By: Nancy Elias
I’m officially a senior at Rutgers-Newark, meaning that after 3 years of morning, afternoon, and night classes, 52 papers (yes, I counted), 30 final exams, and numerous cups of coffee, I wish to render to you, incoming freshmen, the experience of a seasoned senior of how to make the most of your college education here at Rutgers University-Newark. With these tips which I’ve learned through trial and error, I will help convey to you how to be your very best these next four years at this learning institution and help you navigate the topics which often perplex students in your position.
Let’s start with the basics: How will you get to campus? Rutgers-Newark is a bit unique because it is predominantly a commuter campus. This means that most students drive or take public transportation rather than dorm. As a commuter, I can tell you that you have both an advantage and disadvantage of having the unique experience of commuting to campus each day. The advantage is that in the real world, you won’t be sleeping at your office or place of work. You will have to get there somehow, whether it’s a drive or a long or quick hop on a train or subway. Commuting teaches you responsibility and time management—a skill that you should capitalize upon and learn from. The downside to this is that you will have to “work” to get the full “college experience.”
So, the question remains, how will you get there? I took the train for my two years at Rutgers and then switched over to driving. There are pros and cons to each option. Public transportation is environmentally conscious and you don’t have to deal with the issues of traffic and parking (which are very frustrating). NJ Transit offers a 20% discount for students, which can be used on both trains and light rails. This flat monthly rate of discounted tickets can be used as many times a month as you wish for no extra cost, which is great. Taking the train, however, means that you need to follow a certain schedule, and often wait for the train to arrive or to connect to another train. Although you don’t have the same time flexibility as driving, you can do cool things as you ride worry-free, like reading a book for class or listening to music. Driving, on the other hand, is also a good option if you absolutely need control over when you can come and leave. With driving; however, you need to take into consideration the prices of gas and parking which can range based on your vehicle and your parking preferences. I would suggest trying both, and I find that based off of personal experience, driving is just a bit more convenient. Nevertheless, keep public transportation, especially the train and light rail (which are located right next to Blumenthal Hall on the Rutgers campus) as an option, as they are prefect for days where the weather is bad or you don’t feel like driving. Those of you who dorm have it a bit easier…you can walk to class or take the light rail if you live further off-campus. My only word of advice to you, since I can’t speak from experience, is be careful not to get lulled into the babied lifestyle of living on campus. Wake up early, get to class on time, and structure your day so that you’re not lounging in your dorm all day.
Next, let’s talk about the real reason you’re at this university…academics! I mean it. Rutgers-Newark has some of the best professors in the nation, and the classes they teach will not only help you get a paper that will enable you to work but will help you become a smarter, well-informed student, citizen, and human being. If you don’t know what you want to major in (c’mon who ever knows the first year,) I suggest taking some diverse classes that will COUNT towards some requirement. For example, you need 124 credits to graduate from Rutgers, and a certain number of these credits, 15, I believe must come for classes that are not your major. Perfect! Use some of these “restricted electives” to explore different major options and have them still count towards your degree. I don’t recommend spending more than a few classes doing this because time is money, and it will cost you.
Once you’ve made your class schedule, I can’t stress the importance of attending class! I know, I know, it’s so tempting to sleep in, or take a longer lunch, or even use certain classes to prep for another class you procrastinated in, but trust me, this will bite you in the end. Not only do lectures really teach you the materials, but in forfeiting the hour and twenty minutes that you skipped, you will have to spend even more time catching up and attempting to teach yourself the materials you missed, when really you could have just gone to class and listened to a professional tell you all about it. This will also help you as you study. Regularly going to class means you are refreshing yourself on the topics you’ve learned, as does completing your homework assignments. I’ve seen too many students (and I’ve been guilty of this a few times myself) wait until the day before the exam to learn a semester’s worth of materials. This is a terrible idea! Doing incremental work and compounding your knowledge is the way to go. Cramming will only give you psychological stress and provide a poor foundation for courses that build upon one another.
