Freshman year at college can be one of the most thrilling, exhausting, exciting, stressful, and overall unforgettable years of any student’s life. For teens, leaving your parents’ nest for the first time for the unknown abyss of the collegiate experience can be incredibly daunting. Although you can never know for sure what to expect out of your first year as an undergraduate, check out these few tidbits of advice I would have loved to have heard before last September.
Maybe you have a wad of cash burning a hole in your pocket from a summer job, or maybe you’ve picked up a few shifts a week working in the library on campus. This doesn’t mean you should spend it. Tons of hidden costs come with life on your own: funds for late-night study snacks, extra books for class, school supplies, personal hygiene products (yes—you do have to buy your own toothpaste now!), and laundry all come out of your wallet. Save wherever you can. Maximize the amount of meals you eat in the dining hall, using a university shuttle in lieu of a taxi, and make coffee or tea in your room instead of paying $3 for a cup brewed by an on-campus barista. You’ll be thankful to have the extra cash lying around when you really need it.
She may be your best friend in the world, he may drive you crazy—unless this person is certifiably insane or making you severely uncomfortable (in which case talk to residential services ASAP), you’re stuck living with them in unnaturally close quarters for nine months. You only have one job here: do everything in your power to be the best roommate possible. Clean up your stuff, don’t leave out food, don’t bring groups of loud friends in while he or she is studying, and don’t turn on all the lights after bedtime. You can complain about your obnoxious roommate privately to others, just don’t be the obnoxious roommate.
Amidst the anticipation of new friendships, social events, clubs, and independent living, thinking about your courses may be on the mental back burner. Before you sign up for classes, make sure you do your research. Check out where you can buy the cheapest books (hint: it’s probably not the campus bookstore), which professors to seek out (and which ones to avoid), and what requirements you need to get out of the way for your major. Don’t be afraid to reach out to older students or advisors for advice—they’ve acquired tons of knowledge about these kinds of things and would love to share it with incoming freshmen.
Alcohol (and other drugs)
Although it’s a topic a lot of people shy away from, illegal substances are in fact incredibly prevalent on college campuses. Freedom from parental supervision fosters an experimental environment, but that doesn’t mean it should foster an ignorant one. If you do choose to try a drink, make sure you know exactly what it is you’re drinking—those two cups of jungle juice that taste like lollipops could contain at least eight servings of alcohol. And trust me, your vomit will not taste like sugary candy.
When there’s nobody around to take care of you, you’ll often find that you don’t really remember to take care of yourself. Reminding yourself to shower, eat three balanced meals a day, exercise, take medication, drink enough water, and get a good amount of sleep doesn’t seem difficult, but some of these seemingly mindless tasks may actually slip your mind. If your immune system shuts down on you, you could face some serious studying and social setbacks. You may be out on your own, but your physical well being still needs some TLC.
The best piece of advice I can pass on is to get involved. It’s so easy to run back to your dorm in between classes, eat meals quickly and quietly, study alone, and sit on your computer watching Netflix in all of your free time. Do homework in the student center. Join clubs. Attend a few parties. Start study groups with the people in your classes. In the long term, building a strong network of peers will not only enhance your college experience, but could actually prove more helpful in your search for employment after college. But purely in the short term, it doesn’t hurt to have a support system as you tackle the big, scary obstacles of freshman year.
by Elana Golub, a rising sophomore at Northwestern University. You can read more of Elana’s writing at HerCampus.