With the end of July approaching, I think it’s an appropriate time to start discussing the start of college. I remember that during the summer between high school and college, I desperately wanted to begin school. I prepared all summer, buying things for my dorm room, ordering textbooks, picking the right backpack, etc. So, in light of the impending return of academia, I wanted to share my top tips for those of you just beginning college. High school probably felt like an eternity. Well, college goes quickly [too quickly], so starting off on the right foot, and really enjoying your time at your chosen university or college is key to making the most of four years!
As a former RA for first-year students, I’ve seen the beginning of college go a lot of different ways for people. Some people find their place immediately, some people cling to a group of friends that may not really suit them, and some people actually despise everything about the place they thought would be their new home and spend their evening having a love affair with Google, desperately searching for the place to which they can transfer.
So, considering what I observed as an RA coupled with my own college experience, I wanted to share five tips that I think will lead to a successful first year of college.
First, do not go home regularly. If you’re going to school somewhere that is easy for you to get to from school, resist the urge to go home regularly. Whether it’s once a week, every weekend, etc., just say no. I had a few friends who fell prey to the appeal of going home on the weekends our first year of college, and they never truly bonded with people until our second year. It’s hard to really feel like part of something (the college community, a friend group, etc.) if you’re not around! I think it is vital to a successful time in college to get comfortable at your school and make a conscious effort to bond with your peers! So, rather than heading home for family dinner on Friday, head to a local restaurant with some other people from your residence hall or have a movie night in your dorm room!
Second, be very upfront with your roommate on the first day. Nothing kills a good college experience faster than a shitty roommate situation. If you’re suffering in your living situation, it will bleed into every aspect of your life. You’ll become annoyed, and you’ll find yourself venting to your new friends (who will likely think you’re too much drama, and start to distance themselves). While some situations really are terrible, some seem terrible, but actually aren’t. For example, as an RA I heard about a roommate situation where one roommate was stealing the other’s clothes. There was a situation where one roommate was constantly doing drugs. There was another where the roommate was having guys in and out of the room and would have *relations* while the other roommate was sleeping (or pretending to). Frankly, some roommates are crap. You may be justified in your annoyance. However, be proactive. On day one, set very clear boundaries. Make a list of “turn offs” if you will, and list things that would make the situation unlivable for you. Remember compromise is very much necessary! Have monthly check-ins, where you ask your roommate how she’s doing if there is anything about the situation that isn’t working for her, etc. This may seem juvenile, but I actually believe that having open dialogue and setting boundaries is respectful and mature. If you’re an extremely light sleeper, maybe set a hard rule of no guests in the room after a certain time. If you’re struggling to adjust to college, a bad living situation will make you run even faster away from campus. Be smart, be aware, and be respectful. You can read a more extended version of my advice for roommates here.
Third, get involved. I was very involved in college, and I tried to get involved as soon as possible. Joining clubs, trying for associated student bodies, or going to college sporting events is a great way to meet people. Yes, you’ll have the built-in community of the people who also live in your residence hall, but being around the same people (and living with them) can be tiring. Expand your network and get involved in things, go to meetings, meet people you may not otherwise meet. Some of my favorite college friends are those I met through organizations I was part of, such as Academic Honor Council and Resident Advisor.
Fourth, invite people to do things. Have you heard about the great pub down the street from campus? What about brunch complete with bottomless mimosas downtown? Any news about the hiking trails near campus? College towns typically have some pretty awesome activities for students to do off campus. Figure out one or two you’d like to do, and invite some of the people you’ve met a few times and would like to get to know, but haven’t become full blown friends yet! This gives you an instant conversation piece, and a chance to hang out with people.
Fifth, remember to enjoy the moment. As I said, college goes quickly. I went back to my alma mater for graduation in May, and one of the residents I had my first year as an RA said, “Can you believe I’m going to be a senior in the fall?” I couldn’t… and I bet she couldn’t either! While college is stressful, and you’re thinking about so many things at once, remember to take a moment to enjoy the moments. Go get coffee with friends, don’t back out because you need to study (unless you really really need to study). Go explore your college town, go karaoke at the local bar.
In order to have a great college experience, you have to be willing to experience college. This means going to campus events, immersing yourself in the surrounding area’s culture, and being open to the members of your college community. My biggest caution to any first-year student is: don’t take it too seriously and put yourself out there. Obviously be safe when trying new things. If you’ve never drunk a sip of alcohol, don’t go take 20 shots at a frat house. Remain smart in your choices while being open to new experiences. If you try something and realize it is not for you, don’t try it again if you don’t want to.
If you have any questions about college, feel free to comment below or send me an email! I love hearing about people’s experiences!