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Advice For College (From A Freshman Still Licking Her Wounds)

Updated on February 24, 2012

Everyone Writes It...Years Later

Let's be honest, there are several blog posts and websites out there dedicated to college survival, and none of their comments are wrong per se, but perhaps a little too reflective. But what about all of those freshmen who are trying and failing as we speak? I'm one of those freshman. My head is barely above water (but when I can breathe, oh the air is sweet!). Even sophomores who give advice are reminiscing about their first year (or thanking the world they aren't in that situation again). Parental or adult advice can be useful, but their generation was probably drastically different than our own and customs have altered. So while some of their more general advice is still applicable, most of it is old school.

So here are some friendly (if not blunt and perhaps crass) tips and tricks for surviving at the very least your first semester of high school. Some of this might not apply to you because I go to an art school out of state. I hope it still helps though!

The First Month

I think the first month is the worst for stress, but the best for the enthusiasm and the new friends who are all new to this experience. Orientation week for me was just a weekend and then classes started that Monday, but most schools will have an orientation that lasts a week to two weeks. Mine was so short because my school -- The Minneapolis College of Art and Design -- is incredibly tiny. Orientation day is loud, intimidating, cheesy, and embarrassing. But it's essential. Orientations are so annoying and corny because during activity periods coordinators have to figure out the best way to force everyone to interact. It's oddly effective, as it seems that people stand around joking about how silly they look. And everyone is nice, so fear of rejection is really not even a concern. This leads me to one of my cardinal rules of college, which will all be summarized at the end but also notated in-post with this being the identifier.

That being said: Remember that college is a way to reinvent yourself and to start over: a groundhog day, if you will, where adjustments can be made and no one will know what your past was. Constantly reminding yourself of this is priceless.

Getting a Job

This really depends on the workload you want to handle and how well you deal with stress. There's no shame in having to take an easy job because it's too stressful to do a full time or even part time. School is the most important thing, for the most part, and it's pretty ineffective for both your job and school performance if you're exhausted and unhappy juggling the two.

That being said, I do suggest getting a job of some sort. If you're on work study, try and find something on your school's campus. The closer and more accessible the job, the more hours you're likely to be able to handle. Also, if you get work through the school, they're likely to be more flexible with hours than regular jobs, and they know on an exclusive basis the busiest time of semester.

However, if you don't qualify for work study or can't find a job on campus, then the next best thing is to find someone who's easy to get to by bus or by walking. Hours might be more limited depending on your schedule, but a job is a job. It's just a little more difficult.

Don't bite off more than you can chew. While it's incredibly important to learn how to juggle a job and school, it's equally important to learn how to not overwork yourself. Last semester I had two jobs. While I only worked 8 hours a week, the timing was awful for one of my jobs. The stress that my one job forced onto me and the time that I worked and what it took away from my ability to do my school work was not worth the four hours per week. I had another job that I was planning on taking more hours with, but budget cuts ended up landing me unemployed. I don't suggest, however, quitting a job because it's a little stressful and it's not ideal. The only reason I did was because I intended on picking up more hours at my other job.That didn't work, obviously.

So here's the next step: apply, apply, apply. Even if you don't think you can get the job, apply anyway and write a sincere cover letter/email (along with sending the resume) showing your interest despite qualification shortcomings. You never know - that commitment and initiative might be enough for them to give you a second glance. That's how I got my internship, and that's how I was contacted by the CEO of an LA based handbag company to work as her personal assistant.

Try to find jobs that will benefit your field, if you can. However, don't limit yourself. Especially if you're a freshman or sophomore with limited job experience. Keep your options open; for the most part, there will always be jobs in your field that you can apply for when you feel more comfortable.

If you're an artist like I want to be, then finding freelance work is a great way to make some money on the side. The plus of this is that there aren't shifts or defined hours. Just make sure you have a per hour charge and timetable worked up before you start the work, along with a written contract (either digitally or printed) defining the amount of work and hours and pay for the job. A payment at the beginning might also be helpful.

