Advice for Freshmen

Roger Freedman, University of California, Santa Barbara

These words of advice were written with UCSB freshmen in mind. But they apply in general to freshmen at any college or university.

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8 Things for Freshmen to Remember



The university is very different in philosophy from high school. High school is very democratic: everyone in our society is given access to a high school education. But the university is an intrinsically elitist institution. You are only here because you met a demanding set of criteria, and you will only remain here if you work hard and continue to meet an increasingly demanding set of criteria.



You must abandon the idea that you're "entitled" to a certain grade in a course because of the amount of work that you put in (many students bring this idea with them from high school). Just like in the real world, what matters at the university is not effort but results. If it takes you 20 hours to perform a certain task, and someone else does the same task with the same results in 5 hours, you will both receive the same grade.

Plan on spending 20 hours per week or more on each of your major classes. (It may take you less time than this, but you are advised to be prepared!)



Many students arrive at UCSB with the idea that "I'll just take some miscellaneous classes my first year until I figure out what I want to major in." These are the students who take five years to graduate! The reason is that almost all UCSB majors involve a sequence of courses that takes most of four years to complete (see Paragraph 8 below). So if you wait until your second year to start on your major, you'll need a grand total of five years to get your degree.

If you have any idea of what you might like to major in, start in with that major now. If you find that major to be just what you want, that's great. If you find you don't like it, that's great too - because you will have made that discovery early in your UCSB career, and will have plenty of time to move into a different major (see Paragraph 4 below).



Be absolutely certain that the major you've chosen is really what you want to study! In particular, don't choose a major because it's what you think your parents want you to do - it's your life, after all. Make sure you do a "reality check" as you begin taking classes for your major. If you don't enjoy the subject matter, and/or you're not doing well, think seriously about doing something else. If you don't enjoy your major now, you probably won't like working in it for the next 40 years either!



No matter what your major, never forget that your "general education" courses are an essential part of your education. No matter how good your high school teachers were, they only had time to give you a very superficial introduction to the basic notions of science, history, literature, and art that are essential to becoming an educated member of our society. If you fail to become educated in these all of these subjects, you frankly will not be worthy of a university degree.

Don't try to "get the general education courses out of the way" during the first year - spread them out over your four years at UCSB. Having one general education course per quarter will give you more variety in your studies.



Remember that a vast array of help is available to you. A very important form of individual assistance that students frequently fail to use is the professor's office hours. It's a chance to interact one-on-one with your professor, who is likely to be a world expert in the subject.

Another kind of help is tutoring. If you think a tutor is necessary, get one early in the quarter - getting a tutor late in the quarter, in the belief that you'll be able to catch up with what you missed earlier on, is a pointless exercise. But if you find yourself depending excessively upon tutors, it's a sign that you're probably in the wrong major.



The UCSB quarter is 10 weeks long, and it goes by very fast. Many courses give two midterm exams as well as a final exam, which means that your first exams may be in the third or fourth week of the term. If you allow yourself to fall behind, you simply may never catch up. Time management is a crucial skill for success at UCSB!



Just as it's important not to fall behind during the quarter, it's important not to fall behind in taking the courses required for your major. Many courses at UCSB are part of a sequence that must be taken in order, and that are offered only once a year - which means that if you fail to take them, you're automatically a year behind, and may have to stay another year to get your degree.

To avoid this, make sure you get an advisor in your major department and check with him or her every quarter before signing up for the next quarter's courses. If you don't have a major yet, talk to an advisor in one of the departments in which you think you might major, or see one of the advisors in the College of Letters and Science, the College of Engineering, or the College of Creative Studies.

Failure to consult regularly with an advisor could cost you the price of one extra year at UCSB - which is many thousands of dollars!

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Stress Management Made Simple ---
in College and in Life

Stress is a common feature of a college student's life, as well as of life after college. Here's an excellent book/CD set that can help you effectively manage these stresses.

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Essential Books
for all college students

All of the books listed below are available in inexpensive paperback editions. They should be on every college freshman's bookshelf.

  • Good Teaching: A Guide for Students by Richard A. Watson
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White
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    Last updated 2008 December 15