I was all about learning to use free open source software (FOSS) for coursework at Syracuse University. Looking back, there are some things I wish I'd done more while on college campus. And since I feel that way after going to college well into adulthood, I'm sure high school graduates are bound to make many of these same mistakes.
Here's a getting started guide for things you must do while in college.
Submit All the Transcripts
Ask your curriculum program coordinator and Admissions office about every education transcript you have that is related to your degree plan. That includes industry certifications like CompTIA Security +. Even your personal experiences (e.g. travel) can count towards transfer credits, at least in bachelor programs. Perks like these seem more likely with military-friendly schools.
Military veterans, when i said "transcripts barely cut the length," I was talking about more college transcripts:
- Joint Service Transcript (JST)
- Verification of Military Education and Training (VMET)
Anything is better than nothing, especially when you realize that GI Bill time remaining is based on months used, not courses.
Talk with your VA Success counselor or other VA representative for more assistance if you encounter roadblocks.
Read University Policies
Most American 18-22 year olds are still learning who they are. Mistakes, stupidity, and disrespect are unavoidable. Know where to report incidents, especially discrimination. Random thought: always have self-awareness if you're on or near campus. And of course, know the locations and status of your Blue Light Emergency Phones.
Expand Your Network
Talk to people while you're out and about. Super introverted, are you? Search the campus for rooms where people are doing something that interests you. Not your style? There are more strategic ways.
Social Network Groups
There are private groups dedicated to colleges on most popular platforms. Facebook and LinkedIn are a guarantee. Search for college groups related to your career plan, program, and personal interests.
I'll keep this one brief.
- Find a list of student organizations for your university.
- Email the point of contact for every club that interests you for more info.
- Attend a meeting for each to get a feel of the community. Arrive early if you have social anxiety.
Local Student Veterans of America Chapter
Military veterans, reach out to your local Student Veterans of American (SVA) chapter as soon as possible. Some have orientation programs to greatly ease your transition into the college lifestyle. If you have the extra time, ask how you can get involved.
Talk with Career Counselors
Your college should have someone who offers free career services:
- Resume review
- Mock interviews
- Job search assistance
Schedule an appointment to see them when you have downtime. Depending on your goals, you may need to make multiple resumes and a portfolio.
Attend all of the Events!
You never know where you'll meet a potential co-worker, entrepreneurship partner, lead for a good gig, or even lover. Remember, its still about who you know more than what you know. Ask everyone university organization and faculty member you meet about mailing lists and event postings. Attend every event that interests you.
Internship and/or Summer Job
Do you plan to work or find an internship for the summer break? You need to figure that out at the beginning of the semester. That gives you time to search. Keep this in mind when networking. Your university may have a listing of paid research assistant programs separate from their conventional jobs listing. The people I saw get jobs the fastest had done at least one internship and was probably in a Greek organization. Something to think about.
Veterans, remember that the GI Bill does not pay you during winter and summer breaks unless you're taking a course.
Don't Pay for Software (at Least Not Full Price)
Many universities offer discounts for software and hardware. If not, know that I primarily used free open-source software (FOSS) for every course during my bachelors program. Although I'm a Linux user, most of those applications are also available for Windows and macOS. If you have questions about a particular software, just ask me with a social media link at the bottom of the page.
Install Productivity Software
There are three types of free software that I think every college should have installed on their computer:
- Screen warmer to make late nights at the computer easier on the eyes
- Kanban project management tool for task management, great for longer group projects
- Note taking application (e.g., CherryTree or OneNote)
- Pomodo timer to force breaks between work sessions
Work on Time Management Skills
When you're assigned to a new group project:
- Get the group to decide on a communication platform as soon as possible.
- Initiate the conversation about any decisions that need to be made before any work can be done if applicable. Share your opinion to make others more comfortable sharing theirs.
- If someone says they don't care, take that to mean that they're flexible and willing to defer. They may be busy balancing a job or single parenthood.
- Make some type of progress on the project daily. Anything, event if its just typing a paragraph or making simple changes for a more professional appearance.
- Accept that teammates may need to wait until the weekend to contribute. Have empathy.
- Reach out to a teammate privately if you notice a sustained pattern of low productivity. They may have given their word to do something that's harder than they anticipated but are afraid to admit it.
Don't be afraid to lead, but do so with respect, tact, and understanding that no one is superior.
Secure Your Computer and Local Network
If you're near a school campus, you're near cybersecurity students and hacker enthusiasts. You'll probably be on a wireless network at the same time as a random dingus playing with Kali Linux. It isn't hard to apply network security basics to your laptop and home router. Instead of ignoring the possibility that you'll suffer a cyber attack, spend a few minutes doing a few things now for greater peace of mind.
Ask about Student Blogs
Are you a decent writer? Want to help other students enhance their stay at college? Want to help potential students decide if your college is right for them? Ask around for blogs and newsletters may allow you to contribute.
Go to the Gym
Whatever challenges you have, there is likely a community on campus that can help you with it. That includes public speaking, writing, social skills, and more. Make the most out of your time, though. Those of you who took out student loans might be paying it off for years.
And again, network!