Just be conscious about the amount of freelance work you choose to do, and don't depend on it for your income, unless you have a client you know you'll be working with consistently. Having a job/paid internship and doing some jobs on the side is a good way to go. But don't take on too many freelance offers! Schoolwork is paramount, and there's always someone looking for a college student who'll charge little to nothing for work in the future.

The Roommates

Freshman year of college is notorious for its roommate horror stories. The satanic girl who laughs maniacally way too late at night, the nerd who brags about her smarts all the time. Aside from these outrageous stereotypes, it most certainly is a challenge living with other people when you're first moving into a place of your own. This post won't be long because I feel like each situation is different. It's more about prevention than it is about dealing with it when it escalades. So here are some things that you need to consider when talking to your new roommates for the first time:

  1. Dishes, trash, cleaning, chores: Make sure you have some sort of agreement on who's going to do what, when, and how often. Playing chicken and just waiting to see if someone else is going to do it causes resentment, and a dirty house, which can lead to arguments and the blame game.
  2. Daily routines: While these are mostly personal, considerations for others in the house are not more important. Sleep schedules are especially important, as infringing upon someone else's ability to relax in a highly stressful environment is not only unfair, but can quickly create tension. Be respectful and get a feel for everyone's general noise preference, etc etc.
  3. Guests: Having guests is fine, but make sure it's cleared with your roommate somehow. Either you've talked before about having a lot of guests usually, or you ask permission if there are going to be a lot of people over. If there's a personal limit that your roommate has in terms of comfort level, respect it. They might not want any sort of substances in their house, and they might feel uncomfortable around particular people.
  4. Privacy: Don't shut yourself off from your roommate completely. Be cordial and respectful, but also make sure you each have established your boundaries. When it's okay to knock, asking about certain things, etc etc. There are certain boundaries that if crossed will cause more problems than the awkward conversations that attempt to make ground rules. If you don't feel safe or secure in your own home, then that's not fair at all.
  5. Food: This is more important than it should be, most likely. Establish how food will be shared or defined as untouchable. This is important when you're buying your own groceries. Other roommates or people eating food that you payed for can lead to a lot of anger and a lot of tension that's difficult to get past. Have the conversation before it gets out of hand.

Don't expect to be best friends with your roommate. I know this sound harsh, but it's a good general rule to not assume a close attachment right away. You've probably barely met your roommates, and you're going to live together for a long time. Depending on your roommates as a main source of support from hour 1 might cause issues if roommates don't react the ways you need them to, or if they're not the kind of person you're comfortable being friends with. This is not to say, however, that you shouldn't reach out to your roommate and be supportive in any way you can. If there is a friendship to be developed, it will manifest naturally. Keep your social life open, however, to people outside of your roommate situation so that you aren't dependent on the people you live with and barely know. This can easily blow up.

Freshman 15

Contrary to popular belief, the freshman 15 doesn't only refer to gaining weight. It can also refer to the loss of 15 pounds due to self-image issues that might lead to eating disorders.

That being said, it's hard to find a cheap or affordable balance between too much, too little, too healthy or not healthy enough. Grocery shopping, if you've never done it solely for yourself etc, it's hard to figure out what to buy and how to optimize your grocery cash. Here are some things you might want to consider buying that'll last for a while (this is all kind of based on my own preferences, though):

