I am so excited to share with you my new series called ‘Art U.’ As I was a design student, most of the advice is targeted towards fellow design students, but of course, I’ll have tips applicable to any university/college student.
Here’s my educational background –
In 2015, I graduated from Northern Marianas College, a small community college back on my home island of Saipan. I attained mostly A’s and B’s during my community college days, which turned into mostly C’s during the first half of my university days. I used to let those grade drops bother me, but…
An instructor once said that grades define people only as students, not as artists.
With that encouragement, I completed my degree after four years in art school in San Francisco, California in May 2020.
The College & Application Process
I knew what I had to do after graduating high school: get a college degree. Where did I want to get one? I didn’t know. Most of my classmates had applied to four-year universities by our junior year, and by senior year, they had received their acceptance letters and needed only to decide which university to attend. I was the odd one out. I never applied to universities or scholarships early on. As much as I felt left out that my classmates were off to begin their Bachelor’s program, deep in my heart I knew that I was scared. Scared of leaving the island, and leaving my parents. Scared of major lifestyle changes. I didn’t think I could handle being independent just yet. So, in 2012, as a last-minute decision, I applied to my local community college as a business major. It was the only major I found interest in. Although I was skeptical about the program, I ended up having a great experience and now know how to put this degree to good use.
I graduated from community college three years later in 2015. Afterward, I landed my first job. A year later, in 2016, I realized I was finally ready to pursue that four-year course. I knew what I wanted to take, what I wanted to be referred to as A Web Designer/Developer.
Looking for a college wasn’t as draining as I had expected it to be. I knew I wanted to go to a school that offered a web design program because I wanted to create websites as my career. One of the challenging parts I had to do was figure out the proper term for building websites, so after a lot of reading and deciding that Web Design is the major I wanted to pursue, I went to my trusted old friend, College Board, and continued my search there.
COLLEGE SEARCH WEBSITES
Tip: Research diligently.
Junior year of high school is when most students begin researching for colleges and possibly applying to their top choices. Some high schools even allow students to take college courses by their junior or senior year. If your school offers that, and you feel you can handle the workload, talk to your advisor, and go for it. You may be able to receive your degree even faster.
POSSIBLE DEAL-BREAKERS WHEN CHOOSING A COLLEGE
Programs & Degrees Offered
Distance From Home
Length to Graduate
Tip: Stay organized.
Universities have varying application processes with different required documents. This is why it is best to be proactive in order to obtain and carefully fill out your papers. Some design universities may ask for a copy of your portfolio. By preparing early, you can execute a well-designed portfolio and even create new works to add before submission.
Most universities will accept credits obtained from a previous institution. These transferable credits are typically general education classes (English & Math). If you plan on transferring credits, contact a representative from the prospective university before applying, in order to confirm that they do accept transferred credits. If they do, then complete your application and submit all required documents. Your transferred credits will be seen through your transcript by your advisor, and you’ll be notified if the credits were successfully transferred.
Tip: Be patient and communicate.
Every university has different waiting periods to send you a response letter for your application. You’ll most likely be notified by email about the process after applying. When you get your acceptance letter, you’ll be further notified about the next steps, which you should begin as soon as possible. You’ll also most likely be assigned an advisor by then. Communicate with them (by phone or email) whenever you have any questions or concerns about anything school related. If they can’t answer certain questions, they will be connecting you to those who can. Never be afraid to ask questions. Chances are, you’re not the first one who has asked them.
The Class Schedule
Most universities have a degree plan set up that can be accessed through your student portal or school website. The degree plan includes a breakdown of all classes required for your degree and the semester they’re recommended to be taken.
Classes are usually categorized into Core, Major, Liberal Arts, and Electives –
Core classes are essential to an academic degree. They are the classes needed to meet graduation requirements in the subject areas of English, math, science, and social studies;
Major classes are essential classes needed to meet graduation requirements in the area you are specializing/majoring in;
Liberal Arts classes include the study of history, literature, writing, philosophy, sociology, psychology, creative arts, and more. Liberal Arts programs are designed to help you read critically, write cogently and think broadly;
Electives can be counted towards your total credits but are not required by your degree. They enable students to take courses outside of their prescribed coursework.
