Your journey towards your degree in journalism starts here and now! If you have a lot of experience writing essays and taking great notes on textbook chapters, your first year in this program will be rather simple and straightforward. If you do not have much experience, never fear, you are here to learn. Here are five tips that helped me survive and thrive in my first year in journalism!
Tip #1: Read a lot.
One of the best ways to sharpen your writing skills is to read a lot. Since this is journalism and not creative writing, you should start with reading lots of news articles. The more you read, the more you will eventually get used to the style, format, and layout of news articles, which is primarily what you’re going to be working on during your time in this program. If you are familiar with the style of news articles, the transition into writing your own pieces will be much smoother.
Tip #2: Go to class and pay attention.
The key to success in any college course is attending class and paying attention. This seems like a common piece of advice, but it is shocking how many students skip their classes, even their in-major courses. Make sure to attend all Zoom meetings and, if you have them, all in-person sessions as well (even the Comm 1004 course.) However, simply showing up is not enough. Be attentive in class. Give the professor your full attention. To minimize distractions, try sitting in the front, sitting up straight, taking detailed notes, and asking relevant questions. If you are confused about the material, or want suggestions on how to improve, take full advantage of office hours. Professors love it when a student takes interest and makes an extra effort in their class. An added advantage is getting to know your professor really well. They are very experienced in your field and they have some great tips to share with you.
Tip #3: Ask a lot of questions.
There is no such thing as a dumb question. Our professors genuinely care about their students and are perfectly willing, and eager, to answer any questions you have. However, before you ask your professor a plethora of clarification questions, make sure you have read the syllabus, all Canvas announcements, and emails carefully. A lot of answers to the questions you have can be found in these places, and you do not want to ask your professor a question he or she has already answered.
Tip #4: Make friends with people who are in your major.
Journalism is a small major, so it is very important to make friends with the people who are on the same academic path as you. If an assignment confuses you, ask one of your fellow journalists for help and guidance. It is easy and more convenient than going to office hours or meeting up with a tutor. Make friends with people within your major, especially those who are older than you. They can provide you with some great insights, tips, and recommendations for the best courses and professors.
Tip #5: Get the basics down.
You may think that re-learning AP Style, MLA format, or spelling and grammar is redundant or unnecessary, but that is absolutely wrong. It is vital that you have these basics down before you take any communications classes. You will be expected to have a firm understanding of these simple things. Professors usually extend some grace, but if you are unable to write a paper with the correct format and grammar, they will dock points from your work. To prevent this, double and triple-check your work, answer all prompts fully, and make sure your writing is correctly structured. I have had teachers mark me down for small structural, grammar, or careless mistakes, or when I forgot to answer the second part of the prompt or neglected to format my paper in AP style. Nobody wants to lose points over small mistakes, so make sure to double-check and edit all your work before you submit it to Canvas.
Tip #6: Utilize your resources.
Take full advantages of all the resources you have been given. Attend office hours and review sessions, communicate with your professor, and meet with your advisor frequently. The library is another wonderful resource! Use the study spaces, computers, and printers as often as you can. If you want tutoring or feedback on your work, the Writing Center is a great place to go. You can make appointments with writing consultants and review your work with them. Online tutors and translators are also available! In addition to that, the Newman Library website has a great database full of academic journals, articles, and studies. When you have presentations and research papers due, utilize this database to find support for your thesis or your topic. The articles on that database are very well-researched and documented. It will save your life! Here is a link to the library database: https://guides.lib.vt.edu/az.php?a=w
As long as you attend classes, take notes on lectures and readings, and complete the assignments on time, you are going to learn a lot in this program. Making time for yourself is absolutely crucial for your mental health, especially during your first year in college. And of course, remember to have fun too! You only have four years in college, so make the most of them.