It’s that time of year again. As another fleeting summer came and went, college campuses across the country have been preparing for the arrival of their incoming freshmen. Admittedly, the first week always flies by in a blur of orientation weekends, first-year retreats, move-in days, and ice breaker events. This experience simultaneously brings with it a jumble of excitement and anticipation – especially for the first-generation students out there, and those who are leaving home for the first time. One moment you’re stepping into your first college classroom – perhaps eyeing your seating options and your course syllabus with wide eyes, thinking, How on earth am I going to survive this semester? The next moment, you’re casting a final glance over your shoulder at your first dorm room, your year-long home where you met your first roommates and likely stayed up too late studying, Netflix-bingeing, laughing, and sharing life stories. In a silent good bye to the room and to the campus, perhaps you think to yourself, How on earth did that year happen so quickly?
As an incoming sophomore at my own university, I can easily recall both of these moments, along with the more the stressful, overwhelming, laughter-filled, accomplishing, and wonderful moments in between. While reflecting on these adventures from my first year, I recognize now the extent to which I have grown from having experienced them, the events I wish I could change, and the memories I hope to cherish for years to come. With these thoughts in mind, below you will find the 15 pieces of advice I’m sharing, in retrospect, with my freshman self.
1. Communicate with your roommate(s) from the beginning, and often.
Believe me, poor roommate-to-roommate communication only leads to misunderstandings, awkward silence, and/or the occasional lockout (don’t worry, if you forget your keys and a roommate accidentally locks you out, your RA can let you back in). Sure, having a roommate isn’t always easy; he or she may not be the best friend you were hoping for, and everyone has bad days. Be patient, be sincere, and when something’s truly bothering you, discuss the problem sooner rather than later. Promoting an open, honest friendship is much easier than an entire school year of unresolved conflict.
2. Find your personal space.
This suggestion may sound like something I saved for the introverts among us, including myself. However, even the most gregarious, sociable, and energetic of extroverts need their personal space from time to time. Personal space constitutes anything from a quiet study area where you focus the best, to the less-frequented corner of your residence hall allowing you to momentarily recharge and return to your comfort zone. My own repertoire of spaces last year included the fourth floor of the library (where hardly anyone else ventured – my ideal environment for reading, studying, and finishing homework when I really didn’t want to be distracted), the grassy lawn outside my residence hall (hammocks recommended, especially for YouTubing and playing a guitar or ukulele), and my empty dorm room, with its unforgettable view of the mountains during every sunset. Wherever your safety-bubble is, you won’t want to spend all of your time there; sometimes it’s comforting just knowing you have one available to you.
3. Use and update your planner.
Whether it be an inexpensive, travel-sized planner, or the whiteboard/paper calendar you display in your room, start using a planner of some sort. More importantly, don’t give up on it after Syllabus Week. Physically writing down your upcoming tests, quizzes, events, and assignments, while keeping them all in one place, will maximize your productivity, organization, and efficiency as a student. Also, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be a boring or tedious project; you can keep it simple with reminders from your syllabus, or browse the seemingly-endless Pinterest boards for color-coding ideas, and more. I personally prefer the clarity of the checklist method – I write the assignment under the day it’s actually due, and under the current day, create a checklist with everything I want to accomplish before the night is over. One cannot deny the self-gratifying feeling of manually checking or crossing something off of a list.
If you’re new to schedule-planning, check out this helpful link for ideas to get you started,
One aspect of campus life I look forward to the most is the sheer number of activities taking place at all times. With hundreds of clubs, intramurals, and other student organizations convening multiple times each month, and dozens of jobs, internships, and free events at your fingertips, it’s virtually impossible to endure a week without something extracurricular to partake in. That being said, many freshmen (and returning students, as well) begin to feel dazed and overwhelmed as they determine how to balance their time. Those striving to maintain their 4.0 GPA might have to sacrifice those club meetings in favor of studying, and those who desire equal time for homework, personal care, socialization, and the gym quickly learn to pick and choose their battles. Giving 100% of your time and effort to every single endeavor is neither healthy nor mathematically feasible; instead, when you’re on a time crunch, focus your energy on the classes you find the most interesting and relevant to your degree, and prioritize the extracurricular activities you look forward to the most. You’re only human, after all.
