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Campus Life

Getting oriented on campus will take a while. In your first few weeks, you’ll have to visit countless new places: the computer center, the library, the other library, the financial aid office, and the student center, to name a few. Then there are all these weird new words you’ll need to learn: what’s a bursar? What does an ombudsman do? And what and where is the registrar?

    Important Terms
  • Registrar
  • Bursar
  • Ombudsman
  • Resident Assistant (RA)
  • Interlibrary loan
  • Federal Work-Study
  • Course packet
  • Writing center
  • Computer center
  • Copy shop

Don’t worry: we understand that many of these terms may sound a little weird. There’s a lot to take in in the first couple of days. The following is a brief glimpse into what you might expect on your campus.

The Basics

Upon arriving on campus, the first thing you need is a campus map to orient yourself with the basic layout of the place. You will receive a map during your first-year orientation, and you should carry it around with you at all times. If your school offers orientation tours of the campus, sign up.

It won’t take you long to figure out where your dorm and the dining hall are: those are places you will visit countless times in your first days on campus. When you look at your map, highlight or circle all of the places that will be an integral part of your first-year experience.

The Library

A college or university library is nothing like your hometown’s quaint public library. The collections at college libraries are large, so large that the libraries often need to be separated by subject matter. If you’re attending a large university, there may be a medical library, a law library, and a science library, in addition to the main library. The main library often holds millions of books.

If your college library doesn’t have what you need, you can request an interlibrary loan. Basically, you put in an order for a book with your college library, and then another school mails your school the book. A librarian will walk you through the steps your first time.

Your college library is open much later than your local public library. Most college libraries stay open until at least 11 p.m. and stay open later during midterms and finals. Many libraries stay open 24 hours a day.

The Computer Center

The computer center (or computer lab) is the place on campus where banks of computers are set up for student use. If you don’t have a computer, this is where you’ll be spending a lot of your time. Even if you have your own computer, you’ll still use the computer center on your way home from class to check e-mail, or when your computer crashes. Some computer centers have course-specific software loaded on them, which means you’ll have to use these computers to complete your coursework.

You will not be permitted to leave your work on the computer center computers, so be sure to bring a floppy disk or CD-ROM to save your files. Most labs also have printers where you can print your homework. You may be charged a fee for each page you print.

Most colleges have a computer or technology services office. The folks at this office will help you configure your computer to your college intranet, and they’ll troubleshoot any glitches on your machine. The office usually organizes tutorials for students and holds crash courses on everything from academic web surfing and computer basics to HTML and basic programming.

The College Bookstore

College bookstores contain much more than just books. Finding your college bookstore won’t be hard: if you see a display window with your school logo and mascot on everything behind the glass—sweaters, shirts, socks, jackets, posters, and mugs—then you’ve found it.

You’ll be able to get some basic necessities at your college bookstore, like backpacks, floppy disks and CD-ROMs, extension cords, pens, printer paper, and so on. A word of warning: if you’re on an isolated campus, the bookstore will be pricier than a discount store for these basics.

The Copy Shop

Some of your professors will request that you go down to the campus copy shop to pick up course materials. These professors have decided to put together a course packet consisting of photocopies from various books. If they’re only using a few pages from a book, they’re saving you the expense of having to buy the whole thing. Simply tell the copy shop the course number and professor’s name, and they’ll be able to locate the proper course packet for you. You’ll be able to do your own photocopying and binding there as well. The campus copy shop is generally less expensive than those big corporate copy places.

The Writing Center

The writing center offers assistance to students who need help with their writing assignments, and the writing tutors there will do everything from helping you get started on a paper to proofreading your paper when it’s done. The tutors will not write your paper for you. Most of the tutors in the center are grad students or seniors majoring in English. They are trained to help you with writer’s block, grammar, style, tone, and clarity.

The Tutoring Center

If you ever have trouble with your coursework, you can visit the tutor center. The tutors who work there are advanced undergraduate and graduate students who are experts in every discipline. As with the writing center employees, tutors are not going to do your work for you. They’re not there to write your papers or do your math problems: the tutoring center is for struggling students, not lazy ones. Tutors are there to make sure you know how to do your work so that you can pass your prerequisite courses. The tutoring center will be open during normal business hours. But since many tutors are students who live on campus, you may be able to arrange for private lessons with your tutor during off hours.

The Athletic Center

A college athletic center is much larger and has better equipment than a high school gym but is nowhere near as high-tech and fabulous as a membership gym. Find out if your gym offers fitness and nutrition classes (most do). Gym hours vary from school to school, but they are generally open fairly late.

