While you need to be the one to put in the work and take action towards achieving your goals, no one should finish college feeling like they had to figure it all out on their own.
I had access to many undergraduate advisors. By the time I graduated, I had worked with approximately 12 advisors. These advisors were available to me through the college for my major, the pre-health office, the honors college, and my scholarship foundation. Some advisors simply processed my classes and made sure I graduated, but others went above and beyond to support me. Get to know your advisors! My pre-health advisor especially played a key role in helping me narrow down the next steps in my path towards medicine. Advisors know a lot more than you may expect and have great connections in their field. I was offered advice about the realistic value of different programs, suggestions for which classes were better than others, opinions about research opportunities, and overall encouragement during the competitive medical application process. Do not hesitate to ask for help when you need it and make sure to thank your advisors for their support!
I think I was in high school when I was warned that college professors were not going to be like any high-school teacher I knew. I thought that my professors were going to swear in class, were going to be harsh graders, and would not really care about me as an individual student. And yes, some of these rumors did have some truth to them, but I was pleasantly surprised upon realizing that most professors are incredibly supportive IF you make an effort to know them. If you find a professor who seems passionate about their course, make sure to get to know them further. Building any relationship takes time, so introduce yourself early on and maintain good rapport with your professors. Professors are helpful beyond their abilities to write you a token letter of recommendation.
Fellow students will make up a large portion of your support system. I was lucky enough to meet some amazing peers and create valuable, and hopefully life-long, friendships with them. Students you meet in college are likely the people most capable of directly relating to you. Most college students are at similar stages in life and are having typical college experiences at the same time you are. You may share stress about exams and your future careers, having to balance a social life, searching for jobs and internships, etc. When I walked out of the difficult Physics final that ended at 9 PM, I looked to the friends who had taken the exam with me to go celebrate the end of the semester. When I was desperately trying to register for classes before they were filled, I was sitting next to friends who were similarly glued to their own screens. You will create unique and wonderful bonds with each other, but be warned that the saying “you are who you surround yourself with” does have some truth to it. While peers may be integral to your support system, they can also be the greatest distraction. It is important to keep your goals in college at the forefront of your mind and encourage each other in accomplishing these endeavors. Sometimes friendship means that you study apart, but have fun, relax, and celebrate together.
As a freshman, I enrolled as a biology major, which fell under The School of Natural Science and Mathematics. During my sophomore year, I decided to switch to majoring in Neuroscience under The School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Because I was involved with both schools, I received emails from the associate deans of both schools. The deans of my college were remarkably busy people and I mainly interacted with my associate deans through email. So, why are my email associates one of my favorite college resources? Well, the contents of their emails were a lot more valuable than I initially realized. It was easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of emails I received daily. I dismissed so many emails, because I assumed they were junk mail that hundreds of other students in my major/college were also getting. To my defense, it was true that I was simply another name on standard email lists and my inbox had many forwarded chain emails. But, I was overlooking what my associate deans were truly offering- access to lesser-known research positions, scholarships, and jobs. Finding such opportunities on your own is challenging, so you should take serious note of communications from any of your superiors. Our associate deans had exclusive connections and were offering the student body a huge privilege by emailing us their information.
Bonus takeaway: The academic circles that your associate deans, advisors, and professors run in are on a completely different level than your own. Do not let opportunities pass you by before acknowledging the value of what you are dismissing.
Campus study spaces
Space to study on campus was something I took for granted. It was only after I graduated that I realized how much I appreciated quiet zones, study rooms, and random corner tables around campus. My school had a lot of commuters, as well, so campus offered convenient space for everyone to meet and study together. If you have trouble studying in your own home or studying late at night, your campus may offer private rooms and areas that can help you focus. When I had to take my practice MCAT exams, I went to the quiet area of my library for the best testing environment. As a pre-med, I generally had a lot more material to cover and more exams to study for than my friends of other majors. It was difficult for me turn down movie night and instead do the chemistry homework I had planned for. It is difficult to say no to socialization, but your academic goals should be one of your greatest priorities. Campus offered me a distraction-free zone, so I encourage students to look into similar areas for optimal focus and studying. The ability to balance your academic tasks and social lives will come with time and practice.
There were many other resources that did not make this list. For instance, I had incredible teaching assistants, exam reviews, pre-med organizations, free tutoring and supplemental learning opportunities. But, note that 4/5 of the resources I found most important are people.
No matter what kind of help you need, your university will have someone there to support your journey and connect you with the resources you need. The greatest disservice you can do to yourself is failing to reach out to someone for help when you need it. Your personal growth and the people you maintain an effort with will define your college experience.
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