The 2015-2016 academic year is winding down, and the end of my freshman year of college is approaching. During the craziness that is final exams, I’ve been reflecting on all the things I’ve learned this year- both in and out of the classroom, and I’ve found that college wasn’t at all what I expected it to be.
Here are 10 things I learned this year that may be helpful to someone who feels unprepared for college, or just doesn’t know what to expect.
1. You don’t have to like everyone you meet. You probably won’t like everyone you meet. And that’s okay.
One of the things most college advice articles will tell you is “Make friends with the first person you meet!” or “Make friends with as many people as possible!” and that’s all B. Everyone’s personality is different and some people just don’t mesh well. If you’re leaving home for school like I did, making new friends can be intimidating, and you may feel a lot of pressure to make friends with the first person who says hello to you in the dining hall. But the cool thing about adulthood is that you don’t have to be friends with people you don’t want to be friends with. If you meet someone and you don’t really get good vibes from them, guess what? You don’t have to hang out with them. It’s that simple. You’ll make friends as you go and you’ll probably find that not forcing those friendships will make them better.
2. Living with other people is hard, but it doesn’t have to be.
Unless you’re going to be living at home you’re probably going to have one or two roommates that you’re going to have to live with for the whole year. I got super lucky: I’ve been living with 5 other people this year. And let me tell you, as an only child I was woefully unprepared for this. I’ve never shared my living space with anyone but my parents and going into this year I was terrified. But honestly it hasn’t been that bad. Things haven’t been perfect that’s for sure. Passive aggressive sticky notes have been left, less than kind things have been whispered behind backs. But I learned that when things get annoying or frustrating there’s two things you can do: change the situation, or live with it. When you’re living with other people and conflict arises you may want to ignore it and move on like you might have done in high school, but you’ll find you can’t do that in college. Communication is your best friend. Talking things out although it may be uncomfortable will help you out so much in the long run. So if your roommate does something that pisses you off, tell them so they can stop doing it. And if they keep doing it then steal one of their packages of ramen. Simple as that.
3. Dining hall food is not the best, so take advantage of home-cooked meals when you can.
If you’re living in a residence hall on campus for your first year chances are you won’t have a kitchen and you will have to have a meal plan. This means you’ll probably be making multiple trips to your school’s dining hall every day. The first week you might be thinking the food isn’t that bad. “Why do people always complain, this is great!” give it time. It only takes one bad serving of chili to make you realize that buffet style food that’s been sitting on a warming tray all day isn’t exactly gourmet. You may find yourself dreaming of the boring mashed potatoes and broccoli your mom always serves with dinner. I love going home for breaks because it means two things: breakfast burritos from Norms, and cooking dinner with my mom. You may have hated family dinners when you were growing up, but home-cooked food tastes different when you’ve been away at school for three months. Take advantage of the meals your parents make for you, because I promise you’re going to miss them when you’re throwing up bad chili in the middle of the night.
4. You will get sick. Don’t panic.
Sharing a living space with other people means sharing germs with other people. Chances are you will get sick at some point during your freshman year. Don’t panic. You will be okay. I don’t think I missed my mom more during my freshman year than when I got really sick in February. I realized that without my mom there taking care of me I had no idea how to take care of myself. I called her more times than I think I’ve ever called her during that 2 week flu. I was miserable. But I dragged myself to the health center, got some medicine and orange juice and before I knew it I was back to my old self again. If you’re afraid of getting sick, buy Emergen-c or Airborne. They really will help you to feel better even though they seem like gimmicks. If you’re already sick, DayQuil works really well. If your school has a clinic or health center on site, go there. It will most likely be free and you’ll get the guidance and help from a real doctor who can help you feel better faster than WebMD.