5. Have a backup for your backup.
Don’t be that one student who spends hours writing a fantastic essay, or preparing a bomb presentation, only to stare in horror as their computer starts to crash. Remember to keep two copies of every project at once, i.e., one saved to your computer and another to a USB drive. Furthermore, if your professor requires you to submit the project electronically, do not wait until the last second. It’s a tempting habit to hit the intimidating green button at 11:59 p.m. when the essay is due at 12 a.m., but making the attempt several hours earlier allows you to email your professor if something goes wrong (unscheduled wi-fi maintenance, website glitches, email problems, and etc.). Most teachers won’t be willing to troubleshoot these issues 10 minutes before the deadline, anyway.
6. Take advantage of your professors’ office hours.
Even if you’re not necessarily struggling in the class, having these office hour conversations can only help you – that’s why they exist. Use this time wisely to ask clarifying questions, and to seek advice while preparing for quizzes and tests; my professors last year were even willing to read the rough drafts of my essays and offer grammatical/structural recommendations. On one hand, this approach was essential to my understanding of what each teacher expected from his/her more formal assignments. On the other hand, meeting during office hours throughout the semester (not just the week before a major project or exam) often led to some insightful and informative, individual conversations about the course material, something lectures often did not allocate the time for. Your professors will recognize the extra effort, and discussing the material in-person is easier than trying to phrase your questions in an email.
7. Add some variety to your degree.
While reading your course catalog and registering for the next term, don’t be afraid to take the classes that pique your interest. This is, after all, your education. Have you always been intrigued by astrology? Or perhaps you’ve always secretly wanted to learn Japanese or American Sign Language or pick up a new instrument, but your high school never offered those classes. Now’s your chance — study what interests you, because I guarantee those classes will be some of the most memorable to you later on in life.
8. Decide when it is or isn’t appropriate to skip your morning classes.
Again, refer to your course syllabus for this one. Each professor upholds their own guidelines and preferences when it comes to skipping class; sometimes the rules even differ by college. Consider how long it would take to catch up with the lecture notes, quizzes, or assignments you’re going to miss, and if your course has a limit, keep track of how many times you’ve skipped already. Skipping too often could result in a failing grade, and, in my experience, skipping a class causes more trouble than the benefits of sleeping in an extra hour.
9. The “buddy system” exists, and it’s useful.
As you start to familiarize yourself with the people in your courses, select a classmate or two and create a buddy system. This means exchanging phone numbers, making a group text, and even meeting in the library for study sessions. Your professors are a fantastic resource, but it can also be helpful and comforting to know a few friends you can turn to in every class.
10. Don’t let your university’s opportunities go to waste.
Investigate the resources your school offers, and take advantage of them while you can. Those coupons, discounted events, interview/resume workshops, alumni connections, and free, public transportation are only valuable to you if you use them.
11. Call home as often as possible.
Try not to let your missed calls from Mom get out of hand. Take some time out of your hectic, college schedule and catch up with your friends and family back home. They will love hearing your voice, and for the freshmen who moved several states away, making these phone or Skype calls is one of the best ways to treat homesickness.
12. Every once in a while, try cooking your own meals rather than relying on pre-prepared food.
Not only is cooking your own food a practical life skill, but preparing meals in bulk is also a cheaper option than fast food. In addition, not all colleges provide the healthiest of options when it comes to cafeteria meals. If you want to avoid the “Freshman 15”, or if your college does not accommodate your diet, then cooking allows you to control exactly what does or does not, go on your plate.
13. Venture away from the “campus bubble”.
With so many events happening on-campus, it’s easy for freshmen to find themselves caught in the “bubble” of college life – they rarely ever explore the city, town, or general community around them, and when the time arrives for networking or job-hunting, those subject to the “bubble” during their early years often don’t know where to begin. If possible, sign up for community service opportunities as they become available, and check social media for other events happening near you. Carpools, Uber, and public transport are all reasonable options for those who didn’t bring their own car with them to college.
14. Look out for one another.
Whether you’re walking to the grocery store or another dorm, I urge you to bring a companion when you walk around at night time. Be conscious of your surroundings, keep an eye out for suspicious activity, and never leave a friend behind. That being said, if the people you arrived with go their separate ways at a party, check on them frequently to make sure they’re all present, safe, and accounted for. Again, because I cannot stress this enough, follow the golden rule: never, never, never leave a friend behind.
15. Practice self-awareness.
Familiarize yourself not only with your schedule but also with your physical and emotional health. You know your mind and body better than anyone else; regardless of what others say, remember to take care of yourself, even if this means taking the occasional mental health day. While it is important to work hard and to receive as much experience as possible from your college years, it’s not worth it to sacrifice your health in favor of stress and other work-related anxieties. We all experience our freshman years in different ways, so I urge you to never feel guilty for approaching college at your own pace. Good things happen with time, and in the end, everything will work out the way it’s meant to.