We asked a couple dozen of our past students to pass on advice about high school, college, and everything in between. Check out their answers to our questions below!
- What advice would you give to high school students?
- What advice would you give recent high school graduates regarding freshman year?
- What should recent graduates know about dorm life?
- What was the most difficult part of freshman year?
- If you could redo any part of freshman year, what would it be?
- Do you have any studying advice?
- Do you recommend taking notes by hand or on a laptop? Why?
- How was your overall transition from high school to college?
What advice would you give to high school students?
Kiara: Don’t limit yourself to one area or one type of school, because you never know what’s the best fit for you Anid if you’re about to head off to college, don’t freak out. Don’t worry if you don’t know what your major it. Just go there, have fun, and it’s actually the best four years of your life. You’ve probably heard that a thousand times, but it is.
Molly: I think it’s really important to work really hard in high school to get your work ethic to where it needs to be in college, where there’s not a lot of handholding.
Annie: Pick a couple interests that you are really passionate about, like an instrument and a sport, or a club and a community service project, and stick with those for four years. If you try a club and don’t like it, it’s not worth it to force it just for your resume.
Carleen: Don’t freak out — whatever college you end up at is the college you’re supposed to be at. Maybe it’s not your first choice right now, but you’ll end up where you’re supposed to be.
Ryan: Take as many AP classes as you can. Even if you don’t pass the AP test and don’t get credit for that class in college, you still have already taken the class. It’s much easier to do well in a class that you’ve already taken.
Danny: Take as many classes as you can. Enjoy the school work you’re doing because what you enjoy starts to give you a better idea of what you’d like to do professionally. Just experience it and don’t worry about it too much.
Jenna: For freshmen and sophomores, don’t pick your first choice school before you have done your research because there are so many schools that could be the perfect fit for you. Juniors, do you research and apply to schools you’ve heard of, but also school you hadn’t necessarily thought of.
Kelly: Of course get good grades, study for tests, but also have fun, get involved in your school and community, and anything else you are passionate about. When it comes time to write college essays, you aren’t going to be writing about getting a 4.0 GPA. Looking back on my high school career, I don’t remember classes I got A’s or B’s in, but I do remember the relationships I made through organizations on my high school campus.
Jonathan: Pick the best school that you got into, but don’t pick it just because it’s a good school. Pick it because it’s a good match.
Chloe Z: Tour all of the college you apply to or at least get into. The school I ended up attending, I didn’t even want to go to – I applied on a whim. I had heard stereotypes about the school, but when I got accepted and visited, I fell in love. It’s the perfect place for me, and I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else.
Hartley: Do your best, take a deep breath, and relax. It is what it is. You’ll end up at the right place.
Jamie: Start studying and working on your college applications early on, and start working on your list and figuring out what you want in a school as early as possible!
Lily: It’s important to have really good relationships with your teachers because recommendations are huge.
Elliot: Really try and find what you’re passionate about. Don’t get steered into doing something just for the money.
Charlie: Fit is the most important thing. A lot of high school students get hung up on their SAT scores, GPA, the best school they can possibly get into. It’s worth taking a hit in the “prestige” and “reputation” departments to find a better fit. If you’re interested in research, you might look into some professors who you might like. The other thing is, don’t get too stuck in your major.
Arielle: Definitely apply to the schools that are hard to get into because it’s hard for everyone and you never know.
Rana: Choose what makes you most comfortable. If you’ know you’re close to your family, stay close to home
Skukura: Don’t just go where everyone else is going. I know a lot of times you want to be with your friends or your boyfriend or this and that, but it’s YOUR time.
What advice would you give recent high school graduates regarding freshman year?
Lily: It’s really important to talk to people that have gone to the school that you are going to. For example, when you are picking classes, reach out to people that have already taken those classes and figure out what they thought of the professors. It’s really important, especially if you go to a bigger school, to walk the campus and make sure you are aware of where all the buildings are and where all your classes are, so that on the first day, you aren’t completely panicked and running into class late.
