I could probably publish a book of all the blunders and faux pas I experienced throughout my years of college. There’s just no escaping it. In order to truly learn in any environment, mistakes need to be made.
However, some mistakes are avoidable. Through talks with students I’ve worked with, friends I’ve confided with, and my own experiences, I’ve compiled the top ten mistakes students make in college, and how you can be a step ahead and avoid them. Below are the top 10 mistakes students make while at college.
10. Joining too many clubs or organizations
It’s very easy to get involved in college. From the moment you step foot on campus, everyone’s telling you about the amazing organizations on campus and the wonderful opportunities to get involved and meet new people. You hear the same thing at orientation, sometimes with representatives of those organizations coming to talk to you. Then, you have the activities fair once classes start, where every organization attempt to recruit you with cookies, goodies, prizes, raffles, and free pizza. And it doesn’t end there. The rest of the year, no matter where you go, you will be inundated with emails, fliers, and handbills about their meetings, events, trips, and fundraisers.
Now don’t get me wrong, getting involved is amazing. I would not be where I am today if not for all the relationships I formed through my organizations. But it can be very easy to sign up for every interesting organization to see and say “yes” to every opportunity. They make it seem so easy. Just sign your name here to be on their email list, come to a weekly or bi-weekly meeting, and voila! You’re involved!
What many freshmen don’t know, however, is that organizations take a lot of work to maintain. What starts off as a simple meeting quickly evolves into many responsibilities to function. An organization that does nothing but meets serves no purpose. There will be more events and they will expect you to help out. So here you are, joining three, four, or five organizations, and all of a sudden they convince you to sign up to work the bake sale fundraiser, help with their homecoming float, put up fliers, hand out pamphlets, and go shopping for supplies. And typically, this will all happen when you are drowning in homework and midterms are right around the corner.
I’ve seen many a student stressed out from too much responsibility. At this point, one of two things tends to happen. The first is that you try to do it all. You follow through with your commitments, and the quality of your work suffers as a result. You struggle to finish your assignments and study adequately for tests, and you do the absolute minimum to get by with your organizational responsibilities. Your GPA then takes a hit and you have to reconsider your priorities next semester. The second possibility is that you just quit the organizations. Easy, right? One thing you must consider when you do this is the organizations you have committed yourselves to. Organizations struggle constantly getting a keeping members, mostly because they experience this situation all the time. They have students sign up and then quit when they realize what they’ve gotten themselves into. Every student that quits hurts the organization, as that’s one set of hands that they counted on that suddenly disappears. This then makes you look bad in their eyes.
To avoid all of this hassle, just think it through what organizations you want to join when you start college. Pick one or two and stick with them, at least towards the end of the semester. If they aren’t for you, you can start fresh. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to get involved in college, so don’t feel rushed to do everything at once.
9. Living off campus if you have the means to live on campus
I want to start this off by being clear as to which students I am and am not referencing with this statement. I am NOT referring to students who live off campus because they are part time, nontraditional, or otherwise are paying their way through college themselves and cannot afford to stay on campus. I am referring to students who do have the means to stay on campus, but choose not to.
There are many out there, and I have seen time and time again those same students drop out from lack of involvement. They don’t really feel included, like a part of the campus, and they end up withdrawing. And even if they do not withdraw, they graduate missing a lot of what employers look for when hiring an employee. Studies have overwhelmingly shown that students who live off campus are less likely to get involved in on-campus organizations, leadership workshops and experiences, use on-campus resources such as tutoring labs, and apply for (and get) internships.
This is true for all students, but it’s doubly true for freshmen. If you are a freshman, I recommend that you do all that you can to live on campus, at least your first year. Many colleges require freshmen to live on campus their first year. However, if you live within a certain distance from the campus (usually around 30-40 miles), you are exempt for this. My suggestion is that, if you are already taking financial aid or student loans to pay for school, take in that extra aid to live on campus, at least that first year. Make connections, meet people, and get involved. It will pay off big time later on.
Living on campus is what gave me the opportunities to apply for a program which, following a chain of events, paid for my entire graduate school education. That extra amount of money I paid for my residence hall my first year saved me tens of thousands of dollars as I got my master’s degree. I speak this from experience.
8. Treating college classes like high school classes
This one is mostly aimed at my high school readers, but I know of many college students who can use this reminder. One of the first things you’ll notice getting to college is that college classes are nothing like high school classes. Professors have certain expectations from you and assume you will meet them. In many classes, attendance isn’t mandatory. Tests are much fewer and far between, sometimes just consisting of a midterm and final. A professor won’t say anything if you have to leave class to answer your phone or use the bathroom. You can just get up and go. You are much more independent, and you will find that they will let you get away with a lot more.
But as a result, you are responsible for the consequences of your actions, and your professor won’t hesitate to fail you if you’re not trying. When they give you an assignment to read a chapter, they will expect you to read the chapter. Many will discuss the chapter in the next class with the assumption that you read it. Be prepared to answer a question from the readings or take a pop quiz. Even if they don’t check on you with a pop quiz or discuss it at the next class, nothing is stopping them from putting it on the test.
