"Experience is the teacher of all things." - Julius Caesar
Today's word is "Experience".
As the director of a college's housing department, one of my favorite times of the year is the introduction of new students to our school. There is always a positive energy flowing through the halls as first year students move their belongings into their rooms for the first time. There is always an overflowing level of excitement, but there is also sometimes a hint of hesitation and worry of what might happen over the next few months.
In order to combat this worry, I have listed my top five tips for first year college students to have a successful year. These suggestions are not based on facts nor or the belief of my current institution, they are merely observations of students through my experiences in Residential Living. There are a lot of suggestions (21 recommendations in all), but I have narrowed it down to five overarching tips which can be located at the start of each colored section. Let's begin:
THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME, BUT THERE'S ALSO NO PLACE LIKE COLLEGE
When you go to school, you will still have parts of your "High School" life back home. You don't suddenly cease to have a family, friends or possibly a significant other in your home town. Everyone is going to be very excited for you, may miss you, and will want to be updated with what is happening. There may be some tough love involved on both sides for this one, but here are my recommendations for figuring out a good balance between school and home:
Learn basic skills from home before heading to school
Whether it is learning how to do laundry, cleaning up after yourself, managing money, or even learning how to wake up without the assistance of another person, there is always something you can learn before heading off to school. Speak with your family ahead of time about some of these topics and give these skills a test run over the summer!
Do NOT go back home your first month in school
This is a significant time for you to meet new people, get involved, and start your experience. I've usually found the students who aren't on campus (especially during this time) are the ones to get left behind or have a harder time making friends later on.
Do NOT have home visit you your first month in school
Of course move in day and organized family days from your school are perfectly acceptable, however, if members from home visit outside of these times or show up unannounced, you can quickly be seen as someone who is having a hard time letting go or is the one with the clingy boyfriend, parent, etc . It's good to stay connected, but visitors outside of the school draw attention to you in a not so positive way.
Do Not forget to call
Before going to school, talk with the people back home to set up expectations for how you would like to communicate with one another and how often. Don't be afraid to change these once you get oriented to "college life". Especially as you create your support group at school, don't be afraid to rely on the support group back home, just make sure it doesn't hinder you from creating your college group. Members back home will want to hear from you and will worry if they don't hear from you, make sure to keep them up to date, but also make sure you don't miss out an an opportunity at school.
Handle your own situations
If you have a question about your student account or run into a roommate problem, learn how to handle the situation on your own. You are an adult and it is your responsibility to take care of yourself now (this is where learning basic skills ahead of time comes in handy), otherwise you will never learn problem solving skills.
Realize things will change when you go to school
Whether it is falling out of love, falling out of a friendship, or coming back home to see your bedroom has been converted to a personal gym, realize that life goes on when you are away. You became a different person over time and so do the other people in your life. Always value the person you were and the connections you had, but realize there is a lot of change which occurs at a very fast pace. I often see romantic relationships end within the first semester of school. There is nothing wrong with this, just be aware it can happen and happens more often than you think.
GOING TO MAKE THIS PLACE YOUR HOME
College is a new and exciting place on so many levels! When it comes to the residence halls, we want to ensure this building becomes a home for you. Here are some recommendations for making this transition happen.
Do not select to live with a friend from home
I've usually found that "life-long" friends who decide to room together in college rarely have a perfect year as roommates and there is often a falling out. Although they are called "randomly selected" roommates, many institutions place roommates very intentionally by looking at data such as "night owl" or "morning person, "room studyer" or "room socializer", etc.
"Meet" your roommate in person
Once you learn who your roommate is going to be, avoid looking them up on social media. Posts, tweets, and statuses on social media can be very misleading and you can easily give the wrong first impression of your roommate. Call them or email them first and set up a meeting.
Your roommate is not you
No two people are the same, why would your rooming situation be any different? Do not go into this relationship thinking that you are going to be best friends for life or they are going to be exactly like you. Just like you, they will have things that they like, ways that they like to do things, as well as personal beliefs, values and morals that more differ greatly from your own. You are not required to change, they are not required to change, but you do need to learn how to compromise.
Learn how to communication
The room is yours and you should feel comfortable in it, but it is also just as much theirs. You will need to set up expectations. See if your RA has a roommate contract or make one up yourself to decide where each party stands. What is the best way to leave a message? If possible I've found it is best to talk in person. I have seen many passive aggressive sticky notes, social media posts and talking with people other than the roommate and it will only cause drama for you and offer no solutions.
