Making the most of your first semester in college
The transition from high school to college is one of life’s most dramatic. Suddenly, you are on your own, free to choose everything about your life, but also required to accept the responsibility of those choices. It’s exciting, terrifying, exhilarating, and overwhelming.
If you are going to be a college freshman soon, we have some tips for you from the experts—a staff member at Morehead State University who helps new students get acclimated, and a college freshman who had just successfully completed her first semester when this article was written.
Tips from Sarah Norman, a Frankfort resident who is now a freshman at Beloit College in Wisconsin:
- Keep an open mind about the people you meet, and meet as many people as possible. “You’ll meet people you might not have hung out with in high school,” she says, “but you learn a lot from their differences and that can broaden your horizons.”
- Don’t freak out if you’re not best friends with your roommate. Just be considerate and have a clear understanding of your expectations.
- Don’t be too friendly with the opposite sex. Reputations can get formed easily and can be hard to shake.
- Take full advantage of the library. Libraries are really quiet, and it is easy to stay focused.
- Keep an open mind about classes and talk in class.“I didn’t like philosophy at first, but our teacher made us talk and share our views. That really helped me value the class. I started with some solid ideas about how I felt on issues, but my views changed during the semester.”
Tips from Lora Pace, first-year programs and student retention director at Morehead State University:
- Draw up an agreement with your roommate. Work out the agreement together and include items such as what can be shared, what is off-limits, when guests can be there, who will clean what, and study times.
- Don’t become part of the national crisis involving college students and credit card debt. Most credit cards offered to college students carry high interest charges. Pace recommends getting one card and using it only for emergencies. “We see kids get multiple credit cards and leave school thousands of dollars in debt,” Pace says. “On top of that they have student loan payments. It is very difficult to live on your own and pay off high credit card balances. Sometimes it takes years and years for them to get out of debt. It’s not a bad idea to have a credit card for emergencies, but getting a new sweater for a weekend date is not an emergency.”
- Take the freshman orientation course whether it is required or not. At MSU, it’s called MSU 101, and it’s mandatory. Whatever it’s called, you’ll get lots of tips to make life easier, and you’ll get to know other freshmen who are facing the same challenges.
- Be careful of what you bring to campus. Leave heirlooms and expensive jewelry at home. Keep your dorm room door locked. “A college campus is a community like any other,” Pace says. “Universities are not gated communities. A lot of theft occurs from guests or people you know.”
- Be smart about your own safety. If you are out after dark, walk in groups and keep to well-lit paths. Watch out for each other.
- Know where emergency call boxes are. Determine if there is an escort service on campus that will walk you to your dorm if you have to be out late. A special tip for women: walk with confidence. Women are more vulnerable if they walk slouched over, Pace says.
- Pay attention to your things. Don’t leave your backpack unattended. If you’re at a party, don’t leave your drink unattended. Don’t carry large amounts of cash.
TOP 5 TIPS
Sarah Norman and Lora Pace both offered these tips:
- Get involved. Join an organization, club, or some extracurricular activity during your first semester. You’ll meet people with similar interests, get to know your campus better, and have more fun. You’ll also have new experiences.
- Establish good relationships with key advisors before you need them, including your professors, academic advisor, and residence hall advisor. If you already know these people, you will be more likely to go to them if a problem arises.
- Learn time-management skills. Buy a planner, and make a schedule of important assignments and tasks, including a specific time to study. You’ll be a lot more likely to get studying done if you have a regular study time. “It’s okay to go out, but make sure you get your work done first,” advises Norman. “Making up work is hard to do; it will pile up.”
- Get your zzzzs. “Many college students go back to their preschool days and take naps again,” says Pace. “Some students will say, ‘I need my sleep,’ but many don’t. Make sure you get seven or eight hours of sleep each night. In late September or early October, we start seeing an increase in visits to the health clinic. These are students who are not getting enough sleep. That, combined with the stress of being away from home for the first time, can get your body run down.”
- Hit the gym. Pizza at 2 a.m. combined with little physical activity can wreak havoc with your fitness. Most campuses have exercise facilities, and Pace recommends scheduling exercise at least three times a week. Norman agrees, saying that after she started working out, she felt “110 percent better, had more energy, focused better, and was happier.”
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: MORE COLLEGE TIPS
The transition into college can be almost as traumatic for parents. To find tips for freshman parents, click here: Freshman Parents