The Real Freshman Fifteen

Allow me to start off with the generals of college Do’s and Don’ts. In retrospect, the process is fairly simple. But at the beginning it will probably seem like you are drowning in the incredible amount of flyers, paperwork, and ridiculously expensive textbooks they will throw at you. So the first thing to think about is staying organized. Whatever it takes, keep your notes for one class in the same notebook. Maybe you didn’t have to study in high school, but at any reputable university, you will if you don’t want your GPA to tank faster than you can say “engineering.” Another important thing to keep organized is your money supply. Unless you’ve ever done the grocery shopping for your family, chances are the cost of your meals over time will surprise you. Make a log of the money coming in, and the money going out, and don’t fall into the traps of lending endless amounts of snackage, laundry money, or gas money to new friends. While it’s cool to be the nice one, that money adds up quickly, and haggling the unreliable ones is always the most difficult.

I hate to include this pointer, but it is probably one of the most forgotten pieces of advice in the college world: personal hygiene. Every mother’s worst fear (among many others, I’m sure) is that their child will come home from their first semester of college with heaping piles of dirty clothes and hair down to their shoulders. While hair length is a personal choice, it better be clean every inch you grow it out. Nobody wants to be that person that sits alone in a 300 person lecture hall, not because they don’t have friends, but because they have a serious case of the “I’d rather sleep than use a bar of soap.” It kills me when guys use Axe because they think it will mask the smell of their laziness. It doesn’t. To be fair, I did meet several gentlemen who were proficient and not only washing their clothes properly but also ironing them. To everyone else, where your shower shoes and pack quarters. Community bathrooms are cleaned, I promise.

Having your life in order will certainly make transitioning from high school easier. However, nothing will ease the heart-throbbing loneliness you’ll feel the first time you hang up from a call with your parents and sit down to another easy-mac dinner while you rush to finish your unending homework. Therefore, making friends with your roommate is the next on the list. The reason this is not a more important item is simple: it doesn’t always work. Fifty percent of the women I shared the fourth floor of my hall adored their roommates; in fact, mine is one of my closest friends. However, the other fifty percent suffered the spectrum of first world problems, from not being able to stand the smell of their roommate to full blown cat attacks that brought the rest of the floor running. Some people just are not meant to be together, but this is okay. If you keep a positive mindset, and worry about your own side of the room, you and your roommate will be able to stay pleasant and professional. This is important because no matter what happens in your day, you always have to return to that room, and that other person will most likely be there waiting. Whether they wait with a listening ear, or just a friendly hello, anything is better than awkward silences or rude gestures. This simple bond is a guaranteed pick-me-up when your world is at its lowest.

The logical transition after this tip is, of course, to actually go out and make friends. But that, unlike staying hygienic and keeping track of your money is a little trickier. Not because finding the perfect social circle is something you need to worry about in college- it isn’t. But finding people who won’t cause drama in your life and instead choosing the ones who will help you grow as a person is not a one-step equation. In fact, finding friends leads into many other important topics you will hit as a college freshman. The big one that comes to mind is Getting Involved. I heard this from every single college student or graduate I talked to. It seemed like a high school record on repeat. Get good grades, make good choices, join some clubs. So many people said this to me, however, that I decided it must mean something. They couldn’t all be conspiring to be broken records, right?

So after being inundated with dozens of callout times, I took a chance and followed a new friend to a callout for the crew team. Although I’d love to try, this essay is not an advertisement for the sport I love. However it is a chance for me to say that I wasn’t even much of an athlete before joining the club that I couldn’t imagine ever not being a part of. My point is that, even if you think you will never have time to do homework, you will never regret starting something and meeting the people who have the same interests as you. People who work in the same way, are driven, focused, passionate, or chill just like you. This is not high school anymore. People exist in every way possible and from every walk of life. And if you’re doing something you love, you can make time for it. I can’t stress that enough- grades are not everything. Your education is not the name of your school, major, and GPA. It is the entire experience, including the people you meet, connections you form, experiences you dive into, and everything else in between.

It’s difficult for me to think of the single most important piece of advice I could give to you, the incoming college freshman. True, I just finished my own freshman year a mere 30 days ago. Yet, so many important, amazing, terrifying, and new events happened to me in the 200 days prior to my calculus final that it’s really an arduous task to condense it down to a few poignant statements. I guess I could start off with “be yourself,” but how does someone know exactly who that is?

You, the high school senior, have probably heard these two words a hundred times: “be yourself.” At this point in your life you are a collaboration of learning to make friends without your parents help, maneuvering out of the imminent dramas that erupt from these friendships, learning what Spark notes is, writing more college and scholarship essays than you care to count, and swilling down Senioritis by the gallon as each of your last weeks of school dwindle away. You’re probably a little nervous, anxious and exciting for all of the changes that are about to take place in your life. But mostly, you should be ready. Ready to take on whatever challenges face you, whether it be holding on to long distance relationships and friendships, making it through tough new classes, fitting in with a new group of friends, and standing out in the huge new community that you will now represent for the rest of your life.

Being ready is more than your commitment letter, checking off that little box, buying that typically uncomfortable futon from Target. It doesn’t mean you got straight A’s in high school and should now skip ahead to all the 200 level classes, and it definitely doesn’t mean you need to know what you’re going to be when you grow up. What it does mean is having an open and optimistic mind. If you’re going to try to “be yourself” really what you have to do first is “create yourself.” You can’t hope to do this without eliminating your preconceived notions, fears, limitations, and biases. While anchoring down on pre-established values may seem comforting, sometimes setting sail on a fresh course is the best remedy for that loneliness or apprehension you may feel at leaving home.

Whichever way you choose, be ready. It’s going to be an insane ride, and you’re not going to want to forget a single moment.

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