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Campus Life

Some students can't wait to move away from home and immerse themselves in the vibrant campus society. Others find it a little intimidating to leave everything they've ever known and be expected to handle all life's details without the support system that's always been there.

Whether one of these, or something in between, describes your situation, social life on campus is a huge part of the college experience. Finding your niche, or not finding it, can mean the difference between loving college and hating it. And enjoying the social side too much can cause as many problems as avoiding the social scene altogether.

To keep your social and academic lives balanced:

  • Get to know your roommate(s). This may be your first experience sharing space with someone other than family members. Learn to respect your roommate's personality and needs. Creating a good relationship early on means it'll be easier to study and live together.
  • Keep in touch with home. Even if your parents didn't attend college, they did learn to live on their own. Plus, they probably know you better than anyone else does. Your parents can provide great support. (And you'll be amazed how much better you get along when neither of you is worried about your curfew!)
  • Make new friends. Reach out to your neighbor across the hall or strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you in class.
  • Get involved in extracurricular activities. This is another great way to meet new people and find a place where you belong.
  • Set limits. Remember to balance your activities with work, academics and social relationships.
  • Be smart. Make informed decisions about dating, safety and new experiences. Know what your comfort level is and don't go beyond it.

To make the most of your time as a college student, there are some things to keep in mind including:

Your Health

Your parents aren't with you in college. While many students think that's a good thing, it also means you're responsible for your own health. Remember to take care of yourself with these tips.

  • Getting Enough Sleep.
    Between working, studying and social activities, an early bedtime can be pretty hard to stick to. The average college student should be getting between seven and nine hours' sleep each night. So if you have an 8 a.m. class, you really shouldn't be up until 2 a.m. each morning. Short naps can help, but if you sleep longer than 30 minutes during the day you may have trouble sleeping at night.
  • Controlling Stress
    Let's face it. College might be one of the most stressful experiences of your life so far. There's a lot to balance, and plenty to worry about with tough classes, lack of money, relationships and a busy schedule. If you're feeling stressed, try to:
    • Cut back where you can. Maybe you should put off one of the organizations you're involved in until next semester or reduce your work hours.
    • Even out the class load. If you know you need to take a demanding course for your major this semester, balance that by taking one of the less-challenging general education courses.
    • Stay on top of things. Keeping up with your assignments and studying helps. A lot. Try not to put off projects – you don't want to have to complete three essays while studying for a couple of mid-terms all in one weekend.
  • Eating a Balanced Diet
    Remember the food pyramidTips for healthful eating may help you stay on track.
  • Using Campus Health and Counseling Services
    If you're feeling overwhelmed, remember that student counseling services have professionals who can help you deal with different situations, often at reduced or no cost. The same goes for health services.
  • Making Smart Choices
    You know what's smart (and legal) when it comes to drugs and alcohol. You'll also find yourself in situations where you may want to join in. Only you can decide what to do, but remember that your main goal right now is to succeed in college, which is hard enough without the problems caused by substance abuse.
  • Staying Active
    Remember that great workout facility you saw on your campus tour? It's probably still there. Go check it out. If that scene doesn't appeal to you:
    • Circle campus. Walking or jogging around campus varies the scenery, and maybe you'll even see some things you didn't know were there.
    • Find a group. Do you miss P.E. class? Are you up for some broomball or ultimate Frisbee? Many college campuses offer intramural or club sports teams. Contact the student or campus life office for more information.
    • Hit the stairs. High-rise dorms and stadiums are great places for one of the best cardio workouts of all time – running up stairs (walk down so you don't fall).
    • Have fun. A workout doesn't have to be work. Consider biking, rollerblading, cross-country skiing or other activities that you enjoy.

Time Management

You may think you have time management down. You go to class, you work, you study. Any leftover time is filled with socializing. If it's that simple for you, great. But it's also easy to get so absorbed in games or partying or even student organizations that you find yourself scrambling to get assignments done on time.

