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8 things I wish I knew as a freshman design student

Building on my previous article on how to stay motivated as a (student) designer, I thought I would take a step back and focus on a really formative time in a design student’s academic career: their freshman year in college. Here are some things I wish I knew before my first year of schooling:

1. Your advisor will give you a pre-planned schedule, but you don’t have to stick to it. You will probably meet with your advisor during the first week of classes. If you took AP or college credit courses in high school, some of those classes probably transferred, and you won’t have to take them in college. Double check that this is true so you don’t repeat any courses. Review the 4-year plan that your advisor has outlined, and bring up any questions you might have. Do electives have to be taken in a certain order? Can you take more than one studio in a semester? See what they say!

2. Your GPA isn’t everything. In fact, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as you probably think. As a designer, your portfolio is going to be your biggest selling point, because that is the best indication and demonstration of your abilities as a designer. That doesn’t mean that you should let your grades suffer, however, as lots of companies will request your transcripts when you apply for internships and entry level positions. Just make sure you do really well in your core classes, and make sure that you pass every course you take. Shoot for a 3.2 or higher, and you should be golden.

3. Get to know your professors and studio instructors. Talk to your instructors about your progress in studio, and make sure you go to your professors’ office hours. The extra help and insight is invaluable, and you’ll be demonstrating that you care about your performance in their course. Forming good relationships with your teachers might also help you down the line if you need help getting internships, if you need a recommendation for grad school or a new job, or if you want to do research.

4. Find the meaning in the madness. Initially, a lot of your studio projects might seem stupid or pointless. You’ll be drawing weird lines or taking strange pictures, and you probably won’t know why. In your first year, you’ll be learning a lot at once, and it might be difficult to understand the reasoning behind it all. If your instructors haven’t done a good enough job of explaining the purpose behind your first few of design projects, ask them for further clarity or reach out to upperclassmen and see if they can help clarify some aspects of your projects that you don’t understand. If you’re able to get a clear understanding of what you’re working toward, the quality of your work will significantly improve.

5. Be wary of deadlines. All-nighters don’t have to be “a thing” that you just get used to as a college students. Sometimes they’re unavoidable, but if you plan your schedule accordingly, you should be able to regularly get a full night’s rest. Keep a planner and make sure you stay on schedule with your studio reviews, homework assignments and exams. If you feel as though you’re falling behind on a studio project, adjust your workflow to make sure you can complete all deliverables. And don’t be afraid to ask for help!

6. It’s not a big deal if you have to graduate a year or two later. When I first got to college, I’d already decided that wanted to finish as fast as I could. After my sophomore year, that feeling changed. If you have to take a semester off to intern, or a year off to co-op, that’s great! Students that take the time to diversify themselves are more competitive to potential employers. Unless your financial circumstances are pushing you toward an earlier graduation date, don’t be afraid to take less courses, take on a couple of internships, and busy yourself with a few extracurricular activities.

7. Seize opportunities. Seize opportunities as they come to you, but if you choose to pass one up, don’t be afraid that another one won’t come along. College is a time of great growth and fun experiences, and you should welcome the newness of it all. Towards the end of your first year, in particular, there will be lots of opportunities that come up in the form of jobs, research, and fun summer classes. You will quickly learn how to determine which set of circumstances is the most beneficial to you at that particular time. When you do, go for it!

8. You will fail at least once, and that’s just fine. You will probably fail at least one exam, have at least one terrible review, and may even have to retake a course. That’s okay! View each failure as a lesson, and learn from it. Don’t beat yourself up and drag yourself down. That failed exam, horrible review, and unbelievably difficult class represent a very brief moment in your entire academic career. So, when you do fall, it’s okay to cry a little bit and feel disappointed. But, after you’ve done all that, pick yourself right back up, dust yourself off, and march on.

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