TRUST YOUR LIMITS
The type and number of courses you choose are what you feel you can handle. Don’t worry about when you’ll finish the program, and don’t compare yourself to those who go through the program more quickly.
Try following your degree plan during the first semester and see how you perform. If you can endure the rest, go for it. If you aren’t ready to take a certain class in the suggested plan, talk to your advisor, and ask to switch to one that’s more tolerable. (But, note that you’ll still need to take that swapped class to graduate.) Do also pay attention to prerequisite classes.
Don’t rush taking all your LA/Elective classes during your first years. Spread them throughout your program as they help balance the semester’s workload.
Class Schedule Ideas
4 Major/Core Classes + 1 Liberal Arts/Elective;
3 Major/Core + 1 Liberal Arts/Elective;
2 Major/Core + 2 Liberal Arts/Elective;
2 Major/Core + 1 Liberal Arts + 1 Elective
1 LA/Elective Class
2 Liberal Arts /Elective;
1 Major/Core + 1 Liberal Arts/Elective
CHOOSE A COMFORTABLE SCHEDULE
Every university will have different class schedules. If you are able to customize your classes, go for the ones most beneficial for you. If you wish for minimal attendance throughout the week, go for classes that you can take within two days. If you plan on taking at least four classes a semester, I suggest taking at least two per day, unless you can handle all four in one day. But listen to your mind and body – you wouldn’t want to attend your last class of the day so exhausted that you can’t understand a word of what your instructor is saying.
If you don’t mind going to school every day, it works too. Do consider your mode of transportation and the length it takes to commute to and from school to save yourself time, money, and energy. I’ve had classmates who lived in another city and they’d commute by train to get to school. So they had all their classes in 1-2 days.
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR BREAKS
For lengthier classes, I suggest bringing a quick snack. It helps to focus on the actual lecture and not worry about how long you’ve actually been sitting in that room, and thereby miss out on actual learning. Also, get up and walk around, whether in the space around you or outside your classroom (i.e. a trip to the restroom). Do your best to make it back in time. Most instructors would begin their lectures on the dot or if they see that the majority of the students are back.
Choosing the times of your classes may also be something you’ll consider. For the most part, I avoided 8 AM classes because my brain is still in lalaland. I’ve taken at least one 8 AM class throughout my program, and I’m thankful that I had a fun and lively instructor to kick off the day. Most of my other classes were either in the late afternoon or evening.
PREPARE FOR THE DAYS AHEAD
If you plan on taking early morning classes, I suggest still getting some shut-eye the night before. I know we students often study until early morning, but having morning classes disciplines you in time management by completing your work before midnight – giving you enough time to rest before class.
Because most stores are still closed, save some time for yourself to prepare a hearty meal before leaving. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and you’re going to need the energy to get through the morning class.
On the other hand, if your last class ends towards the late evening, and you’d have to commute, be extra careful about how you get home. I don’t think I have to elaborate on how much your safety is important here. I suggest asking a friend for a lift or taking a ride-share. Public transportation should be the very last option you have. If anything, walk with a friend and avoid taking any sketchy shortcuts or dark streets.
College Board provided me with free and easy access to search for colleges that meet the criteria that I was looking for. I answered a series of questions and was suggested multiple design school options. From there, I narrowed down my options based on programs offered, tuition, the distance away from home, and reviews. By the end, I was left with two options, a university in San Francisco or a university in New York. Eventually, the distance away from home was my deal breaker, and I chose a design school in California.
The application process went smoothly. I visited the university’s website, filled out the application form, and submitted it along with the required documents. The school offered a phone line where a representative can help with the application process, which I found very comforting. Additional documents for the application process for this university were my official transcripts from high school and my local college. With my transferred credits, I was able to graduate from university early.
After submitting my application, I waited about a week before I was notified that I got accepted by email and physical letter. I was beyond excited. I had about three months to prepare for this major move.
Having been accepted, I was assigned an advisor who had already enrolled me in four Freshman core classes.
My plan included the type of class (core, major, liberal arts, elective), course number, units, class name, prerequisites, notes, grade, and action (the semester students have taken the class). I followed my degree plan for the first school year and started switching classes around by the first summer break.