  • Get (and Stay) Organized
    Multitasking is a must in college. Due dates, tests, work schedules, team meetings and other activities all overlap. Find an organization system that works for you.
    • You might find that a simple calendar works for you.
    • Try a student planner that lets you track activities and plan backward from due dates.
    • Maybe a handheld device like your cell phone or a PDA that has a calendar and reminders will be best for you.
    • Keep homework, tests and classroom papers for each class together in a binder. (And keep them for future classes and research.)
  • Be Smart With Your Time
    Those two hours between classes might seem like a perfect time to catch up on some TV or video games, but beware. You might wish you had that time back when you realize you have six hours' worth of homework, plus a test to study for, in the evening. It's easy to fill up a day if you:
    • Study two hours for every hour in class.
    • Remember to get enough sleep.
    • Make time for exercise to feel and look better.
    • Earn some extra money by working a part-time job.
    • Look for extracurricular activities or volunteer opportunities you'll enjoy that will also give you leadership or job-related experience.
    • Leave time to relax in your favorite way.

Extracurricular Activities

Intramural sports, student government, Greek life, career-oriented organizations, dorm committees: the list of available on-campus activities goes on. Although the types of organizations offered can vary from school to school, chances are pretty good you can find something you'll enjoy.

Finding Activities

Sometimes opportunity doesn't knock. This is one of those situations where you need to do the legwork. It's not likely the editor of the campus paper is going to realize you write hilarious editorials on student life – you'll have to find the opportunities for a chance to show your skills. If you want to get involved, try:

  • Checking out the school website. Most schools have a section for extracurricular or student life activities.
  • Asking a professor in your major about student organizations. Your academic advisor may also know of some.
  • Talking to orientation staff. They know all about that kind of thing for incoming students.
  • Watching student newspapers, bulletin boards and other outlets for sign-up information. If you're unsure whether you want to join, you might be able to attend a meeting or you can always call the contact number for more information.
  • Introducing yourself to someone who is already involved. Most organizations love to get new members who are supportive of their goals.
  • Looking off campus. If you can't find an on-campus activity you would enjoy, consider volunteering in the surrounding community. Find opportunities at


Not only are extracurricular activities fun; they give you great life skills:

  • Organization and time-management skills
  • Leadership opportunities
  • Social networking
  • Teamwork
  • Career skills
  • Commitment to goals
  • Budgeting abilities

Working While in College

Depending on your situation, you may:

  • Attend school part time and work full time.
  • Attend school full time and work part time.
  • Attend school full time and work full time.

Whatever the case, working while you're in college can be good, bad or both as far as academics go. Working gives you life skills that transfer to future jobs, and of course, working provides money for your tuition. On the other hand, working more than 20 hours a week while handling a full course load can make it hard to succeed in school and add physical and emotional stress.

Your most important job (and one you're spending a lot of time, money and effort on) is to be a student. If you need to reduce work hours but still need more money, try to:

  • Talk with your financial aid office about financial assistance you might qualify for.
  • Find internships that will allow you to earn college credit, reducing your tuition bill.
  • Earn extra money with summer and holiday jobs to make up for missing work hours during the academic year.
  • Take a higher-paying job that will let you work fewer hours for the same amount of money.

Campus Safety

Being on a college campus is exciting because you have the chance to meet a lot of new people from different backgrounds. You also have more freedom to make your own decisions and stretch your independence. Now that you're responsible for your own well-being, you need to take precautions to make sure you stay safe.

Be Safe at Home and Away

If you live in campus or college housing, the school is responsible for your safety. How schools handle this duty varies from campus to campus and includes features like security stations, safety officers, emergency phones and pass-code security systems. Find out what services your school offers and how to use or contact them.

Campus Housing Safety

These tips will help you become aware of your surroundings in campus housing.