Don't run away from your problems
Things will not always be perfect with the roommates or your hall. Sometimes the easiest solution may seem like you should switch rooms. Unless your personal safety is at risk, I challenge you not to change rooms. There are going to be many times in life where you don't agree with the way a coworker does something or a spouse handles a problem and you can't just quit or get a divorce every time you run into trouble. I repeat once more, learn how to problem solve.
TIME FLIES WHEN YOU ARE HAVING FUN
When coming from a household with established rules and moving into a place where you create the rules, it is easy to test your limits. Your life is your own, but a sense of time management is also needed. Here are some recommendations for creating good time management:
Sleep is the best thing you can do
Studies have shown it is recommended for college-aged individuals to get eight hours of sleep every night. I've usually found that nothing good happens after midnight. Try to set a standard sleep schedule where you try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Your body will get adjusted to this schedule and this will give you a full night's sleep.
Purchase a planner or use an electronic calendar to schedule all of your classes, meals, study time, and even social events. It will keep you organized and you won't miss anything.
One of the best things you can do is join a club, team, or organization. Not only will this provide an opportunity to meet new people and get involved, but it will also be a great addition to your resume down the road. It may seem early now, but it only makes you a stronger candidate when you hit the ground running and are proactive with your college experience. With that being said, only join one or two groups. I typically see students who don't get involved at all, or they get too involved and their grades suffer, try to land in the middle of these.
Academics are your number one priority
Everything I mentioned above is all well and good, but if you slip in this area, you won't be at college for very long, here are some of my recommendations for making your schooling your top priority.
Do not skip class
One of the easiest ways not to learn the material is not being present to hear it in the first place. Make sure to always be up and make it to the class. If you are not early to class, you are not on time. Show the professor some respect and get there earlier so they don't have to wait for you to start the lesson. Make sure you are present physically and mentally, your professor will notice.
Get to know your professor
The instructor of your course is a very knowledgeable person and is a wealth of information. If you don't understand the material, ask questions. Come to class early and stay late. If the professor offers extra credit, extra ways to practice, or opportunities for growth, take them up on it. At the end of the day, the majority have your best interest at heart and they will bend over backwards for you if you show excitement and initiative on your end.
Learn how to study
College is a very different experience than high school and many students have to change the way they had originally studied for exams. The key is repetition. Read your textbooks, highlight the important content, learn how to take good notes and once you leave the classroom use the extra hour between your classes to go to the library and read the next chapter or type your notes. The more often you revisit the content, the more likely you are to get a great grade!
Take different classes
The truth of the matter is that you will most likely change your major one, twice or even more times during your college experience. As you fill in your core classes, take a mixture of a lot of different content. Explore classes you don't know much about and broaden your mind. Who knows, you might actually find a new career path.
Look out for number one
At the end of the day, you are transitioning into a young adult ready to take on the world. Unfortunately the world can also be a very scare place. Make sure to look out for yourself and your friends' physical and mental well-being. Here are some recommendations to do this:
The movies were wrong
Too many times I have students who are looking for "the college experience". With parties every night, slip and slides down the hallways, and not a care in the world, this world does not exist. Although there are some students who try desperately to replicate this, they will not last long in college. Do not be this student, the lasting effects of these events are usually devastating.
Think of the consequences before acting
Familiarize yourself with the laws, rules, and policies of your area. If something does not feel right, it probably isn't. Consider the consequences before you illegally download that movie, plagiarize that paper, drink underage, partake in drug consumption, bring a pet into the residence halls, steal a street sign, or pick a fight with student. Too often do I meet with students who do not consider the consequences of their actions. Think twice before entering a room which might get you in trouble. It might not be the popular choice, but your future self will thank you in the long run.
It's important to exercise every type of safety you can. Although many colleges are very safe, there are always risks present. Follow some of these measures to increase your safety call campus security when you feel unsafe, avoid poorly lit areas on campus at night, use the buddy system, do not have someone pour your drink for you, do not leave a cup unattended, use protection, recognize the concept of consent, report anything which may seem out of place, look out for the well being of the other students, eat a wall balanced meal and don't be afraid to visit a counselor if you ever just need to talk.
This is one of the longer posts I have written recently, but overall there are a lot of practices to have a successful year! At the end of the day this experience will be like none you have ever had before. I wish you luck in your journey and as always, please reach out if I can help.
Question Time: What college advice do you have for an upcoming college student? If you are new to college, what are you excited about?