It’s that time of year again, a new group of starry-eyed, excited and – lets be honest – a little scared freshmen are about to flood campus with their under-bed boxes packed to the brim and their half-weepy/half-releived parents in tow. I enjoy this time of year so much, watching as all these fresh faces navigate their way from terrified and trying to hide it to truly feeling at home here – watching a whole new generation of people fall in love with the campus that has meant so much to me over the years.
As these college newbies flood in, I can’t help but think about my days in their shoes, and all the advice that I was either given, or learned through experience and observation. After spending five years of witnessing this day from the other side of the desk, I feel like I might as well share those things. Maybe it will help a few of you guys in your journey. We’ll start with the strictly academic, and move on to the more general pieces of advice.
1) This is not high school – be prepared to work. I was used to coasting through HS, doing pretty much only the work I liked and wanted to while still pulling A’s across the board. It was dumb of me to do, and it was arrogant. But oh boy, college was a wake up call. College wasn’t like that – I had to develop work/study habits, and I had to develop them quickly. Best learn from my mistake and start now, if you haven’t already.
2) Cultivate relationships with your professors – particularly those in your field. They’re super knowledgeable and most are eager to help students. Those relationships will serve you well in your post-graduation years.
3) Go to office hours. I know everyone tells you this, and I know most students ignore it. But in general, we have office hours for a reason – for you to use them. So do it.
4) Take responsibility for your own screw-ups. Seriously. Do it. Everyone screws up from time to time, and it’s much better to just own up to it than try to come up with excuses or pass the buck. A simple “I screwed up, how can I fix it?” is generally going to be way better received than trying to shirk responsibility.
5) Go to class, even if the professor has a super lenient attendance policy. You’d think this was sort of a “duh” one, but it’s easy when a class allows for a certain number of skips to justify not getting out of bed on a rainy day. But the bottom line here is that a missed class is your money down the drain. You’re paying for the privilege of an education, and missing out on a class is missing out on what you paid for. Not to mention all the material you’ll be missing and then responsible to make up later. Best not let yourself get behind.
6) Get involved in extracurriculars right off the bat. Don’t let you trick yourself into thinking you won’t have time, or that it would be better to “give yourself a semester to adjust” academically. In my experience the students who get involved right from the beginning adjust to college life way faster – not only from a time management perspective (extracurriculars FORCE you to develop these skills, and develop them quickly) but also socially – they’re great way to meet people and find upperclassmen friends to show you the ropes. Those that take that semester off from extracurriculars tend to never pick them back up, or find it infinitely harder to manage once they do.
7) Don’t try to do work in your room – keep it your safe haven for relaxation and fun. College can be stressful, and it’s good to have a place you know you can decompress. If you keep the work at the library or in the lounge, you know that when you come back to your room, you don’t have to worry about it.
8) Remember: it’s okay if you don’t know exactly what you want to do yet. You’re only 18 – you don’t have to have your whole life planned out yet. If you do? Great. But if you don’t, don’t let yourself feel like there’s something wrong with you. Now’s the time to experiment, and figure that out. Take classes in things you’re interested in, and don’t pressure yourself. You’ll find what fits in due time. It actually took me until I started grad school to figure out History was the path that I was meant to be on. Just follow your heart – you’ll get there eventually. That said, you do need to be proactive about it – search for what makes you happy, don’t just assume it’ll show up one day.
9) It’s okay to be scared, and it’s okay to feel homesick. You’re not weird, you’re not “being a baby,” everyone feels like this from time to time. And starting college is a scary thing, particularly if it’s your first time away from home. I remember sitting in my dorm room feeling dumb, upset, and immature because I missed my mom and my dad and my brother and my cat and my own bedroom a lot… but everyone else seemed so at ease with being away from theirs. I didn’t want to be honest with anyone because I felt weird for feeling that way so I hid it, and hated myself for feeling the way I did. But guess what? Years later when the topic finally came up in conversation, turns out everyone had had moments just like I did, and everyone hid it for the same exact reasons. So when it comes right down to it, it’s okay to miss home. And if anyone seriously makes fun of you, they’re just being dicks.
