Your College Survival Guide

Source: American Indian College Fund

Ahh, college! It’s an exciting time for self-exploration, meeting new people, and learning about your passions. It can also be filled with anxiety about being independent and succeeding in a new environment. You may find yourself thinking:

  • “How do I take care of myself without my parents?”
  • “What if I don’t like my major?”
  • “Is making new friends going to be hard?”
  • “What if I don’t succeed or finish college?”

College might seem like a hard-level of a game you need to get through to survive. But with some tips and tricks, you can seamlessly navigate and finish college.

Apply for Financial Aid and Scholarships

College can be pretty pricey. You’ll have to pay for tuition, books and supplies, food, transportation, and maybe housing. But financial aid and scholarships can make it much more affordable – sometimes even free! Be sure that before applying for college and every October to June after your first semester, you fill out a form known as FAFSA to determine the financial aid you qualify for, such as financial aid you don’t have to pay back and loans.

Your FAFSA can also help you determine if you are eligible for certain financial need-based scholarships.

However, some scholarships aren’t awarded based on a student’s financial need. These scholarships are called merit-based scholarships and are awarded based on things like academics, athletics, artistry, and other talents.

There are also different scholarships that are solely for Native American students! Some of these include:

Check with your tribe to see if they offer any scholarships to help you pay for school. You can also ask your college advisor if your institution offers scholarships or aid for tribal students. For example, the University of California, Berkeley provides free tuition and student services fees for California students in federally recognized Native American, American Indian, and Alaska Native tribes. Another university where Native students qualify for admission free of charge for tuition is the University of Minnesota, Morris.

Not having to worry about money can free you up to focus on your classes and have fun.

Go to Your College Orientation

Orientation is where you learn how to navigate campus, join student organizations, and get important information about student events and opportunities. You might make new friends, too! Be sure to attend your college orientation, so you’re not running around like a chicken without a head on your first day.

Get to Know Your Roommate and Others in Your Residence Hall

If you decide to live on campus, you will likely live with one or more roommates. Sharing your space can be challenging, especially if you haven’t done so before. But remember, the people you live with are probably going through similar experiences and emotions as you. You might change roommates after the first semester, or you might stay roommates throughout all of college. Take the time to get to know the people living in your hall.

Be sure to communicate with your roommate(s) and come to an agreement about how the space should be used and what respect for each other’s space looks like. If your living situation becomes difficult or unbearable, consult your Resident Advisor – a mentor in your residence hall that help ease the transition to college for many students living away from home.

Get Organized

College is very different from high school in that you will have much more freedom and independence. That also means that you will have to rely on yourself to remember due dates, submit assignments, read chapters, and express any difficulties you have understanding the material. Your professors will expect you to be prepared. Stay organized by using an agenda, an app, or a big wall calendar. You can use it to keep track of due dates. You can also use it to block out time to study and work on assignments. If you decide to participate in organizations or get involved on campus, you will really need to learn how to be organized and manage your time.

Go to Class

This might seem obvious, but it’s pretty easy to skip class, especially if some professors don’t take attendance or you didn’t get enough sleep. Avoid the temptation. Skipping class means missing out on valuable information, such as what to expect on tests, changes in due dates, and extra credit opportunities.

When you’re in class, be present. Some professors include “participation” in your grade, so participate as much as possible. You might feel a little embarrassed or shy to speak up, but the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll get! Remember: everyone is there for the same reason you are – to learn.

Get to Know Your Professors

Each professor you have throughout your college journey will have “office hours.” Office hours are dedicated time your professor has made to meet with students to discuss any questions or concerns. Take advantage of these. Your professors will see the effort you’re making in the class and can maybe help you later on in the semester if you need extra credit. Consider stopping by early in the semester just to say hi and introduce yourself.

Meet with Your Academic Advisor

Your academic advisor is the person who can help you navigate course conflicts, add or drop courses, schedule classes for the next semester, and give advice on your major and minor. They are a key resource and should be the person you turn to with any academic issues or conflicts. Be sure to meet with them every semester if you have concerns. If you don’t feel that your academic advisor is giving you the best advice, ask if you can see a new advisor.

Get Involved on Campus

As a new student in a new environment, you might feel homesick or like you don’t belong. Consider getting involved on campus by joining an organization! Your campus will more than likely have various student groups to join, such as sororities or fraternities, sports teams, student government, clubs, and more. By getting involved on campus, you can make new friends, learn new skills, and feel more connected to your school. You will also start to feel like you belong.

Find Balance

College life will have its social events and academic obligations. If you choose to work while attending college, this will add more to your plate. Maintaining a healthy balance between life, school, and work is important to prevent burnout and excess stress. Click here to learn how to stay balanced in college.

Amid the college craziness, don’t forget to set aside time for activities that help you relax and take the stress out of your day or week. This can look like doing yoga in the morning, staying in and watching your favorite show, going to the gym, writing in your journal, or catching up on rest. Be sure to give your brain and body a break.

Stay Healthy and Eat Right

Since you will likely have a busy schedule, falling behind on your health might be easy. Get enough sleep and eat right. Try your best to stay healthy and avoid eating junk food by sticking to a balanced diet. If you’re unsure where to start in what to eat, check out this article.

Keep Track of Your Money

As a college student, part of your independence is learning how to budget your money so you can pay for necessities like books, food, and gas and have extra money to spend on activities with friends and items you want. Find ways to stretch your money and keep track of your spending. You should also start saving money for a rainy day.

Learn to Cope with Being Homesick

It’s inevitable that you will miss your family or friends. Make the time to have regular calls with your family and friends or text them often. You can also ask them to send you some care packages to remind you of back home. If your college has one, visit the Native Student Center or get involved with Native student organizations. Connection and a sense of belonging with your relatives can help with being homesick.

Seek Professional Help When You Need It

College can bring about feelings of isolation or depression. This is completely normal. Most colleges have health and counseling centers that are sometimes free to students. Take advantage of these services if you’re feeling down or just need someone to talk to. You’re not alone and don’t have to face these issues by yourself.

The Bottom Line

Your college experience can be amazing! If you follow this college survival guide, you might be surprised at how successful and fun your college experience can be.

For more information on college and college life, check out these resources:

AuthorStephanie Paz is a Tigua Indian of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from The University of Texas at El Paso and is working towards a Master of Public Health in Health Behavior and Health Promotion from New Mexico State University.

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