Written by eyeRmonkey
Photo by eyeRmonkey
These days, It seems like I meet a new college freshman every couple of weeks. I always wish I could pass along all the lessons I accumulated during my first year of college. And thanks to the wonders of the interwebs, I can! My experiences were at the University of Oregon, but I think they are applicable anywhere. I suspect that some of these lessons need to be experienced first hand to have any effect on you, but I still think they are worth sharing. Here’s my advice (in order of importance):
#1 The first week defines the rest of the year
I feel like this is the most important piece of advice I could offer, but I also know it’s the hardest thing to control. During the first week, be more outgoing that you normally would. Over the first couple days, meet and talk to every person in the dorm for at least a couple minutes. The best way to develop a community is to do everything as a group for the first week.
Let me give you a breakdown of how things went in my dorm for the first week and how I heard things went in every other dorms:
- Every time we had to go to some mandatory orientation thing, we went as a group and invited every single person on every floor to join us. Whenever someone wanted to go out to get food or go to 7/11, they gathered a bunch of people to go with them.
- The second or third night we were there, we all found ourselves in the lounge just sitting around sharing cool stories for that summer and from our varying pasts. We all told something about our town or our lives.
- Everyone always had their door open (when they were there) and didn’t mind if anyone walked in and started a conversation.
- Almost no one left their door open when they were there.
- Those who did leave their door open would get offended if you walked into their room without permission.
- Most people would be lucky to know the names of half the people on their floor.
Every time I heard another story like that about other dorms, I was shocked. It just made me more and more thankful that we had developed a great community during the first week we were there. People from other dorms loved our dorm because we were such a tight group. As time went on, people separated into “clicks” as you would expect, but the friendliness that everything started out on was always present.
#2 Organize Study Groups!
Study groups are amazingly helpful! Find two, three, or four other people who you have class with and get together before assignments are due. You assist one another, make suggestions and help motivate one another. I can only begin the name the numerous benefits! Here are a few:
- You can’t procrastinate your assignments or skip them entirely. If you have a set meeting time to do you homework or paper with the rest of your group, then you have no way to put it off.
- For math/science classes, it’s easy to get stuck on a problem and want to give up, but when there are others there to help you, you have no reason to stop.
- For writing intensive classes, brainstorming works wonders. Come to the study group with a few possible thesis statements ready and bounce them off your partners.
- Helping others on their homework helps you solidify your knowledge.
Here’s what you need to do: During the first week of classes, introduce yourself to the people around you in your lab or discussion classes. When you receive your first assignment, talk to anyone you’ve met (or just random people who look friendly!) and arrange a date a few days before it’s due to get together and do it as a group. After that, it’s easy! Now you know them and can continue organizing study groups!
#3 Study for tests!
Photo by ?reg
This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s also one of the most important. It’s easy to procrastinate anything when you’re in the dorms. There’s always someone to hang out with or somewhere to go. I don’t know about you, but I never studied in high school. That bad habit followed me into college. As I walked into my midterms and finals, I became really anxious and I realized what a bad idea it had been to only study for 15 minutes.
It wasn’t until finals of Spring term that I realized how extremely helpful it was to put a sincere effort into studying. I got an A on all my tests that term. Midterms and finals are worth a majority of your grade in most classes, so that’s where your efforts should be focused. I studied a few hours for each test (with my study groups *nudge nudge*). When I walked into each test, I was no longer anxious because I was confident that I knew most of the answers. Part of the reason I was so confident is because I knew what kind of tests the professors were going to give, so I knew how to study. Some of my finals were just a combination of the questions from the midterms.
#4 Get involved
I spent most of my freshman year giving free hugs and it was fantastic, but I sometimes wish I had done more. Obviously the opportunity to join clubs and attend events will always be there, but freshman year is the ideal time to start. There are always tons of events on the bulletin board in your dorm. Some are specific to your dorm/complex, some are specific to a certain club and some are for everybody. Find some that interest you, grab some friends, and go to them!
#6 If you don’t like your roommate, switch
You may come across as rude, but I watched people suffer for nine months with a roommate they despised, and it’s not a pretty sight. Don’t be too hasty to switch roommates though. College is about new experiences, so if you think you could learn something new from staying with your roommate, then tough it out. If you know you’ll never be able to stand them, then switch right away.
