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Tips for the first semester of college

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

Starting college is not such an easy transition, but don't worry, with these tips you'll get there.

The semester has just begun and with it more than 4 million students are returning to higher education classrooms. It is estimated that at least more than 1 million of them are new students in the different institutions, both public and private, in Mexico.

In other words, more than one million students are experiencing the long-awaited university life for the first time. Parties, freedom, new friends and, of course, all the new experiences that happen in the movies... or do they?

The beginning of college life often marks one of the most important milestones for those who have access to higher education. In addition, it is often accompanied by other significant events: coming of age and independent living. That is why entering college is not only an academic transition, but also because of the social, personal and economic changes that go along with it. These make the process of adaptation difficult and can bring with them different obstacles for the student.

The challenges of college life

A CollegeData survey of more than 300 college students completing their freshman year analyzed the different difficulties they faced upon entering college. This study mainly highlighted the academic field, an area in which the students surveyed felt unprepared.

We must accept that studying for a high school exam is not the same as studying for one at the university level. Paying attention in class and studying the night before will not bring the same results, which often translates into failing exams and receiving poor grades. Gabriela Thorne explains that, upon arriving at Harvard, many students prefer not to ask for help, since they all consider themselves excellent students and do not think they need it, but the reality is very different: everyone needs to work harder than they did before, and she assures that one must lose fear and accept that not everything will be tens.

College will be, for many people, the first moment to accept that they will no longer be the top student in the class. This competition among classmates can become frustrating and have a deeper effect on the self-esteem of university students, which affects their academic performance.

On the other hand, González Ceballos explains in his text La transición del estudiante universitario, that each level of formal education "poses challenges in the learning process, as well as in the skills or competencies to be developed, interests or specific goals, among others". Therefore, entry to higher education requires adaptation skills to be able to cope with the challenges related to entering a new space.

In addition to all these academic factors, there are also economic and social factors. Regarding social factors, we can say that meeting new people is difficult for us introverts; however, after the pandemic the way in which we relate to each other changed completely, mainly in those who lived through this event during adolescence, who present anxious and depressive tendencies.

Making friends in college can be difficult, keeping them is even more so. Especially considering that breaks are no longer part of this stage and it is probably impossible to coincide in classes and free hours to live with other classmates.

On the other hand, for many of the new students, the only way to have access to quality higher education is to leave their places of origin. About 16% of the students who begin their university life are considered outsiders. That is, in addition to facing major academic changes, they will have to deal with aspects they may not have had to worry about until then: their food, cleaning the space, doing their laundry and, above all, getting organized financially and making sure they do not run out of money before the end of the month. In addition to this, such students will have to deal with loneliness, being away from their family in a new and unfamiliar place.

Being a college student is not that easy, is it?

Tips for adjusting to college life

Although the outlook may look daunting and more murky than bright, college can be one of the best student stages. Especially considering that, for most, it will be the last year of their life in which they will be able to enjoy almost three months of vacation.

It is important to have the right tools to be able to develop the skills that will allow us to succeed during this phase.

Find your study strategy: as mentioned above, studying one night before does not ensure the best results. Finding the study strategy that works best for you can save you a lot of headaches. Throughout your academic training, you may have noticed that there are resources that help you more than others; look for the right one for your type of learning and focus your work, both in and out of the classroom, to that style.

Take care of your physical and mental well-being: eating well, sleeping well and seeing an expert if necessary will be beneficial to your health. Many universities provide nutritional scholarships and psychological support to their students, approach your institution and ask how they can help you. Depression, anxiety and impostor syndrome are serious, do not let them dominate your life.

Learn to manage your time: leaving study sessions only for the days close to the exam will not be helpful for your results or your health. Rest is essential, but you will only be able to do so if you learn to set times and prioritize activities. You probably can't go to the gym, go out with your friends, eat healthy, do homework and study in the same day, but there is time for everything if you know how to accommodate it and if you allow yourself to recognize what you need.

Create a spending budget: if you are a foreigner and you have a predetermined budget, money will be one of your main problems at the beginning. It is important that you allocate a part of it to recurring expenses and basic needs (rent, utilities, food) and do not spend all that money on leisure activities.

Learn to say no: related to the two previous points, social pressure can be powerful, but it is not advisable to skip a study session before the exam or to spend the last 200 pesos of the fortnight. Setting limits is a skill that will be useful throughout your life.

Create community: one of the things I miss most about the city where I went to college is my friends, although it took me more than two years to find a group where I felt loved, accepted and respected, when I found it I could finally call it home. College can be a hostile place, but try not to forget human relationships, make friends, seek them out and be sought out. It may be there that you will meet friends who will be with you all your life.

In short, these suggestions are not everything, but don't forget that some of them, such as good organization and knowing how to set limits, as well as creating human connections, are essential to develop academically and personally. College is the perfect stage to prepare you for your insertion into the working world.

The semester is just beginning, don't forget that life is not like in the movies. All changes are difficult, but if you organize yourself properly and create a support network, everything will be easier. You can do it.

To teachers

As agents of change, it is up to teachers to understand the complexity of this process. Accompany and help students to recognize that making mistakes in college is not a bad thing. Every year more than 300,000 students drop out of higher education and, although the factors are diverse and do not fall entirely on the teacher or the university, it is important to create a safe place and to teach and inspire through knowledge. The world can be an aggressive and difficult place, but teachers, in addition to cushioning it, can provide tools to cope with it. It is up to teachers to make the classroom a safe place.

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