Next, get to know your professors. I don’t mean go to their office hours and suck up or ask for your grade to be inflated…never do those things. I mean, go talk to the people who have spent their lives becoming experts in the subject that you’re about to learn about. Professors possess a wealth of knowledge and are very interesting people. You will most likely need a recommendation from one of these awesome people for a job position or to attend graduate school, so why don’t you make a sincere attempt to be deserving of such a well-written letter? You’ll feel a lot less awkward and guilty asking for one when you actually know the person, and they will be much more compelled to say yes and write one that will actually mean something. Get to know these brilliant people on a personal level and benefit from having him or her as a mentor in your life. You won’t regret it.
The issue of money is an overwhelming one, given that the costs of attending a university are higher than ever, and while we cannot do much about the high costs of living, we can be smart consumers and know how to spend our money wisely. Books tend to leave a dent in our pockets as students, so what I advise you to do is to not pay full price at our university Barnes and Nobel. Buy your books used on Amazon or Chegg and look for student discounts. Amazon offers students Prime membership, free for 6 months with a valid .edu email address, and that means free two-day shipping on decently priced books! As an English major, I like to buy all of my books to keep them for posterity (I’m not going to lie, I tend to develop sentimental attachments to my beloved novels), but if you’re definitely not going to read them again, renting is not a bad choice. It’s a lot cheaper, but you won’t get to keep these little nuggets of knowledge.
As students, we also spend a lot of money on food. There is nothing wrong with exploring around campus for food—and actually I encourage it! But there is also nothing wrong with paper-bagging it every now and then and saving yourself a wad of cash in the process. Rutgers dining is not my personal cup of tea, so I advise steering clear of it. Instead, I recommend checking out a bunch of local gems around campus for all sorts of different foods including, but not limited to, Robert’s Pizza, La Cocina, Elbow Room, Mocha Town, Danny’s, and Metro Café. I also recommend investing in a large hot/cold thermos to fill with water or coffee and carry around all day. Stay hydrated without buying multiple bottles in this way.
Last but not least, it is important for you to put your people skills to use without getting carried away. If you dorm, this is a lot easier, because you’re living with other students and constantly interacting with them, but if you commute, it could be really tempting to just go home instead of hanging out and meeting new people. If you drive or ride the train to campus just to take your classes and go home, you are just dragging out your high school experience. While this is alluring, I strongly advise against it, and while it’s more difficult for a commuter to live the “college” life than a dorming student, it’s not impossible, and you should try to make the most out of your experience on campus. Come to campus early, attend your classes, and stay until the rest of the day, or until dinnertime, to go home. Staying on campus is very important in building relationships with your fellow classmates, and it can also be a good time to finish homework assignments, complete papers, and get studying out of the way. Meet new people by talking to the students in your class, or join a club, like the school newspaper, for example. Volunteer in the historic and dynamic city of Newark. You probably hear these things all the time, but if you don’t talk to people in your class and maybe even meet some new people through something you have an interest in, you won’t have a very rich social life. At the same time, watch how hard you party. Don’t be that student who is wasted the majority of the week. Know how to have fun, but also know how to be a responsible adult. Make new friends every chance that you get because the truth is, you can never have too many of them. These people will teach you new things, because everyone you meet knows something that you do not, and you will form the friendships of a lifetime. Rutgers University-Newark is the most diverse campus in the nation, meaning you have the opportunity to meet some really fascinating people who will broaden the way you look at life in general.
Although my guide does not cover everything you need to know, and you will always learn through trial and error what works best for you personally, I hope that reading this will help you make better decisions as you begin the next four years at Rutgers University-Newark. I hope you spend this next chapter of your lives not just fulfilling requirements in order to earn your degree but fulfilling yourself as an human being: intellectually and socially. You will grow in these upcoming years and you will graduate this university learning so much about the world and about yourself. I hope you make the most of it and work towards being the very best “you” that you can be—a you that can positively contribute and create in the world we live in.