The Health Center

The scope of your school’s health center—sometimes called the infirmary—will depend on the size of your school. Most schools offer basic health services as a part of your tuition. You will have access to mental health and crisis counselors, and at least one nurse, as well as a gynecologist for female students. If you’re attending a large university, your campus health center may be the size of a small hospital.

The Student Center

The student center (or student union) is the heart and soul of campus life. The student center is the place on campus to hang out with friends, study, have snacks, watch TV, and hold club events. Most campus clubs will meet at the student center, and many of the support centers for students will be housed there as well. Also, if you’re looking for a ride home over Thanksgiving or winter break, check out the ride board in the student center. Students with cars post where they are driving to and what they’d like from you in return—usually just gas and toll money, which is a lot cheaper than taking a train or a plane.

Residential Life Office

The folks at the residential life office take care of student housing on campus. They’re the ones who set people up with roommates, who make sure you have the keys to your room, and who check to make sure you don’t put holes in the walls. If you have a problem with your roommate or a special housing need, these are the people who are going to help you out.

The Registrar’s Office

The registrar’s office handles academic registration. It creates the academic calendar and schedules and handles all the official paperwork that leads you to graduation. The office also holds all your academic and personal records.

Do not wait until the last minute the visit the registrar’s office during the class registration period. Classes are often meted out on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you don’t choose fast, you’ll wind up taking Intro to Basketweaving when you really needed Advanced Calculus.

The Bursar’s Office

The bursar’s office is where you’ll go to pay your tuition and fees. The bursar will set up a payment plan for your tuition if you don’t have the cash on hand and will send you your loan and scholarship checks. If your parents are paying your tuition, they will get to know the people at the bursar’s office quite well.

The Ombudsman

A campus ombudsman helps to resolve conflicts between students, faculty, and staff. The ombudsman also helps out when you feel you’re up against an unfair administrator or professor. If you have a problem and you don’t know what to do, the ombudsman is your campus superhero. The ombudsman, however, is not campus security. For emergencies, always contact the campus security or your RA.

The Financial Aid Office

The financial aid office has information on loans, grants, and scholarships. The employees will explain what your financial options are and help you find money for college. Check out the financial aid office even if you think you aren’t eligible for financial assistance. You’ll be surprised by the number of options available to you.

You’ll receive your student loan checks through the bursar’s office, not the financial aid office. Remember the difference between the two and you’ll save yourself the trouble of standing in the wrong line in the wrong building.

The Study Abroad Center

The study abroad center has information about overseas study programs that are offered through your school. You don’t have to be a foreign language student to benefit from a study abroad program: there are overseas programs in film, culture, and social sciences. Many programs are taught in English and do not have a language requirement at all. Some programs are exchanges, which means that you live with a family in another country. Other programs have student housing where you live with other students enrolled in the same program.

Campus Clubs

Campus clubs connect students who have similar interests. If you are interested in joining a club on campus, or even starting one, head down to your student center for more information. There, you’ll find a list of all the groups, as well as when and where they meet.

Academic Clubs

In high school, people often join academic clubs because they think it will look good on their college applications. In college, most students join academic clubs because they actually care about the subject matter.

    Popular Academic Clubs
  • Biology Club
  • English Lit Club
  • Media Studies Club
  • Economics Club
  • Accounting Club
  • Pre-Med Club
  • Pre-Law Club
  • Sigma Delta Pi (Hispanic Honor Society)
  • Psi Chi (Psychology Honor Society)
  • Lambda Pi Eta (the Communications Honor Society)

Club members participate in community service, chat with alumni, have access to career development and networking seminars, and invite guest lecturers to speak on related topics.

Activist Clubs

College campuses generally welcome political activism. Activists groups organize students on campus in several ways: they get out the vote during election years, they stage protests and rallies on world events, and they serve as an outlet for community service. Political clubs bring in pundits, politicians, and experts to speak on a variety of current events. They also organize informal chats that help students absorb what they’re learning. Whether they push to the left, the right, or the center of the political spectrum, activist groups remind students that they are a part of the larger world.

Recreational Clubs

If you’ve got a hobby that you don’t want to give up in college, or if there’s an activity that you’d love to try for the first time, then a recreational club is the organization for you. Most colleges have tons of activities to choose from.

Try to get your feet moving at your school’s swing dance club, or learn Hapkido at the martial arts club. Do you like photography? Join the photo club. Are you a jazz aficionado? Start a jazz-lovers group. By nature, recreational clubs tend to be less political or community-service oriented. They tend to meet informally and often organize trips off campus.

Intramural Sports Clubs

If you have an interest in sports but no time to try out for a competitive team, you can stay healthy and meet like-minded folks through intramural athletic clubs on campus. Intramural teams don’t just play the most popular sports, like baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer (although you’ll certainly find these sports clubs on most college campuses). You’ll also find rugby, golf, tennis, softball, racquetball, fencing, and ultimate Frisbee, among many others.