For my specific program, classes of up to 20 students happen only once a week from Monday to Friday. Each runs for 2 hours and 50 minutes with a 10-minute break in the middle. I was intimidated by the almost 3-hour long classes at first, having only taken one class this long in my community college. However, time flew surprisingly fast that it almost never felt like 3 hours. There was about a 40-minute window between classes, just about enough time to go to the next class (if they’re back to back).
My original degree plan for summer was 1 Liberal Arts (LA) class and 1 Core class. Since summer sessions progress quicker, I decided to take only LA classes during these semesters. I felt that I’d need more time to grasp the concepts of my Major and Core classes, so I wanted to take them during the lengthier semesters. My plan also included up to 5 classes beginning my second year; however, I didn’t feel I could handle that workload, having struggled with just 4 in my first year. Yes, I would’ve completed my program in 3 years, but I wanted to absorb, practice, and improve on what I’m taught.
Since my first semester, I would take up to four classes during a regular school year, and two for summer. During my first year, I was not selective about the days when I’d be attending classes. Besides adjusting to a new environment, I wanted to focus more on class assignments. As the semesters went on, I chose schedules that allowed two classes per day for only twice a week. I’d much rather go through six hours of lectures in one day than have them spread out. That allowed me more time to complete my assignments. Every semester will offer those once-a-week types of classes, and if required, then I’d have no choice but to take what’s available.
If you are moving away from your home city for college, and have some time to spare before heading off, it might be nice to do some fun things with your family, friends, or by yourself before leaving.
Set up hang out dates with close friends and revisit some of your favorite places.
Declutter and clean your bedroom.
Limit monetary spending to necessities.
Spend some quality time with each family member individually and altogether.
Enjoy eating as many home-cooked meals.
Purchase necessary items at least two months before departure, and pack your things at least two weeks before leaving.
Delete unnecessary apps (including games) on your phone, and install more productive apps (I’ll be uploading a more in-depth post on this).
Research more about the city you’ll be living in – transportation, cafes/restaurants, parks, banks, malls, etc. Read up on the latest news about the city to be up to date on what’s going on there.
Packing may seem daunting and stressful to many, including myself. However, if you give yourself ample time to pack, there is less chance of bringing everything you need and even leaving some things you believe you might not need, at least instantly.
Tip: Pack smartly
When preparing to pack clothes, first set aside a travel outfit that’s appropriate for the place you’re coming from and the place you’re going to. Then, lay out all other clothes you plan to bring and separate them by jackets & sweaters, blouses & tops, jeans & bottoms, undergarments, headwear, and footwear. Use the rolling method to fold your tops and bottoms, and place them in packing cubes, if preferred.
For undergarments, place them separately in a packing cube or a mini bag. If you’re bringing a blanket, lay it at the very bottom of your suitcase. If you’re not using packing cubes, place all thick clothing on the sides and bottom. As soon as you have one layer, you can place any non-fabrics, such as shoes, above and include more fabrics in between as cushions. Pack a thin jacket or towel at the very top by laying it over your clothes. If you’re bringing more than one suitcase, spread out your thick and thin clothes so that there will be enough cushioning for delicate items.
For footwear, place them in a shoe bag or a packing cube meant for shoes. If possible, bring 2 pairs of sneakers (one will be part of your travel outfit), 1 pair of boots, 1 pair of sandals, and 1 pair of bath slippers. It’s hard, I know. This will provide enough space in your luggage for other important items, and you can avoid additional luggage or overweight fees. If you’re traveling by car, feel free to bring a separate case/bag designated for your footwear. Remember to be considerate of how much you bring, especially if you’ll be having room/housemates.
When packing other items, place each of them individually in tiny bags (Ziplock bags come in handy here). Tape the heads of liquid bottles to prevent any leakage, and place them inside a bag for additional precautions.
It’s hard to think of what to pack at first because of all the “what if” situations, but when you’re packing, hold up the item you plan to bring and really think about how many times you’ve actually worn/used them in the past. If it hasn’t been seen more than three times, it’s not worth packing.
For a carry-on, I had only one backpack, which included my trusted thin blanket, laptop, snacks, wallet with passport and ID, chargers, belt, cellphone, earphones, travel-size toothbrush, toothpaste, pens, and other important documents. For the most part, I placed all my liquid items in my luggage because I didn’t want the hassle of transferring them into tinier containers and taking them out.