  • Elevators. Never get on an elevator if someone suspicious is either already on or about to get on with you. Stand near the controls so you can press the alarm button and the button for the next floor if you feel threatened.
  • Isolated places. Be careful, especially late at night, in places like:
    • Basements.
    • Laundry rooms.
    • Stairwells.
    • Tunnels and passageways.
  • Dorm rooms. Keep your door locked at all times. If you live in a building where everyone leaves their doors open, at least lock up at bedtime. Don't remove safety gates and window jambs. They are there for your safety.
  • Dorm buildings. Even in a locked dorm, you may be at risk.
    • Don't loan anyone your keys or tell anyone the door combination.
    • If you don't know someone, don't allow them in. Also make sure others follow this practice. Ask for ID from people who say they work for places like:
      • Utility companies.
      • Campus security.
      • Pest control.
    • If you think your school's policy for dorm safety is not strict enough or not enforced:
      • Mention it at your dorm meeting.
      • Talk about it at a student government open forum.
      • Write a letter or send a petition to the campus safety office outlining specific problems and possible solutions.

Campus and Community Safety

Stay safe when you're out and about.

  • Know your area. Note where emergency phones and security stations are, and pay attention to places that might be particularly unsafe at night.
  • Show confidence. Walk with authority and look like you know exactly where you're going, even if it's only an act.
  • Pay attention. To your surroundings and people who are walking behind, in front of and across from you. When walking or in an open area, pay attention to your surrounds and not your phone.
  • Lighten your load. Carry as few bags and books as you can. If you do have a lot to cart around, think about a wheeled backpack.
  • Use the buddy system. Especially at night, avoid walking or running alone. Some campuses offer escort services; use them.
  • Take a self-defense class. Many schools offer these programs. If yours doesn't, chances are good there is one in a nearby community.
  • Keep your ears open. If you're running or walking alone, leave the headphones behind so you can hear what's going on around you.
  • Keep your cell phone handy. Program the number for campus safety or 911 into your speed dial, so you can dial quickly.

Keep Tabs on Your Campus

The Jeanne Cleary Act requires colleges and universities to disclose important campus crime and safety information. You can use this information to find a school that's right for you and to become aware of situations on your campus. Find information about the Jeanne Cleary Act and other campus security information at the Security on Campus, Inc., website.

Living Off Campus

Tired of dorm living? Ready to be a little more on your own? Living off campus is a step many college students take for a lot of different reasons. Whatever yours are, the decision involves a few new aspects and responsibilities. Be sure to check with your college or university on dorm requirements.  Some campuses may require you to live on campus during your Freshman and Sophomore year.

Finding a Home

The first order of business is lining up a place to live. Most students rent an apartment or a house with or without roommates.

  • Location. How close to campus do you want to be? Maybe you prefer to be near your job or shopping. If you're beyond walking distance from your classes, you will also need to consider transportation.
  • Sources. Check the ads in the local paper, look online and scout campus postings for rentals. Most college communities have a thriving rental property business. Think about subletting – taking over someone else's lease for a set period of time.

Making Living Arrangements

Will you share your new home with one or more roommates or try to go solo?

  • Budget. Can you afford the rent on your own? What about furniture, appliances and monthly bills?
  • Personalities. Remember that a good friend from class doesn't necessarily make the best roommate for you. Will you be able to tolerate your roommates' different living styles? Can you trust them to pull their weight with bills and chores?
  • Sources. Check online social media like Facebook or Craigslist for other students from your college looking for roommates. Campus bulletin boards and ads in the local paper are also good places to look. WARNING: Always use caution when agreeing to meet someone about renting an apartment/house. 

Paying the Bills

Living on campus, whatever its drawbacks, at least meant that you didn't need to worry about monthly utility bills.