  1. Fruits and vegetables are always good things to have around. Buying fruits that are in-season is cheaper, and having vegetables to add as flavoring is a good way to make multiple uses of one grocery item. Just make sure you wash everything first.
  2. Microwaveable meals are easy and fast. Be wary though, they're more expensive than they appear, as the pricetags can add up quickly. They also tend to have pretty bad stuff in them, so read the ingredients if your'e really interested in staying healthy.
  3. Rice is always a great thing to have around, because of how much it can be a part of. Not only is it cheap, but you can add it to almost anything and it's relatively filling. Investing in a rice cooker is also a good idea, as you'll find it has an amazing amount of recipes.
  4. Canned soups/chilis are another good and cheap way to stock up. Be wary though - they get heavy really quickly, so if you're planning on walking a fair distance you might want to watch how much you collect. If you're able, buy larger cans. You can make the whole thing and keep the leftovers for later.
  5. Cereal/oatmeal is always a good fallback. Many college students enjoy cereal because of how easy it is to put together in the morning, and oatmeal is a healthy and filling warm alternative for winters. Try to buy healthier cereals if it can be helped. If you use milk only for cereal, only buy half a gallon at a time. Milk goes bad faster than you'll be using it, so it'd be a waste of money.
  6. Bread and spreads are really nice for when you don't feel like doing much but you want to have something to eat. Meats like ham are also good to have for a quick sandwich. If you put the bread in the fridge, it will last a lot longer. Just make sure you have a toaster so you can warm it up.
  7. Soda/tea/coffee/juice are all important. If you're soda obsessed, you would ideally only be able to carry a 12-pack if you're walking or taking buses. I've sort of learned how to ration them throughout the week, so I buy a pack once a week. If you're able though, buy a 24-pack. Teas and coffees should be bought in bulk as well, and are good sources of caffeine, although tea would be the preferable option. For juices, orange juice is a good option. Be wary though, some brands taste different than others. This is something in which price shouldn't be the main factor, as cheaper orange juices tend to taste different.
  8. If you're trying things out, buy them in minimum quantities. While they might be amazing and look perfect, it's easy to become bored with them and/or overeat and not want anymore. This could mean a lot of wasted money if there's food you aren't touching for one reason or another. Buy one or two of something at a time so that you have variation in your diet and you still get to enjoy the things you love.

I'll Procrastinate in a Few Hours...

Time management. It's the death of all college students, and I still don't have a grasp of it. Everyone works differently, so it really depends on how you feel most comfortable. It is important to have free time though, so that you are able to keep your bearings.

Stress is a major factor in college. While I believe it's necessary for a healthy dose of motivation, it can also be detrimental both physically and emotionally. Stress can manifest itself in many different inconvenient ways ranging from colds to severe migraines and anxiety attacks. Emotionally it can leave you exhausted, scattered, and feeling out of control. All of these things only hurt your ability to function. You want to create the best product you can.

If that means most students are working until 3 am and you go to bed at 11 pm every night regardless, that's okay. Don't fall into the trap of all-nighters colleges are so famous for: if it doesn't work for you, college isn't going to make it magically the solution. If you don't like pushing yourself if you feel sick, then don't.

Have a day where you relax and take time for yourself. It's incredibly hard and a lot of the time you won't have it, but take the opportunity when you can. Mental health days are pretty effective in motivating and energizing you for the tasks ahead.

Social Life

Now that you've procrastinated, you probably don't have time to have fun. That's something you have to kind of decide: have fun now and be trapped by homework later, or do homework now and have fun when you know there isn't any pressure.

Regardless, taking time away from just being by yourself is important. Take it from someone who doesn't feel comfortable socializing: it's something that needs to be done. It's so easy to be in your own little homework-filled world all the time. Taking free time just to sleep or relax by yourself is good, but there should be some type of communication. This doesn't have to be much - talk to classmates and eat lunch with them, or talk to your roommates etc.

One of the main reasons college is stressful is because of ideas you develop about your quality of work, etc. You assume everyone is better or you wonder if you're the only one having problems etc etc. Talking to others helps to relieve this, because for the most part everyone else will complain about their lives. In a twisted way, this might make you feel better, because you'll feel more like you're on the right page. It's also nice to have other people to ask about projects and complain to as well. Support systems within college that understand you can be invaluable. Especially if they have a car!

Break the Rules

I'll end on a positive note. I'll probably add more as college continues and I make more mistakes!

Nevertheless, this is a weird one, and parents probably won't approve. But trust me, it's important. So here it is: break the rules. Do things that your parents would frown upon. It's all part of an experience.

