Clocking out your freshman year

Student X spends most of their time during the first few weeks of September goofing off and partying every weekend. By November they have their first chemistry test, a 10-page English paper due, no cash, have used half their GWorld debit dollars getting late night nachos at 7-11 and to top it off, cannot stand their roommate. Come the night before their test they have hundreds of pages to read and are stressed out of their mind.

Stressing out because of bad management skills is one of the worst things that can happen to a college freshman during their first semester, GW counseling experts said. To prevent the snowball effect of bad management decisions, students should take control over their time, money, and living situations.

In high school, everything was scheduled for you: when you ate lunch, took classes and exercised. Upon entering college, for the first time students are in charge of their own schedule and how they spend their time, said Susan Reynolds of the University Counseling Center.

“Incoming students wind up not spending their time wisely and that gets them into trouble,” Reynolds said.

Often college students have large breaks between classes and that block of time gets wasted, Reynolds said.

“Sometimes classes are scheduled on Monday, Wednesday, Fridays and then students have Tuesday and Thursdays off. Students then start thinking their have more time then they actually do and don’t use the time they have wisely,” Reynolds said.

To keep time under control, students should invest in a planner, and actually use it, Reynolds said. Students should write everything down in their planner. They should schedule time for classes, studying, having fun and even sleeping. This may seem overzealous, but it allows students to determine how much time each activity will take and breaks down an overwhelming schedule into reasonable chunks. Reynolds suggested students figure out when they are most alert and schedule studying sessions for those times of the day.

“Don’t take a tough class like math early in the morning if you are not a morning person. That’ll just get you into trouble in the long run,” she said.

Often students come to the counseling center complaining that they have too much work to do and have no time left to do it in, Reynolds said. By prioritizing activities and weighing their urgency students can grapple with all the activities competing for their time.

“Students who don’t use time management skills can become so overwhelmed. It’s almost paralyzing. They wind up not being able to accomplish anything,” Reynolds said.

In order to prevent the negative effects of time management, the UCC offers free workshops that tackle subjects such as time management, procrastination, and study skills, on a drop-in basis.

Like time management, money management calls for lots of planning and college can be the first time for many that they have to manage their money, said Dan Small, director of the office of student financial assistance.

Before beginning college, students should talk to their parents, older siblings or friends to get an idea of what college life will be like financially. Learn from their experiences as prevention against taking the thorny, debt-lined paths that pop up throughout college, he said.

Students need to be prepared that at the beginning of the year they will be spending a large sum of money, especially on books that can cost up to $600, Small said. He also said if students plan on getting a job to pay for expenses they should realize that the first check will not come for a few weeks, so students should be prepared to get through the first month with money they bring with them.

Some expect to be able to continue the same type of activities they did when they were in high school, but living in Washington can get expensive. Small suggested instead of trying to do everything you want in the first semester, pick two top activities. Once you get into the swing of how much going out and eating out costs then you can steadily add more activities.

“Students shouldn’t go into their first semester saying I’m going to do it all,” he said.

Other costs students will face include the cost of traveling home. Small suggested students buy their airplane tickets for Thanksgiving and Christmas early because peak travel times can be very expensive.

If students have a tight budget, he suggested tracking how much you spend in order to keep it under control. Once you know how much you spend you can make a budget. This allows you to take control of your money instead of letting it control you, he said. The most important part of this step is being honest with yourself. Do not just track things like food and clothes. If you know you spend $20 a month on tanning then add it to the total.

Then use a two-list system to break down spending, money experts in the business school said. In the left column, list your monthly expenses and in the right column list your monthly income. If the left is greater than the right, then you need to cut back. A free Web site that does the budget calculating for you is http://mapping-your-future.org/features/budgetcalc.htm.

Sometimes you can not plan for everything. In case you really need money to travel home or fix your car, the office of student financial aid offers interest-free emergency loans. All loans must be paid back within 30 days and only one is allowed per semester.

“The loan is there as a backup, if something unexpected happens,” Small said. “It’s not a crutch to bail a student out every time they overspend.”

To make college life easier, incoming freshman should also have some background in roommate management. GW Housing programs asks first year students 12 questions on the housing application.? Based on how students answer these questions is how they are matched together, said Seth Weinshel, assignment director of GW Housing Programs.

However, sometimes these 12 questions are not enough to ensure compatibility. The most common complaints the University sees are about roommate habits, Weinshel said.

“Many students have not lived in a common rooming environment when they come to GW,” said Weinshel. “It is important to realize that a student coming to GW will have roommates and part of the educational experience is learning to live with people who may be different from you and who have different lifestyles.”

Before asking to switch rooms, Weinshel suggested students be flexible and communicate with their roommate if there is an issue.

“Each person is different, and college is time for growth and change, and what you listed on your first year application may not be the lifestyle that you live after one year in residence,” he said.

If the rooming situation becomes unbearable, students can switch rooms. By the third week of the semester, the University will facilitate a room swap process. In order to switch rooms students must find someone who is willing to swap with them since all rooms are assigned at the beginning of the year, Weinshel said. In order to help students find fellow swappers, the housing program set up an online tool.

If you plan on picking a roommate at CI, students should have an open mind about what type of person they want to live with, Weinshel said.

Weinshel said, “Do not simply look at someone’s Facebook or MySpace page and judge them, have conversations with roommates before making any judgments.”

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