Hi! Hope everyone’s having a remarkable week. Today we’re going to talk about:
For most of us, back-to-school is drawing near, and I was thinking that I really wish someone would have written me some sound advice about starting college before my freshman year began. So, I decided to write the post that I needed a year ago. Here’s some advice for incoming college freshman.
1. Be prepared to get sick.
I don’t mean to start this off negatively, but living in the dorms is basically like living in a stale cess pool of bacteria, especially if your housing arrangement is suite-style. Four people to a bathroom gets really gross really quickly, and a once-a-week cleaning usually doesn’t do much to help the situation. With all the sludge and close-quarters comes germs. My first month of freshman year, I was sick for two weeks straight from the diseases in the dorms: pink eye, a horrible rash, and tonsillitis. Not to mention allergies that must have originated from Satan himself. By the end of the year, I was a full-fledged germaphobe, even going so far as to purchase an antiviral mask and latex gloves when my roommate got the stomach flu. All this to say, wash your hands, invest in a good multivitamin, and eat an apple every now and then. And don’t worry if you get sick; I promise, when you walk into a lecture hall two weeks after school starts, you won’t be the only one coughing.
2. Pick a health-care provider and a pharmacy.
This one is important. As you will most likely come down with a case of something-or-other at some point during the year, you need to know where to go. Now, your university has probably made it known that they have an on-campus health center, but honestly, these places can be tricky. At OU, Goddard Health is appointment-only, and with such a large student body, the slots fill up quickly. I recommend finding an urgent care center near your campus so you won’t have to wait two days to be evaluated. Make sure you have a copy of your insurance card, though; these places aren’t afraid to turn down patients. Next, pick a pharmacy close to your campus. I made the mistake of transferring my medicine to the on-campus pharmacy, later to learn what a complicated process it is. I recommend sticking with a Walgreens or a CVS. If you’re unfamiliar with your college town, learn the street name of the pharmacy you chose so you can let your health-care provider know which one it is.
3. Become best friends with your advisor.
In high school, you probably only set foot in the counselor’s office once or twice, maybe never. Change that behavior real quick, people. Your advisor is your life line, and she/he has much more influence than you think. Your advisor is your person to talk to about any questions, academic or other, that you have about your college experience. You should have her/his contact info, so don’t be afraid to email or make appointments as much as you need. If you get into a class that is far above or far below your skill level, or even a class that you flat out hate, talk to them. They will go to bat for you and pull strings to get you out of there, no questions asked! I’m serious: use your advisor. Their LITERAL job is to help you navigate this new experience and help you graduate on time with a degree you are passionate about.
4. Make friends with your suite mates. Then, make a chore schedule.
As I said, sharing a bathroom with 4 people is horrendous. In order to avoid any disputes about who does what and when, you need to get friendly with your suite mates. My roommate and I barely spoke to our suite mates… we took more of the “leaving passive-aggressive notes” route. Introduce yourself to the people you’ll be living with, and if you’re all comfortable, leave your doors open so you can hang out every once in a while. Then, create a chore chart or at least have a talk about cleaning. Agree to take turns cleaning the bathroom once a week, and trade off buying replacement toilet paper, soap, etc. Always be courteous and wipe down the shower after you’re finished using it, and leave the bathroom how you found it to the best of your ability. Use your shower caddy and refrain from leaving razors and shampoo in the shower to save space.
5. Get Microsoft Word.
You may have been able to scrape by using Google Docs in high school, but you’re going to need to invest in Word for college. Professors are MUCH pickier about the formatting of your paper than your high school teachers probably were. Since most papers are turned in online and graded electronically, your professor is going to be able to see the exact measurements of your paper’s margins, as well as header and footnote discrepancies, and they’re not afraid to take off points or even give you an F for these mistakes. Lots of universities offer Word at a discounted rate (yes, you can download it to Macs as well), so you may even be able to save a few dollars.
6. Parking is going to suck.
The larger your university, the harder it is going to be to find parking. The easiest solution to this is to drive as little as you possibly can. Walk to class, always. Take turns driving with your friends or roommates for Target runs. If you go home for the weekend, ALWAYS come back Sunday. Don’t attempt to make the early drive on Monday morning. You will be late for class trying to find a spot. Though homesick you may be, try to get back to campus ASAP after your trips home so you can get settled in before your week starts– and avoid a $30 fine. PS: Parking tickets will usually be charged to your bursar account, so your parents WILL find out about them.
