Check back every day this week for a new What I Wish I Had Known as a Freshman feature.
As a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, I was constantly on the move between classes, newspaper pitch meetings and yoga sessions at the campus athletic facility. My college experiences have shaped me as a student and person on a deeper level than my persistent coffee addiction. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom I wish I’d known before I settled into what would become my home for the next four years.
Choose a dorm based on size, not appearance: Dorm selection is a sticking point for many incoming freshmen. The choices can be overwhelming — should you live by the lake or in the city, on a co-ed or single-sex floor, in a double or quad room? Imagine deciding between flavors at the local ice-cream parlor multiplied by 100. You aren’t just deciding between coconut and pistachio. You’re making a selection that will help to shape your social experience as a college student. For many, the core group of friends established as a freshman will endure. The bond forged between students figuring out the best dining options and study locations on campus is powerful. Don’t limit yourself. Make sure you have the best chance to meet people you will connect with.
You CAN go see shows on a school night: They’re coming to town, your favorite band. You have every CD, every T-shirt, every press clipping ever written about them. You know each minute fact from the bassist’s birthday to the five other titles in consideration for their latest album. This band — the one you’ve dreamt about seeing for five years — is coming to town the night before your midterm essay is due. Fear not. Why should school limit an opportunity to expand your cultural perspective? Nobody says you can’t ace your midterm and experience the greatest concert. Ever. It just takes some planning. Get an early start on your paper or exam preparations. Take some time to visit your professor. Share your ideas. It’s a great way to network and make sure you’re headed in the right direction. Procrastination is your enemy. Fight the urge to watch a Mad Men marathon or take up jazz ballet and hit the books instead. That concert will dangle like a carrot before you, urging you on and focusing your attention.
Don’t be afraid to strike out on your own: High school is notoriously cliquey. College … not so much. Differing classes, dorm locations and sheer craziness of scheduling can make forming a tight-knit group of friends immediately difficult. Don’t be afraid to journey solo. Go to the comedy show at your student union, check out that new thrift boutique or head to the gym. You don’t need a posse in tow to validate your experiences or self-esteem. Chances are you’ll run into someone from your dorm or class in your travels. It’s a great way to find others who share similar interests. Give it time, and soon you’ll be crowd-surfing alongside your new crew.
Explore diverse classes your freshman year: You’re driven. You’ve wanted to become an engineering, fashion or chemistry major since you could verbalize your most ardent desires. You’re breathless at the thought of summer internships in a lab or at a designer label. Good. For. You. Now take a step back and picture yourself two years in the future. What do you think the chances are that you’ll have the same passions? You might, or the countless experiences and lessons you’ll learn in college might drastically alter your perspective. Maybe then you’ll want to pursue teaching or nursing. Why not branch out your freshman year and take introductory classes in subjects that have always interested you? That way if you decide to change your major, you’ll have fulfilled some of the perquisites and can then move onto the secondary classes in the track. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up studying classics after all.
Read more stories like this in the new USA TODAY College Guide magazine, available Sept. 11, 2012.
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