by McKenna Larson
High school was full of advice on how to get to college, how to take notes and take tests, how to look good on a school application, but for many that is where the advice stopped. At college, some students, myself included, feel less well-rounded because we didn’t learn how to continue being a person with passions, hobbies, likes, and dislikes regardless of academics. Herein lays the top ten pieces of advice (both academic and personal) I have for new freshmen on how to survive this school as the multifaceted individual you are.
1. Make sure professors know your name. To accomplish this, go to office hours, be vocal in class either by asking or answering questions, talk to the professor after class (assuming you and they both have a few minutes to spare), even if you are just introducing yourself. When a professor knows you it opens the door for increased opportunities in the class and outside it, such as research and networking. Also, in my experience, professors who know you as a person are more receptive if you start to struggle academically or mentally.
2. Don’t rely on studying or note-taking methods that worked in high school. College, and specifically Mines, are a different beast than high school, and you may find that strategies used prior aren’t as effective now. I would encourage you to be flexible with the ways you take notes and study until you find the right method for each class. If you are struggling with how to best take notes or study for each class ask around to fellow students, upperclassmen who have taken the classes, or even the professors.
3. Introduce yourself to classmates you don’t know. This can be scary, terrifying even, but Mines is a community that thrives on interpersonal connections between students. Since we are back in person, take advantage of the fact that you can speak to those around you. You just might make a lifelong friend or, at the very least, a class ally and study partner. There is no limit to conversation topics you can start up but the easiest way to start is to say your name and ask the other person easy questions like major, pronouns, hobbies, or their thoughts on the course you are sharing.
4. Learn how to accept failure and carry on. Adult life is full of failures small and large but they do not have to take you down. It can be difficult to move on after a failed exam, a failed class, a personal defeat, or any number of things that can happen during your college tenure. In order to preserve your mental health, I encourage everyone to find coping skills for failures, like journaling, meditation, positive self talk, or any method that allows you to go through tough times but bounce back healthily. Also realize that yes, you are here to learn, but mental health is more important than grades.
5. Prioritize your hobbies or find hobbies. Hobbies are a great way to be connected to yourself, meet other people, and have an outlet outside of school. If you don’t have hobbies just try some and find something that takes your mind off the hard work constantly being thrown at you. There is no wrong way to find a new hobby, whether you join a club on campus, find an online group, rope your roommates into learning a new skill with you, or you go at it alone. An instrument, knitting, watercolor, mountain biking, anything that makes you happy should be given prioritized time in your life. Your mental health will be better for it.
6. Remember your passions. When school gets hard or you question yourself the best way to get back on track is to remember what you are passionate about. Why did you come here? What are your goals? How do you want to change yourself or the world? Reminding yourself of what you want from college is a great way to recenter after hardship. Journaling, creating a vision board, writing happy notes on your mirror, all of these and more can keep your passions front and center. And these passions can change! Don’t be afraid to reassess and keep your goals current.
7. Stay in the moment and take things one piece at a time. Life is overwhelming, nothing proved that more than the past year and a half. I have found that when thinking ahead is too stressful, breaking your semester, month, week, day, or individual assignment into smaller pieces can help. Take things a day at a time, or if this is still too much time to consider at once, take things an hour at a time, a meal at a time, a task at a time. Break apart your life into manageable pieces until you feel confident enough to look at bigger and bigger pieces. This helps keep you in the present moment instead of mentally wandering into a potential stressful future. Staying present can help you accomplish tasks, enjoy moments more, and lessen overall stress. You can accomplish this in any number of ways including working on your hobbies, meditating, tai chi, journaling, anything that works for you!
8. Take time to be alone. Being alone is a valuable asset in avoiding burnout, checking in with yourself, and learning about yourself outside of a social setting. Any amount of time doing any activity, even just staring at a wall, can be valuable in re-centering or regaining energy after being social. Living in the dorms and having classes with people, while much more fun than socializing through zoom, can be tiring and can lead to social and academic burnout, which leads to other problems. While the weather is nice I recommend taking your alone time out in nature. Pop in some headphones and take a walk, read under a tree, meditate by the creek, anything outdoors where you can assess your present mental and physical state. This can sound a little hippy-dippy, but it really does help.
9. Take care of your body. Physical health is vital in maintaining mental health, staying sharp in classes, and avoiding illness and injury. If you feel your health habits are underdeveloped, start small. Choose to walk more, drink more water, eat your veggies, and find a balance that works for your life. Taking care of your body has many forms from exercise, diet, oral hygiene, quality sleep, and seeing a doctor when needed. It can be easy to let these things slide when academics get tough, but starting healthy habits early can make the toughest parts of the semester easier. Take advantage of the on campus health services and Mines gym. Outdoor supplies for fun activities can also be rented from the ORC which makes hiking, tubing, and other exercises more accessible to students. Taking care of your physical self can also tie into hobbies you have (or want), your passions, time alone, and staying in the moment. These pieces of advice don’t have to take segmented times out of your day, they often go hand in hand and can be implemented together as desired.
10. Ask for help—don’t wait until it is too late. If you take anything away from this article, it’s this final piece of advice. College is difficult there’s no questioning that. Between course workload, potentially being far from family, and the struggles of being more of an adult than ever before, students can feel hopeless. You are never alone here. Faculty, your peers, and support staff on campus will all be willing to hear your troubles, provide you with resources, and just be a shoulder to cry on. If you start to struggle academically, mentally, physically, or just feel a little off, find someone on campus to talk to. You never have to wait until the problem is “bad enough to justify getting help.” Seek help for any problem-large or small-that is impacting you. And above all, remember that your life is 100% more important than a grade.