Kiara: Go to orientation as early as you can and sign up for classes as early as you can. Don’t freak out about not getting classes because there are so many to take. And remember, as a freshman, most schools are really understanding that you don’t know what you’re doing, so don’t freak out about it.
Molly: I think it’s really important for you as an incoming freshman to stay open-minded and definitely take in all of the experiences. It’s different from high school, but it’s a fun different, I think.
Annie: Just say “hi” and meet as many people as possible and try to be smiling and talk as much as you can. It’s really exhausting, especially during the first week, and you’ll feel like you’re just so tired, but I think it’s really good to try and do that.
Carleen: Clothes: definitely know the climate you’re in. I went to a school that was very cold, and I had to get all of the snow gear, which I had no idea about, being from Southern California!
Kelly: Everyone feels awkward and no one really knows anyone, so don’t be intimidated. It’s not high school. Everyone is there to make friends.
Drew: Don’t have a guard up when you are first coming to college. You come to college without any friends and you are going to meet so many new people — some people that you will click with, and some people that you won’t click with. In the end, you are going to make a great group of friends. College is something that all freshmen do at the same time as you, so everyone is in the same boat.
Dani: Pick classes that you are interested in. Don’t pick classes just because your friends are taking them.
Hartley: It’s really crucial that you be yourself so that you are meeting people who are right for you. Same thing with rush, too: it’s really important that you be yourself and that you don’t put on a show, because you might end up in a really bad situation.
Skukura: Even if you go to a big school, take that extra step to get to know your professors or someone in administration – they will eventually write your recommendations.
Summer: Definitely do your research: look at the different clubs, go to the club fairs and all the things your school offers, and just pick up flyers and talk to the people in the groups.
Jake: Don’t be afraid to mess up. With all those things you messed up (maybe you missed turning in assignments or got into fights with your roommate), you might just realize that those experiences made you who you are today. You can’t be upset with who you are.
What should recent graduates know about dorm life?
Justin: You don’t know who your roommate is going to be. Be open about what goes on with them. Usually it’s pretty easy to set up boundaries and rules if you want to — some people do stuff like that — but for me it was pretty easy to get along with my roommate. Everyone your freshman year is looking for friends and new people to meet, so it’s pretty easy to get along.
Jenna: I think that a lot of people have a lot of success when finding roommates ahead of time, but I also know a lot of people who have “pre-chosen” roommate horror stories. So you can’t really say whether the roommate you find online is going to be someone that you really get along with. Just go in being friendly with your roommate, but not with crazy high expectations with how the experience will be.
Becca: Your roommate will probably not be your best friend. I can say that firsthand.
Jamie: Set ground rules with your roommate. I know it can be kind of hard when you first meet them, but try and figure out where they’re at about whether you are going to keep the room clean or messy, and that kind of stuff.
Kiara: I guess, if you can, avoid a triple because you do get this weird dynamic where two people are closer than the other and it gets a little awkward. So navigating that was a little interesting, but if you get a good dorm floor, I think it kind of works out
Sam: Communication is key – don’t be passive aggressive with your roommate. Just communicate and realize that you both are living in a new and peculiar situation.
Charlie: I suggested getting as immersed in your dorm life as possible. It’s a great resource.
Bella: First, bring less clothing than you think you’ll need to college. I had so many clothes that I never wore that I couldn’t fit in my suitcase when I was coming home. So bring less than you think you’ll need. Also, dorm room decoration: Your dorm room is going to look like a little jail cell, so you’re going to want to bring something to decorate.
Chloe Z: Don’t bring too much stuff to your dorm. I brought so many clothes and so many shoes, and I didn’t wear half of them. Just bring what you need, and that’s it. Be ready to eat a lot of cafeteria food and possibly gain some weight. And don’t freak out about it.
What was the most difficult part of freshman year?
Molly: The weather transition was the most difficult for me. I did have to step up my academic game, but the weather took a different kind of toll on me – you have to gauge that when you’re coming from such a beautiful place as Southern California.
Annie: Not really having someone to look up to or go to for advice. So first semester was hard, not really knowing who to talk to, but there are always people on campus who are ready to talk – you just have to make sure you look for them and not be embarrassed by it.