A lot of time, professors will give you a study guide for exams, but that is not always the case. They will expect you to take the appropriate notes and develop a studying technique that will work for you. If you have any questions about an assignment, they will expect you to attend their office hours and ask them. You can’t show up the day the assignment is due and say you had a question about it, because you had your chance.
The lesson here is that you are not in high school anymore. Professors will treat you like an adult, but they also expect you to act like an adult. Show up to class, come prepared, and take responsibility for your actions. And whatever you do, do not cheat. It is cheap, tasteless, and an insult to you or a professor. I’ve noticed that college professors are a lot more understanding and flexible than high school teachers, so when you cheat, it is understandable that they will punish you to the fullest extent that they can. They are putting their trust that you will act honestly, and breaking that trust can have harsh consequences.
7. Partying on Sundays
This one was given to me by a student who fell prey to this exact situation. In college, there are parties. And more likely than not, you will go to at least one of them. However, while you’re out at that friend’s house or the club certainly not drinking underage or doing other illegal things, do not do so on Sundays. I am not sure why this is even a thing, as I don’t remember many Sunday parties while I was in college.
But for some reason, this trend is growing, and students are staying out late on Sundays past midnight. The next morning, the college campus looks like a zombie apocalypse, with students dragging their feet over to class, many drunk beyond belief, but others just lacking much-needed rest. If you’re going to party, please party responsibly. This message was brought to you by College For The Win.
6. Slacking off
This one is a no-brainer, but it happens very often so I have to include it. Procrastination is a big part of this. Students will wait until the last minute to do their homework or finish a project. Then, all of a sudden, the internet is down, or their computer malfunctions and deletes their paper, or an emergency sends someone to the hospital. Aside from that last one, you’ll have a difficult time getting a professor to extend their deadline for your assignment if you waited until the last minute to start it. In college, you’ll learn very quickly that you need to develop a timeline for your projects so that you don’t start working on them the night before they’re due.
Slacking off also means just lounging around. This is increasingly popular with college freshmen nowadays. When not in class, they will just loaf around. They’ll loaf around on their bed. They’ll loaf around on their couch. They’ll loaf around on someone else’s bed or someone else’s couch. Don’t fall under this trap. Loafing around will make you lazy and will suck the energy right out of you. You will quickly realize you have no will to do anything and will further promote procrastination. Make it a habit to throw in some study time between classes, while your brain is still active. Keep yourself going throughout the day, being productive in some way. By the end of the day, you will feel much better and much more accomplished. Once you do loaf around during the weekend, you will feel like you’ve earned it.
5. Carelessly using your meal plans
I’ve seen meal plans misused two ways: students will either be careless and use them all up before the semester is over, or they will stockpile them and have too many left over.
The first group are the types that not only use their meal plans to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but will also treat their roommate to a meal, their friend, their visiting family, their dog, and that man down the street they just met. They will use the point system in that plan to buy snacks at the convenience store, and to buy stuff in businesses outside the campus that support meal plans. These students will suddenly realize they’ve used up or are about to use up their meal plans by November, and will have to be eating Ramen Noodles for the rest of the semester.
The second group are the types that are too careful for their meal plan. Fully afraid of falling into group one, group two will be as stingy with their meal plans as possible. They refuse to eat breakfast, eat free meals whenever possible, and don’t even think about asking them to let you use their card. By the end of the semester, they have tons of leftover meal plans that they don’t know what to do with. Since meal plans do not roll over from semester to semester, they are forced to cash them out with more snacks and treats than they know what to do with.
You don’t need to fall into either of these groups. The key word here is moderation. Just do some simple math with the amount of meals you get every semester and ration them off. Make a plan and stick to them. That might help you from making the next mistake on the list:
4. Eating terribly
At some point in your life, you’ve heard of the Freshman 15. For those who haven’t, it’s as simple as it sounds. Once you have the freedom to eat whatever you want in college, it’s very easy to gain fifteen pounds your first year as you learn how to eat correctly.
This isn’t just limited to freshmen, though. You can be susceptible to unhealthy eating any year you are in college. I’ve noticed that many juniors and seniors will fall victim to terrible eating habits. They become so busy with managing their time between school, work, and other outside commitments, that they barely leave time to eat. They typically take quick “to-go” foods that are low on the nutritional meter and don’t typically have time to exercise properly.
The food pyramid does not disappear when you’re in college. Be sure to provide fruits and vegetables in your diets, and balance out your proteins and your carbs. Most universities have at least one type of buffet-type eating establishment. Use that to get as many fruits and vegetables as you want.
