1. It’s OK to not know the answer.
I can’t tell you how many times I lost out on knowledge my first semester at school because when a professor asked me “Do you know what _____ means?” I said yes when in my head I was saying “Nope. Time for google.” Chances are, if you just don’t know something (IF you weren’t supposed to have read it the night before, or looked it up before class) your professor is going to take 45 seconds and briefly explain it to you. They’re teachers by trade, so unless you’ve got one of the really terrible ones who shouldn’t be teaching, they’re going to teach you, not berate you.
2. Find someone at your school you can trust.
A professor, an advisor, someone who has more ability to help you than another student where school matters are concerned. They will be your biggest assets when you’ve got serious school issues, or even sometimes when you just need someone to vent to that isn’t a student.
3. Make friends with people your own age, and in your major.
It’s easy sometimes to latch onto an older friend you meet randomly because they’re older and they’ve got a bunch of answers to questions like where the quiet places are on campus when you actually need to study, or where the people you would get along with hang out on weekends. Don’t get me wrong, those friends are excellent too. That being said, they probably found some of that out by exploring and having fun with their friends when they started out. Most schools have freshman learning experience courses that are core classes you take with the same group of people. Take advantage of this and find some friends to have adventures with, it’ll make for some fun stories later on.
4. NEVER, EVER, EVER buy a text book before the class starts.
I’ve had professors e-mail a syllabus that said “You MUST BUY THIS BOOK!!” with big red arrows and 1 million point font only to get to class and find out that they’re using someone else’s syllabus for the same class and don’t actually care. Also, in case you missed it, university bookstores are pretty much always a rip off.
5. If your school has a convenience store where you can purchase things with “(insert mascot here)-cash/bucks/other money term” DO NOT by any means pay for things in that store with actual money unless it is absolutely necessary.
They’ll charge at least double what most grocery stores do because you’re less likely to pay attention to what you’re paying when it’s with the pre-paid money you bought with a meal plan. That said, before making a trip to Walmart, if you do have this pre-paid cash thing, check your grocery list for things you can buy with that before spending your more flexible moolah.
6. Don’t be a bitch to the people in your major.
It’s OK to not get along with people and decide to just avoid them whenever possible. It is not OK to screw yourself over by alienating the people who will be in your field when you leave the semi-protective bubble that is college. That person you decided was going to be your arch nemesis could have a lead on a job you might be good for, but since you were terrible to them all the way through college, you’re not getting the call. Keep your life simpler by just avoiding people you don’t like and be polite (notice I didn’t say nice…) and you’ll save yourself grief later on.
7. Do not exchange your safety for cheaper rent.
While I would love to spend less on housing, my parents and I have discussed the very real concerns that come with living in some of the off campus areas in my college town. I personally feel much, MUCH safer with scan card access only dorms and that peace of mind is invaluable.
8. Sign up for emergency alerts from your school.
If there is a bad storm, someone on the loose, or a crime happened on campus, they are required by law in many places to let you know that these things are going on. These may be in multiple forms, like text messages and twitter, but they are important and can have the power to save your life.
9. If you’re having room mate/suite mate issues, talk to your RA.
Sometimes, it’s not worth the conflict that will be caused by calling them out on their shit again. Sometimes it is. If your RA sucks, call the housing office and talk to their boss. Many residence programs take RA positions super seriously and will not put up with nonsense from the people they pay to look out for you.
10. Mini-mester classes don’t have to suck.
If you find some good professors, you can actually have a lot of fun. I managed to get 6 credit hours out of the way in 3 weeks that would have been super stressful in a regular semester to schedule. Professors are generally more laid back in these classes and they can be really helpful if your degree requires a lot of hours and you want to graduate on time.
11. Utilize the counseling services your school has.
This might be your adviser talking to you in their office, or it might be legitimate, certified therapists, paid by the university with your (outrageous) fees there for your taking to talk about anything and everything. These people are usually there to serve you for free or reduced prices, and you should use them because college is traumatic sometimes.
12. Don’t go into school with preconceived notions about Greek life.
Going into school if you would have told me I’d join a Greek organization (or be good friends with a girl who is part of *two*) I would have laughed in your face. Then, I found my home in Sigma Alpha Iota, a women’s music fraternity (Yes, fraternity, because it’s professional.) and I can’t imagine life without it. Check out different organizations and see if one fits you. You might not like that kind of thing, or it might surprise you, but you’ll never know if you don’t give it a chance.
13. If you’re going to a party where you plan on getting drunk, take a buddy.
Never go to something like that alone, because 1- you might end up at a dud party and need someone to bail with or to keep you company and 2- you can watch out for each other. If there’s someone who knows to check in with you every once in a while and expects to go home with you at the end of the night, if something terrible happens it’ll probably get caught earlier. If at all possible, make sure one of you isn’t planning to get super-duper drunk so you know someone will have their wits about them.
14. Take a deep breath and remember that you cannot possibly plan for everything that will happen.
Craziness is going to happen, and about 95% of how you survive it is going to be in how you approach said craziness. Freaking out will get you nowhere, but being able to take a deep breath and stay calm will usually keep things from getting completely out of control.