Tip: Make your carry-on convenient
Bring one that has a mini pocket in front to place your passport and boarding pass in for quick and easy access. Also, a place where you can easily bring out your laptop for the security checkpoint. If you plan on wearing a belt and/or jacket, I suggest leaving them in your bag, at least until after the checkpoint so you wouldn’t have to remove them during this step.
I had about the entire summer to prepare for the new school year. I booked my plane ticket at least a month in advance so that I’d arrive at the dorms on move-in day. Because I lived about 17 hours away by plane, traveling back and forth from SF to my hometown wouldn’t happen often.
A couple of weeks before leaving, I spent time with all of my close friends. We revisited a bunch of sightseeing places and took tons of photos. I wanted to create as many memories as I can with them, as I wasn’t sure when I’d get to see them next. Sure, there’s online communication, but it’s never the same as physically being with them. Time zones also made it pretty difficult to keep in touch often. I spent my last week mostly with my parents. I cooked with my mom and watched movies with my dad. I’d get in all the hugs I could get. All the while not trying to break down or think of the idea that I’d be leaving both of them for more than a month for the first time in my life.
I made a list of what I’ll be bringing, a list of things to be bought before departure and after arrival, and things I can ask my parents to send me later on. During the last two nights, my mom and I finalized my luggage.
At the airport check-in, I had two medium-sized luggage and one backpack as my carry-on.
For some reason, I thought I would’ve been able to search for an apartment online while I was at home and get that apartment before going to SF because, from all the college movies I’ve seen, my thoughts about dorms weren’t that great. However, since I was not able to find a suitable apartment, I made the last-minute decision to stay in a dorm.
STAY IN A DORM, AT LEAST DURING YOUR FIRST YEAR
If you’re a new student in a new city, I highly recommend staying in a dorm at least during your first school year. Staying in a dorm secures the fact that you’ll have a place to live in as you get used to your new environment. If you have family living near your school and you’re close to them, it wouldn’t hurt to ask if you can stay with them in the meantime.
Just like many dorms, strict rules are enforced for all residing students. Curfews and guest rules were allocated, and security measures were taken seriously.
Dorm life is different for everyone. There are dormmates who are civil yet rarely communicate; dormmates who don’t get along at all; and dormmates who turn into long-lasting friends. Whichever situation you end up in, never lose who you truly are and focus on the reason why you’re at school.
Dorm Advantages & Disadvantages
Meet People – If you’re new to a city, living in a dorm automatically allows you to meet other students and possibly form friendships with some of them. If you have roommates, you’ll get to share creative ideas and strategies with each other, even though you’re in different programs.
Temporary Base – Living in a dorm alleviates the hassle of having to search for an apartment before attending school. While you’re in the dorm, you can use your time there exploring the city, and looking for a possible new apartment to live in.
Sense of Responsibility and Independence – Whether or not you’re living with roommates, you are responsible for your own cleaning, cooking, and overall self-care. For the most part, you’ll be in charge of making your own decisions, from which you’ll gain confidence and trust in yourself.
Mini Commute – Most dorms are within walking distance of the classrooms. AAU provided bus transportation between school buildings and dorms.
Security & Maintenance – Dorms are pretty good and strict when it comes to security and maintenance.
Lack of Privacy – Most dorms are cramped or will have a handful of people living together, allowing personal space to be almost nonexistent. It’s rare for one person to have space all to themselves for long periods of time.
Pricier – Dorms are generally more expensive than renting an apartment. Other than the price of the actual dorm, all dorms require you to apply for health insurance, while some require that you also get the school’s meal plan.
Moving Out – Dorms do not allow students to stay there during winter or summer breaks. Dorms may allow students to leave their belongings during winter break, but no students were given access. You’ll have to find a place to stay during this time. All belongings might be requested to be moved during summer break, even if you plan on going back the following semester. You’ll also have to find another place to stay in.
Roommate Issues – You may or may not like your roommate(s). It’s normal to have issues with them, and depending on the issue, you may find yourself living in an uncomfortable, awkward environment.
