The Do’s and Don’ts of College According to Santa Barbara Alumni

By Stella Haffner   |   October 4, 2022

Happy new school year! From interviewing people for this column, I have learned a lot about what it means to be a young person, and I have learned a lot of what it means to be a student. In honor of the new academic year, this edition of Dear Montecito is for the new college students in our community. Here are the top ten Do’s and Don’ts I have learned from interviewing Santa Barbara alumni!

1. Do take that random class.

This is one of the pieces of advice that was shared most often. Our college students said they were often reluctant to be squeezed into a random elective, but that this somehow always became one of their favorite classes.

2. Don’t worry about gaining weight.

Freshman 15? More like… fresh shame… not cool! When you leave home, your diet and exercise habits are bound to change. As long as your body still feels good, don’t worry if you gain or lose some weight. This is a common experience among new college students and something I frequently hear during interviews. 

3. Do go on exchange.

If you have the opportunity, take a semester to study somewhere else. Alumni often recall this as their best semester – not to mention how good it is for resumé building. According to college career advisors, going on study abroad programs demonstrates that you are confident and adaptable. 

4. Don’t jump into a relationship.

Certainly one of the more controversial pieces of advice I have heard. Interviewees say that jumping into a relationship hurts your chances of finding new friends, and I tend to agree. Give yourself some time, and if it still feels right, you’re in charge!

5. Do put yourself out there.

Despite the suggestions to hold off on entering the dating pool, almost all college alumni say that new students should make an effort to be social, even if it makes you nervous. This can be a daunting task, so find an activity that makes you most comfortable. Are you the sort of person who wants to pair up one-on-one to study? Or would you prefer to invite a group of new friends to the movies?

6. Don’t wait to check your bank account.

For those of us managing our own money, interviewees say not to let anxiety build up around checking your bank account. It may feel safer to put this activity off, but you will feel a lot better knowing how much you are spending and how much you have in reserve. Make a routine to check your balance once a week, so you always know what your status is. College is a time to be developing a good relationship with money.

7. Do your assignments – on time!

It may be tempting to ask for extensions (and sometimes they can’t be avoided), but almost everyone I have asked says they’re not worth it. Professors and students agree that using extensions can cramp up the rest of your schedule. Instead, find strategies to get yourself motivated and start on your assignments early. If you’re having a hard time with organization, reach out to your skills center or ask an older student for advice.

8. Don’t be afraid to change your major.

Over 80% of students in the U.S. change their major at least once and for good reason: If it’s not working for you, time to make a change! It may be intimidating to swap out, but there are plenty of people available to help, including your advisor. 

9. Do seek out counseling services.

Not all college counseling is created equal. However, our Santa Barbara alumni have reminded me that “when it works, it works.” If you need support, if you’re feeling lonely, or if your mental health has begun to decline, find out who to contact on campus and send an email. You never know how much better you might feel. 

10. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

One of the biggest regrets that interviewees express is the amount of pressure they put on themselves. According to our alumni, GPA does not matter as much as you think it does. And if academics are really important to you, remember that you do not do your best work when you are overwhelmed. As mentioned above, counseling services and support centers are available at almost every college, but there are also lots of other good ways to deal with stress. Keeping a planner to organize deadlines, finding clubs or hobbies that interest you, and making sure you take time off from college work are all good strategies to keep a healthy work-life relationship.  


You might also be interested in...