Carleen: The most difficult part was motivating myself…you’re the only one who’s making you do anything. You don’t have the comfort, I guess, of your parents saying, “Hey, did you finish your homework?” Your professors – particularly at big schools — don’t really care if you’re doing the work or not, because they are just going to give you a grade, regardless.
Justin: The quarter system is only ten weeks each quarter, and things move way quicker. So you have to be prepared. The first midterm could be three or four weeks in, so it is important to stay on top of your work, but that’s easier said than done. When you get away from your family and you’re alone in college, it’s pretty easy to do whatever you want because you finally can. And I certainly took advantage of that.
Jenna: Oftentimes, you will get slammed with a lot of work at once, so managing your time well and the stress of all of that was probably the most difficult thing.
Kelly: The most difficult part of my freshman year was balancing. Entering college, you have to make friendships, which means doing activities and going out, but you also have to concentrate on your schoolwork, too.
Jonathan: Getting used to not having a set schedule. Throughout high school, you have a set schedule, say 8:00-3:00. Now in college, you have unlimited free time.
Chloe Z: Time management. I tried setting super strict schedules for the beginning of the year, and it didn’t work out. You have to find out what works for you, whether it’s setting specific times to study for specific classes or setting a big chunk of time to study for the classes you need to study for.
Sam: Coming from somewhere where you know everyone and then going to a new school where you don’t know a single person, and you have to start anew.
Chloe R: Definitely choosing classes, because although you have prerequisites to fill, you also have room for other electives. So choosing those electives and seeing how those could help whatever you’re going to end up doing was difficult for me. Don’t be afraid to take classes that don’t go with your major, because you may end up really liking it.
Drew: In high school, you are graded off your homework, tests, midterms, projects, and extra credit. In college, most of your classes are based on just your midterms and finals.
Jamie: You have to get used to having very few grades, but grades that require a lot of work and count a lot towards your final grade. While you might not have homework due every day, you need to be working through it all along.
Jordan: You’re constantly with someone. There’s definitely not a lot of alone time.
Bella: The most difficult part of freshman year was just not knowing how much I had to study. I was a little bit shocked — I thought I could just study how I did in high school and get through — but you definitely have to put in more effort than you did in high school.
Dani: That awkward phase when you’re standing in the lunch line after your parents have already left and you only know a handful of people in your classes or dorm. Breaking out of that shell and really forcing yourself to meet new people is really, really difficult.
If you could redo any part of freshman year, what would it be?
Samantha: Being more patient because for the first couple of months, I thought college would be fantastic and would immediately be the best four years of my life. I wished I had known that it was going to be a little bit bumpy and that it wasn’t always going to be sparkly and pretty like we are told and what we see in the movies.
Annie: Meeting more people and not getting stuck in the same routine, especially with going out. Even if the friends you just made want to go back to the same place, I think it’s really important to keep trying everything you can, just to make sure and meet as many people as possible.
Carleen: I would get more involved on campus. That’s one thing I regret: not joining as many clubs.
Ryan: I wish I had concentrated harder on school because ultimately, friends will come and go, but your grades are literally going to be on a piece of paper for the rest of your life.
Danny: I would broaden the type of classes I took. I think I made too quick of a decision on what I wanted to do for the my next four years in school, and it took me more time to figure out what it was, exactly, that I actually wanted to do.
Jenna: I made friends pretty quickly freshman year with the people in my different clubs, like my sorority and a cappella group, but I think that one thing I took for granted was the fact that there were so many people on my hall that I could have been really close to. Leave your door open and make an effort with the people right around you because it’s really valuable to have people like that around you all the time.
Jonathan: I joined a fraternity, and the whole fraternity culture isn’t really for everyone. It was a bit old fashioned and traditional, so that wasn’t really for me.
Sam: Getting involved in extracurriculars a lot earlier in the year, like the first couple weeks of school instead of later on.
