recreational activity sort of club, such as ski team or poker club; one educational sort of club, like a poetry reading group; and one political or issue-based club, such as Student Government, College Democrats, or a women’s rights group. You can obviously join more clubs than this, but it’s a delicate balance. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself, but you want to provide yourself with lots of different people to meet and you want things to put on resumes. There are a lot of other ways to meet people, but most of them can be summed up simply by saying “Walk up to people and say hello. Don’t be shy.”
3. Get to know the people in charge. Talk to your professors, your RA’s, your hall director, and the members of student government or the resident student association. If people know you, they are more likely to help you. Your professors will be more likely to help you with difficult concepts or give you the benefit of the doubt when your grade is in the balance if you’ve stopped in at their office and talked with them. Your RA is less likely to write you up for a noise violation if you’re on friendly terms, and the same goes for your hall director. If you don’t intend to join something like student government or the resident student association, make friends who are in these groups. These sorts of groups are the ones who make decisions about things like what bands will perform at your school or what student fees will be, and they usually have a lot of money and power at their disposal. If you have an idea for something that you would like to change on campus, these groups might be able to help you, and having friends will be a great advantage.
4. Get a job. Even if you don’t think you need one, get a part-time job. There are an awful lot of jobs in college that will work around your schedule, require minimal hours, and not actually require you to do much of anything. Working in college gives you a more serious mentality about your life, gives you extra money to spend, and makes you feel much more self-sufficient and confident. Perhaps most importantly, almost all college jobs will hire people with no experience. It will be a lot more difficult to get a “first job” away from the university, especially if you want that “first job” to actually be a career.
5. Take care of your body. Take up some kind of exercise, even if it’s just walking quickly to class. Eat well (in fact, just make sure that you eat in your first few weeks). Get a decent amount of sleep. Take vitamins. Wash your hands—basically everything that you’re mom told you as a kid, but ignored. In college, you suddenly take responsibility for your own health, and it’s something that you need to be aware of—especially if you want to avoid that Freshman 15.
6. Use the resources of the university. Western Carolina has gym, a health clinic, a career center, and counseling services. WCU also sets aside money for student organizations, as well as scholarships for individual students. Use all of the resources available, because we assure you that you are paying for them. This is the sort of thing that your tuition and student fees are paying for, and you should be aware of such opportunities.