This information is part of a Success Toolkit that is designed to deliver practical advice and support to help you direct your energies and find your way in your new and challenging environment. If you’ve been accepted to college, then you already know that you are a strong and capable student. Keep going. You are not alone!
The Freshman Year
You clearly have the strength, ability and determination to get this far in pursuit of your education. Now, what’s next? Adjusting to life on a college campus can be a rude awakening. It will take all of your attention, stamina and commitment in order to succeed, so let’s go over some strategies for success.
As you enter your first year in college you will be experiencing a lot of change in your lifestyle. This adjustment process will likely cause some anxiety from time to time. It’s important to remember that fear and anxiety are a natural response to change. But be careful not to allow yourself to become stuck or paralyzed by fear.
This is a profound time of learning. Make sure you build on your strengths and seek out all the assistance you need at any given time to accomplish your goals and pursue your dreams. Now is your time to invest in yourself. Take advantage of the many resources available to you. We are all here to help you succeed.
What it takes to be a successful student
The first few weeks after you arrive on campus are critical. You’ll be making many personal decisions that will have an effect on the rest of your life. Stay positive, stay focused on your goals and remember who you are. The Hispanic Scholarship Fund Success Toolkit is here to help.
Your college campus will be your new home. Attend as many orientation program events as possible. The faster you learn how to find your way around, learn where to find answers and how to understand all the paperwork and processes involved in advancing toward your degree, the more you’ll feel at ease in your new home.
Do you really need to go on yet another campus tour? Yes. It’s the best way to get exposed to a lot of information that you’ll use now and continuously over the next few years. It’s also a good way to meet other first year students and ask basic questions. If there’s a tour of the Library, be sure to take it. The Library will be one of your most important resources as you advance in your curriculum. The sooner you learn how to use it, the better.
Buy your college catalog or locate one online. It contains a wealth of information about valuable resources, including course descriptions, majors and graduation requirements, faculty areas of expertise and campus services. It will serve as your reference to information that you will be responsible for knowing while you are pursuing your degree.
Make a commitment to stay in touch with other HSF students. They are your constant support community of Latinos who can help you succeed. When you find reliable answers, help others.
Learn how to take good lecture and reading notes. This will help you as you work your way through the required reading and prepare for exams or papers. Stay focused in the classroom and ask questions when you don’t understand the material.
You have both professors and teaching assistants to help you. Teaching assistants, or TAs, are graduate students who teach discussion sections of larger lecture courses and assist the faculty with grading exams and papers. They can be your first point of contact when you need help with class material. Professors and teaching assistants schedule office hours for the sole purpose of meeting with students. Take advantage of that time and be prepared with your questions before you go. Making this kind of effort will greatly contribute to your progress.
Don’t underestimate the necessity of doing a lot of preparation outside the classroom. The general recommendation is for every 1 hour spent in class, you must spend a minimum of 3 hours outside of class. Expect more from yourself as you go along and prepare to learn all you can. Set high standards and goals and strive to do your best.
Learn how to study effectively
Learning in college is more than memorizing. You will be required to understand your assignments enough to participate in discussions and write a paper or take an exam. So make the most of your time and study. And then study some more.
What kind of environment will ensure that you are focused and alert, with no distractions? Is the Library the best study area? Is your room the best zone? Find a reliable place where you can concentrate and make it a habit to study there.
Make connections with students in your classes. One of the most effective ways to study is in study groups with other reliable classmates. The most successful study group is one in which everyone comes prepared and each person participates in going over and presenting the material to the group and posing questions to each other. Research has shown that the best way to learn is to teach. That means that in a study group, if you are responsible for presenting a portion of the material to others in the group, you have a much greater likelihood of learning the material on a deeper level. So find a group of students and teach each other. Also, if needed, take advantage of other resources on campus, such as learning labs and tutoring services. The more structure you add to your schedule, the better you will be at learning the required material.
This will be one of your greatest challenges. Learn how to get organized, both with your time and with your work.
Most students underestimate the time it takes to complete a reading or writing assignment. Be sure you allow plenty of time to get your work done. Procrastination and cramming for tests will undermine your ability to learn effectively. The best strategy is to pace your work, be thorough and finish with time to spare. This will leave you with a chance to hang out with friends, exercise, or sleep. There will be lots and lots of interesting lectures, social and cultural events on campus every week. Schedule time to enjoy some balance in your life. This is one of the best ways to manage stress.
In high school, your teachers may have reminded you about assignments and due dates. In college, professors provide a syllabus – a handout with assignments for the entire semester – and they expect you to be prepared. Buy a calendar or an organizer and keep track of when assignments are due. You are going to have to create your own deadlines and stick to them, allotting enough time to do a good job on all your assignments.
Professors do not welcome excuses. Turn your work in on time. It’s one of the most important things you can do to get off on the right foot and establish a pattern of discipline that you will need to advance toward your degree.
Go to class
This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many new students fail because they didn’t establish the discipline to attend class. If you don’t attend class, you don’t benefit from lectures, review and reinforcement of course material, explanations about assignments, tests and papers or changes in the syllabus. Resist the temptation to skip class and avoid putting yourself at a serious disadvantage. Your education is important and it is expensive. Make sure you are getting the most out of your investment.
Get to know your academic advisor and consult on a regular basis
This is the person who will help you with understanding and fulfilling academic requirements, scheduling classes in future semesters, adding or dropping courses and deciding on a major. In addition to the catalog, this person is your absolute key resource for academic information and should be the person you turn to with any academic issues or conflicts. If your advisor isn’t responsive to you, find another one. It’s too important to let it go.
Don't feel pressured to rush into a decision about declaring a major or deciding on a career
Your first two years of college are intended to serve as a time to explore your interests and satisfy general education courses, which often expose you to new subjects. In most cases, you are not required to declare a major until you enter your third year, so take your time and find a course of study that feels right for you. This is your time to discover who you are, where your skills excel, what holds your interest and energy. Stay focused on adjusting to college and be open to everything in the curriculum.
The one exception to this may be a student who wishes to major in a program for pre-medicine that usually requires completing several lower division requirements in a structured program. Consult your academic advisor for guidance.
Learn to cope with homesickness
You will miss your family and friends, there’s no doubt about that. But you will need to learn to resist the temptation to return home too soon or too often. Find ways to stay in touch that will not be disruptive to your ability to make progress in your academic work. Regular phone calls and email will be important.
You will undoubtedly feel overwhelmed at various points throughout your college years. Most colleges have excellent counseling services for students. Seek counseling when you need it. If you're unusually homesick or feeling isolated, stressed out or depressed, learn to deal with these obstacles by taking advantage of the many services these offices provide. It will help maintain your balance and sense of purpose.
Join your campus HSF Scholar Chapter
Get involved on campus. A recurring problem for a lot of new students is a combination of homesickness and feeling like you don’t belong. Join your Scholar Chapter and meet other Latinos who are committed to success. Take full advantage of this network and enjoy the community you build together. You will be laying the groundwork for a successful college career and making contacts and friends you can count on now and in the future.