So… you’re an upcoming college freshman, and you have NO idea what to expect. You hear all the horror stories of bad roommates, all-nighters, lots of stress, you name it. How in the world are you supposed to know what to do once you move into your dorm and start a new chapter? Not to worry! As a recent college graduate with tons of experience, I have put together the perfect freshman college survival guide! Use it to your advantage to get those good grades and make new friends!
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1. GO TO CLASS
Most professors will tell you that it’s up to you to come to class, that they can’t make you come, it’s your grade, blah blah blah. Trust me, it is going to be SO tempting to shut off your alarm and sleep in and just make up the work or get the notes from someone. Let me be the first to tell you, it is borderline impossible to come back from that, especially when professors deduct half a letter grade per absence after the allotted amount. Suck it up, and go to class. You will thank yourself later when you get a crucial exam hint or extra credit for showing up on the day before a holiday break when most people are already gone.
2. Don’t take all of your stuff with you
If you don’t use it at home, don’t take it with you. Freshman dorms are tiny and you’re going to be making lots of impulse trips to Walmart that first year. Either get rid of it or just leave it at home.
3. Call your family
I wasn’t too far from home, and I was having so much fun in college that I often let my family go days without so much as a word from me. DO NOT DO THIS. Even if you’re in the middle of studying for an important exam, call your mom/dad and just tell them you love them. They just want to hear from you to make sure you’re okay!
4. Start out “undeclared”
If I could do just one thing over, it would be to go back and give myself a year to just play around with classes and see what I enjoyed instead of starting out with education. Most schools give you up to the middle of your sophomore year to declare a major without it greatly affecting your graduation date. I changed my major in my fourth year of school and it was the best decision I made, but it was too late. Unless you know for a fact this is what you want to do for the rest of your working life, don’t start out with a declared major. Give yourself some time to think about it. It’s a big decision not to be taken lightly.
5. Find out how to manage your money
When I was in school, my mom could send me money electronically and instantaneously. I realize that some college students don’t have that luxury, so my advice would be to get a bank account set up with a credit union right there in town. Not only will it help you learn to budget your money on your own, you will have quick access to your money without having to wait on Mom and Dad to send you money through Venmo.
6. Learn how to file your own taxes and FAFSA application
As an adult, I cannot stress this enough. It’s something you’re going to have to do yourself eventually anyway; you may as well teach yourself early.
7. Don’t take your laptop to class
Even if your professors allow it, don’t do it. Not only do you not retain new information as well as you would if you were to write it down (actual scientific studies prove it) but you will be far too tempted to get on Facebook and get distracted. Now, there are exceptions if a class has an assignment or an activity to do online. Otherwise, just leave your laptop in the dorm or don’t take it out of your bookbag at all.
8. Find your friends!
Your college friends are different from your high school friends because these friends actually require effort to see and you’re not stuck with them for 40+ hours a week. Find yourself that group of friends you can go to the library with and do a work/study session then go get some dinner. Not only with this help you stay on top of your grades with accountability, but it’s also just nice to have friends to hang out with outside of class. If this task seems daunting to you, just remember: it’s so worth it once you find them because these are going to be your bridesmaids/groomsmen and friends through anything.
9. Save. Your. Work.
The best thing to do here is buy a jump drive, or create a Google Drive account to back up your homework and papers. There is absolutely nothing worse than losing all your hard work right before it’s due because of some freak accident. Start getting in the habit of saving frequently and backing up externally. Don’t be like me and rewrite a whole paper in two days.
10. Practice healthy eating
I am living proof that unless you continue your athletic career or other exercise habits in college, the Freshman 15 will find you. And it will bring friends. Chances are, your cafeteria has a salad bar, so put some greens on your plate. If you do want to eat some of the heartier comfort food, make sure you practice good portion control. Buy a cute water bottle to carry with you to stay hydrated. Believe me, your metabolism will not be the same after high school. On that note…
11. Go to the gym
Or do some other physical activity a few times a week. Walking to class will not cut it (unfortunately). Not only will you keep your body physically in shape but you will keep your mind mentally in shape. Going to the gym or otherwise working out is a great stress relief. When I trained for my first 5k in spring 2015, there was nothing I enjoyed more than getting out and running around campus and watching the sunset while I listened to my running playlist because for a moment, I was able to let my mind stop focusing on the struggles I had been facing at the time. Even if you just do a brisk walk around campus, get moving!
12. Develop/maintain a good skincare regimen
Trust me, your 25-year-old self (and your pillowcases) will thank you for washing your face every night and not always falling asleep with makeup on. Cetaphil has some good face wash and moisturizer for relatively cheap. Cleanse every night that you can, and only exfoliate twice a week. Thank me later.
13. Try your best to get along with your roommate
You don’t have to be best friends, but you do have to find ways to peacefully co-habitate. Practice good hygiene. Keep your side of the dorm tidy. Don’t bring back groups of friends (or hookups) without running it by him or her first. Think about coming back to your dorm after a long day of classes and studying and wanting to take a nap and finding a party in your room, or being “sex-iled” for the night at the last minute. If something bothers you, mention it right away and come up with constructive solutions so that you two aren’t living in an awkward and hostile passive-aggressive environment.
14. Save your money!
This is to my friends who may be at school on financial aid and get your returns at the beginning of the semester. Maybe you’ve had your eye on a new TV or gaming console for your dorm room? Don’t get it! Put that money away and save it! Something may happen with your car and you need to get a repair, but then what will you do if you’ve already blown the money on electronics? It’s tough, but it’s better in the long run to save your money for when you really need it.
