Five Things You Should Know Before Starting Your First College Class

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Transitioning from high school to college is exciting — but it can also be pretty overwhelming. From choosing a major to signing up for classes and meeting your professors and classmates, college is full of new and unfamiliar experiences.

While you might be planning to enjoy the college experience — football games, dorm life, making lifelong friends — on a traditional university campus, you might also be one of a growing number of students who are choosing to work full-time and take college courses online. This is a model that many find helps them remain financially stable while they study and graduate with less debt.

Before you begin your first class, whether on campus or online, here are some things that will help you have a successful and rewarding college experience. Remember: college is a special time of growth, development, and change. How you choose to spend these years will leave a lasting impact.

Five Things You Need to Know as a Residential Student

Time Management is Essential

One of the biggest learning curves your first year of college is figuring out how to balance a social life, classes, and extracurricular activities. You now have an unprecedented level of freedom, meaning it’s entirely up to you to decide how to spend your time. While it may seem simple, juggling academic requirements with social obligations can be tough — but both are important for a healthy college experience.

Because of this, it’s incredibly important to focus on time management in college. Make a calendar, whether on your phone or in a notebook, to help you remember everything you need to get done. Stay as organized as possible and maintain a routine to stay on track with your academic commitments. After all, the goal of college is to graduate!

Remember to make time for your friends, too. In fact, studies show that friendships are actually essential to academic success in college. Some of the relationships you develop in college will last a lifetime!

Get Acquainted With Your Professors

Getting to know your professors is important for a multitude of reasons. College courses aren’t always easy, and when you are familiar with your professor, you’ll be far more comfortable asking for help. Before classes begin, ask your professor how to succeed in their particular course. Remember, class participation is often part of your final grade.

Establishing a good relationship with your professor may help you in the future, as well. They may write you a letter of recommendation for a job, help you network, and introduce you to others in your industry.

Manage Your Finances

For many students, the cliché “broke college kid” is all too relatable. But while you may not have tons of disposable cash, it’s still important to develop good money management skills while in college. Set up a budget, establish financial goals, and be aware of your student loans. Striving to be financially responsible now will help you pay your debts later, after graduation.

Establishing good money habits in college will set you up for success in the future and help you become a wise steward of your finances. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”

Show Yourself Grace

Your first year of college is uncharted territory, and it’s normal to not have everything figured out. Often, college doesn’t go as expected. Your roommate didn’t become your best friend, you didn’t earn the grades you wanted, and you can’t seem to keep up with all the tasks required of you. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Remember, college is a learning experience in more ways than one. Keep persevering and show yourself grace. Philippians 3:14 reads, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Remember You’re Not Alone

Sometimes, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one overwhelmed by the challenges that come along with college. But remember: You’re not alone. In fact, every other college student has, at some point, been in your shoes. Seek out community, whether through extracurricular activities, special clubs, or church groups. Surround yourself with individuals who will encourage you and faithfully pray for you. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Five Things You Need to Know as an Online Student

Schedules are Your Friend

To be successful as an online student, time management is absolutely necessary. Make a schedule of your classes and block off time to study and complete assignments. While online classes are more flexible and convenient than on-campus classes, remember that the requirements are still the same. Without professors and peers surrounding you to remind you of deadlines and upcoming tests, self-discipline is key.

Familiarize Yourself with Technology

Because online courses use e-books and other online resources, establishing computer literacy is important when it comes to online learning. You’ll need to use email to communicate with your professor, chatrooms to connect with your peers, and navigate various web platforms to gather information.

Becoming familiar with technology will set you up for success in the workplace, as well. Computer skills are a valuable addition to any employee’s résumé. CareerBuilder found that computer literacy is a transferable skill employers across almost every industry look for most in potential employees.

Learn to Ignore Distractions

Because you’re outside the traditional classroom, you’ll be surrounded by distractions as you participate in your online course — and it’s important to learn how to ignore them. Find a place with minimal noise and a good internet connection to do your work. Set aside time to work on projects or papers, and learn to block out unnecessary distractions; refrain from browsing the internet or watching Netflix during that time. Staying focused and diligent will serve you well in the long run.

Online Courses May Provide Greater Student/Professor Interaction

Just because you aren’t face-to-face with your professor doesn’t mean you won’t get to know them. In fact, a recent study found that 97% of online institutions’ courses offer student/faculty ratios of 25:1 or better. The same study also found that 77% of educators believe that online learning is just as good as traditional learning, if not better, and nearly 70% of all students claim online instruction to be as good as or better than in a traditional classroom setting.

You Can Still Have Great Community

More and more students are choosing online learning. According to a report from Digital Learning Compass, more than 6 million students took at least one online course in 2015, representing more than a quarter (29.7 percent) of all higher education enrollments that year. Building a great community in online classrooms is entirely possible thanks to online chats, discussion boards, and social media.

It’s also possible to grow spiritually through online classes. Dr. Mary Lowe, co-author of Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age: Spiritual Growth Through Online Education, argues that online spiritual formation doesn’t differ from an in-person spiritual formation. 

“Formation is formation,” she said. “At the time of redemption and salvation, the entire person is transformed and redeemed. It’s not just the spiritual component, it’s the social dimension, the intellectual, the moral, the emotional — all of those dimensions of the person are being transformed. We believe that goes to the heart of what it means to be spiritually transformed. Persons who are studying online or at home and driving into a campus, they are experiencing those same kinds of things that would contribute to their formation. There really isn’t a difference between in person or online.”