As thousands of high school grads prepare to head off for college, the weeks ahead are swarming with questions. Have I chosen the right school and the best dorm? Can I co-exist 24/7 with a roommate and will I be able to wake up for that 7:30 a.m. class?
To help ease the jitters that accompany that first pivotal year, some seasoned college students from the area offered these tips for survival.
Avoid the temptation to bring everything you own that first semester, advised Missouri State University junior Erica Crainshaw.
“Trust me! I learned the hard way.” Not only is packing everything up a significant drain on your time, but she shared, “it’ll be an even bigger pain finding a place for everything in a tiny dorm room that you share with another person.”
College Senior Erin Kirchmeier, an aerospace engineering student at Missouri University of Science and Technology, agreed especially about clothes. “Don’t bring your whole collection of high school T-shirts. Wearing them every day will single you out as a freshman.”
But some items, like a first-aid kit, are essential. When living away from home for the first time, be armed with all the usual remedies including bandages, cough drops, cold medicine and antibiotic ointment. “You will get sick at some point,” explained Crainshaw. “Your mom can’t come to the rescue when you live miles away. Be prepared.”
Joel Gordon, a junior at Truman State University, found himself surrounded by hundreds of new faces his freshman year.
“I wish I would have been better equipped to strike up a conversation about the weather or the price of textbooks, in order to introduce myself to more people.”
While keeping in touch with high school pals can be more comforting initially, college life will be more enjoyable if you reach out and make new friends.
“Looking back,” Park University senior Tom Scheckel confided, “I would have negotiated some basic guidelines with my roommates during the first week regarding sleep time, study time, quiet time.”
If your roommate, for example, has a passion for playing video games all night and you’re an early riser, it’s wise to work out some basic rules up-front. “Then post them and review them as time goes on,” Scheckel recommended. “Without some type of pre-established guidelines, bad habits start to become the norm, and you can feel stuck.”
Grab some z-z-zs
The importance of sleep, even for 18-year olds, can’t be emphasized enough.
“Staying up late is a blast in college,” Crainshaw admitted, “but it’s not worth it when you run on three hours of sleep and have class the next day. Save your late-night fun and adventures for the weekend.”
Know the antidote for homesickness
Homesickness can follow college freshmen around like a rain cloud.
A good way to ward off the blues, Kirchmeier found, is to bring along pictures of your family and friends, plus call your parents regularly.
If Kansas State University Senior Zach Chappell could have a do-over that first year, he would have kept in better contact with his family. “Not only is it nice to call them; it can do a lot of good to hear their voice if you had a hard week and sometimes hearing them say, ‘I love you,’ is about all you need to make it better.”
Get out, join in
That first year on campus is packed with opportunities to get involved, including Greek life, intramural sports, ministry groups and clubs.
Explore your options, Crainshaw advised. “Find one thing that fits your personality and you enjoy doing. It will help you meet a wide variety and a ton of friends.”
Chappell also found activities beyond the classroom help to relieve some of the day-to-day stresses. “Find that one thing you can do to escape when you do get stressed. For me I found rowing, but there are several clubs at most colleges that allow for a range of activities.”
Arrive with an open mind
As cliché as it sounds, said Chappell, go in with an open mind. “You are going into a world that has a lot of different types of people and figuring out who you work best with, and even who you don’t work well with, and finding ways around that can be a big help.”
Approach this new chapter of your life, not as a destination, but the beginning of a journey into adulthood. “There is going to be someone who is smarter than you, better looking than you, and funnier than you,” Gordon said. “The most important thing about college is not to get too consumed with one singular thing.” Enjoy the experience and make the most of it.