Wednesday, September 24, 2014

So You Think You Can College? A Freshman Survival Guide

10:37 AM

Welcome fellow Vikings to Portland State University! Well, okay, so school hasn’t started yet... But it does in less than a week - and now you have to start thinking about your education again.

So, you’re planning on majoring in engineering or computer science. Let me just tell you, those majors are tough. Worth it, but tough. And I know you know that. That’s why you’re reading this.

I was a first-time freshman, straight out of high school, and had absolutely no idea what to do in college. Have you ever felt this way? Are you feeling like this right now? Do you feel the anxiety setting in?? Don’t worry! That’s why we have this blog, it’s to help you. So keep reading.

Now let me tell you a little something, somethings, I wish I’d known my first year in college…

Procrastination.  I am not the person to tell others not to procrastinate. I have written an essay, or two... Fine, more than two essays the night before the deadline. But as an engineering/CS student, chances are that you won’t be writing many essays. You’ll be doing hands-on projects, software designs, etc… That stuff is just not doable in one night (trust me, I’ve tried). Your computer will crash, your key card won’t open the computer lab... things like that will happen. So my tip to you: get your first assignment done two nights before it’s due. Then get the next one done three nights before it’s due. Slowly work your way out of the procrastination rut, it’s way more practical.

PROTIP: Write down in your planner, or Google Calendar, every due dates. Include everything from your smaller assignments to your midterms and finals. Then add a reminder to yourself a couple days before to get that homework/studying done.

Grades. So you’re struggling in class. Have you asked your professor for help yet? Heck no! You don’t want to make eye contact with your professor until you get your grades up, right? But guess what, they already know you’re failing. And chance are, they have probably already associated your quiz grade with your face. Since they already know who you are, why not throw caution to the wind and actually ask them for help? After all, the professor knows what’s going to be on the next test. It is their class after all.

PROTIP: Instead of asking “what sections will be on the test”, try asking “what do you want me to be able to do by the end of the class.”

Professors. You know that stereotype that professors don’t care about their students? Well, it’s not true! All of my professors at PSU have been more than happy to help me whenever I need them, and a good chunk have promptly responded to my emails with course questions. Do you want to know one sure-fire way to get your professor’s help? Office hours. You’ll hear about these a lot. Office hours are an hour or two during the week that the professor is required to stay in their office to help students in their class, usually one-on-one. Your professor will let you know what they are at the beginning of class, and will typically include it on the syllabus. Take advantage of this time. No one else in the class will.

PROTIP: Still too intimidated to talk to your professor one-on-one? Try taking a friend with you to office hours.

For the ladies. If you're following your Blue Sheet you're probably taking 16+ credits this term. On top of this, you will be in a class that is less than 20% female. I don’t know about you, but personally I found this to be very intimidating my first year here. I came from a less than 200-student all-girls middle and high school, where everyone knew each other, and everyone was family. Being suddenly thrown into a 30,000-student university, into a classroom with usually only had a couple girls in it was hard. I honestly didn't think I could handle the social pressure.

But you know what helped me through it? It was (drum roll please)... student groups! There are a number of engineering and computer science student groups that will help you connect with other women in the college, and even just other students in general, outside of the classroom setting. Try going to a few social activities for a group you’re interested in.

PROTIP: The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and Society of Women Engineers (SWE) are great groups to start at. They organize many social events throughout the term and it’s a good way to meet other new students. You can find other groups and meeting time on the Student Organizations Calendar.

Student groups. College is a great place to meet new people and experience many new things that you couldn’t have during high school. However, don’t try to do everything your first year. As I mentioned before, your majors are tough enough as it is, and many of you probably have part-time jobs on the side. That being said, still try to get involved with a student group on campus. The Engineering College has over 15 different groups that appeal to every major. Just don’t over-commit yourself this first year to everyone and everything. Start out slowly and add more as you are able to. Who knows, by the time you’re a senior, you could be the president of one such group!

PROTIP: Most student groups have projects you can volunteer for which requires just a one to two hours per week commitment. Engineers Without Borders runs a coffee cart in the Engineering Building Atrium, and they are always looking for volunteers to help out. Also, again, look to the Student Organizations Calendar.

At some point in your first year, or even first term, you’ll inevitably feel overwhelmed with everything going on. You might even feel a little homesick. My advice to you is to schedule downtime just as you would your classes and work schedules. Having one day in the week off to Skype with family or friends, and to just relax has been one of the most important things for me to do. It keeps me… sane.

Best of luck! ;)
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