10) Got a meal plan? Good god man, use it. I know the dining hall fare can get boring, but in general meals won’t roll over from week to week – sometimes even from day to day. So if you don’t use it, you lose it (and the money you paid for it)! Plus, you may be scoffing at the dining halls now, but trust me, in 3-4 years when you’re on your own for food and eating Ramen more often than not (sometimes because of finances, sometimes because of time constraints), you’ll miss the ease of it.
11) This is a silly one, but don’t wear your lanyard around your neck. Nothing says freshman like wearing your lanyard around your neck. Extra frosh points if you wear it backwards.
12) Find time to read for yourself, even if it’s just silly fun reading. It’s so easy to let recreational reading fall by the wayside when academics are putting the pressure on, but keeping some time set aside for personal reading can help give your brain a break when you’re feeling intellectually drained. It took me until my last year at college to figure this out, but once I did, chilling outside with a trashy CSI: Miami novel turned out to be one of the best ways to give my brain a reset when I was fried from papers and school reading.
13) Turn off the devices every once and a while. Disconnecting does the soul wonders from time to time. Some of my favorite memories from college (and grad school) are when I turned off AIM (yea, yea, I’m old), logged off Facebook (yea, we had that… but just barely) and Myspace, turned off the cell phone, and just enjoyed being with my friends or a non-school book out on the green. It’s so easy to get caught up in technology while the world continues spinning around you, particularly now with smartphones and social media – just don’t forget to be social in real life too. Be present in your experience.
14) Put yourself outside your comfort zone every once and a while – it can have massive payoffs. That choir that you want to join but don’t think you can because everyone in it seems so good and you’ve only ever sung in the shower? Join anyway. That fencing club that looks fun but is totally not something you’d usually do? Sign up anyway. That on campus play you wanted to go to but couldn’t find anyone to go with you? Go anyway. That book club you wish you could join but are afraid to because you don’t know anyone in it? Join up and get to know them anyway. Basically, put yourself out there and stay open to new experiences and friends – even if doing so is a little intimidating from time to time. The payoff in friends and fun can be tremendous.
15) Don’t let your high school relationships prevent you from making new ones. This is something that I did that I very much regret. In my case it was my high school boyfriend that kept me from reaching out to my peers and searching for friends where I was at. I’d spend so much of my free time sitting on AIM with him that it took me more than a year to start really reaching out and find a group of close friends where I was – and as a result I missed out on a lot. What I wish I had realized is that it is possible to balance old relationships with new ones. In fact, I watched my roommate (who was a high school friend herself) do it every day. But I didn’t force myself to do the same, and it really is one of my greatest regrets from my years in college. For me it was my high school boyfriend, for some of you it may be high school regular friends. But the bottom line is: if they’re real friends, they’re not going to go away just because you develop new ones where you are.
16) In general, the massive off campus house parties are not really all they’re cracked up to be. Really, they kind of suck. They’re hot, and loud, usually kind of smelly, and always have super shitty beer (Natty Light anyone?). By the end of the night people end up too drunk for it to be fun anymore, someone always ends up in tears, puking, or both, and everything ends up sticky from spilled booze. Just, yuck.
17) In the words of my father: if you’re going to do something stupid, be smart about it. This is just simply some of the best life advice I’ve ever gotten, and by golly does it apply to college where alcohol is a constant presence (even if it’s not supposed to be) and hook up culture is flourishing. Everyone does stupid shit at some point in their life. And in general, you know it’s stupid or risky, but you do it anyway. It’s just part of growing up. So bottom line is, if you’re going to take risks, take risks intelligently. Be aware of the possible consequences and repercussions and try to be as smart as possible about your dumb decisions. You’ll thank yourself later.
And last, but not least:
18) Make sure to have fun. College is first and foremost an education – but don’t forget to have fun too. Finding a balance between work and play is immensely important – odds are you and your friends won’t ever have the kind of close proximity and similar schedules that college provides once it’s over. Make the most of it.
Good luck to all you incoming freshman – may you have a wonderful, joyful, and experience filled 4 years!
Do any of you out there who have been there, done that have advice for incoming college frosh that I missed? If so, please share in the comments!