By: Amani Teshome, Student, Boston College
Congrats! You’ve finally made it. After twelve years of education comprising of: kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and high school, you’re on your way to freshman year of college. It probably seems like this phase of life has been a long time coming. From your parents or older siblings talking about their experiences to watching college sports or movies about college, you’ve heard and, in most cases, seen it all. Now although most of your college experiences won’t be anything like the American Pie series nor will they be studying all day every day in your dorm room; they will most likely be a happy medium of a rigorous yet manageable course load coupled with an exciting, yet not over the top, social scene. This “work hard, play hard” mentality is how you can get the most out of your college experience and that’s why its number 1 on this list.
1. “Work hard, play hard” – You are no doubt excited about the freedom you are about to experience in college; yet let me assure you complete autonomy is a double-edged sword. If you let it consume you then your grades will suffer, however if you only focus on academics you will miss out on a ton. The best route, I have found, is to focus on the weekdays and get as much done as you can and then reward yourself by doing what you want on Friday and Saturday.
2. Don’t go back to your dorm unless you absolutely need to – You will soon find that you often have A LOT of free time in between classes. It’s important to know what you’re going to do during those blocks of time. Although it can be very tempting to go back to your dorm and take a nap, drink a cup of coffee instead. If you choose a nap, chances are you’ll end up sleeping for an hour and a half or so and you’ll wake up groggy and thinking about all the things you could have gotten done in that time. The dorm room, like independence, is a double-edged sword. Filling up the free time you have with a trip to the library, a visit to a professor for office hours, going to the gym, or literally anything else besides sleeping or playing video games is a much more productive use of your time. You’ll be glad you took initiative when others struggle to make use of their free time. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants, the question is what are we busy doing.” Know this, live this, own this.
3. Don’t go home every weekend/call parents and old friends everyday – Even though you think it won’t hit you, you will at some point feel homesick your freshman year. This is normal. You’ve left the comfort zone that is all you’ve known for the past 18 years. Although it is good to check in with your parents and old friends every once in a while, you can’t expect to grow or make new friends in college if you call people from home all the time. Growing up I had a close group of eight friends that I’d done everything with since I was five years old. From kindergarten through high school we’d all been together, so it was hard when we all went to different schools. I just reminded myself that we would still be friends even if we didn’t talk every day. Take time to realize that what you left at home will always be there and then appreciate and embrace your new surroundings.
4. Live in the present – A wise man once said, “living in the past makes you depressed, living in the future stresses you out, so why not live in the present?” This is how you must approach college. High school may have been fun for four years but that’s it. You graduated and you’re finished with it. I don’t think you should disregard all the memories you made and friends you had during that time, but living in the past only makes you sad. Similarly, while it is good to have a sort of road-map of what you want to do in college, if you obsess over every aspect of your future from classes you “have to take” to internships to jobs you will only stress yourself out. The perfect medium is to have a plan for your future and not be to scared to go off the path if something presents itself. A mentor of mine told me that five years ago he had an idea of what he wanted to do with the next phase of his life yet, not being afraid to go off the path he had set for himself allowed him to be more successful than he could’ve imagined. This kind of an attitude will give you the freedom to do as you please while still having an idea of where you want to go.
5. Get involved on campus – This doesn’t mean join every club you see on campus, narrow it down to a few and make a smart decision about which to choose. My college offers an extra-curricular day towards the beginning of the school year that allows all students to get a taste of the numerous clubs on campus. They set up booths where current club members helpfully answer questions and offer to place you on their email list-serv. Chances are your school will probably hold something similar to this and it would behoove you to go to it. Once you’re involved on campus you will have diversified your circle of friends on campus and will get to know more people. Similarly, you will have an outlet to do something you’re passionate about.
6. Get along with your roommate – Odds are you have been randomly selected to live with someone. Although you may hate the idea of this, there are ways to live peacefully with a complete stranger. Nowadays you can reach out to your roommate before school starts and get to know them a little bit. Message them on Facebook or email them ahead of time with a fun message about what supplies you intend on bringing to the room. Similarly, be sure to lay down some ground rules about the room the first couple of days you move in; i.e. when you go to bed/wake up, study habits, sharing items in the room, etc. I was lucky enough to get along about as well as I possibly could with my roommate freshman year and although we weren’t best friends, he is still one of my closest friends on campus and someone who I can go to if I ever need help with anything. However, if you try to get along with your roommate and for whatever reason it just doesn’t end up working out for the both of you, then have a talk with your roommate and talk to your RA or RD. It is their job to sort out problems like this and trust me they’ll do a good job solving the problem.
7. Stay healthy – You’ve all heard about “the freshman 15” the supposed myth that the new freedom of college coupled with the dining hall food, free time, and weekend endeavors will lead to you gaining fifteen pounds your first year of college. Although it can be tempting to eat cheeseburgers and pizza everyday, you will regret it in a couple months. It’s fine to eat the foods you want but be sure to try and eat healthy when you can. And don’t forget about working out! Whether its lifting in the gym, playing basketball or going for a run literally any of these activities can ensure you live a healthier lifestyle. Intramural sports are a great way to keep playing sports if you played them in high school while also allowing you to make new friends and stay fit.
8. Get to know your professors – Chances are you will have a large lecture class your first year and you will only get to know your TA’s well. Don’t let this discourage you since they are the ones who report to the professor, it is a good idea to be attentive during their discussion sections. However, if you are in a smaller class, say one with less than forty-some students, then it is in your absolute best interest to get to know the professor. This doesn’t mean sucking up to your professor, but go in the first week of class, introduce yourself and ask what you need to do to succeed in their class. This will show that you are a serious and motivated student that cares about the course. Another great time to visit your professor is if you are stumped with what is going on in class. Ask how to better understand the content before you’ve failed the first quiz, not after. A professor knowing your legitimate interest in the course will make a huge difference if you are on the cusp between a B- to a B or a B+ to an A- at the end of the semester.
9. Get to know the city you’re in – If you are going to school in a big city i.e. Seattle, San Fran, LA, Boston, NY, etc. then chances are a big reason you went to school there in the first place was to get the chance to live in a city you were interested in. Even if this isn’t the case you should still try and get off campus and explore around because I guarantee you will be surprised at what you find. College is the one time in your life where you really get the choice to get up and move somewhere of your choice and although it may seem difficult to get yourself out and about on a Saturday afternoon when you’d rather lay in bed and catch up on some sleep, you owe it to yourself to get out for a couple of hours and explore. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
After my first two years of undergrad, I can confidently say these are the best pieces of advice I can give you. Although these my vary person to person, living your first year of college with some of these in mind will be in your best interest and will only prove to help you out. Good luck!