Picture it: You received the acceptance letter. You made the deposit. You even purchased the school sweatshirt. You are ready for some of the best years of your life…
…except getting ready for college is about way more than buying out the bookstore’s apparel section.
Becoming part of the campus community takes just as much effort as getting into college (though it is a lot more fun). If you want to feel connected to your campus, make memories that last a lifetime, and burst with pride at the mere mention of your school’s name, here’s what you should do.
Start building connections early
You may be itching to get on campus, settle into your dorm room, and start meeting people. But move-in day seems so. far. away. Luckily there are a lot of things you can do to start building connections before classes even start.
Visit campus again
You should (re)visit the college you’re planning to attend (or revisit all of your top choices, if you’re not quite decided yet). Taking a tour was what sold Boston College to now-junior Bethany Candage. “The campus was breathtaking, and our guide was so excited about her experience at BC,” Bethany says. “All I wanted to do was make my own memories there.”
Even if you’ve already visited, it doesn’t hurt to do it again! Look for the buildings where your classes will be held, the dorm you will be living in, and other things you didn’t get a chance to see the first time around. It will help to know where everything is so you don’t get lost on your first day. And you’ll get another chance to visit when you…
You should make every effort to attend freshman orientation. It’s a chance for you to get acclimated to campus, learn important start-of-semester info, and meet other accepted students who are all in the same boat as you. Orientation was mandatory for Darin Dabney before she transferred to the University of Central Florida, but she didn’t mind. “It felt really good to be on campus before the start of classes and to know there were people who understood my anxiety about school,” she says.
Orientation is also “a springboard for starting friendships,” according to Libby Kamrowski, a student at Gonzaga University. “I still have five friends that I made during orientation weekend, even though I’m a junior now.” Plus, it’s fun! “Orientation is a fabulous time,” she says. “The more activities you go to, the more fun, friends, and free things you’ll get!”
Connect with other students
You can do this before, during, and after orientation. Find your roommate on social media, and search for Facebook groups for incoming freshmen, academic departments, athletic teams, and other groups at your school. That way you’ll be in the know and feel a little more at home when you see familiar faces on campus.
Darin joined a Facebook group and sought out other students before she arrived at UCF. “That helped me connect with people before I got anywhere near campus,” she says. “In fact, a few of my best friends knew me from my Instagram way before they ever saw me in person. It was really cool to go to meetings and feel comfortable around people I knew from online, especially if I always saw them on my newsfeed.”
Strengthen those connections on campus
You’ve met your roommate IRL, you’re all moved into your dorm room, and you’re ready to take college by storm. But what should you do first? There are a lot of choices!
Join a student group
Extracurriculars and student organizations make it easy to get involved on campus and feel like part of a community. Be sure to check out your school’s activities fair at the beginning of the semester—there will be groups for every interest, major, and more. “I went and got a lot of info on all sorts of different clubs, from club sports to Make-A-Wish Foundation to different service trips,” says Bethany. “They just have something for everyone.”
Libby, a journalism major, joined the staff of The Gonzaga Bulletin her first day of freshman year as a writer and photographer and has been working her way up ever since. “It’s great to be part of organizations that are related to your major because it knocks on the door of experience, looks good on your résumé, and helps you make like-minded friends,” she says.
Joining campus groups “has made my college experience so much better,” says Darin, who lists a hip-hop dance group among her activities. “UCF can be a really big place, but now I always have a friend on campus!”
Attend a game
Sports might not be a big deal at your school…or they might be everything. “If campus were Earth, basketball is the sun that everything revolves around,” at Gonzaga, according to Libby. Jumping on the school spirit bandwagon creates a bond with other students, staff, and alumni who all have one thing in common: the team.
“It’s an awesome atmosphere,” Bethany says of BC athletics. “The passion the student body has makes attending sporting events super fun.” Not to mention having a common enemy also unites a campus. “The BU vs. BC rivalry definitely runs deep,” she adds. “Embracing the excitement of games like this is a big part of the campus culture.”
“It’s so much fun to be there cheering on the same team with so many people,” adds Darin. “I like seeing my classmates at games, because then it gives us more to talk about than just course work.”
Take part in tradition
Every college has events, rituals, or other quirky traditions that make them special and bring the campus together. One of Gonzaga’s is called Tent City. Because the student section at basketball games is so popular, there isn’t enough room for every fan, forcing the most dedicated to wait in line overnight for a spot in “The Kennel.”
“Two days before a big game, the officers of the fan section will tweet a secret location to which everyone converges for a tent ticket spot,” Libby says. This is called the Running of the Zags. “It’s a lot like The Hunger Games, but the only tragedy is not getting a tent or being at the very back.” Students then set up their tents in their designated spots, camp out, and sit in The Kennel at the game the next day. “You can’t find dedication like that anywhere else!”
Another cool tradition is the Spirit Splash at UCF, which has been named a “Best Campus Tradition” by the National Association of Campus Activities. The Splash is part of the Homecoming pep rally where everyone jumps into the Reflecting Pond in front of the library before the big football game.
“Basically, thousands of students run into the pond at the same time,” says Darin. “Eventually student leaders throw collectible ducks in. The ducks are always decorated based on that year’s theme, and they are a treasure to have. It sounds weird to other students, but other campuses aren’t UCF!”
Graduate with no regrets
Time flies when you’re having fun, and your college years will be over before you know it. If you want to look back at your time fondly, you need to put yourself out there, take advantage of what your campus has to offer, and embrace student life and tradition at every opportunity. “You don’t want to look back at college and regret something you missed out on or were too scared to do,” says Libby.
“It’s not always going to be easy, but you’ll find your place and accomplish everything you want to as long as you put in the work,” says Bethany. “Get involved, but don’t overwhelm yourself. And make sure you always have time to nap!”