This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
Instead of telling my stories in this blog post, I’ve taken the initiative to allow first-generation students to ask me questions about college. I’ve answered these questions to the best of my ability based on my experiences. I apologize in advance if your question was not answered directly; I hope that you will find relevant insight embedded in my answers to other questions.
How do you know what college is right for you?
There is only one way to answer this question: Do your research. Know who you are, know what you want and find a match. Colleges do their part when it comes to admitting students, but students should do the same when it comes to applying to colleges. Do NOT apply to a college because your best friend is going there, because the campus is located in an area where you want to be or because of its “name.” DO apply to colleges that have things that you want, such as clubs and organizations, majors, minors, sports teams and anything else that will make you a more successful individual.
You won’t know if you’re picking the right college if you just apply to places blindly. Go to colleges’ websites, visit the campuses and talk to students that attend there to get the true idea of what college life is like. Find out about average class sizes, how the courses are taught, how they are graded (my school offered pass/fail for the first semester!), where they are held, how long they are, what type of help is available and what students do with their time off.
It might seem like a lot of work, but the more informed you are, the easier it will be to decide to apply to certain schools, and the easier it will be to choose which one to attend once you’re accepted.
How do you know what major to pick?
Do what you love, and the rest will follow. Don’t choose a major to get into medical or law school, or because it’s an easy major (there is no such thing). If you do what you love, work is not going to be hard; and, it will be a joy to go to class, to do homework and to work on projects if you’re studying what you like. As a biophysics major, I feel that going to class every day is awesome, because the people who are teaching me about the folding of proteins are the ones who discovered it and who devoted their lives to what they teach; so, it becomes easier to ask questions, and possibly even help them with their research.
Not every major is the same, so before declaring one make sure that you can fulfill distribution requirements and complete the workload in a timely manner. Ask professors and upperclassmen for advice on what courses to take and the order in which you should take them if they build upon or enhance each other.
Presentations depend on your major and sometimes depend on your class situation. As a biophysics major, I’ve worked on a total of two presentations throughout my entire college career; however, I have friends that are public health majors and they have several presentations per semester. So it’s up to you to determine what you want and what you can handle. This also includes your course schedule. Most majors have a set of classes that students must take in order to graduate, along with a certain number of distribution credits. I advise talking to upperclassmen in the major to be sure that you have the easiest course schedule, and that you’ll be able to take courses that fit your interests outside your major as well.
Is most of the food free?
I’m going to answer this question and mention other things about money and college. When you are accepted to a university, you are given a “financial plan” that outlines the expenses you are probably going to encounter, including travel and food. Some universities/colleges have meal plans that allow you to pay once a semester and provide you with a certain number of meals at certain places. Others don’t. It varies according to the university, and your budget will help you decide what is best for you. Again, this is something to consider when you apply.
Is college work very different from high school work?
Yes. Most definitely. High school has a seven-hour workday, while classes in college only last a few minutes to a few hours at the most. In fact, most courses meet three times, two times or even once a week. This does not mean that you have a lot more free time. You have to schedule your study time, your extracurricular activities, time to attend to personal hygiene and more. College work will take over your life, so the best thing to do is to plan accordingly as soon as possible. The sooner you master this, the better off you’ll be in the long run.