5. C’s get degrees, but try to do your best work regardless.
A common saying amongst tired college students is “C’s get degrees” which is true: as long as you get a C you will receive course credit and graduate. Sounds like a good deal right? Wrong. Grad school might not seem like a plan when you first enter college, but if you do decide to continue your education a 2.0 GPA will not cut it. But grad school shouldn’t be your only motivation for doing well. Sure, you’re going to have to take some General Education courses and yes they will be boring. But you should still apply yourself. Your professors in college don’t care whether or not you pass their classes. You’ve already paid for the course so it makes no difference to them especially when you’re one of 200 faces in a lecture hall. It’s up to you to ensure that homework gets done and tests get taken. You’re in control of your education now, not your school and not your professors. Why would you want to pay thousands of dollars only to do the bare minimum? In some cases you will have a bad professor who makes it hard to even get a C and that’s okay. But if you have the ability to get a better grade you should go for it. Developing good study habits will help you in your upper division courses, and you’ll be proud when you see an A on your transcript.
6. It’s okay to skip class sometimes.
You should apply yourself and try hard in all of your classes, however that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take time for yourself. If attendance in a class doesn’t count toward your grade (and in most classes it doesn’t. read the syllabus) you don’t have to go to every class. You do need to get the notes, do the homework, and take all the tests but sometimes you will need a mental health day, or a sick day and that is okay. And sometimes you’ll sleep through class and that’s also okay. Don’t beat yourself up if you need to skip class. Don’t take advantage of that though. You should still show up more than half the time. But I encourage skipping a class or two every so often so you’re not totally exhausted by the end of the semester.
7. Never pay full price for your books.
My school’s bookstore is basically a Barnes & Noble and because of this every single book is way more expensive than it needs to be. I’m fortunate that we have book store across the street that sells every book the school does at half the price. Not every school is lucky enough to have a store like that nearby. Renting your books is a great idea. Online services like Chegg and Slugbooks are great because they’re inexpensive and they usually have all the books you need (plus Slugbooks gives you random things like Redbull sometimes). You can also rent your books through Amazon. And in some rare cases, there will be a free pdf of the book you need online. There’s never a good reason to buy the books full price. And sometimes you won’t even use the book at all. Don’t get fooled into paying hundreds of dollars for books you only need for 18 weeks.
8. Buy store brand! But not always.
The great thing about stores like Target, Safeway, and Costco is that they have their own store brands that offer products at cheaper prices than name brand. If you have a choice between name brand and store brand, almost always buy store brand. When it comes to medications, know what the active ingredient is and buy store brand. For example, the active ingredient in Claritin allergy medication is loratadine. Claritin retails for about $12. The Walgreens brand Wal-itine (clever) retails for about $9 and it works exactly the same because it has the same active ingredient. But store brand isn’t always better. There are certain things you shouldn’t buy because sometimes the store brand isn’t always better. In my experience, store brand peanut butter, toilet paper, and trash bags are not worth buying. They may be cheaper but they don’t work (or in the case of peanut butter, taste) as well as the name brand. I’d urge you not to buy store-brand batteries either. You may be saving money at the time but you’ll find yourself going back to buy the name brand anyway.
9. Call your parents at least once a week if not more.
My relationship with my parents has improved immensely since I went away to college. When I was in high school I couldn’t wait to move out and be as far away as possible. Something amazing happens when you go away to college though. Your parents will (hopefully) start treating you like an adult. It’s important to call them every so often to say hi and check in (and ask for money). It’s helped me to develop a different relationship with them and I love and respect them a lot more than I did when I was in high school. Plus they may not act like it but they will miss you. And it’ll be nice to remind them that you miss and love them too.
10. Stay true to yourself.
Many people see college as an opportunity to re-invent themselves. I don’t exactly agree with that mentality. For me, college was a chance for me to be my true self. I’m open about my sexuality and opinions and when people say they enjoy being my friend I know it’s because they like who I really am, not the person I was pretending to be for so long. I know it’s very cliche, but staying true to yourself in college is very important. For example, if you’re someone who is against drinking and smoking, don’t abandon your belief system because you’re afraid of what people will think. You’ll be so much happier discovering the person you’ve always been rather than creating a fake version of yourself.
College is what you make it. Most importantly remember that no one is forcing you to pursue higher education. If you discover that college isn’t right for you it’s okay to drop out or explore other options. This is your life and you’re not legally bound to school anymore.
I hope these things have been helpful. I’m sure I’ll only learn more as a I go through the next three years.
Best of luck!