#7 Go to sporting events
I’m not into sports and I didn’t go any of the games last year. In hindsight, I really wish I had. I definitely plan on going to some this year. Most colleges will give you tickets for free if you are student (U of O does!). The only catch is that you usually have to wake up early to stand in line to get tickets for the good games, but that’s half the fun!
#8 Figure out housing for the next year
Decide if you want to have a house or apartment for the next year. Start looking for people you think you’ll want to live with. After you get back from winter break, ask people if they want to room with you and start looking for the place you’ll want. That’ll give you plenty of time to make arrangements with your future landlord. Don’t wait until the last minute.
If you’re looking for an apartment, check out this nifty tool that searches craigeslist and displays the results on a map for you.
#9 Don’t buy books until you need them
Photo by Vaedri1
Every term, you will usually need to buy $50-$250 worth of books. At the end of each term, I realized that there were some books that I hadn’t even opened once. During my last term, I decided not to buy any books until I needed them (I already had the math book that I needed). I waited until the professor required (not suggested) a reading out of the book. I ended up only buying one book that term and I split the cost with one of my dorm mates who was in the class with me.
Take this advice with a grain of salt. Obviously you need to buy math books to do your assignments. Some books sell out and are hard to get a hold of, so you might not want to wait on all your books. Also, I don’t do as much of the reading for classes as I should, so my definition of needing the book is probably different than someone more studious.
When you do have to buy a book, split the cost with someone in your dorm and share the book when you have to use it. This will save you a bundle of money. Always buy used books when you have the option.
That’s all I have! If you find this useful, leave a comment and let me know. If you have some of your own tips for dorm life or for college life, please share them!
Be on the look out next year for a Sophomore version of this blog about how to live in a house or apartment and deal with bills/rent, parties and neighbors.
Update: I’m as perplexed as the rest of you about where #5 disappeared to. Perhaps it’s absence is just another lesson: Don’t write papers at 4 in the morning the day before they’re due (because that’s about what time I wrote this blog).
hey great blog and seems very useful…i’ll be a freshman in college this fall, so I’m going to be applying your suggestions..thanks!
this is an awesome site and possibly really is the BEST article every day!
I definitely agree with the points you put above. Especially the roommates and the textbooks.
I suffered in a triple with 2 annoying roommates my 1st year in college. On top of that, I was placed, without requesting it, on a floor with people all in the same program/school. I would recommend people not getting into this situation because there’s just too much emphasis on the classes people share and thus, too much competition. Class is important, but college is not all about the academics.
For textbooks, this year I’m trying to cut back on the bookstore bill by renting my books instead of buying them. I’m using the site bookrenter.com to rent AND save around 50% off what I’d otherwise pay at the campus bookstore.
Oh ya, and DEFINITELY go to more sporting events. Every college has their trophy sport/team, and it’s fun to go and see what all the talk’s about.
Find out whether your a morning person, or an evening person.
The one thing I wish I had done differently was to figure out earlier on that I am a morning person. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to stay up for the late night study sessions, but felt completely wasted after 9pm. However, I was always wide awake by 5am. I think I could have been much more productive if I had moved my study sessions to the morning. Plus it would have had the added benefit of there being far fewer distractions before 7am.
I also had trouble falling asleep during lectures. It’s not that I was lazy, it’s just that my brain starts to shut down not long after becoming a passive listener. I need to stay active in order to stay alert. I eventually found, that I could at least have a fighting chance if I showed up rested and refreshed from a short power nap.
Ask and answer questions in class
I’ve been on both sides of the classroom, both as teacher and student. I can say from experience that getting students to participate in class is like pulling teeth. Ideally, the students would ask questions of the instructor when they don’t understand the material being presented. For whatever reason, students rarely take advantage of the opportunity. So, in lieu of taking questions from students, instructors will often ask them of the students to see if they are understanding the material. If it’s a question that you think you can answer, please do. Don’t let the fact that no one else is volunteering stop you. More people are likely to join in once they see that you survived. As a side benefit, participating in class will get you in good with the professor who is more likely to look favorably upon you in the event that your grade ends up within a fudge factor of the next highest letter grade. Also, participation is a good way to stay awake (see previous item).
Your mileage may vary, but in addition to tips given in the post (especially #3 and #9), these are some of the things I wish I had been more aware of at the time.
Thank you!! I’m sure this’ll help me!!
If you’re a guy make sure you get to know plenty of ladies in your classes.
Very nice article I totally agree about how crucial the first week of school is. You have to try and establish some friendships before people get set in their routines.