Your first year of college is new and exciting, but it can also be difficult, and for some, the prospect of being on your own for the first time is daunting. Here are some things that I’ve learned about the beginning of college that I hope will make your freshman year a little easier:
1. Go to everything. Seriously. You’re going to be exhausted the first couple days on campus, dragging yourself across the quad from event to event, but it’s totally worth it. That first week is when everyone is looking to connect, so the last thing you want to do is hole up in your room catching up on House of Cards. Attending events is important because it’s a great way to meet people and get to know the campus at the same time.
2. And on that note, join some clubs. Most campuses will have some kind of club fair at the beginning of the year, and I suggest every freshman attend! Clubs are a way to meet people who share your interests, and find ways to bring the activities you enjoy to your new college life.
3. Challenge yourself. I can’t stress this one enough. If ever there were a time to abandon your comfort zone, it’s during college. You will be presented with more opportunities for risks than at any other period in your life, and my suggestion to you is that you take at least a few of them. Tread lightly toward roads you may have never imagined taking, talk to new people, try something you’ve never done before. Take a class that sounds vaguely interesting and has nothing to do with your major. My freshman year, I went with a friend to an Irish dancing club. Possessing no rhythm or knowledge of Irish culture, it wasn’t for me, but I learned some new things and had fun doing it. If nothing else, you’ll come home with a funny story about jigging right onto the club President’s big toe.
4. Don’t have high expectations for your roommate. You may become good friends, or you may not. I had a great roommate freshman year, and later three more that I now consider among my best friends. Someone else I knew roomed with a girl with an affinity for punching holes in the wall. The point is, you never really know what living with someone new is going to be like, and you shouldn’t bank on that person to become your new college family. Branch out, make friends with other people in your dorm or in clubs, and know that not being super close with your roommate is completely normal.
5. Find your space. When you’re on your own for the first time, it can be lonely and terrifying, so it’s nice to carve out a place for yourself that feels familiar outside the not-so-comforting fluorescent lighting and whitewashed walls of your dorm room. It could be a club, a group of friends, or a warm, fireplace-lit corner of the library. Find a place that feels like home, and the rest of campus will start to follow.
6. Create a balance between work and play. I won’t lie to you, going to a parties is a great way to form friendships, as you bond over ten dollar vodka, dirty fraternity bathrooms and your favorite songs. But for people who weren’t exposed to alcohol, drugs, and hookup culture in high school, in can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to get caught up and go overboard. Understand that college is so much more than what happens at night, and the decisions you make may not look quite as appealing in the light of day. Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten about college is this: Go out, hook up if you want, but don’t let that be the most interesting thing about you.
7. Take care of yourself. A regular diet of PBR and dining hall pizza will do you anything but good. Trust me. There will be plenty of healthy food items and opportunities for exercise on campus that you should make use of, lest you become a dreaded victim of the freshmen fifteen.
8. Rush. A lot of people will find this particular piece of advice controversial, but rushing was the best decision I ever made. I’m not saying that you have to join, but I think everyone should keep an open mind about Greek Life, and rush or at least meet a few people from different fraternities and sororities and consider joining. A common misconception is that Greek Life is all about the parties, but for me, this has never been true. Not only have I never been pressured to drink at my sorority, I’ve made tons of amazing friendships, and it has truly shaped my college experience in a positive way.
9. Fall down. You will make mistakes during your first year at college, and you will make a lot of them. There will be a moment, or maybe a few, where you feel overwhelmed; by the unfamiliarity, the longing for home, the stress of doing more work than you ever have before, and you will question whether or not you are as ready for this as you thought you were. Take a breath, cry if you need to. Give yourself some space to breakdown and understand that the way you are feeling is completely normal and justified.
10. Get back up. It’s important to recover from your sadness, and to rise up from it. Dust yourself off and do something that makes you feel better. Exercise. Call your mom. Make something. Hangout with your friends. Understand that life goes on, and that we learn the most from the things that scare us, and gain the most strength from the things that hurt us. The fear and the pain you may feel now will pass, leaving you with an armor of strength and the feeling that you are at least a little bit more capable, a little bit braver than you once were for having challenged yourself and gone through such an incredible change.
11. Revel in the college experience. This is something everyone could use a little more of; just stopping and noticing all the beautiful things about where we are right now. The act of walking across campus in the fall feeling more grown up than you ever have, laughing in the dining hall with the former strangers you now couldn’t see yourself living without, belting out the lyrics to a song along with fifty other people on a 3am bus ride back to your dorm. These are the golden memories that make up the great confusing kaleidoscope that is college life. Take note of them. Enjoy them. Capture them and put them away somewhere to take out on the hard days. The millions of moments, good and bad, that you experience during your four years at college will change you and make you into the person you were meant to be. Trust in that and in yourself, take a few leaps of faith, and enjoy the ride.
And don’t drink the jungle juice.