7. Use your resources, and ask for what you want.
Your resources include: professors, textbooks, tutoring services, the library, etc. Most universities are chalk-full of everything you could ever need to succeed, but the kicker is that you have to seek it out yourself. Read the flyers around campus, use your handbook, and become familiar with your college’s website. You’re new to this, so if you don’t understand a college term, look it up. If you don’t quite get how the whole “credit hours” thing works and what “major-specific classes” are, talk to your advisor. Educate yourself on your education. If you enjoyed a gen-ed class you took, email the professor or your advisor to ask about similar classes, especially if you are undeclared. And here’s a secret: Academically speaking, 99% of the time, if you take the initiative to ask, someone will help you get what you want, even if it’s not protocol. For example, OU recently added an ASL class, but it was reserved for Special Ed majors only. However, I emailed the department expressing my interest in the class, and they pulled some strings and gave me departmental permission, even adding in the email, “we like your spunk.” My point: take what you want; it will not be handed to you.
8. Get. Involved.
There’s a reason why opening week of college is packed with events for freshman. No activities leader will tell you this, but it’s to keep you mentally healthy. Frankly, those shoebox-sized dorms can get depressing. Combine this with a bad sleep schedule, poor nutrition, and homesickness, and you’ll be a ticking time-bomb for developing circumstantial depression. My recommendation is to try to spend as little time in your dorm room as possible. Pick something, ANYTHING, to give you somewhere to go and a group to interact with, even if it’s just once or twice a week. And despite popular belief, those involved in Greek life aren’t the only ones who have fun, so if you aren’t rushing, don’t sweat it. There’s student government, intramural sports, church groups, and major-specific organizations that you can lend yourself to.
9. Know your boundaries and limits.
Before I scare anyone, let me first say this: 9 times out of 10, peer pressure doesn’t exist. However, you have to realize that people are going to assume that you’re okay with everything until you tell them differently. If you go to a party, people are going to assume you’re drinking. If you go over to a guy’s house at 2AM, he’s going to assume you two are hooking up. It doesn’t mean you have to do either, but it’s something to be aware of. College is about discovering who you are and what you enjoy, but don’t make the mistake of throwing every long-held moral out the window the second your parents drop you off. Be smart. If you want to go out, start small if you’re inexperienced. I was fortunate enough to be in the School of Drama my first semester, and the functions I was invited to were safe and free of pressure. Find something like that before you jump right to frat parties. If you do decide to go to a party, always show up with at least one friend that you trust (and make sure you have a designated driver or an uber on call), and if you decide to drink, mix your own drinks and steer clear of the punch– often times, that stuff is an unholy mixture of Kool Aid, cheap tequila, and Everclear (and there are always the horror stories about sedatives and narcotics being mixed in there, too). As for hook-ups and dating, just be careful. Identify what you’re okay and not okay with doing before you’re in the situation. No matter what, educate yourself and be safe. It’s remarkably easy to go from “having fun” to winding up with an STD or a positive pregnancy test. And remember, if a partner isn’t mature enough to get tested or use protection, they shouldn’t be your partner. Also, rest assured that there are plenty of college-aged people who forgo both drinking and casual sex, so if these are matters you feel strongly about, you aren’t alone. Always use your brain and put yourself first in potentially dangerous situations. Learn to be confident saying “no.”
10. Watch what you eat. Hit the gym.
Heard of the freshman 15? It’s real. My freshman year, I gained exactly 15 pounds without even knowing, all while maintaining a regular exercise schedule. Diet is the tricky part. Often times, the food in and around the dorms is fast food. At OU, there was a different place to eat in each of the three “towers.” Mine was home to a place called Couch Express that was famous for its grilled cheeses and chocolate chip cookies. See my problem? Not to be extreme, but if you gain weight easily, I would download an app like My Fitness Pal and do some light calorie counting. Even if you are hitting the gym daily, you cannot outrun a poor diet. You just can’t. Furthermore, with all the people you are exposed to, your immune system is going to need the extra boost that comes from balanced meals. Now, it’s not realistic to follow The South Beach Diet or anything like that your freshman year of college, but you can do your body a favor and pledge not to drink soda or make late-night ice cream runs more than once a week. Also, don’t spend unnecessary money at Target or Walmart when you have a meal plan. Most of your groceries will end up being thrown away if you do this. When you make a store run, grab a couple boxes of low-sugar, high protein granola bars for a quick breakfast and a fruit that doesn’t need refrigeration, such as oranges. Back on campus, use your meal points to buy healthy snacks like nuts, peanut butter, and dark chocolate, and order items a la carte at dining venues. If you enjoy exercise or just want to kick your health routine up a notch, use your on-campus gym to do some cardio a few times a week– even 30 minutes of interval running will make a difference– and lift some light weights for your muscles. It’s hard to be fit in college, but making a few small changes to your diet will make a huge difference in your energy levels as well as your measurements.
