College Advising, Educational Consulting

What to Know Before You Start at a Large University

The start of the Fall 2019 semester is just around the corner, which means that literally tens of thousands of students are getting ready to start college at one of the many large universities around the United States. If you’re getting ready to attend a large university for the first time — a university with enrollment in the tens of thousands — here are a few things you need to know.

First, think of this transition like moving to a new city. I don’t mean only that you’re leaving your home town and moving to a new college town, but that moving onto a large campus is like moving to a new city in itself. The campus itself is like a small city, and sometimes like a medium-sized city — if you already live in Columbus and are starting at OSU, or if you already live in Orlando and are starting at UCF, that transition into college is still like moving to a new city. So you need to get the lay of the land.

First and most importantly, go to orientation. Don’t blow it off. Listen to every word and take notes. Three years down the line you’ll wish you paid more attention at orientation, so just tell yourself you already regret not paying attention, and then pay attention.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions at orientation. Most people will have the same questions. But, there are smart ways to ask questions and less smart to ask them. The smart way to ask questions is to listen first to the information being presented, process it, and then ask questions about the information just presented. If you have questions about something that hasn’t been covered, wait until the end. It will probably be covered.

Getting the lay of the land means the campus map is your friend. You should get one at orientation, but also download the school app. There should be a great campus map on the app too, and it should be connected to the map program on your phone. Remember, you’ve just moved to a new city, so you need to know how to get around.

You already know that your dorm building and classroom buildings are important to find, and you know you’ll need to know where to go to eat. You know you’ll need the library, but some libraries will be more important than others — most big schools have multiple libraries. Also mark all of the administrative buildings you’ll need. Find the parking lots too. Drop pins everywhere and tag them appropriately.

Campus policies matter, so learn them. Read the Student Handbook. Work within the school’s policies. Learn how the system works, and if you have questions, get help.

Getting help means connecting with your advisor. Use your advisor for help. Know this person. It’s very easy to get lost, be ignored, and not get the help that you need, so it’s up to you to find the right people and ask the right questions.

If you’ve declared a major, connect with your department as soon as you can. Get to know professors and students in the department. Ask their advice for scheduling too, especially the order in which you should take your classes. Some classes will have specific prerequisites, but even the ones that don’t might best be taken in a certain order.

What I’m going to say about your advisor will be true about every single constituent on campus: they are very busy because they have to work with a lot of people. That means:

  • Don’t think your problems are unique.
  • Don’t think your problems are more important than everyone else’s.
  • Don’t think you’re an exception to the rule, but if you truly have exceptional circumstances, let people know.
  • Don’t be a jerk. Be patient, wait in line, when your turn comes up, get all of the information you need. Think about what information you need ahead of time.
  • In fact, be kind to the people behind the desk. They will appreciate it. But, don’t waste their time. Get to the point. There are people waiting.
  • Look for the answers to your questions in the Handbook first. Check the school website for material that you might need to bring with you to any given administrative office for any given reason.
  • Things will take time because everyone is processing a lot of people. That means don’t wait until the last minute for anything. That’s the source of almost all of the problems in my points above.

Do you have any more questions? Contact us. We can help.

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