For incoming college freshmen, these last few days of summer are bound to bring a shower of advice (often unsolicited) from a variety of well-meaning people in their lives. Older siblings, parents, cousins, guidance counselors, mailmen: everyone will warn them about mistakes they made as freshmen before they got wise. As important as it is that freshmen get the right advice to be successful and have a great time their first year, there are certain mistakes everyone needs to make before he or she can become a mature sophomore.
1. Eat at the dining halls
The food in the dining halls is not going to be good; that is no secret. There are certainly strategies to avoid it (make Easy Mac every night, live on cereal bars and Wheat Thins, starve), but there is no greater right of passage in college. Not only is dinner a daily social event, but the suffering you share with your classmates is an intense bonding experience. The hours you spend inspecting your food and convincing each other that it won’t kill you are invaluable when it comes to building relationships and establishing common ground with your peers. Plus, it’s something you can complain about all you want because everyone will be eager to commiserate with you. “Oh, how I never appreciated my mom’s cooking! What I’d give for a home-cooked meal!” will become the rallying cry for your movement toward better food (which won’t likely come to fruition, but that’s OK). Still, you have to earn the right to groan and grumble about the rubbery chicken and cold pizza. So gather a group, load up your meal cards and trek over to the dining hall. Stick around for the first semester and you’ll have every right to bemoan the tragic lack of quality sustenance. And hey, Thanksgiving is only a few months away!
2. Have study groups
In theory, study groups sound like a great idea. You get together with a few friends in one of your classes, split up the work, study for tests together and everyone gets an A without spending hours slaving away in a cubicle in the library. Everybody wins, right? Unfortunately, study groups don’t work nearly as well in reality as they do in your imagination. The chances that you will sit in a room for hours with your classmates and actually get work done are about the same as you starting that 10-page research paper weeks before it’s due. Sorry, just not going to happen! That shouldn’t deter you from organizing study groups, however. They’re really just an excuse to get together with people in your classes or dorm in a more personal setting where you can really get to know each other. Whine about how awful your professor is, freak out about the complicated homework and gossip about all the other people in your class. Then when midterms and finals come around, buckle down, do the work and motivate your study partners to do the same.
3. Go to every lecture/recitation/discussion session
In case people haven’t told you already, going to class in college isn’t always necessary. Not that I’m advocating sleeping in and watching soaps all day, but attendance is much more complicated in college. Unlike high school, where teachers and administrators meticulously monitor your every move throughout the day, no one in college cares enough to track your whereabouts (you can even go to the bathroom or get a drink of water during class without asking, it’s crazy). What your first year is good for is fine-tuning your class attendance skills and figuring out what type of classes you enjoy, and the only way to do that is to actually attend class. Does the professor take attendance? Does going to class help you at all? My first semester I had a foreign teacher with limited English skills trying to teach us calculus. Between trying to decipher his accent and correcting his grammar mistakes in my head, little learning actually took place in the classroom. Sometimes it makes more sense to spend that hour learning the material by yourself (or sometimes just taking a nap). Then again, for other classes, attendance is crucial. Learning to identify both types is an important lesson you’ll learn freshman year – but only if you go to class! There is an even more important reason to go to classes though – you might actually enjoy them. Unlike high school where you are force-fed the same five subjects every year, in college you have an incredible amount of freedom and control in what you spend your time learning. Check out as many as you can fit in.
4. Overextend yourself
Finding a balance between school and outside interests is an important part of college, but is no excuse to play it safe. Is there a club that seems appealing? Join it. Fitness class? Tighten those abs. Introductory miming class? Go for it. The possibilities are endless if you keep yourself open to them. This is your chance to explore and develop your interests, so don’t miss the opportunity to try something new or challenging. High school was all about sticking to the routine – choosing from a limited set of courses, completing graduation requirements, eating lunch at the same time every day. It’s no longer necessary to conform to a schedule someone else created for you (or to wait for a bell to move from one location to another). Try anything and everything; discover a passion of yours and throw yourself into it. Don’t make sacrifices to try to save yourself from taking on too much. You will force yourself to learn balance because, after all, the only way you will develop your time management skills is if you actually have things to manage. Test yourself, find your limits and figure out what excites you. And, more importantly, with how much college costs, it’s a good way to get your money’s worth!
5. Be a total freshman
There are all kinds of things that you will inevitably do that will give away that it’s your first year. Showing up at the dining hall with 20 people, asking strangers for directions to buildings, going to a frat party with 10 guys and one girl: there are certain things that only freshmen are naive enough to do. People might give you strategies to not make your newbie status so obvious or to mask your inexperience, but ignore it. Being a stereotypical freshman is a part of college you should completely embrace and enjoy. If you ask anyone who is older, they will tell you that freshman year was the most fun they ever had (and if they don’t then they are lying). They may tease you when you are doing something totally freshman-like or brag about how much more mature they are, but in reality they probably miss that time in their life. During your freshmen year, every little thing is new and exciting, and there is no feeling like that sense of new-found freedom. There will certainly be some blunders along the way, but making mistakes is the best way to learn.
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