For the first time in 17 years, I did not go back to school this month.
And it feels hella weird.
But I remember it like it was yesterday… or, like, 3 months ago. Yes, I’m so straight outta college that I can still taste the questionable cafeteria food.
That’s right, kids: my college didn’t have a nice food court with a Chick-Fil-A. Your options were soul food, vegetarian fare, pizza, sandwiches, salad bar, or cereal. Arguably still better than high school, though.
I guess this is as good a time as ever to mention that I went to private liberal arts college, so my experience was a little different than most… but certainly not one-of-a-kind. Which is why I thought that while the undergrad experience is still fresh in my mind, I’d do a series of posts dedicated to all those who have gone or are going back to college.
My mission: to share the most universally applicable lessons I learned during my four years of higher education. Of course, everyone’s college experience is/was a little bit different, so make like my school cafeteria’s pizza and take it or leave it!
part 1: the freshman experience
Let it be known that my college insisted on referring to freshmen as “first-years” in an effort to be gender-neutral. This has probably become a thing at colleges, and honestly, I found it annoying, even as a wo-man.
I mean, I get it, but little did I know that this was just the beginning of four, long years of stumbling over gendered terms that no one outside the college cared about. In general, I became so concerned about being offensive that it stunted my intellectual growth. But more on that in another post, maybe.
I don’t know about you, but I think they should’ve called us freshmeats instead like a 90s high school comedy. Not only is it gender-neutral, but it sure does roll off the tongue.
That should offend no one, right?
There are only a few things you need to know to survive life in the dorms. First, always have a stockpile of emergency snacks and water bottles. Second, if you can afford a mini-fridge and/or microwave, do it. It’s awesome. Third, don’t. Forget. Your room key.
Here’s another thing: there’s nothing wrong with going home on the weekends. I don’t know about other colleges, but mine highly discouraged freshmen from going home on the weekends… for the first few weeks, at least. They said it “helped with the transition” but I think they may have been concerned about drop-out rates.
Listen, there is such a thing as relying too much on your parents, but seriously, you’re 18 years old. You’re a child who can vote. I’ll tell you what: I went home almost every weekend my first year, and if anything, it kept me from dropping out. Now, obviously everyone’s home life is different (and not everyone can go home on the weekends…) but if it’s available and it helps you recharge, then by all means, go home and eat your mom’s cooking.
I was also that college kid that did her laundry at home, too–mostly because the laundry room in my dorm hall was almost always full of broken units and/or wet laundry.
Here’s the thing about roommates: it’s not always bad. I knew plenty of roommates that ended up being best friends, or at least good friends. Even though you may not know until you show up on move-in day, try to keep an open mind and get to know the person you’re sharing a small, cramped space with before making judgments. However, in the case of an undesirable roommate situation, there is a pretty standard order of operations:
- Try to work it out with your roommate first, awkward as it may be. A lot of times, communication is key, and if you go about it considerately, there’s a good chance your roommate will understand.
- If you’ve done all you can to work it out privately, go over your roommate’s head and talk to your RA. RAs are (allegedly) trained to mediate conflict between roommates. If your RA can’t work it out, the RD usually can.
- If you can’t work it out with your resident babysitters–uh, I mean, RAs and RDs–present, then talk to them about switching rooms. Also, most colleges have a room swap program, so just hold out until you get an opportunity to move.
The roommate situation can be stressful if you let it be, but don’t suffer in silence! Reach out and find a solution–I guarantee you, this isn’t the first time your college has dealt with a disgruntled dorm dweller, and it certainly won’t be the last.
work hard? yes. play hard? yes.
College + hormones = partieeeees!
Depending on your disposition, going to college parties may appeal more or less to you, but even if you don’t hit up those wild frats, you’ll probably (hopefully, if you’re not a recluse like I was) make some friends and wanna hang out with them.
Here’s what you need to know about work vs. play in college: you gotta let loose and have some fun from time to time (and probably make some mistakes while you’re at it), but if fun starts to equal total neglect of everything college-related, well… you can’t spell “flunk” without “fun.” Heh heh, thought that one up myself.
Anyways, the quicker you learn how to balance out your school shit with your social shit, the quicker you keep yourself from getting in deep shit. Again, a lot of this depends on your disposition: if you’re a neurotic overachiever like I was, you might work harder than you play. If you’re a fun-loving party animal like some of my friends were/are, well, vice versa.
You can have the best of both worlds, but you have to know when to work and when to play. It’s unlikely you will/did heed this advice as a freshman, but hey, you gotta break some omelets to make some eggs, am I right?
Real-life example: some of my schoolfellows adopted a no-drinking-during-the-week policy so they could get their work done and party on the weekends. I thought this was pretty smart, actually. How successful they were at this, I don’t know… I certainly wasn’t. Sometimes, you get to Tuesday, and damn, has it been a long week.
I think these tips are best illustrated with a handy, succinct bullet list:
- Take notes. Annotate your books/articles. For God’s sakes.
- Ask questions. Even the dumbest ones. As the old saying goes, “If you’re confused about something, other people in the class probably are, too.”
- Learn your classes’ attendance policies. Use any free skips to your advantage.
- Totally lost? Talk to the professor.
- Need an extension on a project? Just ask.
- Incompetent professor? Talk to people who’ve taken the class before. Gather strength and survival tips.
- Mean professor? Same as above, but also, just do the work and get out. Fly under the radar.
- Hot professor? Uh, can’t help you there. Just don’t?
On Tuesday, I’ll share a fun anecdote about the college experience or something, and next week, I’ll pick up where I left off and talk about WRITING ESSAYS. Dun, dun, dun!
What is/was your college experience like? What are your best tips for surviving freshman/first-year/freshmeat year? Comment below!