11. Go to class, form study groups, learn organization.
This should seem like a n0-brainer, but believe me, there will be days where that 8:30AM lecture with the loose attendance policy will seem unimportant, and you’ll be tempted to hit snooze. Go anyway, no matter how tired you are. Studies show that attending class, even if you haven’t done the homework, even if you don’t actively participate, is much more likely to breed academic success than copping out altogether. You see, in high school, your job was easy. You got up at 7AM, you showed up to school at 8AM, and you were stuck there until 3PM, no buts about it. In college, it’s easier to get off track. Classes are harder, they’re spaced apart, and the attendance policies are often loose. Let me be clear: just because a class doesn’t have an attendance policy doesn’t mean you can’t fail it if you don’t show up. Also, read your syllabus before you raise your hand to ask a question. Chances are, the professor has already written it down. Oh, and buy a planner. Chances of a professor reminding you about a test are 50/50, and if you get stuck with one on the wrong side of that ratio, you’re going to need to look at your syllabus and write down every test date so you can start studying. Speaking of studying, the days of getting straight As only by paying loose attention in class are over; you’re going to need to spend the large majority of your time rewriting your notes, reviewing lectures online, and reading your text book. Don’t be afraid to initiate forming study groups. There will always be people who understand even less than you do, just like there will always be brainiacs willing to help you (I couldn’t have passed Astronomy without the help of two Earth Science Education majors in my class who became my study group). In college, most of the time you won’t have daily work to complete; you’ll have a lecture a few times a week, and then you’ll have about 3 exams (AKA three chances to pass the class) throughout the semester. My advice is to go ahead and do the extra credit early in case you bomb one of those exams. Another quick tip: decide now whether you’re going to use pen and paper or a laptop to take notes in class, this way you won’t have half your notes in notebooks and half on a word document (another mistake made by Yours Truly during my freshman year).
12. Don’t worry about what you wear.
No. One. Cares. I promise that there’s no need to dress up for an 8AM class. The uniform of every college student is athletic shorts and a tee shirt. The fanciest it gets is a comfy sundress or a pair of khakis for guys. Stay comfy! I didn’t wear a pair of jeans once during my entire freshman year. I’m serious. Keep in mind that your classes aren’t going to be the standard 47 minutes they were in high school. Classes can go on for hours depending on what you take. Don’t wear anything that is going to feel itchy, tight, or too hot after some time has passed.
13. Set goals.
This doesn’t have to be a major ordeal. You don’t have to set the goal of graduating summa cum laude or even making the Dean’s List. But, you need to have a few realistic short-term goals and a few realistic long-term goals. I promise, when the mid-year slump hits and you’re out of juice, having these in mind will make the year not seem so pointless. Examples of short term goals include: Get at least one A your first semester, make at least one new friend, try one new thing, etc. Examples of long-term goals include: graduate in 4 years, be an officer in one campus organization by your last semester, be published in your school’s paper by junior year, etc. Even if your goal is to miss no more than 2 days of class per semester, it’s better than nothing! Motivation is a rarity come November, so anything you can do to give yourself an extra push is necessary.
14. Get familiar with email and your university’s online operating system.
Remember in high school when you never touched your email account because email was for old people? Well congrats, you’re old! Your email is your BFF from this day forward. As soon as you activate your university email account, go into your iPhone, go to Settings>Mail>Accounts>Add Account, and then pick your university’s system and enter your email into it. Turn on notifications, too. This way, everything you need to know for your classes will be accessible at all times. You’re going to want to check your email a few times a day. All information regarding class cancelations, emergency alerts, and campus events will be sent out via email. If you’re going to miss class, email your professor unless otherwise specified on your syllabus. Email is the one sure-fire way to get in touch with any department of the university quickly and easily. It’s the most useful tool you have. Use it. You’re also going to want to get familiar with your university’s academic online operating system. For OU, this would be Canvas. Other schools may use Blackboard or something else entirely. Save the link to whatever site your college uses under the Bookmarks tab on your computer for easy access. This site is where you will go to check your grades, see study notes from your lectures (if your professor is kind enough to use powerpoint slides), and review all announcements regarding the course. Most of the time, your course syllabus will be there, too.
