High School 2 College

August 25, 2009

Biggest Mistakes People Make the First Week of College

I’ve made some of these mistakes.  People I know have made others.  Try to avoid as many of these as you can when you start college.

Mistake:  Not checking out where your classes are. When you choose classes, keep a map of your campus handy.  Try to avoid classes on opposite ends of campus on the same day.

Bigger mistake:  Not checking out where your classes are once you’ve signed up. Before the first day of class, do a test run like you did before you entered high school.  Walk the route.  Check where each classroom is.  You don’t want to show up late the first day.  Some buildings have wonky classroom numbering systems, so do the test run BEFORE the first day.

Mistake:  Choosing classes by what people in your dorm suggest. What do they know?  Even if someone you know took that class before, it may not be right for you.  Hey, maybe they prefer papers to tests and you don’t.  Maybe a class is just right for their major but not yours.

Mistake:  Choosing classes by what the course catalogue suggests. They’re not always accurate.  Professors change at the last minute.  You might want to take a look at http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ .  If there are two sections of a lab or discussion group, this website might just help you pick a winner.  People love to complain, but it’s better than flipping a coin or choosing based on which section is later in the day.

Bigger mistake:  Not conferring with an advisor. This was my biggest mistake in college.  I chose courses based on what sounded good instead of what I needed to get into grad school.  So find an advisor and get his or her advice.  You don’t have to follow it, but you should know what your advisor has to say.

Mistake:  Not joining a club right away. You might presume that you need a bit of time to settle in.  Wrong.  If you wait too long, people will have joined clubs, assigned roles, made friends – and you’ll be out of the loop.  Join whichever clubs or groups seem like they might be even somewhat interesting.  You can always drop out if they’re not what you expected, but it’s harder to drop in once everyone has formed a clique.

Mistake:  Limiting yourself to one group of friends. I’m especially talking to girls here.  Girls can be passionate, loyal friends – or girls can be catty and mean.  If you don’t develop a few interests, join a few clubs, participate in some activity you enjoyed in high school (band, sports, community service), you’re relying too much on one group of kids.  If they all get housing together next year and leave you out, you’ll feel bereft.  Have more than one group of friends.  Trust me.

Mistake:  Not getting to know at least a couple of professors. You might not get to know any professors as a freshman.  But by sophomore year, you should be getting to know a professor or two.  They can be really helpful in planning classes, getting an internship, writing a recommendation for graduate school or a job.  Make friends by dropping by a professor’s office during office hours to discuss something you found interesting in class or something you didn’t understand.  Make friends by emailing questions to a professor.  If your school encourages students and professors to share a meal, do that.  Don’t be shy – if they didn’t like students, they wouldn’t be teaching.

Mistake:  Not keeping your parents informed. If things are going badly, tell your parents.  No one wants you to succeed as much as they do.  They might just have an idea that could help.  If things get worse and you’ve kept them in the loop, they won’t be shocked and angry.  They may be able to intercede for you.  If things are going well, tell them.  They’ve worked very hard to get you where you are now.  Let them have a little pride in your accomplishments.  It’s a gracious way to say thanks.

Mistake:  Not telling me how you’re doing. I’m able to help kids create a list of colleges they’d fit into because older kids let me know about how their schools are, what’s good and bad about them, whether they made a good choice.  Knowing how you’re doing helps me to help high school kids.  So if we’ve worked together, please do keep in touch.  Sometimes kids need to or want to change schools.  Let me know why you’re changing.

To those of you in college now and to those of you who’ve graduated recently or long ago: what are some of YOUR college mistakes? I’d love to help others avoid them, so add a comment to this blog and let me know.

Wendy Segal

4 Comments »

  1. Wendy, have you been living in my house the last few weeks? Have you been hearing recent conversations between myself, Olivia, and Jack?! Your advice is so sage — and very welcome, indeed. Thank you so much. Jack and Will are off to Williams and Amherst on Wed/Thursday this week, New Paltz on the 31st, and I’ll get him to Goucher and U.New Haven in September. He just got his driver’s license! Lots of activity in the Kefauver house…..!

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    Comment by Amy Kefauver — August 25, 2009 @ 7:20 am | Reply

  2. My college mistakes? This one is pretty awful, but might help someone….Have the strength to advocate for yourself with the college deans if your parents are unable, or to reach out to other adults in your life. My mother died unexpectedly early in my junior year. My dad was unable to deal with anything other than his own grief. My grades plummeted that quarter, and the college — with uncharacteristic coldness — put me on academic probation. I should have reached out to my uncle or other adult in my life — I reacted by getting on the dean’s list that next quarter (getting mad is very useful sometimes) but I wish now that someone had contacted the school on my behalf and told them to give me a break — to have some compassion. Kids need to be reminded sometimes that their parents are their first line of defense, but that they also have other adults in their lives that will help them along the way, including in college! That they don’t have to be completely self-sufficient as they navigate this newest world.

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    Comment by Amy Kefauver — August 25, 2009 @ 7:24 am | Reply

  3. It never did me any good to try to plan to keep classes in one part of campus- that was impossible! But Brandeis was small enough that the walking was not impossible- but i do no think I could walk the Rabb steps at this poiint in my life- I’d have to train a bit!

    My biggest regret/mistake- was allowing my class advisor to talk me out of the double major I wanted. he told me it would be too much. I regret having missed those classes. Listen to your advisor – but be willing to take a risk. This is the best time to take risks (academically and intellectually) open yourself up to new ideas. Do not get boxed in by a major if you are not completely sure.

    and I agree about the multiple groups of friends thing – meet everybody! join a bunch of orgnizations and then weed out later!

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    Comment by Dr. Barbara Kessler — August 25, 2009 @ 11:18 am | Reply

  4. My biggest mistake was choosing a major too quickly. Introductory level classes might give you an idea of whether you like a subject, but don’t commit yourself to a major until you’ve taken a “for-majors” class or two. I loved Economics 101. Once I got into the higher-level econ classes, though, I realized I was in the wrong field.

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    Comment by Aaron Segal — August 25, 2009 @ 7:09 pm | Reply


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