Once the application process is over and all that’s left is an awaiting move-in day, many incoming college freshmen begin daydreaming about their first year of college. Ask 20 incoming freshmen to describe college in a single word, and the majority will respond freedom. And not a quiet freedom, a resounding Braveheart-type freedom. But here’s the thing: with great freedom comes great responsibility. Here’s what that responsibility really looks like.
You’ll have freedom to attend or not attend class. You have the option to arrive on time, or arrive late and find the door locked. College professors aren’t like high school teachers; where high school teachers need to enforce the school’s policies (for example, letting tardy students into the classroom), college professors have significantly more freedom to set individual classroom policies. It’ll be important to read every professor’s syllabus and understand it — it could literally make or break your grade in the class.
And then there are the class assignments. While college tends to be homework light, not doing the recommended work will often leave you lost during class discussions and tests. And while some professors may give easy writing assignments, some will take quiz questions from the footnotes. Newbies need to be responsible and figure out a study system that works best for them to ensure academic success.
Ah, the freedom of your own place — well, almost your own place since you’ll likely have a roommate. Living with another person can be extremely difficult (just ask your parents!) but you need to pull out a roommate toolbox. This toolbox should include clarity, discussion, compromise, and fairness. Stand up for yourself, but honor your roommate’s individuality. If he or she loves the music loud, agree on a time when it’s fine to play it loud. Just like in the real world, you’ll be thrown together with people who are different from you but with whom you’re expected to maintain a professional relationship with. College life is about realizing you have quirks and things that drive you crazy, and so does everyone else. If something you love is someone else’s pet peeve, you’ll have to work out a compromise. And while freshmen roomies may indeed become best friends, it’s more likely that you’ll just need to work on establishing a professional working relationship.
Know the times it takes you to get from your dorm to each of your classes. And barring extreme weather, you’ll be expected to show up rain or shine, wind or snow. So be prepared. Every dorm will have an R.A., or Resident Assistant. While some students view this position with disdain, R.A.s are knowledgeable upper classmen that can help you with any problem; they can be an invaluable resource, and you should use them as such. R.A.s go through a screening process and train not only in emergency response for everything from medical emergencies to campus-wide emergencies, but they are also excellent resources for conflict resolution.
You’re now in charge of yourself. This means you need to remember to lock your dorm door and take account of your belongings before you leave a classroom. No matter the size of your college campus, it’s likely that it is significantly larger than your high school. And as with any population, there will be those individuals who will make bad choices. Don’t walk by yourself at night — walk with a friend or a group. Abide by dorm security measures; although signing in guests may seem like a drag, such policies are there for two reasons: it creates a record of individuals in and out of the building and in the case of an emergency, it exists as a record of where students were last seen. Be smart and be safe. Always be aware of your surroundings.
Not only do you need to manage your time, but you need to manage your expenses. Eating at the dining hall may seem unappealing, but daily $8 Chipotle lunches and $5 lattes add up quickly when you’re not paying attention. With many college books averaging $100 or more each, it’s a wise decision to watch your expenses. And college life will come with hidden costs: project supplies, ticketed events, nights out with friends. Skipping a few lattes will likely be worth it if it means spending that money on experiences with new friends.
Ah. The freedom to party. Most colleges work hard to provide social opportunities for first-year students in the form of mixers, sponsored trips, and general campus-wide events that encourage students to meet each other and generally explore the path of friendship. However, there will also be in-dorm parties and off-campus parties. And the parties will be everywhere: pay a cover at the door and you’ll be able to drink whatever’s inside for as long as it lasts. Underage drinking on college campuses is a reality. So is alcohol poisoning and sexual assault. In fact, sexual assaults across the United States have been on the rise over the past several decades. Check out NPR’s reporting on the 49% increase of forcible rapes here. Use your freedom wisely when it comes to enjoying your newfound social life. Better yet, enjoy it with friends who genuinely look out for each other and never leave a man or woman behind.
One of the biggest adjustments many college freshmen must make is balancing their social life with their academic life. College professors don’t take late assignments and don’t let late students into the classroom. If you’re late the day of a quiz or test or presentation, that lateness will result in a zero. Not making a morning class because of an off-campus party can have grave academic consequences. And sometimes it won’t. Freshmen quickly learn the age old risk versus reward theory when it comes to having a social life. It’s important to find a balance and find it quickly. But there are important benefits to a healthy social life; a recent research study concluded that the most important aspect in shaping the college experience are the people you meet. Remember: balance is key.
Ready? Take a deep breath. Millions upon millions of college freshmen have made this journey before you and not only survived, but flourished. You can too: know the reality and see things for how they are instead of how you think they should be. You’ll do just fine!
College life for newbies is an every changing balance between social and academic demands. Add personal security and financial responsibilities and freshmen year can seem overwhelming — but it doesn’t have to be!