These days, you can't get very far in most professions without an undergraduate degree. Whether you take the traditional four-year path living at a college, attend night school, or take distance learning classes, there are things you can do to help yourself succeed in your pursuit of a degree.
- Find the right school. To get an undergraduate education--a bachelor's degree--you'll of course have to attend some sort of college or university or take college courses online. Don't buy the myth that there's a "perfect" school for you out there and no other will do. Many schools can provide you with the things you're looking for. And every school has its positives and negatives. So figure out what you want--what you want to study (major, minor, other interests), where you want to live (city, suburbs, home, dorm, off-campus), what other opportunities you want to have access to (clubs, sports, internships). Then research like crazy in books, on the Internet, at the colleges themselves, and find a good school (good faculty, good curriculum) that's also a good fit. Or find several schools that are good fits for you. As you narrow down the list, talk to the admissions departments at these colleges and compile all the things you need to apply: Application, test scores, transcripts, letters of reference. Look into financial aid, as needed. And apply. You're on your way!
- Meet with your advisor. Meet with your advisor about your required courses and work out a strategy for taking all the classes you need when you need them. Your advisor is the professor or other academic professional assigned by the college to help you do what you need to do to graduate. Usually, your advisor is a professor within your major's department. He not only knows the course requirements of the college, but also those for your specific field. He can help you navigate electives and minors. Meetings with an advisor are often mandatory around course scheduling time, but don't hesitate to reach out to your advisor at other points to make sure you're on the right track and to talk in general about your concerns. Double check when you register that you've taken what you need to take; the last thing you'd want is to delay graduation because you missed a required course.
- Bone up on the basics. Succeeding in college requires a lot of initiative from the student. In high school, teachers may have provided you with a lot of assistance and leeway but your college professors expect you to know the basics of being a student already: Studying, note taking, reading effectively and writing papers. If you have historically had trouble with any of these things, the sooner you get some help with them, the better, as these basics will carry over to almost every class you take. Student services often provides undergrads with peer tutoring help, classes in fundamental skills and other academic advice. You may also be required to take a freshman class on these things; pay attention if you do. They may seem boring, but they can help you get that degree!
- Budget your time. This is often one of the biggest challenges facing an undergrad. College offers a lot of fun and exciting things to do in your down-time: Parties, school events, and clubs. You might also find an internship or job that puts additional pressure on your schedule. Making sure you have enough time to do that research paper, study for that test, or read those chapters is essential if you want to earn that degree. Don't cheat yourself out of a well-rounded experience, but don't forget to put serious effort into your classes. If you have trouble budgeting time, don't hesitate to go to your academic services department and ask for some help. That's why they exist!
- Take care of yourself. College can be very tough beyond just getting good grades. For many students, there are also additional pressures--managing new freedoms, being away from home for the first time, making new friends, trying to pay the huge costs with loans or jobs. Take care of yourself as you pursue your degree and face these new challenges. Eat right, get some sleep. Don't work yourself to death. Find ways to relieve stress. And have fun, but don't think you have to spend four years living like Animal House. Your undergraduate experience and the quality of the education you receive at your school of choice are largely in your hands. You get what you give. So give your all, make good choices and enjoy the ride!