It’s very easy in college to eat out a lot. Almost every evening, I had a different group of friends invite me out to eat to hang out, one night at Panera’s, and the next at Ihop. In addition to eating unhealthy, it will take quite a chunk of your change to keep up that lifestyle. Watch what you eat and exercise regularly. The habits you develop in college will follow you for the rest of your life, so be sure to lay down the roots early.
3. Verbal diarrhea on facebook
This one holds a special place in my heart, because I am constantly amazed at the amount of things I see online from people I know, students and nonstudents alike. Verbal diarrhea is what I call posts and status updates that were obviously not thought through before posted. And this isn’t just limited to facebook. Twitter, instagram, flickr, photobucket, any social website with an opportunity to implicate yourself.
In college, it is very common for students to friend their professors and university staff on facebook. Likewise, it’s not unusual for them to follow you on twitter. With that in mind, let me leave you a word of advice: do not talk about that crazy party you went to last night and how drunk you were if you’re under 21 and are friends with the conduct officer at your university. Likewise, do not post pictures of you with a case of Miller lite in your dorm if you’re friends with your resident director. And please, oh please, do not put a facebook status about your boring class when not only are you friends with that professor, BUT YOU’RE POSTING THAT STATUS WHILE YOU’RE IN THEIR CLASSROOM!
All of these have indeed happened, and all of those students have indeed been caught. Look, I understand that we’re all human, and I’d be naïve to think that everyone is a perfect little angel that does no wrong. But please, I don’t need to read about it. I’ve run an orientation program at a university before, and I don’t need to know how drunk you got after your first night on campus. I’m not going to call you out on it, but it’s kind of hard to take you seriously when I see you the next day at orientation when I see how carelessly you post things.
What you post online creates an image of you. Just as professors and staff see you facebook profile, employers will see your facebook profile to find out more about you. Go ahead and do a little test. Pretend you are your potential employer in your dream job. Now go to your facebook (or twitter) profile and scroll through it, knowing nothing but what’s on that profile. What does it currently say about you? What can you gather from the status updates and pictures you’ve posted? I understand the notion of freedom of expression and all of that, but a little tact has never hurt anyone.
2. Bad money management
This is something not only college students are victims of, but people of all ages. Heck, I’m struggling with this as I type this! When you start college, you are going to have a new set of experiences that will challenge you financially. For many of you, you will get your first job. For others, your first bank account. In college, many students get their first credit card, their first major loan (student loans), their first car, and will have to file their own taxes for the first time. Yet, not learning how to manage all of these properly can really screw your credit over, credit that you will need for when you plan to buy a house or make any large purchases once you graduate college. Even if you don’t worry about getting any of those things, simply not building credit can hurt you. Banks and credit companies want to see a strong credit history. They want to know you can manage debt. College is the best place to practice these skills. Many times, they will offer workshops on building credit, or managing your money, or opening a bank account. Keep an eye out for these workshops, as they are free and very valuable tools for you to use.
Be careful with any money you earn from refund checks from your university. Refund checks typically are a result of an overpayment from your financial aid or from a loan. When requesting a loan for the year, only get enough to cover your school expenses. Even though many student loans allow for using the loans for “indirect” college expenses such as a car, a laptop, groceries, and clothes, try to resist the temptation to do so. Student loans add up very quickly. If you get a refund check, put it back towards more direct school expenses. Or put it in a savings account to use later to pay back your loans. It never hurts to have a financial cushion.
1. Not getting to know your professor
I listed this mistake as the number one not because it’s the one with the most to lose, but because it’s the one with the most to gain. In college, it’s okay to befriend a professor. It’s not weird to see them at Wal-mart or at the movie theater. Unlike high school and elementary school teachers, they do live outside the school! (I kid, I kid teachers!)
Your professor is an amazing resource that many students don’t take advantage of. The professor in any given field is likely to have contacts and networks in that field. If you want to be an accountant, and your accountant professor used to work in an accounting firm, don’t you think it would be a good idea to get to know that person better? Now, I’m not saying to brown nose your professor to get in good favor. It’s more about visiting them in their office hours when you have a question about an assignment versus going to the tutoring lab. It’s about genuinely asking them a question about their research after class ends.
Through my professors, I have made many connections for jobs, research opportunities, scholarships, and graduate school recommendations. Moreso, by building a relationship with your professor, they are more likely to give you a glowing, detailed recommendation when you apply for a job or scholarship. Graduate schools look more favorable at students who are known by their professors. It suggests that they are really there to learn and make the most of their college experience.
Professors are often the experts in their field, with most of them holding PHDs in work that they are passionate about. They love to talk about their work, and there is a lot to gain by listening to them. Professors make great mentors, people who you can stay in contact with for the rest of your life. I’ve had friends who had their professors attend their weddings, as well as their baby showers. By just going to class, doing your homework, passing your tests, and graduating, you are missing out on a lot of what makes college such an amazing experience.
So there you have it. The top 10 mistakes made by college students. Learn from the others who went through it before you. Feel free to leave a comment below on any mistakes you’ve seen or experienced in college.