  • Utilities. You will now be responsible for electricity, natural gas, water, cable, phone and even sewer and garbage bills monthly. Budget out the estimated expenses and make sure you can cover them.
  • Rent. When you rent a space, you will sign a contract with the landlord stating when your rent is due and the penalties for late or missing payments. Make sure you understand your obligation and meet it every month.
  • Repairs. Know whether you or your landlord is responsible for different types of necessary repairs and who you should call for, say, an overflowing toilet at 2 a.m. on a Sunday.
  • Groceries and household supplies. Look for generic brands and sales to save money when you're shopping. You may also be able to share costs with your roommates. Your college might offer a dining plan for off-campus students that'll save you money on a meal or two a day.

Getting Around

If you move very far off campus and your community doesn't offer convenient public transportation, you may have more transportation costs to get to class – car payments, auto insurance, registration, fuel and parking all add up. You might arrange to carpool with a roommate or neighbor to lower your expenses.

Staying in Touch

You probably want the benefits of moving away from the dorms without losing the ability to meet up with friends, enjoy the social life and do what you really like. Look for activities, organizations and study groups you can join to keep you involved with daily campus life.

Staying in Touch

You probably want the benefits of moving away from the dorms without losing the ability to meet up with friends, enjoy the social life and do what you really like. Look for activities, organizations and study groups you can join to keep you involved with daily campus life.

Study Abroad

As you learn more about life outside your hometown, you may want to experience the world beyond your campus or even outside the country. The chance to study abroad is one of those chances that seem available only at a certain time of life. Your college years provide a great opportunity to see and experience life in another place while continuing your studies.

  • Why go. Employers love a candidate with international experience. If you need more reasons, how about the ability to understand, work with and communicate with people from a variety of cultures or the opportunity to experience firsthand the atmosphere, history and attitudes of a different country?
  • Who can go. Many college students go abroad for a semester during their junior year. But some programs exist for students from freshman year through graduate school. You may also see requirements for minimum grade point averages or certain courses, depending on the program.
  • When to go. Because of the variety of study abroad programs, you can go at any point in your college career – freshman, sophomore, junior or even senior year. You can also choose the length and timing of your stay – go for a semester, a year, a summer or over winter break.
  • Where to go. Depending on what you want to study, you can choose from programs on virtually every continent. In general, you want to choose a place you have a genuine interest in and one that you feel safe in. Check out the U.S. State Department's travel warnings.
  • How to go. If your school has a travel abroad program, start there. If not, you can make plans through a number of agencies.
  • Make a plan. Decide where you'd like to go and what you'd like to study while there. Do some research on the Internet to see what programs are offered in different locations. Read about other students' experiences on blogs and agency sites. Pay attention to deadlines – many agencies offer discounts or waive application fees if you register early.
  • Understand the finances. Some schools offer programs that allow you to study abroad for the same costs you are already paying for tuition and room and board. Federal and state financial aid is also available.
  • Learn the language – or not. Some programs require a basic knowledge of the language; others don't. English is common in many destinations. Whether or not you are comfortable with the language barrier, you definitely need to understand some culture basics. Make sure you can say a few phrases and know what gestures and actions are not acceptable.
  • Find your comfort zone. Before you commit to a program, make sure you understand the environment. Will you be attending an international school where most students come from other places or a local college? Will you stay in dorms or with a host family? Are there coordinators from the agency onsite or nearby to help with issues as they arise?
  • Mind the details. Make sure you know which documents you'll need to enter, study in and leave the country; then allow yourself enough time to apply for and receive the necessary documents. Understand the exchange rate and how much everyday items will cost you. Ask whether any excursions, day trips or other travel is allowed or included in the program. Find out how medical or other emergencies will be handled and who is responsible for the cost.
  • Get credit for your work. Talk to your academic advisor about how credits for the courses you plan to take abroad will transfer. (Make sure you get any promises in writing.) Also find out whether you'll graduate on time or if you'll need to make up a few classes.
  • Stay in touch. Some programs include prepaid cell phone plans. If yours doesn't, talk to your cell phone service provider about whether your phone will work and what charges will apply while you're abroad. It can be very expensive to use your cell phone for international calls. Other options include international calling plans (often available at your destination) and using the Internet. And, of course, you can always use the post office.
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