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Top 10 ways you can thrive at the University

As you begin or continue your college career at U.Va., consider these tips for success from a relatively wise soon-to-be graduate

<p>Kaitlyn Hilliard is a Top 10 Writer for The Cavalier Daily.</p>

Kaitlyn Hilliard is a Top 10 Writer for The Cavalier Daily.

1. Become familiar with Grounds

One of the first and most important things you can do as a student at the University is becoming familiar with your surroundings. Grounds is a pretty big place, so it may take some time, but exploration is arguably the best part of the experience. Learn the names of the halls and dorms, experiment with the quickest way to get from point A to point B and locate other random locations — such as Nameless Field, the Student Activities Building and the Special Collections Library. Start with a location you likely know — the Lawn — and work your way outwards. Soon enough, you’ll be the expert that is able to guide confused visitors from Newcomb Hall to New Dorms.

2. Socialize. Socialize. Socialize.

One of the greatest things about this University — other than your education — is the people that are here sharing this space with you. My time at the University would not be as memorable or enjoyable were it not for the people I met and built relationships with. Don’t just confine yourself to friendships within your dorms, apartments or houses. Extracurricular activities are great spaces to find other students with similar interests. Classes provide excellent opportunities to talk casually and create an initial bond with your peers. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous and social, strike up a conversation with someone that is sitting alone and see where it goes. Most people in college — especially first years — are all in the same boat when it comes to looking for friends, so put yourself out there and socialize.

3. Get involved in extracurricular activities

As mentioned above, extracurricular activities are great spaces to make connections with your peers that share similar interests. Beyond this, clubs and organizations on Grounds help you to determine what it is that you are passionate about and what activities you may not feel as strongly about. The University offers a wide variety of club and intramural sports and more student-run CIOs than you can count. In the first couple of weeks of the semester, keep your eyes open for announcements about the Student Activities Fair, where you will be able to browse and sign up for the clubs that pique your interest. Don’t be shy to put your name down for ones that you are just barely intrigued by — you can always remove yourself from email lists later on. If you want to plan ahead, check out this list of organizations at the University.

4. Don’t be afraid to spend time alone

One thing I wish I knew coming into college was that sometimes you thrive the most when you are alone. There is this stigma in high school that being alone makes you a “loser” or an outcast, but the same does not apply in college. Spending time with yourself helps you to reflect on your emotions, struggles and high points. Also, by being alone, you learn who you truly are, deep down — what makes you tick, what makes you smile, what makes you upset and so much more. College is a pivotal point in your life. So, I urge you to take some time to learn about yourself so you can leave the University confident and knowledgeable about the incredible person you are. 

5. Reach beyond the U.Va. bubble

Believe me, I understand how tempting it is to stay within the safe boundaries of Grounds, but don’t forget about everything that the City of Charlottesville has to offer. As a first year, I was hesitant to explore anything beyond the Corner, but the Downtown Mall is a great place to start your journey outside of the University. There is a seasonal Saturday morning farmer's market from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. that is a great activity to try out to see a bit of the city and learn about some local businesses to support. Also, consider giving back to Charlottesville by volunteering your time and services to organizations through Madison House — the volunteer center for the University's students.

6. Make use of University resources

The University does a fantastic job of providing its students with a variety of resources ranging from the Career Center to CAPS — Counseling and Psychological Services. These services are free to current University students, so I recommend taking advantage of all of the programs that the University has to offer. In particular, as you progress through your college career, schedule appointments at the Career Center to help with resume building, interviewing skills and even internship opportunities. Additionally, there are resources specific to student identities such as First Generation resources, the Multicultural Student Center and the Office of African American Affairs. If you are curious about the numerous resources the University offers, check out the University website for more information.

7. Explore coursework outside of your major

If I could go back in time and do one thing differently, I would explore more academic fields during my time at the University. Although I did dabble in some varied coursework, there is so much more that I could have explored. Take my advice and try out some different subject areas — you never know what may spark your interest! Especially during your first couple of years at the University, consider fulfilling your general education requirements with diverse subject areas. Think of things you might have read or heard that seemed fascinating, and use that as a starting point. How often do you get four years to stretch your mind and explore different subject matter? 

8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Somehow, a misconception has spread like wildfire that you are meant to endure college and all its highpoints and hardships alone — and that is simply not the case. Your parents, friends, peers, RAs, TAs, professors, deans and many more countless people are all rooting for and supporting you, so let them. When you encounter challenges — whether academic or personal — don’t be afraid to express yourself and seek out help. If students were capable of completing everything by themselves, don’t you think there would be far less resources offered to them? Remember that there is no shame in receiving help for coursework, and there is especially no shame in seeking out counseling from CAPS. The University community is here to help — don’t forget that. 

9. Form connections with University faculty

In addition to socializing with your peers, it is essential to form connections with University faculty, as well. In my time here, I have met some incredibly kind and intelligent professors, advisors, graduate assistants and TAs that have transformed my college experience. University faculty can provide assistance with coursework, discuss career goals or further education and help you to gain valuable connections in specific professional arenas. Don’t underestimate the value of office hours either. Your professors want to form connections with you, so pop into their office during their free time — even if you don’t have specific questions, just chat with them. 

10. Don’t limit yourself! 

My biggest challenge for you is to maintain an open mind during your college career. Although you may think you know yourself well coming into this time, you never know what activities, subjects or people may mold you into a new and improved version of yourself. College will inevitably change you, and if you remain hopeful and optimistic, these changes will be for the better. Say yes to offers and challenges. Explore areas you swore you couldn’t care less about. Go with the flow. Allow yourself to grow — you won’t regret it, I promise.

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