Starting college is exciting! You’ve made a commitment to yourself and your future, and you are working toward your goals. In your first days and months in your new degree program, you’ll be testing out what works for you in terms of your daily routine, study habits, faculty and peer interactions, and overall student life. As you do so, completing a few simple acts can help set you up for success throughout your entire college experience.
Get familiar with the lingo.
“Learn the language specific to your program,” advises South University’s Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, Dr. April Taylor. “There’s a language to nursing, a language to legal studies, a language to business; every field has its own terminology.”
For example, when Taylor was in law school, she frequently referenced her pocket Black’s Law Dictionary, the most widely cited law book in the world. Many other fields have similar dictionaries students can purchase or use for looking up words they encounter in their studies. “Don't get overwhelmed,” Taylor advises. “Write down these new terms in a journal or the back of a notebook. As you learn a new subject, it’s important to make and review notes on these terms, so that, as you progress, those terms become much more familiar.”
Make a good impression.
As you start classes, aim to make a good impression on the faculty and staff, beginning with your program director. “Go say hi, or make an appointment to introduce yourself. Your program director is a great source of information for your career and later for job references,” Taylor explains. “I like students coming to talk to me.”
At South University, all faculty members have access to virtual meeting technology so that, even in online programs, students can still arrange a virtual face-to-face meeting with their program director and instructors. Many of these individuals will also have the same or similar credentials as those you seek.* Since they’ve been where you are, they know what it takes to achieve success and they often are still active in their field. “Email your professors after that first class. Let them know you’re looking forward to engaging and learning in their class,” Taylor suggests. “It makes you stand out as a student and professors remember that.”
Learn about your school resources.
Discover what your school has to offer you. Our campus students should check out the location and services of the school library, computer labs, tutoring center, and writing and math labs. Our online students can find many similar resources in their online classroom and student portal. Counseling resources, career services and disability services are other resources available to all students.
At each of our schools, the Dean of Student Affairs is an excellent person to meet with for learning about the school resources. Taylor also recommends finding the people and places that help you to relax and destress, whether that’s the “keeper of the candy” on campus or your favorite go-to spot for a moment of solitude. “On our Columbia campus where I am, there are private benches outside behind the main building where students can study. The library has sectioned off classrooms you can use. You need to learn your campus and know where to go for what you need,” she says. If you’re not on campus, your local library is a great option for reserving a room for studying.
Refine your time management plan.
Having a plan for managing your schedule is vital for every student, but determining what works for you may take a few tries. For example, as you find different resources on or off campus, they may not all be available during the times that you had planned to study or do your work. “If and when your needs change, change your plans to better suit those needs,” Taylor advises, noting that the people around you are also there to help. “I like students coming to talk to me,” she says. “That's why you learned about all those resources, so that you can get the help that you need.”
Chat with your financial aid counselor.
Every student will need a financial plan before starting school. However, that plan will be based on assumptions around your class and study schedule, work schedule, and your income. As you progress through your classes, make sure that plan continues to fit your needs. Your financial aid counselor is there to help, so be proactive and take advantage of that resource! They can meet with you anytime to discuss your financial plan and the financial options that best fit your life and your goals moving forward.
Stay open to growth and change.
Not every class will be a breeze, but that’s okay. “Some subjects, you won’t be well versed in, and you may need to put in more effort. That’s fine. The point of coming to college is to learn and grow,” says Taylor. “Don't be frightened by opportunities for growth or by what you don't yet know.”
As you explore new subjects, you may even discover a new career interest in your field or decide to pursue something entirely different. “Plans change and people change. You are going to grow as part of your program,” says Taylor, explaining that students may be able to adjust their class schedule, concentration and even their program if they choose. “Continue to talk to your program director, instructors and advisors. Do your research before you make drastic changes, but know that change is not a bad thing.”
Identify organizations to join.
You don’t have to join an organization right away, but you should start learning about them. Ask your instructors and program directors which associations might be helpful for your career. Then, look for meetings where you can get details without making a long-term commitment. In addition to student groups, professional organizations often have discounted student memberships with opportunities for further learning and networking.
“If you’re new to networking, ask an instructor if they could take you to an upcoming meeting and introduce you to people,” suggests Taylor. “A lot of our instructors are heads of their professional organizations. They want students to be involved, and they may have mentoring requirements in their profession. It’s a good way to get used to talking to other people in the field while still being around someone you know.”
Start conversations with classmates.
Befriending your classmates early can provide you with a support network throughout your program. Your peers can encourage and motivate you when you’re struggling or are hesitant to reach out for assistance. They can help you study, listen to your career plans and goals, or simply provide an understanding ear when you need to vent. The friendships you establish at school can also benefit you in your professional life. “Your friends are going to be the colleagues that you work with when you exit the program,” Taylor asserts. “Most of the jobs I know about for students, a good 50% are from alumni emailing me. You want to know these colleagues so that those emails come to you before they ever even go to the program director.”
Follow through on your plans to achieve success.
Of course, being successful as a college student goes beyond planning. Success requires action and follow through. That means going to class on time, engaging in your courses, speaking to your professors, doing your best to study and learn, and reaching out when you need assistance. We are here to support you.
To learn more about getting started online or on campus at South University, request information today and a member of our Admissions team will be in touch soon!
* Credentials and experience levels vary by faculty and instructors.