So your parents have moved you into the dorm, hugged you goodbye, sobbed, and left. Now what? Here are a decade’s worth of college experience (two Bachelors and a Masters) for your consideration. I’m pretty sure these won’t be in the course guides. But they will get you out from behind the eight ball, which is where the rest of the freshmen are.
- Go to class. Always. Everyday. All semester. Go to class. Go to class. Go to class. You need to be in class to learn, and because you will only have 3 to 4 tests per class and little if any outside graded work, it’s imperative that you learn how to take notes from your professor, whether typed or hand-written.See, here’s the thing. Grades in college are 100% subjective, no matter what ‘grading system’ they tell you they use. Even if you make A’s on the tests, if your research paper or math assignments prove to your professor that you haven’t learned, they are totally justified in giving you a C. And they’re the Phd and you’re the 18-year-old, so you will not win the argument about fairness.
- On the flip side, this means that you wield a lot of power by the impression that you make on your teacher. And the student who consistently shows up ready to learn, even when half the class is at the lake, may just find themselves wondering how they got a B when all their tests average to D. So just to recap: Keep first things first and GO TO CLASS.
- If it all won’t fit in your car, it all won’t fit in your dorm. You need beddings, clothes, towels, supplies to wash laundry, toiletries, a few small framed pictures, your computer or tablet, flat-screen tv, a bluetooth speaker, and one of the following: guitar, art supplies, or Xorbee. Live with just this stuff for a month in the dorm and use that time to determine what, if anything else, you need, which you may get at Thanksgiving if absolutely necessary.
- Minimal is always better than cluttered. Go ahead and spring for the bigger dorm fridge. And you may wish to only pack seasonally, i.e., leave your coats at home until it gets cold. DO NOT bring anything related to high school; you’re in college now. No one cares about high school. Not even your state championship.
- Get a school map and walk the campus and figure out where your classes are before classes actually start so you won’t be wandering the quad and showing up 20 minutes late to your very first class. No need to look like a freshman even if you are a freshman.
- Don’t dress up for class. Dress medium. This is not high school. No one cares how crisp your appearance is. Even if your university has a dress code, shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops are totally acceptable. However, if you want any hope of attracting attention of the opposite gender, don’t make dressing like a slouch your M.O. Sweatpants are ok for the gym or when you’re sick. They’re not okay for going out to eat. Go ahead and get in the habit of dressing for the day when you get up. Don’t be That Guy or That Girl who stays in your sleepwear until 4pm.
- Girls, dressing to let your femininity shine is not the same thing as trading on your sexuality. See that you know the difference. Guys will notice someone they think is pretty, which is normal. Guys watching and ogling someone they think is ‘hot’ is not healthy, for them or you. Write this phrase on a Post-It and put it on your mirror: “You are more than your body.”
- Guys, modesty is for you too. Yes, we’ll all be impressed by your six pack and your bulging guns. But if you need to show off your physique so that people will like you and be attracted to you, you might wanna have a look under the hood. You are more than your muscles, and that’s a good thing, because being an Abercrombie model should not be the goal that defines us. Besides, if you really want people to notice your muscles, put them in a shirt with a collar, or a suit, not a ripped-to-shreds tank top. Trust me.
- Avoid early classes if you can help it. If your classes are at 10am, you can go to bed at 2am and still have 7 hours of sleep, and that’s figuring for an hour to “get ready” and walk to class. And you will have LOTS of 2am nights. You should also go easy on the ‘energy’ drinks and coffee too. They have their place, but there is, after all, no substitute for good sleep.
- Get a portable phone charger. Keep it handy.
- Go see your professors in their office. Strike up a rapport with them. Some of them may be pompous and arrogant, but they’re the exception (even so, the sooner you learn to deal with pompous superiors, the better off you’ll be). Show up on the pretext of a question about class if you can think of nothing else. Ask them what are the common mistakes their students make that you hope to avoid. Ask them about the pictures/trinkets in their office. They are a wealth of knowledge and experience.Just get to know them so that you are not just another face in a 200-member class. Go visit every few weeks. Professors LOVE to talk about themselves and their field of expertise. Show interest in them and their field, because it’s a good experience to know someone brilliant. And you’ll be in their good books, because they will be excited that there is a student who is excited about what they love. Which makes them teach better.