Molly: I would redo my relationships with my professors. Once I got to my third term, I started forcing myself to go in and get help with my essays, ask for study tips, or review the material. And that really helped my academic performance.
Lily: I would have definitely taken care of myself more, like exercising and doing things to keep me feeling more healthy.
Sam: Not eating as unhealthily as I did, not going out as much as I did, and realizing that even though everyone around you is going out all the time, you don’t need to go out every time, too. You can do your own thing.
Jordan: For me, it’d be trying to join one of the club sports teams. I played baseball my entire life before college, and then once I got to college, it didn’t really have that team aspect. That kind of sucked; I really enjoyed having teammates – people I could relate to when I was in high school. So I think trying out for the club baseball team would have been something I would have really looked forward to.
Charlie: I’d probably just go out and experience as much as I can, especially in the city. I wish I’d gone into all the different neighborhoods in Chicago.
Bella: I wish I would not have been such a recluse my first month of school. That first week/month of school is really important ot making friends and new bonds, and I just didn’t get that experience because I was a little shy.
Do you have any studying advice?
Ryan: Do it! That’s my best advice. If you just sit down and do your studying, if you just take out some time to just sit down and just do it, it gets done. But if you keep putting it off, you’re going to end up hating yourself later for it. It may not be when the assignment’s due or when the test is, but after that when you see your grades and it starts affecting your life down the road, you definitely will be regretting that.
Kiara: Don’t start the habit where you don’t study all week and cram on Sunday. Study a couple hours each day and get your problem sets or essays done a few days early, just in case something crazy happens.
Annie: In high school, it was pretty easy to relax until the week before a test and then really cram for it. But I found that, especially with my harder classes, it’s important to try to review the material the day you learn it so that when you’re a week from the test, it’s just review and you don’t have to re-learn concepts or realize you don’t even know how to do the problems yet.
Carleen: I’d just say try out different techniques to see what works for you, and don’t be afraid to get a tutor. A lot of campuses have great peer tutor programs.
Justine: Joining study groups can be really helpful.
Jenna: I think that knowing yourself is the most important thing. If you are a person that really thrives studying with other people, that’s awesome. But if you also know that you are going to be totally distracted, then take some time for yourself every day and get your studying done alone.
Kelly: I always studied in my room in high school. I found that in college, your dorm room will probably be loud and there are always things going on. Find a quiet place in a library or study hall. That makes me the most focused.
Jonathan: Don’t study in the library until 4:00am. You are not going to be better off pulling an all-nighter for a test.
Chloe Z: Go to the library. I mean it. You cannot study in your dorm room – it is impossible. When your friends are two doors down and they come knocking on your door, it’s easy to get distracted.
Samantha: It’s hard to get all of the reading assignments done, but if you can do as much as possible, you’re going to learn the material so much better.
Chloe R: I tend to write a lot of things on vocab cards, even if they aren’t vocab words. It’s easier to see a title and have all the information about that title written on the back of the card. I tend to buy the big flashcards where you can fit more on.
Drew: Sometimes you might have a lot of work and your friends won’t, and they might all be having a good time when you can’t. But you can’t let that get in the way because schools comes first and is your number one priority.
Hartley: Make a schedule for yourself and don’t fall behind. Especially with readings; you won’t have homework, but you will have readings, and then all of a sudden you’ll have to read 200 pages from a textbook for the next day.
Meredith: Learn what works for you. Tons of kids may be able to study in the library on a floor where tons of talking is allowed and music is playing, but if you need to be in the silent area, go for it. Understand if you are a note-taker or a visual learner, and utilize the strategies that work best for you.
Sam: Realize that you don’t have to do everything at once. Definitely manage it. Do a little bit every day. It’s important to make room for other things, too – you don’t want to be swamped with work.
Charlie: My personal advice (this is kind of just a quirky thing): don’t study on your computer if you can help it. You’re just going to be on the internet.
Rana: If you can find one person who motivates you to study and helps you, stick with that person!
Do you recommend taking notes by hand or on a laptop? Why?
