Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic put a wrench in my college experience, I feel like I woke up one day and thought, “Wow, I’m going to be a senior.” Looking back on the last three years though, I feel like I actually fared better than I thought I would. I managed to make friends as an out-of-state student, found a major that suits me and even got involved with a few clubs. Each of these also provided me with a substantial support system.
With that said, I still ate the grody dining hall food and made those “we’ll be together forever” dorm friends that never lasted beyond welcome week. I made countless other mistakes known exclusively to college freshmen. I entered college with few expectations and surprisingly surpassed them all. But without any older siblings or close high school classmates already in college, there were still a few things I wish I’d known going in.
Therefore, I feel it is my duty to use my seniority to help others avoid the mistakes that I made. Though I could probably name at least 100, here are the 10 most crucial things I wish I’d known when entering college:
1. Advisors Can Be Bad, Too
Many freshmen spend orientation navigating the class list and formulating their first schedule. If they’re lucky, they’ll get a seasoned, competent advisor who understands the various majors and can, you know, advise. However, some freshmen aren’t as lucky or didn’t go in with a specific major in mind. In that case, they must use the dreaded “university division” strain of advisors. Though I’m sure it’s different at every university, these advisors usually help students complete the basics to avoid falling behind. Unfortunately, they often fall painfully short in administering true guidance.
Therefore, if you are a freshman and didn’t exactly decide on a major but have a general idea of what field or school you want to study in — business, media, etc. — do not panic. Try to find the best advisor who fits your interests and schedule a meeting following orientation. That way, you’ll have another set of eyes on your schedule and a more informed opinion on what classes to take. This will also help benefit you personally when you more narrowly tailor your field of study.
2. Don’t Wear Your Student ID Around Your Neck (Seriously, Trust Me on This One)
It’s absolutely a dead giveaway. Now, being a freshman in college is not as big of a deal as being a freshman in high school, but you still don’t necessarily want to go around branding yourself like I did. Though I eventually fell out of this habit, I beg you: Don’t even try it. Don’t get one of those card-holding lanyards that makes you look like an elementary school teacher. Just get an adhesive phone wallet for your student ID. Save yourself the embarrassment.
3. It’s Okay if You Don’t Make Friends at Orientation
I didn’t. I made a few acquaintances who I added on Snapchat and never spoke to again, but none of them earned the status of college-long friends. Therefore, don’t be discouraged if you don’t make friends right away. The best friends in college come from places you’d least expect, such as friends of friends or just classmates.
4. Shamelessly Talk to Everyone Around You
This goes without saying, but it’s very difficult to make friends if you don’t talk to people. I myself am fairly shy, but I was desperate for new friends entering college. So I completely disregarded any ounce of dignity and tried making conversation with everyone I encountered during my first few weeks. My roommate and I were the only people on our floor who left their door open, and we met one of our best friends that way. Everybody’s in the same boat, and you’re never too cool to make new friends. (P.S. Where you’re from is a really good icebreaker. If you’re from a similar place, you have something to connect with. And if you’re from really different places, you have more questions you can ask.)
5. Start Clubs and Organizations Early!
This is a big one! I was late to the game in joining my most coveted extracurricular, and I regret it to this day. Though it’s initially difficult to know what you’ll want to get involved in, attend at least one (1) meeting from any club that even slightly piques your interest. That way, if you decide to keep going, you already have one foot in the door.
6. If the Class is Notoriously Tough, Go to Tutoring Sessions
A lot of freshman-level classes that are essentially “weed outs” usually have a corresponding level of support from professors or tutors. For example, I took “the computer in business” for my minor, which is notably the hardest lower-level business school class. Thankfully, at least three or four times a week they hosted group tutoring sessions that gave us more one-on-one time with professors and teacher’s assistants. They really helped students more adequately understand the material. Many other classes did this too, so try it if your school offers it.
7. Try To Make at Least One Friend or Acquaintance in Every Class
This can help in a number of ways. At the very least, you have someone to compare notes with or cover for you should you miss class. But at the very best, you have a potential new friend to hang out with and get to know. Though bear in mind this one caveat: It’s beneficial to keep fairly low expectations for all new friendships in college. This way, you’re not disappointed should something pan out differently than you thought it would. All my college friendships surprised me, and I think that’s the key to making them last.
8. Try To Befriend Upperclassmen in Your Major
Going off the previous recommendation, making friends with older students who share the same major as you is extremely beneficial. They can help you determine which classes or professors to avoid through free, firsthand experience. But you should still definitely check out the grade distribution and Rate My Professor for as many lecturers as possible. You want to give yourself the best shot at success.
9. Don’t Get Those Ridiculously Tall Rain Boots
Yes, I’m talking about those exorbitant and extremely overhyped Hunter boots. I got a pair, and it was absolutely the most needless decision of my college life. They’re clunky and inconvenient when it’s actually raining, and I felt really silly romping around in them. Seriously, just get some kind of low-rise boot or topsider that’s easier to walk around in.
10. And Finally, Don’t Buy the Sports Package if You’re Really Not That Into Sports
I go to a Big 10 school, so basketball and football are huge. I thought because of this, I would somehow magically enjoy watching these sports for the first time in my life. So I bought the fall ticket package, but I was painfully disappointed in how many games I actually attended. Chances are, if you don’t like sports going in, you probably won’t like them going out either. So don’t waste your money. If you really want to go to a game, tickets are usually available for students, and there will always be suckers who did buy the sports package willing to sell them.
Though this is by no means an exhaustive list, I hope these might be a few recommendations that are less common among Facebook parent page forums. However, my biggest honorable mention is that I wish I’d known the COVID-19 pandemic was going to happen. Of course, this would’ve been next to impossible, but it still made for a very unexpected college experience. But to all the new freshmen, at least COVID can’t take you by surprise! You’ve likely learned some things about yourself or others during the pandemic that you can now use to produce the best college experience possible. So go forth and prosper! And if any of this advice helps, definitely report back.