1) Figuring out your major is a journey unique to you and you should keep it that way.
Right? That seems like a pretty obvious statement yet my college experience thus far and those of people close to me indicate that there are several outside sources that at times appear to "force" people into majors and programs they do not particularly care for. This is not only done to students who are unsure of what major/majors will work best for them, but even students who have their plans figured out because said plans are unconventional. Isn't college the place where we are told to learn about ourselves and expand our horizons? Follow our path. not the one always traveled? Well, it appears that this is not always the case. At times, you'll find resistance towards the course of study you've selected (it's amazing where it comes from, often not where people expect it to!) And getting it together may take time, but if you've done your "research and soul-searching" (whatever that process is to you) and figured out that this plan is the best for you (and no other plan can equal it in knowledge, experience, and enjoyment) go for it! I say this from personal experience, because I faced tremendous resistance when trying to put my course of study together and till the end was being pressured to pursue majors I wasn't passionate about. But in the end, it works out for the best. So follow your path wherever it leads, explore multiple opportunities if available, and trust your gut when finally making your decision.
2) Some classes just won't turn out the way you want them to. Accept that.
This is a hard one! My freshman year, I was extremely fortunate in getting professors who were competent, understanding, knowledgeable, and interesting. While there were obviously areas for improvement, I loved each one of my classes and did not regret taking any of them. Sophomore year that was not the case. There were classes that I could not wait to get out of! Funnily, it was never because I did not care for a topic or the subject matter itself; but because I just could not fully enjoy learning in those classes because of instructional decisions made by those professors. Some were inexperienced, but most were just unwilling to engage with the students in class and office hours. Their teaching styles and ways of communicating with us went completely against my university's values and educational tradition. I had to accept this because often times there are only a handful of professors who teach specific classes (sometimes only one!!) and I needed those classes for my major. My advice in these situations is to put your best effort regardless of the professor and make the most of outside resources like TAs, peer tutors, educational videos, your textbooks, and your university's library to best learn the material and its application/s.
3) Take at least a few classes outside of your major.
While I could go on and on about why taking a few classes outside of your major is very important, I think I'll start with an explanation from Stanford University's website because they sum it up really well.
"Perhaps the most important reason to take classes outside of your major, however, is that exploration is the means by which you make your education your own. More than anything else these choices -- how you acquire disciplinary breadth, how you decide to challenge yourself outside of your comfort zone, which independent avenues of inquiry you choose to pursue -- make your academic career uniquely yours and distinguish getting an education from merely going to school."
I found this explanation really compelling because it emphasizes the importance of making your college education your own, something that often gets lost in the college experience. We are told to make the experience our own through social engagements and campus activities, but rarely our own from an academic standpoint which I think is a major (pun not intended!) oversight on the part of college advisors/faculty. There will always be the depth vs. breadth debate, so each one of us has to determine for ourselves what the balance is going to be. I struggled to figure out my major because of my diverse interests, and soon realized that an interdisciplinary major was the best fit for me (along with a minor or two) to create a course of study that is engaging, comprehensive, interesting, and challenging, and is one that I truly love. It has allowed me to learn about a variety of topics and have different aspects/concepts to focus on each term. It also helped with burnout and becoming disinterested in major classes (which happens even if you really like your major, because the rigor & overlap in structure & material in those classes.)
4) Figure out what study habits work best for you and which ones don't work
Having taken 2 years worth of college classes, I think I have mostly figured out what study habits work well for me. I have found that doing homework the day it is assigned is almost always best and reviewing it before the day it's due is helpful as well so that I am reminded of the concepts/ideas before the next class. I also try to give myself a day or so gap between paper revisions so that I can almost have a fresh perspective when editing and revising them.
It's important to remember that office hours are there to be utilized and in general having a clear line of communication with every professor really helps me stay on top of my work in all of my classes (Sometimes this takes a lot of effort!)
And while we often focus on what study habits work for us, sometimes we forget to keep track of those that don't!
-Example: going to office hours right before an exam always overworks my mind and leads me to be confused and tense going into the exam.
I figured this one out this year and have since tried to plan to attend office hours and have all my questions answered at least 24 hours before an exam so I can process the information and then let my mind relax a bit so I'm alert and well-rested for each of my exams. (This requires extra planning if you have multiple exams on one day!)
5) Learn about your major and its applications outside of the classroom
This probably seems obvious, but work experience and even simply seeing the knowledge and concepts from your major classes out in the world brings them into perspective and shows you what your major is/can prepare you for. It reveals the value and importance of the sometimes very theoretical information from classes and also exposes inconsistencies. A class can introduce us to many of the aspects of a topic/concept, but often simplifies it or attempts to streamline a concept into an idealized form which isn't practical for "real world usage."
So take advantage of volunteering opportunities, internships, jobs, events, and other options to get a sense of the paths your major offers you. This will help you figure out so many questions ahead of time, like what branch of your major you should specialize in, whether a second major or minor is valuable, and even if a major change is a good idea if a different major would better prepare you for the work you would like to pursue. (It is sometimes better to stay undecided/undeclared for the first year or so (while taking different GE classes) to figure out what your major is than to declare a major while unsure and end up switching back and forth, which can delay graduation and take away time that you would otherwise devote to the major you really want to pursue and extracurriculars that are of interest to you. Taking up an internship/job during this time can really help with making this decision!)
6) Set aside some time to recharge every now and then.
College is intense and seemingly all-consuming at times. So remember to take care of yourself and do things to recharge and simply be yourself outside of your college life. This could be taking time to restart a hobby (baking, painting, hiking, swimming, blogging, stamp collecting, or whatever it is.) Or just taking the time to sit and enjoy a meal everyday or spend time outside (I know this may sound difficult to schedule, but planning can help you fit this in and make life more enjoyable and fulfilling on an everyday basis.