Limited Decorations – Dorms may be pretty strict on certain items you can and cannot bring to your room. Some go as far as to not allow fairy lights to hang around your bed.
LIVING WITH OTHERS
Set up some ground rules on guests, cooking, cleaning, personal space, and other topics you feel would impact all the people living in either the room or building you’re staying in.
If you’re living with more than one person, have at least one of their contact information to be used in situations, such as forgetting your keys.
Designate sections of the kitchen cabinets, fridge, restroom, and storage area (if any) amongst yourselves.
Clean up after yourself – Wash your dishes right after using them & don’t leave your things all around the place.
Be considerate – Ask your roommates if it’s okay that you have guests over. If you’re arriving home late, be quiet. Wear earphones or lower your volume down if you see they’re working on assignments or studying. Always ask permission to borrow their things.
Respect each other – You’ll probably live with people who grew up in a completely different environment than you. They will do, say, and think things differently than you. Do not judge, ridicule, or disrespect their actions and habits. If ever, simply ignore each other. Pay attention to the personal space of others.
Talk things out – If someone does something that bothers you, let them know in a kind and respectful way.
Be kind – Greet each other when you can. Smile. If you see them struggling with something, offer your help.
Be yourself – College is no different from high school when it comes to peer pressure. Never lose yourself to be someone who’s only after gaining acceptance from those who never accepted who you truly are in the first place. Don’t give in to gossip. It’s okay to say no to hanging out at a bar and drinking. Always remind yourself of the main reason why you’re at school and what you aim to accomplish for your life. Not everyone will be your friend, and not everyone will like you. AND THAT’S OKAY. You are there for yourself – your dreams, your goals, your future.
My school has multiple dorms across San Francisco. The buildings look like regular apartment complexes but are accessible only to their students. Since I applied late to the dorm, I was placed in the pricier dorm type, which was about 15 minutes away by bus to my school. My school also required all students living in any dorm to have health insurance in order to stay in the dorm. I was also assigned a room with three other female roommates who majored in different programs. We had a whole kitchen and a washer and dryer to ourselves. Mail delivery was allowed, so we didn’t have to sign up for a post office box. I may have paid a lot more for the dorm, but I’m grateful for the amenities that it provided.
I stayed in the dorm for one school year and was able to find another place of my own for the following semesters. Living on my own had its ups and downs, but it has definitely helped me be more independent. The upside of living alone was that I worried only about myself – having my own schedule (aside from classes), eating any meal I want, and being as messy or clean as I want. I didn’t have any other distracting roommates who may be loud or have guests over. I got to decorate my place anyway I want to as well. The downside of living on my own is having to be extra cautious of turning things off when I leave my room, not having anyone nearby in case of emergencies, and not having someone else who will be there for me. For the most part, I did enjoy living on my own. The other advantage of my apartment was that it was within walking distance of my school, grocery store, laundry, park, bank, bus stop, and restaurants.
Tip: Start making plans for living arrangements months in advance.
If you don’t want to stay in a dorm or with family, do some apartment hunting online months in advance and set at least a weekend to go and actually visit these apartments in person. Apartment photos online aren’t always as they are in person. Plus, not all information about the apartment will be provided. Visiting apartments allows you to ask questions on the spot and get a feeling of the place, neighborhood, and possible landlord. When viewing apartments, please bring at least one other person with you. Avoid going alone.
QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN VIEWING APARTMENTS
What’s the application fee, if any?
How much is the deposit?
What utilities are included with the rent? How do I pay for the utilities that aren’t included in the rent?
How do I pay the rent?
Where can I park my car? (If you have one)
How are emergency maintenance made?
What’s your guest policy?
Do I need renter’s insurance?
What’s the neighborhood like?
Under what conditions can the property manager enter my apartment?
Where is the nearest laundromat? (If washer and dryer aren’t available in the room or complex)
The questions you ask will help determine your decision to move in or not. You may want to focus primarily on safety and financial questions.
And these were my experiences during most of my college freshman year!
If there’s anything I missed and you would like me to cover in the future, comment them down below.
What was your experience as a first-time college student and how did you overcome the challenges you went through, if any? Or if you’re still entering college, let me know what you’re looking forward to or what you’re worried about.