Community-Based Clubs

Community-based clubs serve a number of functions on campus. They support minority students who want to fight for social justice, they allow students from similar cultural backgrounds to celebrate their heritage, and they bring together diverse student populations to help strengthen the campus community by forming dialogues on important issues. Some community-based groups also support international students who might be dealing with a crisis in their home country.

Campus Events

Campus events are one-shot deals, once-in-a-lifetime chances to meet famous writers, pundits, professors, artists, politicians, business leaders, and musicians. To find out what’s going on at your college, join a few campus listservs (internet listings) that interest you, check your e-mail regularly, and glance over those flyers you see posted all over campus.

Readings

Whether you’re a student of literature who loves poetry or a political science major who’s closely followed the career of a pundit, you’ll have an opportunity to get an insider’s perspective from your favorite authors at on-campus readings. Campus readings also support budding writers and poets on campus. If you’re an aspiring writer, you might want to get up and read some of your own work.

Lectures

People who give public lectures on campus are experts in their field and often come from other colleges to speak. At many public lectures you’ll notice that your own professors are at them taking notes and asking questions. College professors are lifelong students who must stay current on everything that goes on in their fields: new data, new methodologies, new technologies, new ways of thinking about the world.

On campus you’ll find lectures on politics, current events, the history of literature, business ethics, new discoveries in math and science, information on social movements, new biographical information about historical figures, and much more.

Charity

Part of being on a college campus is learning how to be a force for change in the world outside of school. There are many clubs and associations on campus that help organize fundraisers for charity. Joining a group of like-minded individuals to help promote a common cause helps connect you with the world off campus and lets you to forge new friendships.

Workshops

College campus hold workshops on everything from speed-reading to web design. Workshops can help you boost your grades, prepare for the job market, keep physically fit, or learn a craft. Sometimes, experts will stop by campus for limited engagements and hold workshops on their area of expertise. Some workshops cost additional money, but most of the time attendance is free with your student ID.

Discussion Groups

There are three types of discussion groups on campus: civic discussion groups, academic discussion groups, and personal discussion groups.

A civic discussion group focuses on a current world event and brainstorms solutions to world problems; some of these groups will require you to do outside reading. In an academic discussion group, students get together and read the works of an author or study one aspect of a discipline in order to discuss the larger role they play in academia. Personal discussion groups offer emotional support to students who are dealing with grief or depression, or students who have been the victim of racism or violence.

Art Openings and Film Screenings

Art openings and film screenings on campus showcase the work of celebrated artists, as well as student and faculty artists. Many large universities have state-of-the-art screening rooms and well-funded art museums; at these schools, you’ll be competing with members of the local community to get into an event.

If you are a student artist or filmmaker, working with an on-campus art organization offers valuable training and an opportunity to network with other artists and creative professionals.

Campus Rules

A college campus is a social microcosm. Every school has its own rules of interaction. If you want to get along with the other members of your community, start following these rules now.

Bias/Speech Codes

Almost all campuses have bias/speech codes that are strictly enforced. If you make statements that are perceived as racist, sexist, or homophobic, or if you attack any other student or faculty member’s ethnicity or religion, you could be expelled. You can question ideas and ethics, but you can’t threaten people with your words or actions.

Defending Yourself

Unfortunately, your school is not going to be a peaceful utopia: crime exists on college campuses. Find out where your school’s campus security office is and carry the office phone number with you. Many schools have security phones set up around campus that will automatically put you through to a security officer.

You also have a right to defend yourself against verbal assaults and discrimination. Some universities have a student ethics office where you can report anything you find derogatory or sexually inappropriate. Go to the ethics office if you:

  • See another student cheating
  • Know someone is plagiarizing
  • Encounter a professor making a pass or hitting on a student
  • Hear a professor or student make racist remarks
  • Hear a professor or student make inappropriate sexual remarks
  • See someone stealing
  • Believe that you are being graded unfairly because of your gender, religion, social class, ethnicity, political views, or sexual orientation
  • Feel that someone in the university system isn’t respecting your privacy
  • Believe a health care practitioner at the university is behaving inappropriately
  • Know someone is lying to deliberately harm someone else’s reputation
The Bottom Line on Campus Life

There is so much to do and see on a college campus. Almost every college student will discover a club, a sport, a craft, or a cause that satisfies her or his interests. But if on the off-chance you don’t find an appealing outlet, you always have the power to start your own revolution. Do your own thing: devise your own organization if you’ve got the motivation and the passion. Build it and they will come.

 
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