It’s that time of year again: Target is flooded with parents fighting over the last mini-fridge, friends are claiming they’ll be besties forever, younger siblings are plotting hostile bedroom takeovers, and those adorable High School sweethearts are either planning Skype dates or beginning to pick fights.
In all seriousness though, entering college is one of the most exciting times in a person’s life. It is also one of the scariest times. So much effort is dedicated to the search for a place to call your home for the first four years of your semi-independence, and we all want it to work out perfectly. For some of us it does, and sadly for some of us it does not. Even for those of us who are naturally social, there are easy ways to sabotage our first few months and keep ourselves from having a good time.
As a transfer student, I underwent the new student experience twice. Plenty of people talk about what they would have done differently in some important moment of life, but I was lucky enough to actually have the chance for a do-over. I went from literally making about 3 friends my entire first semester at College #1 to being vice president of my sorority after just over a year at College #2. I also went from sobbing to my mother that I wanted to go home to sobbing with my roommate on the night of graduation that College #2 was my home and I didn’t want to leave it. (Don’t worry, we eventually pulled it together and joined the celebrating. But still.).
Was transferring to College #2 one of the best decisions I’ve ever made? Absolutely. But if I had done some things differently could I have made a home for myself at College #1? I really think so. Because I had a rough start to my freshman year when I didn’t click with my roommate and hallmates, I shut myself off to having a good time, when a few changes to my situation and my attitude could have made a huge difference to my level of happiness. After going through that rocky first semester at College #1, I truly hope that I can stop at least one person from sabotaging their experience like I did.
So here is some of my hard-earned wisdom about entering college and getting the most out of the experience, and also about what to do when you aren’t getting the most out of your time there and you’re thinking you’ve made a mistake. Even though my do-over at College #2 was one of the happiest times of my life, it’s a lot easier to get it right the first time, or to mend bad situations and make changes along the way.
Steps for a Good Start:
1. Jump in. Orientation is like summer camp. You may feel nervous about approaching people, but here is the truth: everyone else is new and nervous too. They may pull it off better, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t just as anxious to make friends. So introduce yourself, and strike up conversations whenever you can. What’s the worst that can happen? If you don’t click, you’re no worse off than when you started.
2. Keep your door open. As an introvert, I sincerely understand that everyone needs some down time, but keep in mind that the first couple of weeks are crucial because they are when all of the other freshman are looking to make friends as well.
3. Join a club. Even if things have clicked with your hall and you think you’re set for life and don’t need any more friends, I promise you’ll start regretting that choice between December and February. So go to the activity fair, pick something (or even better, a few somethings), and go.
- Note: I know that everyone loves to go places in groups of at least 2. But especially for the first club meeting of the year, there is nothing scary about going alone. I guarantee there will be others who went alone. Also, clubs need new members every year! Older members will be looking for new friends. The silver lining? You already have a great common interest you can bring up if you don’t know what else to talk about!
- If you don’t like a club or didn’t feel like it was the place for you, you don’t have to go back! This is why I suggest trying a few.
4. Talk things over with your roommate early in the game. What time do you need to go to bed and wake up? Can you sleep with the light on? How do you feel about alcohol in the room? How about friends hanging out in the room? What about “personal time”? I know these things can be awkward, but your ability to live with someone truly has nothing to do with having things in common or being friends. What makes or breaks roommate relationships is being able to tolerate the other person’s habits, and how well you two can respect the other.
*All the above steps are things I didn’t do during my first semester at College #1, and DID do during my first semester at College #2. So I know from experience that they work.
“This Isn’t What I Expected” Steps:
1. If you know right away that it won’t work out with the roommate, move ASAP! The freshman hall experience is critical and I’m jealous I never had it. You know that standard breakup line, “It’s not you, it’s me?” Well sometimes, it is the other person. Living with someone is tough, and if you just don’t think you can deal with a conflicting lifestyle (sleep hours, partying, etc) for an entire year then you need to get out. There is usually a two-week freeze at the beginning of the semester during which you are required to stay with your roommate, but after that you can talk to your RA about moving.
