I am now a sophomore at Duke University, and I know that this is the prime time for finishing college applications and sending them out. Many people already are set on where they want to go, while others are on the fence. College is a big decision, and choosing the right one can be life changing. So I have decided to go through a few frequently asked questions with hopes to help this stressful time and make it a little bit easier.
- What should I look for in a college or university? Many students go for the prestige, trying for the big names, like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and so forth. These are some amazing schools, but keep in mind that the brand name isn’t everything. You need to find somewhere that is going to fit you. Think about things you like to do. Find the places that offer classes or groups that involve them. Try and visit your top campuses if at all possible (some schools do offer some type of aid to get you there if you can’t afford it). I know for me, while the big group tours were fun with friends, I had to walk around the campus on my own in order to get a more authentic feel. I needed something that allowed me to breathe and feel comfortable. Look not only for their academic reviews, but look for their teacher reviews for classes you might want to take. I’d recommend the site ratemyprofessor.com for that. Look at student testimonies, and talk to current students. Look for the place where you feel like not only will you enjoy, you will be challenged.
- Should I take up a roommate freshman year, and if I do, should I select one or go with randomized? A lot of college counselors will vehemently encourage you to take up a freshman year for the sake of getting to know your peers and interacting. I’m not going to. Everyone is different, and come from different backgrounds. I went with a random roommate and while she was nice, we didn’t really click well and she ended up moving out in the second month of our second semester (not due to any drama whatsoever). I found out that I loved being on my own, and not only did it give me room to find out my own study habits and work better, but it allowed me to realized that my cleaning habits were not where I wanted them to be, and that I really needed to get my stuff together. However, I come from a large family and am used to never getting alone time, so any time to myself is amazing. This year I live in a section on campus, and I chose my roommate, so it’s a lot better than my old roommate, but that was after a lot communication about what we expected of each other. It’s not perfect still, but we are in agreement most of the time, so that works.
- Should I go with the major that makes good money, or should I choose a major based on my desires and interests? This seems like an easy question, but it is often clouded by judgement from parents, teachers, friends, and more. This especially comes into play when parents are helping out with tuition. They may feel like now you owe it to them to go and take up a major that is known to make a lot of money upon graduation. You need to go ahead and do what you feel is best for you, even if you know you are capable of the major that you’re being pushed to do. If you’re going to a college that is appropriately challenging you, any major you take up will be challenging enough. And you’re spending four difficult years anyway, so why take up an extra burden to please anyone? In addition, your major doesn’t stick you in certain jobs. It gives you access to some, but your major is only a small part of what your future career will be looking for.
- What about food plans? Will I go hungry? Food was definitely a big part of where I wanted to go, as I’m a foodie. I needed somewhere that I knew I was going to have good things to eat. This actually isn’t something I would worry about too much. I have always had the smallest meal plan because that’s what my financial aid will cover, and even when I ran out, I had friends who were willing to help me out, and there were a ton of events where I could score free food, in my dorm, with my RA, with my faculty advisor, and just around campus. Finding free food will become second nature for you, so I would go with what’s best for you.
- If I change my major in freshman year, will I get behind? Despite the fear of something going terribly astray in freshman year, changing your major this year is actually not a big deal. As a freshman, many people come in with no experience in the major they are thinking of. You’re going to have to take some classes and figure things out. Many colleges and universities actually require that you wait to formally decide on your major. This will help you get some of your basic requirements out of the way. College is at least a four year stint; some people finish faster, some a little later. Go at your own pace. You are the one finishing for you, taking in the information you need.
- How hard is it? I’d love to tell you that if you maneuver college life enough, it’ll be easy, but I refuse to lie. College and university, if done correctly, are meant to be difficult. They extend past the common core teachings that are solely given to students in America, and they are a time of questioning. This is the time where you can question your teacher, but it also means you have something to back your thoughts with. I read so much for class it isn’t even funny. But it makes for a more engaging class time and it allows for you to use the information for future discussions or assignments. College will be a lot of studying, but it will certainly be rewarding when you make it through.
- How do I deal with being homesick? This was definitely something I struggled with when I first got to Duke. I come from a big family, with my youngest siblings being under the age of five, and leaving them was really tough because I knew that I was going to miss out on some of their growing up. I utilize Skype and phone calls, because they definitely help. Calling them and letting them know that I miss them and love them is nice. My parents are very nice about letting me go halfway across the country, but we still talk almost every day, at least for a little bit. I just got back from visiting them for the first time since my graduation, so it was definitely a big help. You’re going to miss family and friends, but college is definitely going to be a blast if you make it work.
- Should I bring all my things, or just pack light? It depends on where you’re going. If you plan on going to school within thirty minutes of where you live, I would say pack light, because it will definitely help with move in. You can always go back and get more if you need it. If you come from far away like me, you generally have to bring more because you aren’t going to be able to come back home as easily. Some students wait until getting to the city you are going to be in for college or university in order to safe space. That was not financially best for me, so I ended up filling up the entire back of my grandfather’s truck, and it was hell unloading it in the afternoon heat of the summer with no AC. Usually in between the school years, you can find cheap storage with your friends to make things easier, that way you won’t have to take everything back and forth with you.
- How will I make new friends? This sounds like a common fear for many incoming freshman, but again, I wouldn’t worry. I came in with a few friends from the invitational I had come to at Duke when I found out that I got in. A lot of people also go to Duke Blue Devil Days, which allows prospective freshman to see if the university is a good fit for them. There are events like that for other schools, so look out for them and ask for financial help from the college or university if you need it. For Duke, all the freshman live on East campus for the first year so that they get to know each other. I know not every school does this, though, so don’t be afraid to go out and get involved in groups and hang out with classmates. Your friends will fall in line.
- How do I balance school and fun? This is something I am constantly working at but have yet to master. Duke is a fun place, full of parties and events, but it is crazy difficult, and you are not going to make it without studying unless you are some type of certified genius. I tend to make study time also fun by hanging out with friends while studying, which may backfire sometimes, but actually works rather well because they are the ones who can trash talk me enough into working harder (I run on sarcasm and trash talk). You have to find your study zone and take breaks. Study hard, get ahead, take breaks, have fun. If you have big projects spread it out across a few days. Having some type of planner is key. Overworking yourself is never fun, and you set yourself up for burning out, which can really hurt you. Take some time for yourself, plan things out, and let things happen.
So I hope this was helpful. I may do answer more if people have any more questions, because I know there are so many more questions than that. Let me know what college you’re thinking of or went to, and leave any advice you want to give for students looking to apply to schools.