What I wish I knew when I started my first week of college
I spent all of high school desperately wanting to go to college. I longed for higher education, adventure, and leaving my small town. It was even my mantra for a good four years: “Do this and you can go to college.” That sentence got me through countless projects, homework assignments, and AP study sessions. But the funny thing was that for all my college dreaming, I wasn’t really prepared for the reality of what was to come. On paper it makes sense. A shy girl from a small town might have a bit of a learning curve when she got to her big college in the big city. However, it still caught me by surprise. And although I made it through my first week just fine, there were definitely a few things I wish I could go back and tell myself:
1. Say a nice goodbye to your family.
On my move in day, my parents and my little brother drove me down to NYC. We found my dorm, grabbed my stuff, and moved it up to my floor. They even went to the store to get some extra dorm gear for me, and got lunch with me. And then they left to go home. Even though that was something I rationally knew was going to happen at the end of the day, I was still unprepared for it. My family was going home without me, and this weird cinder block building was my new home. I was on my own for the first time in my adult life. It was jarring because I had spent all day being annoyed at the little things my family did as if I was going to see them again the next morning. But I wouldn’t_not until Thanksgiving. So if you’re about to move into your new dorm, make sure your family knows you love them and you are present and appreciative of your time with them on that day.
2. It’s OK to feel awkward and out of place.
This one especially goes out to my fellow shy girls, but can also apply to anyone during this first week. You’re going to feel a little strange at first. You don’t know everything about where you are, you don’t know the rules, and you don’t know all the people. It’s OK. Everyone else is in the same boat. My first night at college, my program was throwing a big party for all the freshman. My suitemate was in the same program as me, so we went together. Since I had only been in college for only four hours tops, she was also my only friend. When we got to the party, we hung together for a bit talking to people, and then she broke off to talk to more people. At the time I felt incredibly abandoned and didn’t know what to do with myself. I made conversation with a few more people, but I couldn’t handle my own anxiety. I ended up ditching early, and trying to walk home to my dorm. I got so lost I had to hail a cab. When I told the cabbie where I was going he laughed at me and drove me four blocks to my dorm. He didn’t charge me and wished me luck. Looking back, I realize that my suitemate was just being social, something I should have been doing. Now that I’m older and have been the shy girl at the party multiple times, I realize that it helps to swallow your fear in situations like that. So if you’re feeling awkward, great. Take a few deep breathes, and go introduce yourself to someone. Ask them questions about their life. Everyone is new, so remember that they’re all just as nervous as you are. Don’t let yourself feel out of place. You have as much reason to be there as anyone else.
3. Look up where your activities and classes are beforehand.
This is crucial, especially if you’re going to college in a completely different city like I was. Always know where you are going beforehand. If you don’t know, look it up. If your college calls the buildings strange names that don’t make much sense or are specific to the college, look that up. If you can’t figure it out, ask your RA. If you have time, see if you can check out the campus before class starts. If you can’t, leave early on your first day of class, and give yourself at least 30 mins to waste getting lost. During my first week freshman year I didn’t look up any of my activity or class locations until the last second. As a result I was late to a lot of stuff, and missed a lot. At one point my program heads actually scheduled a picture of our entire freshman class. My suitemate and I aren’t in it because we were busy wandering around the wrong block. To be fair, I was a freshman in ‘mapquest’ days when we used to print out directions, but now it’s a lot easier.
4. This is the easiest time to make friends in your entire life.
Something I didn’t realize at the time, but I wish I could tell myself now, is that the first week of college is the easiest time to make new friends, because no one has friends yet. Everyone is super friendly and open to meeting new people, so take advantage of that. Be chatty, talk to everyone. If you think someone is cool and you want to be their friend, ask them to hang out. If you don’t like being chatty, watch movies with your floormates, or invite people to hang out at local shows or concerts. But most importantly, if you want to be someone’s friend and see them again, get their number. I made this mistake so many times that first week. If you don’t get someone’s contact info, particularly at a big school, you’re going to have a hard time running into them again. So be sure to be proactive and ask for it instead. There will be plenty of opportunities to make friends during the rest of college, but nothing will quite capture the amicable, friendly atmosphere of that first week.
5. Go to ALL the activities.
During my first week of college I still felt like school-sponsored activities were ‘lame’ and ‘uncool’. (An unfortunate reoccurring theme during my teen years.) The weird thing about this logic was that I had worked really hard to get to my school, and was spending good tuition money to go there. Also, know what part of my tuition went toward? Those activities that I was ignoring. So go to the school-sponsored activities. You’ll have fun, you’ll meet new people, and you’ll get your tuition’s worth. It’s a win-win.
6. Get some sleep. Really.
This might sound silly and very mom-like, but the night before your first class, be sure to get plenty of rest. You may not have realize it, but you’ll burn all sorts of energy running around and having fun all week. The first day of class is the first day of work. You need every trick in the book on your side, and the easiest way to get ahead of the curve in college is to get some sleep (especially since no one else seems to be doing it.)
7. Read the syllabus before class.
The last and most silly bit of advice I’m about to give is the one that hit me the hardest. Read the syllabus your nice teachers have sent you for your first classes. I don’t mean look at them briefly, I mean sit down and read every word. Why, you might ask? Sometimes teachers assign homework assignments that are due on the first day of class in the syllabus. Sometimes they ask you to buy books that aren’t mentioned on the reading list in the syllabus. In my case, my teacher for ‘German Intellectual Theory’ required that we buy a $15 packet of reading materials from the local print lab, read the first three essays, and be prepared to talk about them in class. I didn’t read the syllabus, so I showed up to class completely unprepared. My professor was one of those professors who would sometimes call on students who hadn’t raised their hand and ask them questions. He, of course, called on me, and asked me a question about the reading. I told him I hadn’t done the reading. When he asked me why not, since it was in the syllabus, I responded, “well I didn’t read the syllabus!” I have looked pretty dumb in my lifetime, but probably not as much as I did in that moment. Moral: Always read the syllabus. Always come to class prepared.
And that’s it! I hope my crazy week of freshman misadventures will help guide you on the beginning of this amazing adventure in your lives! But most importantly, have fun during your first week! This is a really incredible time in your life, so enjoy it!
(Image via CW)