Congratulations! You graduated high school. Don’t you feel good?
Hopefully, you are unbelievably excited (albeit a little scared) of what you’re about to experience in a couple of months. You are about to begin what may be the fastest four years of your life. Your first year, particularly your first semester, can be a little overwhelming, to say the least. That’s why I have put together this post, to give you a little guidance from someone who’s been there.
You’re going to change- a lot. So will all the friends you knew in high school. Many of your paths will diverge. Some of you will go to schools close to home and stay there for the rest of your lives. Some will go far away and never come back. Some will go to state schools. Some will go to private schools. All of this will change you. And you may come to realize that you are on an entirely different trajectory than the people you grew up with, people you loved. That is all perfectly okay. You will need to learn how to let people change and even drift away. Believe it or not, friendship does not always last forever. And that is perfectly okay.
The above also goes for the friends you make first semester. Things can shift after winter break. Just let it happen; the people who should be in your life will stay there. I promise.
Don’t worry about being homesick. Don’t be surprised by it. I went to school just three hours from home and was terribly homesick most of first semester. Again, let it happen. Fighting it will make it worse. Get help if you need to. Your classmates are going through the same thing, so be vulnerable and open up. You are not alone.
Get yourself off the freaking Facebook. This is a lesson I still haven’t learned. Unless you’re researching social media for a paper, there probably is no legitimate reason for you to be on it more than a couple times a day. Log out and do your homework or get some sleep.
Exercise. Sweat. Breathe hard. 20 to 30 minutes a day, most days of the week. Make time for it. Chances are, you spend at least 20 to 30 minutes a day on Facebook/Twitter/etc. Cut it down, and you’ve got the time. This isn’t just so you can gloat to yourself while everyone else you know puts on the Freshman Fifteen (not a myth, kids). It will help you sleep better, reduce your stress, and if you insist upon having it in your schedule, it will force you to get your work done. Make it a part of your day.
And eat well. Lay off the pizza and take-out. I hope that your dining hall has more tolerable options than burgers and fries. Try new things. Eat a vegetable with every meal, even if it’s just carrots and broccoli. Drink skim milk or water instead of soda. But don’t get crazy about this. If you need a treat to help fix a bad day or to reward yourself once in a while, have it. It won’t kill you.
Step away from the Starbucks. Those fancy drinks are caloric bombs and way overpriced. If you need one once in a while, again, go ahead. But a grande caramel frappuccino is not your morning coffee.
Another easy way to put on the Freshman Fifteen? Alcohol. If you choose to drink, moderation is the word. Sometimes freshmen put on fifteen pounds just in alcohol! It’s also expensive. Save your money and your liver.
And speaking of alcohol, I beg you: NEVER EVER EVER go to a party alone, leave a party alone, or let your friends leave alone or with a stranger. This especially goes for girls! Keep an eye out for your friends. You know you’d want them to do the same for you.
Don’t let all this talk of alcohol scare you off from parties, though. Get out and meet people! Dance. Be yourself. Have some fun. You’ll have earned it.
Speaking of meeting people: try an extracurricular, even first semester. It will help you meet people outside of your dorm, teach you time management skills, and distract you from homesickness. Don’t overexert yourself, but don’t be afraid of being a little busy.
You don’t need to be best friends with your roommate. You must, however, get along. Respect each other’s needs. Speak up if you have a problem. Listen to each other. If you have really serious problems (as in, she locks you out so she can hook up all the time, or he has a habit of sharpening knives and staring at you while he’s doing it), go talk to your RA as soon as you need to.
Don’t bring too much stuff with you. Let me show you a picture of my room freshman year:
We had to fit three people into a room meant for two people. Long story short: you do not need thirteen coats and fifty pairs of shoes. Think utility over fashion. Bring only what you’ll really need and wear, and enough of it to last you a week or so before you have to do laundry.
Keep track of your money. Balance your checkbook, or if you don’t have a checkbook, start an Excel spreadsheet of your withdrawals and purchases. Trust me. You will appreciate this later. If you can, get a job, but a job that you enjoy.
Do something good for your soul. If you go to church or are part of a youth group at home, find services and similar groups on campus or nearby. I strongly encourage this to help keep you anchored when things get rough: God does not leave you or change the way everyone else will. I say this as a Catholic attending a very Catholic school with a large population of practicing Catholics, with Masses available every day, multiple times a day, at numerous locations on campus. So I know it was almost too easy for me to stay in touch spiritually. But I’ve had other friends at secular schools who sought out their weekly services and religious peers, and they say it made a big difference.
If you’re not religious, that’s totally fine! Explore things. Just do something that keeps you in touch with yourself and whatever you feel connected to already. Journal, meditate, take a walk by yourself in a pretty part of campus. Like I said, take time for your soul, for your spirit.
The most important thing I can tell you is to give everything time. It all takes time. It may seem like everyone else is making lifelong friends faster than you are, or coupling up before you are, or that they’ve got their life plan figured out down to the day, but trust me- they don’t. They might think that they do, but they don’t. You can’t plan this stuff. It doesn’t all come together right away, or even after your first year, or your second year. The best thing you can do is to accept the change and let it happen.
Try new things. Be good to people. Ask lots of questions- of your professors, of your friends, and of yourself. Reach high. Set yourself apart from your high school classmates- you know which ones I’m talking about. Do what you know is right for yourself. Don’t compromise who you are. That way, you won’t have any regrets.
P.S. If anyone has any advice to add or dispute what I’ve said here, comments (as always) are welcome!