How to Successfully Navigate the First Year of College
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What is the first year of college really like?

Congratulations! You are going to college. It’s May 2, 2014 and you have already sent in your Statement of Intent to Register. You are extremely excited because it’s finally here – the mysterious four years of college you have always heard and dream about. But what is the first year of college really like? Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with majors or where you go to college. It has everything to do with learning how to function on your own – for the first time ever.

Which Bed Do I Take?

Your first hurdle is most likely going to be your living situation. Learn early on how to communicate with your roommate because nothing is worse than a bad living situation. If you are lucky, you will end up being really good friends, but even if you are not, do not be discouraged. A good roommate is not necessarily someone who becomes your best friend. A good roommate is someone who is respectful – who creeps in quietly at night if you like to sleep early and treads softly in the morning if you sleep in late. He/she asks before using your things and splits cleaning responsibilities with you. Trust me, even a very good friend can be a very terrible roommate. The best roommates are the ones with whom life gets along peacefully.

Then there are the other things to consider- namely, the bathrooms and dining areas. As for the food, you will have to decide for yourselves. However, you should really know your dining room hours. You have no idea how many times I woke up on a Saturday morning (okay, more like afternoon), completely starving-only to learn that the dining room was closed and would not open again until 5pm. Now, you may wonder how one can wake up after 11am to begin with, but trust me- it will happen. So either become disciplined about waking up early or know that you may need an alternative food plan for such occasions. As for the bathrooms, do yourselves a favor and buy shower shoes and bathrobes. You will thank me later.

Leave Your Sorting Hats at Home

High school was a shark tank of cliques and judgments. College is nothing like that. Just like you, everyone is coming to college not just for the academics but also for the college experience. But how can you experience things if you are too timid and shy to make friends? Or if you only want to stick with what you have always known?

In Welcome Week- the week before classes start – colleges will offer plenty of opportunities to become involved in the student life. There will be dorm events, rush events for fraternities and sororities, and student organizations will be looking for new freshmen to sign-up. For the first time, you can try things because you WANT to try them and not because you HAVE to. So take advantage. You will make friends along the way and if you are lucky enough, upperclassmen will serve as good friends and mentors to guide you. If you don’t try to do this in the beginning, it becomes harder to find a “family” in the midst of thousands of busy students. And trust me, partying is not the answer to a healthy and fulfilling social life.

Freedom on a Schedule

Students think their first year classes are about their majors, and then are completely surprised to learn that you can actually pick your own classes- major or not. However, what the first year is really meant for is taking classes that fulfill BOTH major requirements and general breadth requirements needed for graduating the university. So, before getting too excited and enrolling in Hand-Puppet Making 101, talk to your academic advisor and see how to pick a well-balanced course load that satisfies the right requirements. Most universities will guide you on the right path to begin with so listen to them. Otherwise you may end up spending an additional quarter or year trying to finish up college- which can be very costly.

Also, for the first (and probably last) time, you will be allowed to design your own schedule and will be the only one responsible for it. Many classes may not take attendance (you are considered old enough to be responsible). So be realistic with yourself. Know if you learn better in morning classes or afternoon ones. Many students do not make it to 8am classes and even fewer make it to classes on Thursday or Friday nights. Therefore, schedule wisely since attending lectures and taking notes is the best way to prepare for any test in college. It is also the only way to build relationships with professors, and this you will definitely need in the long run.

Anything Else?

Yes, those parents and their rules that you are so eager to run away from – well, you will miss them more than you know. Parents will never stop mattering and will always be your parents so start enjoying those family nights at home. They become rarer as you grow. The rest I leave to you to stumble upon on your own. Make your first year a memorable one.

By Tanu-Srivastava , ThinkTank Learning Admissions Consultant and Academic Counselor