Campus Confidential: Advice For Next Year’s College Freshman

There was a moment sometime during the weekend before finals week that I looked up from the copious U.N.-related documents assigned by my Intro to Human Rights professor that I had somehow failed to read during the semester and realized: “Holy shit my first year of college is basically over.”

I thought back to about a year before and tried to remember what I thought finishing my freshman year would feel like. I guess I thought I’d be far more sophisticated, secure and grown up in general. In reality — at least at that moment at time —I just felt a hell of a lot more stressed. But the truth is, I learned a lot over the past year, even if that transformation manifested in a number of small ways rather than one grand overhaul of my childish naivete.

So here are just a few pieces of advice for rising freshmen from somebody who just finished being one. 1. Be realistic about your relationship with your roommate.

I think everyone hopes that they’ll be best friends with their roommate: thatthey’ll go out together every weekend, that they’ll spend vacations with each other’s families, that they’ll be each other’s maid of honors at their weddings [insert heart warming montage set to Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend” here]. Let me set the record straight: this is the exception, not the rule. If you’re like me, you’ll get a roommate who you like and respect, with whom you get along and are able to live with compatibly. When I realized that my roommate and I were not going to be best friends I was disappointed. Yet as the year wore on, I witnessed roommates who were best friends start to despise each other due to constant exposure. I also saw roommates who downright despised each other from the beginning start to master some truly shocking Art of War tactics Regina George herself would’ve been proud of. In light of that, I realized I had actually lucked out.

Considering this, don’t be afraid to be direct and honest with your roommate the second you meet her. I don’t mean that you should scream “IF YOU EVER SEXILE ME I WILL CUT YOU” before she’s even set down her bags, but don’t try to placate her, either. A friend of mine wanted her roommate to like her so badly that when said roommate asked if her boyfriend could stay with them for a little bit, she agreed despite strong feelings to the contrary. The boyfriend practically moved in, my friend was miserable and the whole situation resulted in them all hating each other anyway.

Bottom line: your dorm room is your home for the next nine-ish months. If you hate being there because of your roommate, your quality of life will plummet drastically. Don’t be afraid to assert yourself.

2. College is not high school; high school rules do not apply here. Namely, nobody gives a shit about what you do.

That sounds harsh, but I promise this is true in the best possible way. For example, popularity does not exist in college. Or, at least, it doesn’t exist the same way it did in high school, mostly because people are far too busy with their own crap to keep track of what you’re doing. This might be variable depending on the college campus, but I think overall it’s true that the same social hierarchy from high school does not exist. This is probably true because there is often a lot more people and they are all new. Therefore if you meet somebody that seems really cool, don’t be afraid to get to know them better. As one of my friends told me, “There are plenty of amazing women who I assumed were mean girls who I didn’t become friends with until I was more confident. I totally regret wasting time we could have been hanging out by assuming they’d be bitches.”

Speaking from personal experience, there were girls on my hall who I thought were awesome but didn’t get to know until later in the year. I assumed that because they weren’t reaching out to me, they weren’t interested in getting to know me. Again, the reality was they were just busy and doing their own thing, not making some kind of concerted effort to avoid me. I regret the time we missed out on.

And on that note: reach out to everybody and anybody in college. You will benefit both by learning from people who are incredibly different from you in terms of their backgrounds and life experiences, as well as connect with people with whom you probably have a lot more in common than kids who happened to live in your same school district. You’ll probably never get another chance to meet so many incredible people, and freshman year is the best time to meet them. And as I understand it, this is a window – it’s hard to meet new people in the same way after college so, basically, STOCKPILE NEW FRIENDS.

Also, extra-curriculars in college are not comparable to those in high school. Don’t load up on extra-curriculars to pack your resume. Join clubs and groups that reflect your true interests – it’s all about quality over quantity. Nobody is going to give you a gold star for joining everything. Here is where the theme of “nobody gives a shit” emerges again. Do what’s best for you and what makes you happiest, not what you think is expected of you.

3. If you feel depressed or lonely, you’re not alone (even if it seems like everybody else is having a SUPER AWESOME time).

