Seven Things Every College Kid Should Know on Day One

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Whether you are planning on attending your local community college or a renowned four-year university, you’ll be taught by professors with Ph.D.’s who have dedicated their lives to their academic fields. You’ll also be surrounded by fellow students eager to prove their intellectual credentials.

As a collegiate, you’ll be expected to regularly contribute to class discussions. You’ll need to confidently voice thoughtful opinions in front of crowds that judge and critique your every word. Sounds intimidating, right? Well it is. But you’ve got to do it; most courses base 10 to 30 percent of your grade on in-class participation.

Don’t despair. There are a few steps you can take to help you overcome this mighty challenge. The first, and most important, is to know your stuff. Nobody can know everything, but there are simply some basics every college student should know before freshman year begins. Take some time to educate yourself on the fundamentals, lest you risk looking like a philistine (see number 2) in front of your professor and peers.

Know Your Logic: You may believe you’re a logical person “” who doesn’t? But there’s more to it than that. Logic is actually a formal intellectual discipline, with its own rules and theories that have been studied since the days of ancient Greece. Do you know all your logical fallacies, such as “begging the question” or a “non-Sequitur”? If not, don’t get caught with your pants down during a class discussion. The free “Introduction to Logic” and “How to Reason and Argue” courses by Coursera will help you make reasoned arguments and follow others in lively debates.

Master Your Vocab: Few things are more embarrassing than being asked to read aloud, and then mispronouncing a word in front of your peers. This might have been the norm in middle school, but in college it may get you laughed out of the lecture hall. Sure, that could be a bit of hyperbole, but you can avoid the disparaging chortles of your pedantic classmates by studying up on your vocab. You’ll find many resources with a simple Google search, such as this “100 Words Every College Student Should Know” flashcard set from Quizlet.

Become a Regular Carmen Sandiego: Geography is a college essential. One thing that’s a staple on every college campus is a crop of international students. So if someone with a foreign accent says he’s from the country of Georgia, don’t ask him if he’s been to Savannah. You don’t have to be an expert, but know the basics of a world map. There are plenty of free resources online. The site ilike2learn.com doesn’t look like much, but it’s got tons of fun, free quizzes to practice in your free time.

Learn to Read, Write… and Speak: Whether it’s term papers, presentations, class discussions, or essay questions, college involves a whole lot of talking and writing – in every subject. Despite what you may think, many high school students simply can’t meet college standards for speech and writing by the time they graduate. A recent study found that 40% of Colorado students required remedial courses before college, many in reading and writing – and many experts believe this is representative of the nation as a whole. Fortunately, there are many free online courses to bring you up to par: Introduction to Public Speaking, Crafting an Effective Writer: Tools of the Trade, Writing in the Sciences, and First Year Composition 2.0 from Coursera will help you perfect your spoken and written word.

Ancient Mythology: Granted it serves no real purpose, but pretentious youths from all around the country love showing off their fancy-pants learnedness by referencing Icarus, Prometheus, and the rest of the gang whenever they get the chance. Don’t be left out! Freshen up on your ancient mythology with a free online course. And more importantly, it’s actually very fun and interesting to learn. The course “Greek and Roman Mythology,” available through Coursera, should provide the overview you need.

Fight or Love Global Capitalism: You don’t need to go to school in Washington, DC to find aspiring little babykissers and freedom fighters all over campus. Most universities abound with all sorts of political clubs and organizations, whether it be Green Peace or Occupy on one end of the spectrum or campus Republicans and Libertarians on the other. And most of politics these days feature a large dose of economics; you’ll need a foundation in the subject for just about any social science class you take. Fortunately, the basics aren’t too complex and many online courses are offered by edX and Coursera, like Principles of Macroeconomics, Macroeconomic Principles, and Globalization’s Winners and Losers: Challenges for Developed and Developing Countries. So get a headstart on the campus political scene and learn your econ.

It’s a Numbers Game: Last, but certainly not least, is math. While it’s a word that makes many students cringe, there’s no doubt about it: the hottest majors require a lot of mathematics. While starving artists and philosophers search for jobs, accounting and actuarial science majors bring home fat paychecks right after graduating. Many students enter universities needing remedial classes in basic mathematics. Don’t let that be you; study now and be ahead of the curb when it comes time to take classes. Heck, you might even like it and decide to pursue math as a major. Khan Academy offers a nifty “Knowledge Map” to test and refresh your knowledge of the the fundamentals, from addition and subtraction all the way up to calculus.
While you don’t have to master all of these topics, you’ll undoubtedly encounter them repeatedly in class and during conversations with fellow students. Making sure you have the basics down can help you excel in coursework and participate in class discussions with confidence.

But it doesn’t stop there: massively open online courses like those offered by Coursera, edX, and Udacity can even be a route to college credit. Five Coursera courses were recently approved for ACE credit, and many more are likely to follow. If you master a subject, many colleges will let you test out that course through a CLEP exam. For more info, check out our guide for earning college credit outside the classroom.

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