Advice for New Students

by Lindsay Krueger

“Why didn’t someone tell me about that sooner?” Have you ever heard a friend say that with the utmost of exasperation? As I prepare to graduate, there are many things I’ve considered that I would recommend to a new student here at George Mason.

One of the first things I learned in my first semester was to forward my student email to my personal email. You won’t miss anything from professors and you won’t have to constantly check your school email. You can’t reply from your personal email and have it be from your school email, so for that you will have to log onto the school email server to do so.

Regarding email, some professors will require you to include the class information in the subject. You could be more likely to get a response in a timely manner. For example, your email subject could be “ENGH 489-DL3: Regarding tonight’s class”. It is also more professional than simply saying “I have a question” in the subject line.

A great system all students have access to is called Degree Works. It can be found in PatriotWeb, under the “Student Services” tab. Select “Student Records” followed by “Degree Evaluation Menu” then “DegreeWorks”. You can check your degree progress, process different scenarios for classes that will fit requirements, how things would go if you switched majors or minors and even save it as a PDF. This tool has helped me plan future semesters and helped me when I switched majors early in my college career.

Along with degree planning, you are wise to meet with your advisor at least once per semester. They can help you with advice, suggestions for what courses to take and let you know about classes that are upcoming that haven’t been made available yet. With Covid precautions, it’s often as easy as scheduling a Zoom meeting or even just emailing them. If you feel like you aren’t getting the advice you need, there are other advisors you can reach out to.

Other resources beyond the school itself include social media and sites like RateMyProfessors can help you select a professor based on others’ input. Not all professors teach the same and it can help you to avoid especially harsh or uncommunicative instructors. Getting a head’s up from others on harsh projects or grading expectations can ease stress when it comes to selecting a class.

Speaking of stress, have you eyeballed a class that looked like fun? Why not take it? It’s likely you’ll have wiggle room in your degree program to take a fun class or two. It can help expand your knowledge of a topic you’re interested in and introduce you to new things. Having even on class to look forward to in an otherwise tough semester can make all the difference.

What about trying something in a class you never thought you’d do? I saw “Proposal and Grant Writing” and thought that it could be interesting. I knew nothing about it but thought it was worth taking a class for it. I quickly found out how immense the proposal writing industry is. There was a lot to learn initially but I enjoyed searching through grant databases and finding funding opportunities that were really available to organizations. Learning the basics of grant and proposal writing can open up many new avenues for your future career. I was originally interested in fiction writing but proposal writing has sparked an interest in non-fiction writing for me. My only regret is not taking this class sooner as there’s a companion second semester class that I’d suggest making sure to take. I’ve learned more about professional development beyond just proposal writing with this class. I’ve rewritten my resume, learned how to write an excellent professional letter and more. If you aren’t interested in a future in grant writing, this class can at least help you with writing professionally.

The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to not be afraid to ask for or get help. Whether it’s emotional help, academic help, medical help or financial help, the school and community have many resources to assist you. Don’t ever feel like you’re alone in anything you’re struggling with.