- Your university will have some sort of free student-led tutoring program. Probably at the library. Check it out. If you even THINK that there is a subject/class that’s gonna give you trouble, like, say, Calculus, then on the first day of class go sign up for a weekly tutor (usually taught by a senior Calculus Major, for instance) to help you with the assignments. Go to your tutoring sessions for a couple of weeks or the whole semester if you need. If you decide you don’t need it, you can always drop and give someone else your spot. But most freshmen wait until they’re in trouble in a class before they seek help, and by then, there’s a waiting list for free tutors.
- In your English Composition classes, you will have a between 1 and 2 weeks to write each composition and turn it in. So write a draft (DRAFT, i.e., not the final super-polished version) in the first few days, then take it to your professor in their office hours and let them look over it/give suggestions/carve it up, even if you fancy yourself a good writer. Then go back to your dorm and make all the changes they suggest. Repeat this process at least twice for every paper and by the time you turn it in for real, they’ve already “graded” it/have a history with it. This is good for you.
- Get to know your Resident Advisor (“R.A.”). Sometimes they can be turds but more often than not they’re there to help you/give good advice/listen. And it’ll give you a feel for the position in case you want to be and R.A., which is a campus job, meaning the university will knock off a few thousand from your tuition in exchange for keeping watch over freshmen. And by the way, the whole point of living in a dorm is to meet people. So go meet them. The first few weeks of classes will always include a variety of dorm mixers designed to help you meet your classmates. Take advantage, because “lonely” should never describe a college freshman.
- Get/Stay connected to campus ministry group. It will be light years different from your youth group experience, but that’s okay. Just go and try to meet as many people as you can, and learn about your own faith in the process. Find a safe place to ask the difficult questions. In the meantime, find a church and make friends with the grandparent-types (not just acquaintances…be actual friends). Up to now, your faith experience has been with people largely your age. That is about to change in college. But far too many college freshman show up at a church expecting it to be like youth group, and it’s not, so they find it boring, and therefore leave. The key to overcoming this is becoming friends with people three times your age. It sounds crazy, I know, but give it a shot. Because it makes church less about entertainment and more about family, which was how it was designed in the first place. And they will have a story or two that will likely blow your socks off. Having a faith family away from home will be a tremendous blessing as the years go by, for them and you. Their own kids/grandkids are probably far away and you will fill the grandkid role in their life too. Perk: they’ll probably love to make you dinner once a week and let you do your laundry there once they get to know you.
- Buy used books whenever possible. Or rent them. Or get them from Amazon. Or get the eBook version. Or check out the reserved copies for free that your professor has put on hold at the library. Because selling back books at the end of the semester is one of the worst experiences of college, nay adulthood.
- Avoid like the plague the thousands of credit card offers that will appear in your mail box. The rates are so outrageously predatory they should be illegal. If you don’t know how credit cards work, go ask an economics professor. In her office hours.
- Some disagree with me on this next point, and that’s fine. But you should go ahead and bid adieu to your boyfriend/girlfriend before you go off to college, especially if you’re going out-of-state. Part ways as friends. You can always get back together later. This might be unpopular in the short term, but I stand by it as being the best policy. Difficult, yes, but it’s better this way in the long run, I promise. College is one of the few times in your life you get the gift of starting with a clean slate. And having as few ties to high school as possible is a good thing. This is doubly true if your bf/gf will still be in high school while you are freshman in college. No need to burn bridges, which is rarely a good idea. Thank each other for the opportunity, part amicably, and move on.
Let me know how things work out. And if you’re the sort whose college days are in your review mirror, what would you add to this?
Once you’ve gotten your first week out of the way, HERE are some hacks for the rest of freshmen year.