College is a good environment to spread your wings and test your newly found independence. Making mistakes is a learning experience, and one of which valuable life skills can be derived. The benefit to this is there is a bit of a safety net to catch you if you fall.
I've spent many years as part of the college community, both as a student and an employee. Over the course of time I've made my share of blunders and have also worked with many other students in finding resolutions to issues which came about as a result of their mistakes. There are a few bloopers I've observed which seem to frequently occur for new students. The mistakes students tend to make align in two categories: Administrative and Academic.
Not Applying for Financial Aid
Back when I first started college, I didn't reach out to the many informational resources available. This was one of the two largest mistakes I made early on in my college career. I didn't know much about the process, was overwhelmed and, since I was working full-time, I assumed I wasn't eligible. Later I found out this was a huge inaccuracy.
Even if you think you won't qualify for financial aid, it's a good idea to apply anyway. Even if you are minimally eligible, any amount awarded could help pay for a few textbooks. Worst case scenario is you are turned down; it can't hurt to try. Also, filling out the financial aid forms can lead to lower interest education loans. It turned out I would have saved a lot of money by filling out those papers right from the start and saved myself some costly out-of-pocket expenses.
Waiting Too Long to File for Financial Aid
The financial aid process takes time. Procrastinating applications could end up in missing out on aid you would have qualified for. Financial aid paperwork is tedious and the dates always seem far off, but pay close attention to the deadline and file as early as possible. Applications for the Free Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA) usually has a deadline on or around June 30th for each academic year. Keep in mind though, many colleges require a much earlier deadline than the FAFSA application states. Some of these may have as early as a March deadline. Always check with your prospective school to see what its criteria is so you know ahead of time and can plan accordingly.
Registering for Classes at the Last Minute
When I worked as an admissions and registrar representative, it was amazing how many students registered at the last minute; approximately 30 percent of enrollment came in the week prior to classes starting. The problem with this is one of two things usually happens:
- Classes are already filled to capacity
- They've already been cancelled due to low enrollment
It's good practice to always try and register early to secure a seat, regardless if you attend a 2-year or 4-year school. Payment is not always necessarily due at enrollment time; most colleges offer a grace period.
Not Paying Tuition on Time
A frequent scenario is a student showing up for class and discovering they aren't on the roster. Nine out of 10 times this is because they forgot to pay the tuition bill or follow through on their financial aid application and, as a result, were dropped out of classes due to lack of payment.
Jumping Into Degree Requirements Too Quickly
Many students excitedly register for courses which are degree specific. Try to avoid this pitfall because it could be a costly mistake. This is the other of the two biggest blunders I made; I jumped in a degree program all ready to learn how to be an accountant and took all those courses first. Come to find several semesters and 15 credits later I was bored to tears with it. The credits were non-transferable to any degree program except Liberal Arts, which is what I opted to do rather than have "wasted" credits that I'd paid out of pocket for since I made the financial aid mistake noted in the above section. (Side note: the Liberal Arts degree did serve me well as I continued on after my Associates - highly transferable).
During the college years, you're sure to grow and change, and it's best to get those general education courses out of the way first, this way if you do happen to change your mind, those foundational credits can still be applied to your dream degree.
[Related reading: College: What to Do If You Don't Know Which Major to Choose]
Not Being Realistic About Language and Math Weaknesses
Most colleges require placement testing for language and math and there is a good reason for this practice. Sometimes students try to worm out of taking required pre-requisite classes to build skills if they don't pass or borderline pass the test. Other students will retake the test over and over to avoid spending money on these non-credit earning courses. Placement into a class above your skill level will come back to hurt you academically. The basic algebra class I took (placement test was not required back then) really strengthened my skills and made subsequent courses easier to pass than they would have been. Had I not taken it, my GPA would likely have plummeted, instead I got a good grade when I did take the credit-level class.
Unfortunately, many students do skip the remedial courses and then fail the college level course and ending up wasting tuition money anyway. (There were many students I ended up registering for the English or Math classes they initially refused to take). If your skills are a little weak, it's truly to your benefit to bite the bullet and just take the class. In the long run, it'll pay off.
If you are a student who has made mistakes, don't worry because you aren't alone, and usually there is a solution to the problem that arises as a result of a mistake. What's more important is to have learned from any missteps you might have taken.
The above-mentioned errors are the most common I've either experienced myself or have seen students make over the years. Mistakes can be frustrating and costly to fix, but there is a positive to this. Every oversight can be viewed as a learning experience, and no learning is irrelevant. Even our mistakes can be valuable if something has been gained from them.