Thursday, Apr. 02, 2020
freshman year

Whether or not you're coming from a big city to a small college, or a small town to an urban campus, freshman year is new (and exiciting and daunting) for everyone. Each student will have to acclimate, turning unfamiliar surroundings into home, strangers into friends and a new routine into a way of life ... all while passing Stats 101. Keeping track of everything can seem overwhelming at times, so here are some tips on what to expect, how to prepare and how to cope.

The Campus

Before your first day of class, it's always a good idea to do a test-run of the route you will be regularly taking to class. This can help you avoid getting lost - and being late. If you have to take public transportation, note the duration of the route, from when you leave your dorm or apartment to when you set foot in the classroom. It is also a good idea to familiarize yourself with other staple locations, such as the library, the student union, and possibly even the nearest coffee shop. At freshman orientation or on your move-in day, you should receive a campus map (and your school likely has one posted online, too), which you may want to carry with you until you feel comfortable getting around.

And regardless of the size of the city or town where you attend college, safety should always be a top priority. These tips may seem obvious, but it can be easy to be cavalier about practicing them when you are in a hurry or distracted.

  • Try to avoid walking alone at night, and never walk alone in a quiet, dark place with your iPod on
  • If you ride a bike, always wear a helmet, and ride defensively
  • If you carry a backpack, never store valuable items in the smallest, most accessible pouches. These items could be easily lost or stolen
  • If you are returning home late and alone, be sure to have your keys ready to unlock your door, and be especially aware of your surroundings
  • Most universities have emergency phones placed around campus, and it is a good idea to pay attention to where they located on your regular route
  • The Classroom

    The dynamic of the college classroom is often unrecognizeable from the way class was held in high school. Some of your classes may be in giant lecture halls with hundreds of other students, before a busy (sometimes famous) professor who has just an hour to get through the course material before he flies out the door. Other classes may be much smaller than your high school classes, with as few as 10 students. In these classes, you will likely be expected to participate often, and this setting often provides the best learning experience, as you can develop close relationships with other students and your professor, and speak freely. Chances are you will have to take both lectures and discussion groups, but if you prefer one form to the other, you can tailor your class schedule accordingly. This article from eCampusTours does a great job at breaking down the differences between high school and college, from how much you should expect to study to how to best interact with your professor and fellow students.

    Class Schedule

    If you can't bear the thought of getting out of bed before 10 a.m., then signing up for an 8 a.m. lecture is probably not a good idea. The best way to approach your schedule is to select courses that you know you will attend (and that will be useful to your intended major, obviously). Try to craft a schedule that allows you at least one break during the day, so you can grab some lunch and rest your mind. Also, be sure to consider the location of each class and if you will be able to make it on time. If you are rushing back and forth across campus every day, you will likely end up feeling stressed, frustrated and like you are wasting time. You also don't want to be late for class, especially those where attendance counts toward your grade.

    In terms of which classes to take, the first semester of college, or even the first two semesters, are often spent fulfilling general requirements. If you know what you are majoring in and have a specific, pre-set track (nursing majors, for example), the decision process will be made in large part for you. If you do not yet know what you want to major in, or have a more flexible track, you can use your first year to take the classes you will need to graduate, and that seem interesting to you. Take note of the classes and professors that you particularly enjoy, so you can take more of these classes, or more classes with a great professor, another semester. Also, it is a good idea to balance the types of courses you are taking, even if they are requirements. Try to mix up classes that require a lot of reading and writing with courses in math, foreign language or art so you don't get bored and so your time is more equally spread out.

    The Freshman 15

    A meal plan with seemingly unlimited choices. Late-night pizza. Dinner out with new friends. Stress. Beer. There are lots of reasons why people put on weight during their first year of college, but extra pounds don't have to be inevitable. The best way to avoid gaining weight is to be aware of what you are consuming. This means both paying attention to not eat an entire bag of M&M's when you're cramming for your Psych exam, and realizing that your 40-ounce soda or venti latte has hundreds of calories. Liquids may seem innocent enough, but they often contain the most "empty" calories (the average beer has about 150 calories). Instead, drink lots of water, and keep healthy snacks around for the all-nighters. For a quick nutrition reference, see the USDA's Food Pyramid. The site's Menu Planner even lets you design a custom-made daily food plan, which may help you make better food choices, and allows you to see if you are eating a balanced diet.

    And though it may be hard to find time, exercising regularly is a great way to stay fit and clear your mind. Try to work out at least three times a week, and during really busy times, try to squeeze exercise into your daily routine: take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk the mile across campus instead of taking the bus, or ask a friend to go to the gym with you instead of meeting for ice-cream.

    It is also important to get enough sleep regularly (aim for at least seven hours per night) as research has shown that fatigued people tend to eat more than when they are rested. Also, know your own habits - if you know you overeat when you get stressed or feel down, make a back-up plan for the times when you feel this way. Tell yourself that eating will not make these feelings go away, and find positive ways to improve these negative feelings: go for a run to calm down if you are feeling overwhelmed; call a friend or family member if you are feeling lonely; or keep a journal, and write your feelings down.

    Missing Home

    College presents huge changes for every first-year student: you will have less privacy, may be far away from your best friends in high school, may only see your parents several times a year. Often these changes can make you long for home, and the feeling of homesickness can make some people feel depressed, and disinterested in college life. It is important to acknowledge these feelings if you have them so you can cope with them before your sadness becomes a serious problem. First, know that things will get better. Your new identity as a college student will soon feel like normal and your strange surroundings will soon feel like home. Therefore, it is important that you embrace where you are and face your obligations, rather than giving in to the urge to return home every weekend. Address the way you feel by talking to friends or family members, or share your thoughts by writing in a journal. Make an effort to get involved and meet new people - seek out activities that you enjoy, such as playing sports or volunteering - and try to create a comfortable routine that makes your new surroundings feel safe and familiar, such as frequenting a favorite coffee shop or meeting a friend at the same time every week.

    Think of college not just as an institution to prepare you for the working world, but as an opportunity to mold yourself into an independent, capable adult. You'll have a blast along the way!

    --Jennifer Borders

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