15. Clean up regularly
Studies show that having a clean room cuts down on stress. It will provide a nice area for you to study or do homework, and you’ll just generally appreciate having a clean space. Just take about 30 minutes every Sunday to pick up some stuff and do a wipe down of your surfaces. Your room will smell better than if you let trash sit in the room for weeks on end, and your roommate won’t hate you (see above).
16. Find balance
No, I won’t deny that graduating summa cum laude looks amazing on a resume, but most employers are also looking for campus involvement. What kind of clubs did you join? How much did you volunteer in your free time? Grades are important, but don’t let them consume your whole identity to the point of a nervous breakdown.
17. Watch your caffeine consumption
Caffeine can only get you so far before you inevitably crash. The only true way to stay energized and productive is to get sleep when you need it, stay hydrated, and maintain a healthy-ish diet.
18. Get to know your professors
Again, don’t try to be best friends with them, but make them recognize you. You will need them later down the line to write letters of recommendation for grad school and post-grad jobs. Trust me. You want them on your side.
19. Set up a homework/study schedule
Whatever you heard in high school about college is true. You CANNOT just glide through college doing the bare minimum and never studying and expect to get the same grades that you used to. Professors can spot the slackers from a mile away and they will have no mercy. My freshman year, I learned the 2:1 ratio, which means that for every hour you are in class, you need to spend at least two hours studying. For certain classes like Anatomy, it’s even more. Retention is important in college, so discipline yourself to shut off social media and maybe turn off your phone and dedicate the time you need to study so that you can start off your academic career on a great note, not busting your ass for the rest of your career trying to make up for a bad first semester (which you pretty much can’t, for anyone wondering).
20. Break up with your high school boyfriend/girlfriend
I’ve only heard of a few rare cases where high school relationships make it through college. Mine sure didn’t. Our Chancellor of Student Affairs gave a speech at Orientation and started with that. He said “Take out your phone right now and break up with them.” (True story, one of my now best friends actually did it right in front of him and he had to stop dead in his tracks and ask him “Wait did you really just do that?” Too funny) It would have saved me a lot of emotional distress if I had just done it that day. There is a world of potential to meet people in college and you miss out on it if you’re always focused on a long distance relationship, especially a toxic one. Save yourself the trouble and cut the cord. Also, don’t jump into a new relationship immediately afterwards. Spend some time getting to know yourself.
21. Wear flip flops in the bathroom
I don’t really need to explain this one, do I?
22. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account
As a student, you get a discounted price. For all the online shopping you will definitely be doing, it’ll be nice to have FREE guaranteed two-day shipping. You also get access to unlimited music, Kindle books, Prime video streaming, and other amazing benefits, and it pays for itself in about two to three orders. Sign up for a free trial here.
23. Buy a small umbrella to keep in your bookbag
Believe me, you’ll need it.
24. Let your parents be your parents
Whether you’re the first child to go to college or the last, whatever happens on move-in day, just… Let it happen. If your mom wants to take a million pictures, let her. If your dad is talking to everyone on your hall trying to make you a new friend, let him. It may be embarrassing at the moment, but think about it from your family’s perspective: you’re leaving the nest and they’re just going to miss you, so let them embarrass you one last time!
25. Use your resources
If you’re struggling in a class, use campus tutoring. If you know you struggle with writing papers, use the writing center. Don’t let yourself fall so far behind that there’s no way to come back even with getting an A on the final. Also, if you’re not enjoying your major and need some guidance, talk to your advisor or go to a career counselor. It’s a free and invaluable resource that I wish I had taken advantage of when I was in school. Get some help creating a resume. If you find yourself falling into a mental rough patch, get some help. Campus counselors are amazing because they went to school specifically to help people in your age group, so they know how to help! All in all, just don’t feel like you are on your own at college. There is a wide network of support at your disposal. Use it!
26. Follow good laundry etiquette
Students are merciless when it comes to 3 am laundry sessions. One time, I forgot about my laundry in the washer for about an hour after it was done. When I came back, my wet clothes were in a pile on the floor with a new load going in the washer. Forgetting about laundry is pretty rude, and it will save you from having to spend more money to do another load when your clothes inevitably sour.
27. Get a part time job
That is, if you feel like you can handle it. This will give you the amazing opportunity to practice time management, you will have extra spending money, and you’ll get to meet more people. Win win win.
28. Go home!
If a trip home isn’t too difficult or time consuming, do it! Don’t do it every weekend because you’ll miss out on a lot of fun weekend activities, but do it enough to where you’re seeing your family and friends enough, and maybe doing a little free laundry (because scouring your car for quarters gets really old). Plus, home cooked meals are amazing and you should NOT take them for granted.
29. Go to sports games!
You get in for free as a student, take advantage! Go watch the marching band SLAY the halftime show (I’m looking at you @PrideOfTheMountains). Go watch a basketball game. Use a baseball game as an opportunity to get some fresh air. Chances are, those could be some fellow classmates, so go cheer them on!
30. Research Greek organizations
I contemplated going Greek but ultimately decided against it because that kind of culture is not for me. That’s not to say it won’t be for you, but you have to do your research. Talk to active members. Rush some houses. Find out their philanthropy. Decide if that’s something you want to invest in. From what I hear, it’s a great return on investment for lots of people.
31. Last but not least… Live it up!
You’re in COLLEGE now! Be smart about your decisions, but take advantage of what’s in front of you! These are the best 4-5 years of your life and you will want to happily look back on them without regrets. That’s not to say you won’t make mistakes, but I look back at my mistakes knowing I took chances and learned something, and you will too once you graduate and move into the real world.
What other advice do you have for upcoming college freshman? Let me know!