It's so easy to say that it's just an excuse for college students going wild and ruining their lives, but it's not if you're smart about it.

If you plan on drinking for the first time, be smart about it. Be aware that if you've been alcohol free prior to then, that you don't know your tolerance level. Alcohol can often feel fine and then hit hard, so make sure you're drinking slowly and in moderation. It's also critical for your safety that you're with people you trust. Either that, or you're in your own home or somewhere where you can get home easily. This is important because alcohol inhibits your reasoning skills. If you're in a place you don't know, and you're drunk, the dangers are infinite. Another good rule is to always drink from a bottle or always keep your cup in your hands.

If you're going to do drugs (and I'm not judging here), the same rules apply. Intensify them, though - depending on the biological makeup of a person, their reactions to drugs can be drastically different. Some might have an amazing experience while others might be terrified. Come-downs are also varying from fine to terrible to the point where people will take more of the drug to prevent the experience of it wearing off. Be sure you know what you're taking in relation to what medications you're on, as these chemical mixes might prove dangerous or even deadly. Know the addictive level of the drugs and know how strong they are. Be sure you're with people you trust, and even better, be sure you're at home where it's easy for you to get somewhere safe. Because you dont' know what your reaction will be, have someone there that you trust that'll help you if you begin to show signs of a bad reaction.

If you're going to party, go with someone you know, or at the very least in a group. You should have a general sense of the kind of party it is and the people who will be there, so you don't end up unaware and scared in an environment you find scary or uncomfortable. It's important to always have a way home as well. This either means having someone you know will stay sober that can drive you when you're ready to leave, or having the number of a taxi service and the means to pay for it. Talking to strangers isn't bad at all, but make sure you're smart about it. If they start saying or doing things that seem sketchy to you, it's a god time to either move on or not get reeled into doing something dangerous.

Peer pressure is cliched but very, very real. Don't fall victim to it. Even if it's just driving a friend and their friends around, if you don't want to do it, don't. This extends to anything you feel uncomfortable doing that you're being told to do by others. If they really are your friends they'll be supportive. In any case, a supportive group is more likely to make you feel comfortable in experimenting than a pushy group will. If your friends are supportive and are stressing the fact that they don't want you to try anything you don't want to, then you're bound to feel safer and that they are genuinely there for you if anything goes awry.

College is exciting and it's all about experimenting and making mistakes. But you don't have to be stupidly dangerous about it. Be aware of the consequences that you might face for not thinking things through, and make sure you're in safe environments if you plan on losing your capacity to reason and think lucidly. Even if you aren't in a state to make decisions, at the very least you're in a safe place. Always know where you're going to wake up. Making mistakes is more about learning what you're comfortable with and what you don't like than it is about forcing yourself in dangerous situations just because you want to prove you can do it. Don't run away from new situations, however, because learning how to handle things is important. If something comes up that you aren't familiar with, having to deal with it makes you even stronger of a person. Just don't put yourself in those situations just to say you did it.

In Conclusion

I can tell you from experience that college is an amazing, life-altering experience like no one would be able to describe. Your parents always tell you, but you don't understand until you experience it.

I've grown more in the past few months than I have in years. Being forced to face all of these situations and solve them on my own has made me such a strong person. I know I can handle things, and it's allowed me to branch out and leave my comfort zone. I finally feel like I"m living life, and like I'm doing what I love to do. Knowing that I've handled the situations that have been thrown at me makes me understand how capable I am. I've gone through getting extremely lost to having panic attacks to moving on my own to all sorts of other things that were terrifying. If someone had told me I'd have to deal with those situations, I would have been petrified and unable to even imagine where to begin. But I've made it through all of them and I'm a better person for it.

So go to college and press onward and upward. Be unafraid and know that you don't have to prove you're more mature: it'll happen. It's even more rewarding when you realize you've collected yourself and faced a situation unprepared than it is to force yourself into a dangerous place and have to scrape your way out of it. You'll just feel stupid for consciously putting yourself there.


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