If you've chosen to go to college this fall, you're probably undergoing a whirlwind of different emotions right now. Excitement over your newfound independence, anxiety over living in a place where you hardly know anyone, and fear that you won't be a good enough student: those were some of the key feelings I had before I finally stepped onto campus and took my first class.
The first few weeks themselves were a nerve-wracking time for me: I remember the first day of every class, how I would panic for five minutes questioning whether or not I was in the right room, until my professor began the day’s lecture. I remember sitting around in my room waiting for my next class, not knowing what to do with a huge chunk of free time in the middle of my day. And I remember being nervous about everything, from my first time eating in the dining hall to first course assignment. But if I could go back, I would do everything the same way; the nerves made the experience as important as it was meant to be.
I've learned a lot in the last year of being a freshman, and one of the most important things was that the first month is always the hardest; after that, it's mostly smooth sailing in a fun, new environment. So for those of you who aren't sure how you're going to survive this fall, here are a couple of tips that might make your time a bit easier.
Get started early.
It’s often easiest to make friends at events like orientation or welcome week. No one really knows each other yet, and everyone wants to meet new people. So, if you can, try to be as social as possible during these first few weeks. Afterwards, it might get a bit more difficult to see people outside of the students you bump into on the daily. I actually met one of my roommates at orientation, and she came to be one of the closest friends I made during my first year.
Of course, there’s nothing to worry about if you don’t make all the friends you need in the first week; just take it slow, relax, and you’ll find your people.
A great way to find them, in fact, is to join clubs! Within the first few weeks, there should be a club fair or some sort of event that introduces all of the campus organizations to first years. Getting involved on campus is a great way to do much more than simply “survive” your first year: it helps you know more people and accomplish more for your campus community.
In my first year, I joined my school’s newspaper, and I was often able to meet new people who recognized me from the articles I had written. I found classmates and close friends who were also in the newspaper, and I was able to comment on issues on campus like grief counseling.
Be prepared for your classes.
Get acquainted with your schedule and your classroom locations as soon as possible. Also, get your books as soon as possible, as oftentimes professors won’t cut you slack simply because you’re a first year. Some professors expect you to have your textbooks by the second class, even if you’ve only had your syllabus for a day.
If possible, before your classes start, look on your school’s bookstore website or your student portal to see if you can find the books your professors want you to have. Sometimes you’ll be able to find a list of required texts based on the classes you’re taking. Using that list, try to buy or rent your books at sites like Amazon or Chegg: they might be cheaper than the options your school bookstore offers.
Make sure you have the right supplies as well, like notebooks or pens or certain calculators, if necessary. And live your life by the syllabus: make sure you actually read it, and thoroughly, too. Because professors give a syllabus at the beginning of the semester, they hardly ever remind you about important dates. Your syllabus is a key to surviving the first few months, especially when you haven’t gotten the hang of school yet.
Try to cultivate a relationship with your professors.
Be open and friendly with your professors, as they often prove to be helpful survival guides in themselves. You don’t have to kiss up, but there’s no harm in asking them how their day went or making sure you attend office hours (which are periods outside of class your professor sets aside in order to answer any questions you might have. Office hours are held, obviously, in the professor’s office, which you can often find on the syllabus or on the school website). Once you get close to a professor, they’ll likely help you out when you need it by providing useful college survival tips. During my first year, I spoke often with one of my writing professors, and she encouraged me to pursue my current track as an English major. She reaffirmed my potential as a writer and helped me believe in myself, particularly when I was feeling the pressure to switch over to something in business.
You’ll find that there’s more time in the week than you’d expect, and if you plan things out properly, you’ll be able to get everything you need done. But without the huge block of time that high school used to take, you might find yourself in your room with nothing to do more often than you’d expect. In this case, it’s necessary to pace yourself. Do the right amount of work each day, and plan for the weekend. Pick a time to do your laundry each week, and create a routine for yourself. You don’t have to feel rushed as long as you manage your time wisely. Don’t procrastinate on assignments: you don’t want to be stressing in your dorm on Sunday night with a hundred pages of reading to do.
Allot alone time.
Many college first years, especially in the first few months, feel the pressure to get new friends fast. While it’s important to socialize, it’s also important to allot yourself some time to be alone and introspective. You don’t always have to be around people. Oftentimes, the best survival tip is to spend some quiet hours recuperating in your room.
A huge part of the college experience is learning how to live independently. This means going grocery shopping, doing laundry, and running errands in general. The best thing to do to survive this newfound life is to learn how to enjoy these tasks. Bring your friends with you on a CVS run, or buy snacks that’ll brighten your mood while your studying. It’s often the little things that will stick out to you most at the end of the first year.
Chances are, your fellow first years are just as lost as you are. So ask questions! Laugh at how you guys barely know how to work the laundry machines, or how you aren’t sure how to take out a library book. Don’t be afraid to admit how lost you are sometimes, because there’s a huge possibility that the people around you are feeling the same way. It’s good to find camaraderie even in the little things.
If you do happen to befriend any upperclassmen in your first few months of college, ask them questions too. They’ll probably think it’s adorable that you don’t know where the bookstore is, and they’d be happy to help you out. During my orientation, I met up with one of the alumni from my high school who attends my college, and I basically peppered her with questions for about an hour. She happily showed me and my roommate from orientation all around campus - which ended up exhausting us, but it made me feel a lot more prepared when classes actually started and I had to find my way around on my own.
College isn’t an easy place to navigate. The first few months in particular are a difficult time, since you don’t know where anything is or how to get around anywhere. But hopefully with these tips, you’ll be able to survive, and of course, to enjoy your first few college experiences. You’re as prepared as you’ll ever be, so for the rest of the summer, just sit back and relax until the show starts.