15. Recognize that you and your relationships are going to change.
Starting college is a new chapter in your life, and with it comes change. Whether you’re 20 minutes or 20 hours away from home, you are going to come back at Christmas with new stories, new ideas, and new beliefs than you had before. This is a good thing; it means you’re growing. However, it would be unfair not to warn you that part of growing up is letting go of familiar things, and while your high school relationships may not end, they will inevitably change. Don’t get me wrong; your parents will always love you, and your best friend from high school will probably still be there at your wedding if you choose to nurture the relationship, but the reality is that college is one of life’s tools for ridding people who aren’t like-minded from our lives. Let things come and go naturally, and remember that college is hard enough without forcing a friendship or romantic relationship that is holding you down. Your parents aren’t going to be there to keep an eye on you and give you advice, so you will have to learn how to listen to yourself and identify the signs that something isn’t working for you. Check in often with a family member you trust, talk to a therapist about the changes if need be, and relax. Something really great is ahead of you, and sometimes the journey to get there can be uncomfortable, even sad at times. Appreciate and reflect on the friends who were there for you in high school, call them for support, make plans when you’re home, but go live the new chapter of life that you were fortunate enough to open, and focus on the friends who will be with you for the next 4 years. Growth = change.
16. You’re not the only one who is terrified and confused.
I promise that no one knows what they’re doing their freshman year, so don’t stress! Your first year of college is more to get in the swing of things. Your job right now is to pay attention, be in good standing with the university (AKA don’t cause problems and keep your grades up), take note of what interests you, and try whatever you want! This is the first time in your life where your future is completely up to you, and that’s pretty empowering. Freshman year is going to be tough sometimes. You’ll get homesick, you’ll get regular sick, and you may not find your niche or even your friend group by the time it’s over. But hey, you’re going to learn so much, and you’re going to have so many stories to tell your friends and family back home! Shift your perspective from immediate to long-term and remember the end goal of getting a degree and being a valuable contribution to society. Try to have fun, ok? Everything will be fine, and you don’t have to have everything figured out right this second.
- Get a Brita water filter for your dorm room. You aren’t going to feel like going to the lobby at 3AM when you need a drink.
- Have saltines somewhere in your room for an upset stomach.
- Bring the necessities and just a few decorative items for move-in. Your dorm is going to get cluttered quicker than you think, and you don’t need 25 notebooks, a basketball, and 4 candles to add to the mess. Thanks to the air quality from dorm AC units, it’s going to get dusty quickly as well. Keep decor simple and space-efficient.
- Buy a dehumidifier, seriously. Otherwise your towels won’t dry.
- Know your social security number and your student ID# by heart. You will need both.
- Walk through your classes a day before they start.
- Girls, carry pepper spray and try to avoid walking across campus in the dark unaccompanied. Have campus security in your contacts.
- Get a biggish trash can for your room to avoid frequent runs to the *very gross* trash room.
- Be prepared to come into contact with political views that you or your family may disagree with. Many large college campuses are left-leaning, even if they’re located in a conservative part of the country.
- Always tell someone where you’re going if you decide to venture out alone at night. If you have an iPhone, share your “Find Friends” location with your roommate or a close friend in case of emergency.
- Get to know your RA. If he/she is good at the job, you will be checked in on regularly. Don’t be afraid to evaluate them negatively on a survey if they seem careless or dangerous.
- Take the general-education classes that you dread most, first. Get them out of the way while you still have motivation.
- Carry a refillable water bottle with you around campus to save money.
- Make sure you know the ins and outs of your meal plans so you don’t run out of meal swipes too quickly. This happens a lot.
- Call your parents once a week at least.
- See if you qualify for the Honors College at your school! This is will give you more class options and a better chance of graduating at the top of your class!
- All the cool stickers you see on people’s laptops are from redbubble.com. You’re welcome.