I feel like nobody talks about this aspect of the first year of college enough. The truth is, going to college, particularly if you don’t continue to live at your parents’ home, is a complete overhaul of your life. Almost every aspect of your life completely changes, from your contact with your family, to your friends, to your workload, to new money concerns. It’s a lot to take and can easily lead to feelings of loneliness, as well as full-blown depression. If you do feel depressed, don’t hole up in your room. Keep trying to put yourself out there and essentially fake it until you make it. If it seems like everybody else around you is just having THE BEST TIME EVER at college, it may very well be that they’re faking it, too. (Or maybe they’re just high – that’s always a very real possibility at all times in college.) Essentially, though, you won’t be doing yourself any favors by wallowing alone. Most colleges have some kind of mental health resource, whether it’s in the health center or some kind of peer-run hotline you can call. Never be afraid to use those resources – they’re there for a reason. And on that note…

4. Learn how to take care of your damn self.

I always thought of myself as a pretty autonomous, self-sufficient woman throughout high school. But when I got to college, I realized I was completely spoiled and depended on my parents to take care of me in ways I had never previously realized. For example, they’d tell me when I really needed to stop studying or even just put vegetables on my plate.

It may seem counterintuitive to say this because, after all, you’ve gone to college to work but: Don’t work yourself to death. This past year, I’ve watched as friends thought their roommates had gone missing only to find that they had literally holed up in the library for days on end. Another girl passed out in the shower from exhaustion. It may seem like you have to sacrifice all your non-sleeping hours to keep up academically. Alas, those good grades won’t mean a whole lot if you’re a complete wreck mentally, emotionally and physically.

On the other end of the spectrum, don’t party all the time, either. That newfound freedom and relative lack of accountability can be incredibly tempting. But you worked hard to get to college! Don’t screw it up by drinking or smoking your first year away.

5. Don’t freak out about the Freshman 15.

Before I got to college, I was also genuinely concerned that I would return home double my size. First of all, I’m a stress eater. Seriously, it’s like you even say the word “finals” and I look down and my hand is inexplicably immersed in a bag of popcorn). Also the way everybody talked about the Freshman 15 it seemed like upon stepping foot onto a college campus, the satiation centers in millions of young adult’s hypothalamuses across the nation stopped working, as if by some cruel magic. But the truth is, the Freshman 15 is variable. I didn’t gain weight this year and neither did most of my friends.

Of course, there were classmates who took the “all you can eat” aspect of the dining halls literally, and those who only later came to the realization that alcohol does in fact have calories. Just be aware of what you eat (and drink). Try to get some vegetables in there every once in a while. Go easy on the alcoholic beverages. 

6. Consider joining Greek life, even if joining a sorority seems like sooo not your thing.

I was the kind of person who never once considered joining a sorority before I got to college. I thought sororities were full of vapid girls who existed to make each other feel like shit about themselves and pander to dumb frat guys. But after experiencing some of the feelings mentioned above, I decided to give Greek life a try and I was pleasantly surprised (as I wrote about here).

Since I wrote that post, though, it’s become apparent to me that not all sororities are like the one I joined. There definitely are sororities out there who haze pledges, live to serve fraternities in a grossly sexist way, and whatnot. But my sorority is different and I’m glad I gave the experience a chance because joining Greek life grounded me and made me feel like I truly belonged on a campus from which I had originally felt alienated. Greek life is also a really college-specific, unique experience that you only get one shot at. From it, I also gained an amazing community and wonderful new friends – friends who helped contribute advice to write in this article (and who are willing to help out their sisters with anything they might need, for that matter). Joining Greek life is definitely not for everybody. But I don’t think it’s something that should be immediately written off, either.

And here is my final piece of advice (which may contradict everything I just said): I hope you take these words of wisdom to heart … but don’t be afraid to make some mistakes anyway. Trust me, you learn more by making them than you do avoiding them, as painful as that may be sometimes!

Want to contact the author of this post? Email her at [email protected] Julie Zeilinger also edits and blogs for The F Bomb