Jenna: If classes were more discussion-based, it was easier to take notes in a notebook because there wasn’t a computer blocking my view of the other students speaking. In larger classes, like lecture halls where teachers are just lecturing information, I found it easier and faster to take down information on the computer.
Jonathan: I’m not opposed to hand notes, but I can organize my notes better on the computer. I use a program called Evernote, and it syncs your notes to your iPad, iPhone, laptop, etc so you have them everywhere. If you lose your computer, your notes are safe!
Drew: Some people think that iPads work well, which I wouldn’t recommend because I like a bigger screen and a real keyboard when I am working. Also, some teachers use PowerPoints during their lectures, and sometimes, to get participation in class, you have iClickers. Some teachers can actually write on the screens using smartboards.
Sam: It depends on the class. If you were to go into a computer engineering room, you would probably see more PC’s than Macs. But I’ve seen a lot of people with Mac computers as well. Personally, I don’t like typing up notes on the computer – I don’t trust technology. I think my computer could crash at any moment, and that would be horrible. I take notes in a notepad. I like it because I soak in the information more by writing it down.
Jordan: For the majority of my classes, I use my laptop to take notes and then look up things during class or words I don’t know.
Arielle: I had a Mac, and for the business school, they had to install a PC side to the Mac. It works the same way as a PC but it’s just a little slower, and that was kind of annoying.
Bella: I would take notes on my computer and then when I was back home, I would write out my notes in a notebook and highlight my notes and stuff like that. The only downside to the computer in class is that sometimes you get distracted.
Justin: It depends on the professor. I use a laptop in class when I can, but about half of my professors did not allow the use of computers in the classrooms, so I would either take notes by hand or just try to listen; they would post the lectures online later.
Dani: I learned very quickly about the notebook function in Microsoft Office. There’s actually a section where you can tab through different…I don’t know if you know about it, but oh, it’s a lifesaver. I was taking so many classes, and I would have always to write things down and put them in different binders, but then I went all electronic — and there’s actually a function that looks exactly like a notebook with different tabs and labels, and you can audio-record – it’s brilliant.
Summer: For the professors who put their slides online, I think a good thing to do is print them out before class and then write your notes on there. Then you make sure you’re not missing anything.
How was your overall transition from high school to college?
Kiara: Very shocking, honestly. In high school, my classes ranged from 25-30 people. For the first lecture that I walked into freshman year, there were over 500 people. I walked in and couldn’t even find a seat. I had to sit on the ground because there were waitlisted people there.
Molly: The most difficult transition was with my writing, but I was able to clear that up by talking to my professors and friends, working with programs within the school, editing my papers and such.
Annie: It wasn’t so much being homesick, but I definitely missed little things you wouldn’t think of, like having a living room. Or I missed having adults around who aren’t teachers or staff.
Carleen: Going out of state causes a little bit of homesickness every once in a while, but every other freshmen is going through the same thing.
Chloe R: It’s kind of stressful not having your parents nearby if you get sick or need something, but it’s not too difficult, actually. If you are an independent person, like I am, it’s pretty easy to go from high school to college.
Samantha: It can be easy, just make sure you keep in contact with your parents, and all those people that you rely on as a support system. I would say it is important to keep in touch with your high school friends because they are really good friends.
Lily: It wasn’t overwhelming because there are so many people that are in the same boat as you, and I think that’s one thing you really have to remember. What’s really nice about college is that there’s no longer a “cool crowd” or something you have to be to fit in – you get to go in as who you are and who you want to be.
Meredith: Truthfully, my transition was pretty rocky. I had a social, well-rounded high school experience, in terms of being really involved in sports, having a ton of friends, and stuff like that. I ended up at a school that I didn’t really think I would actually go to, and I thought I would play college sports, but I didn’t. I also had a high school relationship end at the beginning of college, so a ton of things contributed to the weird transition.
Jake: It was hard at first when I got there because everything’s so new. Eventually, you just get used to the city life and the whole college life and the class sizes and everything. The learning process happens so fast, and you end up growing so fast that you end up looking back at yourself from the beginning and thinking, “Wow, was I really that person?” It’s shocking, almost.