College Back to School Tips

Fall welcomes a variety of our favorites, including the crisp cool air, the scent of warm apple desserts, pumpkin spice everything, and a little extra color in every park. Yet for many, Fall also brings the infamous back to school season. Back to school is so much more than just new outfits, school supplies, and signing up for new classes.

Whether a young first year embarking on a brand new college experience or a seasoned professional student, or whether hunkering down at home or moving into a dorm room an airplane’s ride away, back to school for college students is a perfect reflection point to prepare for the coming year. No matter where on life’s journey you may be, college is an opportunity to secure your future, and for many, an opportunity to diminish many institutional and socioeconomic barriers. A college degree offers many benefits: graduates with Bachelor’s degrees earn almost 65% more on average than those with high school diplomas (Careeroutlook), live longer and healthier lives on average (Commission on Health), and enjoy many other benefits.

Needless to say, it’s important to make the most of your college career. Below are some of our tips to help you stay successful in the coming year.

Study Hard

College can be daunting. So daunting, in fact, that only an estimated 60% of students graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years (Great Schools). With so many distractions, you have to remind yourself why you are there: to get an education. While everyone has different learning styles, some reminders to help you keep up on your studies include:

1.     Go to class! With high school or professional careers, you have a rigid schedule. Some college classes may not even require you to attend class while others may have an allowance for absences. Either way, resist the temptation to sleep in an extra hour or to grab lunch with your new friend from math lecture. Some teachers may sprinkle in extra credit to lectures, provide more detail than the posted lecture notes, or even announce schedule changes. And most of all, being in class is simply the most reliable way to stay focused and on schedule while also absorbing most of the knowledge you can. Treat every class like a job – show up on time and make an effort to stay engaged.

2.     Take notes. Everyone learns differently, but college allows you to learn in the way which best suits you. If you prefer auditory learning, either check to see if your professor posts podcasts of the lectures online or ask them if you can record their lecture. If you’re a visual learner, ask the professor for a copy of their PowerPoint if they do not already post a copy online. And for the rest of us, take copious notes in the way which best suits you. What matters most is staying attentive and learning the material in the most effective way you can.

3.     Ask questions. Stop thinking of a lectures as a one-way communication. If you have a question, don’t hesitate to raise your hand or speak to the professor or a TA briefly after class. For more in-depth questions, stop by office hours to ensure you fully understand the material. You are the most aware of your own learning progression and you have to recognize and voice when you need additional assistance.

4.     Class extends beyond the classroom. A common rule of thumb is to expect to study 2 to 3 hours outside of class each week for every unit of credit. For a 3 credit class, expect to work an additional 6 to 9 hours each week in addition to class. Budget your time each week and ensure you are spending time to complete the readings, complete assignments, and to study.

Know Your Financial Resources

College affordability and student loan debt is at the forefront of every college student’s mind. In fact, it is the number 1 reason cited for dropping out (Great Schools). The unfortunate reality is as college tuition continues to rise, college affordability impacts those from low earning households the most. Although there is no bulletproof way of being able to afford college, knowing your financial resources can be the difference between completing your degree and the decision to end your post-secondary education. While every person’s financial situation is different, some resources to research include:

1.     Apply for FAFSA. The Federal government provides a free application for federal financial aid. Even if you think you may not qualify, apply anyway! It’s completely free and while some may not qualify, some colleges offer additional aid based on your FAFSA application. FAFSA offers additional instructions online at

2.     Apply for private aid. Additional organizations offer private financial aid, such as scholarships or grants. Scholarships can be extended based on a variety of factors, such as your economic background, your heritage, whether you are a first time college student, membership in clubs or organizations, and more. Additionally, some employers may cover part of your tuition. Although finding private aid takes an additional amount of searching and diligence, it is one more way to get a leg up! 

3.     Know the deadlines .Whether applying for FAFSA or private aid, whip out your calendar and be sure to track all application deadlines. Missing a deadline could significantly impact your financial aid package (Hint October 1st is the first day to apply!).

4.     Visit your Financial Aid Office. Make an appointment with your school’s Financial Aid Office. Your school has a team of experts who can help you navigate your individual circumstances. 

Education Goes Beyond the Classroom

Although college probably should not look like the plot of Animal House, to get the most out of your education, it is important to take yourself away from the books now and then. Make friends, participate in activities, and find other opportunities to develop both socially and professionally. Some ways to ensure you get the most out of college include:

1.     Secure an internship. Students graduating with an internship are more likely to find employment after graduation, and interns even report better career and academic development (Naceweb).

2.     Take time for yourself. Meet new people and enjoy the things that make you happy. Taking time for leisure doesn’t just make you happier, it can actually help you better succeed in class. Almost 10% of college students report feelings of depression, which also negatively impacts academic engagement (USnews). While it’s important to keep on top of your studies, it is also important to understand your emotional well-being is paramount.

3.     Join a social activities. Social activities have many benefits: they can help you network into your future career, introduce you to a new passion, increase your emotional satisfaction and integrate you better into the campus community, and even help supplement your academic learning.

Written By – Jonathan Jimenez – Research Associate