2. Sometimes you miss the boat on making friends. You don’t mesh with you roommate, hall, orientation group, whatever—and if you don’t feel a connection with other people, life can be pretty lonely. So here’s what you need to do: join a club. I know I mentioned this above, but sometimes you feel overwhelmed the first few weeks, and don’t go to any meetings. But this doesn’t mean that you still can’t join. Being nervous about starting late is totally normal, but here is how to fix this if you are truly too uncomfortable to just show up by yourself one night. If you missed the first few meetings, then email the president—ask if you could meet with someone about the club, and have someone escort you there. I know, this advice sounds crazy and weird, and is something I never would have done. But when my sorority would host informal recruitment parties this is how we would get girls there. Just giving someone an invitation may not make them feel comfortable enough to show up alone, so we were told to offer to meet them and bring them over to the house. Clubs are just the same—they are always looking to improve membership, and they will be excited that someone reached out to them, and happy to have someone meet you.
- For hesitant/late joiners, I would recommend service-oriented groups. There is already a set activity for the meeting, and the volunteering type tends to be pretty friendly.
3. If you’re constantly feeling down or homesick and you don’t know how to fix it, go talk to someone in the Counseling Center. That’s what they are there for. When my parents suggested this to me, I felt embarrassed and weird about going. I thought, I don’t have problems, I’m just not happy. But being unhappy at college is pretty serious, and its not how things should be. Counselors are trained to help students through homesickness and depression and not feeling like you fit in. When I finally gave in and went, I felt a whole lot better. It didn’t solve my problems, but it helped me to have someone listen sympathetically and give me advice and a place to talk through my feelings.
4. A quick fix for the blues is to go to the gym. When you’re tense and stressed the endorphins can make you feel a whole lot better, and it’s a much better self-medicating step than some others, like drinking.
5. Don’t be glued to your cellphone when you are out somewhere. This is an easy way to shut yourself off from others. Texting fingers and a face constantly looking down at the phone says “Don’t talk to me!”.
6. A note on going home on the weekends: My arrangement with my parents during my first semester at College #1 was that I could come home every other weekend. I know that this can make you feel a lot better, but keep in mind that if you aren’t putting yourself out there, the problem is never going to get better.
*These were discoveries I made during my year at College #1.
And, Random Advice that Everyone Should Hear (Because freshman are notoriously silly sometimes):
1. Beware intra-dorm love affairs. They tend to end awkwardly.
2. Call 911 if you think someone has alcohol poisoning. I’ve never had to do this (thank god), but after all my risk-management training from my sorority, I can say for sure that whatever punishment the school gives you for drinking won’t be as bad as guilt over a friend’s death that you could have prevented. It happens, especially to freshman who are less experienced drinkers.
*Though most schools have amnesty policies that ensure you won’t be in trouble for seeking help, so make sure you’re aware of your school’s policy so that you can be well-informed.
3. Go to class. You, your parents, or somebody paid a lot of money for you to be there. Going to class every day is a pretty effortless way to ensure that you at least earn a passing grade, however little homework or reading you do aside from that. Seriously, go to class.
4. Don’t be afraid to talk to professors during office hours. They’ll appreciate the effort you put in, and this could help you if you’re on the edge with a final grade. (Also, they just may have something interesting or helpful to say!)
5. If you aren’t enjoying an activity and you think it’s taking up too much time or energy, you don’t have to keep doing it.
So there you have it. I hope my two cents was at least a little bit helpful, and if you are leaving for your first semester of college, I wish you the very best of luck.
But one more disclaimer: sometimes you can do everything you’re supposed to do and you still aren’t happy with the school you’re at. When we choose a college as 17 and 18 year olds, we think that our decision is the be-all-end-all, and that that’s where we have to stay. But transferring is actually far more common than students tend to think. So if you’re finding yourself thinking in “what ifs” and lingering on thoughts of the school you almost went to or the dream school you didn’t get accepted to, its okay to look into transferring. My College #1 was a bad fit for me, but it wasn’t a bad school. In fact, its a great school, and my brother is currently going there and loves it. But college is personal, and whats a good fit for someone can be a bad fit for others, and this is important to keep in mind when considering your choices for choosing, staying or leaving. You have to find your own personal fit.
But in all likelihood, the next four years will fly by, especially if you follow my advice and immerse yourself in making a full and busy life for yourself at school. Use your time wisely, and most importantly, have fun! (I secretly wish I could be in your place again!)