Higher learning

Top 5 lessons you won’t learn in a classroom

So you’re at the bottom of the food chain, again. This time, you won’t falter, and you won’t make mistakes, right? Probably not. Here are some tried-and-true lessons from the best advisors on campus.

Be prepared, have a plan. Students should obey this rule above any other, says Stephani Foust, admissions and recruitment coordinator for the University of Nevada, Reno. The reason? If you don’t have a plan, you don’t know where you’re going. Did you know that not all classes are offered every semester? This mistake can cost you an extra semester of work, with an extra year of tuition.

“Freshmen should have a plan for graduating in four years, and that’s really important,” says Foust. “Every year they don’t graduate, they’re just losing more money.”

Think in the short term and the long term. The most successful students get involved early, with a plan of landing a particular club position or even a job later on in college that requires years of experience.

Get advised. Advisors can help you decide on classes and answer questions about worst-case scenarios, such as being unable to take a particular class, failing a class or even deciding on a major. Remember, there are numerous people to help you guide your way, and if you’re not taking advantage of these resources, you’re not thinking ahead.

“One of the things we really want to emphasize is that if freshmen have questions, if they need help, seek it sooner rather than later,” says Nancy Markee, director of the Academic Advising Center. “There are so many people on this campus that can assist them.”

Professors are your friends. There’s this idea among freshmen that college professors are solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short-tempered souls. Yes, they have pet peeves and yes, they can be more demanding than what you may be used to, but don’t wait until the last day to talk to them, says Steve Maples, director of admissions for UNR. Introduce yourself and build a relationship from day one.

“Your professors don’t eat their children,” says Maples. “They’re human beings, and they are really easy to talk to.” Another lesson here? Professors can help you land a job—and don’t forget about those recommendation letters.

This isn’t high school. Remember when you studied for a vocabulary quiz right before class and still aced it? In college, the truth is you must read the material, you must do the homework—even if they don’t quiz you on it—and you must study for tests. Sure you may be lucky a few times, but you’ll learn quickly that you will have to adapt your studying styles for a particular class. And if you’re having trouble, remember Lesson No. 3: “Be prepared to actually put in the time necessary to get the grades that you want,” says Maples.

Be a joiner. Don’t hesitate to join a club or organization. Heck, you can even start one yourself! Apple Poppers, anyone? You meet people like yourself, and you can find groups for whatever your interests are, be they cycling or feeding the homeless. If you’re interested, there are even study groups and, believe me, studying organic chemistry by yourself is hardly fun.

“I just tell students that, at a minimum, to get involved in one thing,” says Foust. “Because students who are actively involved in campus have a higher rate of success, plus it’s just fun.”