When I started college, I was twenty-four years old and working full time. I started out slow, by taking one accelerated class one night a week. I rushed around getting together my financial aid, and my actual entrance was frazzled enough; I never had taken any tests such as the SAT or ACT after high school, I was a slacker during high school so I graduated with poor marks, and I had to go on academic probation after jumping through hoops to even be granted admission.
Since then, I’ve learned a few helpful things along the way that I wish I’d known my freshman year. Had a known a few things in the beginning, I’d have graduated long ago, my finances wouldn’t have been so strained, and I’d have taken part in organizations from the beginning which would have improved my application for graduate school.
Here are five things I would have done differently:
Get a good advisor
First and foremost, I wish I would have had a good, steady advisor to hold my hand through much of my college career. I changed my major more than once, and have bounced around through advisors. Having begun in accelerated classes, I didn’t get to know the faculty in my own department until I became a traditional student. It took me awhile to realize that forming these relationships were my responsibility, and in doing so a student can choose a trusted advisor on their own. In not having this, at the time of graduation I’ll have under my belt several extra credits, because I took several unnecessary courses.
Take CLEP tests
I could have shaved about a year off of my undergraduate degree had I known about CLEP tests. College Level Examination Program, that is. I could have taken tests in areas I was already well educated in, or I could have done some independent study to ‘test out’ of several introductory courses. Not to mention the money I could have saved; at my university, the CLEP test costs about $70…much less than the hundreds I spend per standard 3-credit-hour course.
Take advantage of work study
I’m up to my ears in student loan debt. My plight has improved since I had my daughter, however, because as a single mother I get higher grants. However, I wish I would have taken other funding options more seriously. I wish I would have considered work-study more. Back in the beginning of my educational venture, I thought that work-study cancelled any additional funding I was qualified for; and as it turns out, that isn’t true. I also worked full time day jobs from time to time throughout my venture, and thought that it wouldn’t be wise to take the pay cut, as work study doesn’t pay a high wage. But I should have considered it, as I would have gotten through school faster due to the flexible schedule, and the additional funding I was still eligible for.
Speaking of money, there are tons of scholarships that pass by without award every year. Last year, on a whim, I applied for a small scholarship for honors students at my university, and won it. As it turns out, I suppose, most people think like I do…that they have little to no chance to win a scholarship so they don’t try. An honors advisor mentioned in a meeting last year that many of the scholarships that were up for grabs just don’t get funded, because no one applies for them. Can you believe that? No one applying for free money! Most every university, on their financial aid website, has links to several available scholarships. You may apply for as many as you choose! And not all scholarships are for kids right out of high school, as I once thought.
Figure out the Degree Audit
Finally, I wish I would have learned to read my own degree audit. Again, it would have saved me from taking unnecessary classes, and I could have structured my semesters in a way that would have helped me to graduate sooner.
This next fall brings grad school. I plan to begin educating myself now on the ins and outs of that.