Hello Everyone! My name is Catie Moran and I am a Practice Assistant at Project Thrive CT. I am currently working toward my Master’s degree in School Psychology at the University of Hartford. Prior to this, I graduated Summa Cum Laude, Honors Program Scholar, and as Valedictorian of the Psychology Department at Central Connecticut State University. Along this arduous journey, I learned many tips to help me succeed and make the most out of my undergraduate experience. Today I would like to share my first five tips with all of you!

10. Remember it’s not a race

College can feel very competitive at times, you will have some people in your classes who are eighteen and on track to graduate in three years, and others who are coming back to college later in life who may have been working to achieve this goal for several years. Regardless, it is important to remember that everyone has their own journey and their own pace. In fact, the new consensus is that is takes on average 6 years for people to accomplish their requirements for a bachelor’s degree. Thus, making the idea of graduating college in four years more of a myth than a standard. 

This being said, if you do want to finish earlier, there are several options including summer and winter classes. However, this can be an expensive option considering these courses are not included in tuition. I was able to graduate in three and a half years by taking several AP classes and choosing a full course load most semesters. Although this worked for me in the end, I would not necessarily recommend it because of the strain it put on my mental health. 

9. Get Involved

Join clubs, research teams, athletic teams, volunteer work, or anything that suits your interests. This one is particularly relevant if you are planning on pursuing a higher degree such as masters or doctorate level. I was fortunate enough to be given this advice as a freshman by my mentor who had a lot of experience assisting students get into graduate school. He knew countless students with good GPAs but nothing else to represent being a well-rounded student; thus, they were not admitted to their dream programs. However, many of these students then took time off to do research, volunteer, or gain work experience and were then accepted to their desired programs. Showing diverse interests and involvement is also an excellent talking point during interviews, where you may find something in common with the interviewer. 

Getting involved is also a great way to make friends in college with shared interests. As a freshman, many of your classes may be lectures filled with hundreds of students. This may feel overwhelming for making friends, but clubs are typically on a much smaller scale which is more approachable. Depending on how you get involved, it may also offer a great outlet to reduce college stressors. Many campuses offer yoga, meditation, and mindfulness training which not only bolster your resume but allow you to reduce stress and socialize. 

8. Friends make a difference

There are many reasons why it is important to have friends in school. Not only can they facilitate your academic success but also foster your mental health. I made it my goal to find at least one friend in all of my classes. This way I never felt too stressed if I missed an occasional class or had to leave early because I knew I had someone to text and get the notes or whatever else I missed. It is also a person to study with, compare notes with, and chat with before exams to reduce anxiety. 

Not only is it good to have friends in your classes, but it is also great to have friends that you can hang out with outside of class. It is important that college does not consume your life, which may be especially difficult when you are living on campus and there is less separation. Therefore, having friends that you can do non-school related things with will ensure that you are still taking time to enjoy yourself. Friends are also great to laugh with and reduce stress and anxiety that may be associated with school. 

7. Learn the schedule that works best for you 

Most likely, an advisor is going to pick your schedule for you during your first semester. Although this may not be how you would have planned it, it gives you a good opportunity to learn what you like in a schedule. Some people prefer to spread their classes across the week, while others want to get their classes out of the way in one or two days. Some people want to take all morning classes and be done early, while others want to sleep in or work during the day and take classes at night. There is no right answer for when you should schedule your classes, just find your own rhythm and schedule classes that work best for you.

During my first semester, I had a gym class scheduled from 4:30-7:10 at night (I know, a mandatory gym class in college??) Anyway, I quickly realized that night classes were not for me. I wanted to be eating dinner not running the mile. I was also able to create my schedule so that I never had Friday classes, which allowed me to work the whole day. One caveat to this tip, however, is that sometimes it is more important to choose the more ideal professor over the class time. I had to take a sociology class that was offered by two different professors at either 8 am or 10:50 am (I was also commuting from 30 minutes away at that time). The 8 am professor had a 5-star rating on ratemyprofessor.com compared to a 3-star rating from the other professor. Although I hated waking up this early, I ended up loving the 8 am professor and finishing with an A; my friends in the other class could not say the same.

6. Take advantage of office hours (whether you live on campus or not)

I know, I know, who wants to spend more time with their professors outside of class? But these small interactions go a long way for your grades and beyond. During office hours, you have the opportunity to ask questions that you may have forgotten to ask during class. Also, it allows you to create a more personal relationship with your professors. First, this is great because sometimes you might need an extension on a paper, and your professor is much more likely to do this if they know who you are. Next, professors take effort into consideration when giving final grades, so if you have an 89 in their class but you have shown that you care by going to office hours a couple of times, they are likely to bump that up to a 90. Finally, you are probably going to need letters of recommendations whether you are moving onto graduate school or applying for jobs. In both of those scenarios, people want to see at least one letter of rec from a professor. A great way to get a good letter of rec is to go to office hours and form a relationship with a professor who you like, that way they will have personal details about you to add to your letter. 

My freshman year, I had a professor who offered extra credit to go to his office hours (easy win!) Of course I took him up on this offer, and he ended up becoming my mentor and helped me achieve so many goals I didn’t believe were possible. He recommended me to join his research team where I ended up presenting research in NYC, speaking at a large conference held at UNH, he has written me countless letters of recommendations for jobs, scholarships, and graduate schools, not to mention he helped me find the career which I am currently working toward. I cannot say enough wonderful things about my mentor, and none of those things would have been possible for me had I simple chosen not to go to office hours one day. 

5. Don’t let other people’s comments influence your choices on schools

When you are starting to look at colleges, everyone and their mother will have an opinion on where you should go. Someone is going to tell you that you should expand your horizons and attend school out of state, and others will tell you to save your money by staying local. Someone will claim that Ivy League schools are the only place to get a good education, whereas others will tell you that you learn the same things at state schools. My absolute best advice is to do whatever works best for you. None of these people telling you their opinions are going to be living in your dorm or going to class with you every day, so ultimately you need to feel comfortable with your decision. 

I’m not going to lie; Central Connecticut State University was not originally my top choice for schools. However, I was admitted to their honors program which meant a free ride, and I could not turn that down. Someone once told me that your experience in college is completely dependent on what you make of it, regardless of where you are. I found this to be completely true. Although I originally did not want to be there, I joined clubs, teams, became close with my professors and I truly had the best experience that I would not trade for the world. I also know people who chose private schools but did not make those choices and ended up hating their experience in college. It’s not about how much money you are spending at your school or if they are private or ivy league, it’s the choices you make that will determine your experience. 

Bonus fact: multiple studies have shown that the only bonus of going to an Ivy League school is the networking abilities, meaning you may have opportunities for internships or jobs that you may not necessarily know about without these connections. However, this is not true for every major, for example you’re going to have the same opportunities as a theatre major whether you’re at CCSU or Yale. Fun fact, my friend went to school at Gateway Community College in New Haven and had a part time professor who was full time faculty at Yale. So, you really are getting the same education no matter where you are. 

 I hope you found these first five tips helpful and come back next week to see the next five!

Catie Moran

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