Last Updated: Aug 24, 2012
Goodbye parents, hello freedom! It's time to make that big transition to college. But before you start celebrating, prepare yourself for the issues that might spring up when dealing with campus life.
Freshman year of college means moving to a strange environment where you don’t know many people—if any at all. You have to juggle roommates, new friends, and clubs, not to mention getting to class on time and making the passing grade. Try as hard as you might, problems are bound to occur, so you have to be prepared to deal with them as they arise. Campus life can be a blast, but there are a few common issues that most freshmen have to address.
If there’s one thing students are the most anxious about, it’s meeting their new roommate. What will he or she be like? Will we get along? What if we are complete opposites?
A great way to break the ice before move-in day is to contact your roommate via e-mail or Facebook before you even set foot on campus. Eventually, you’ll be able to find out likes, dislikes, or even what he or she plans to bring for the room in the fall. Also, it will be helpful to have someone on campus that you’ve already talked with—even if it means just going to the first few freshman social events together.
Not everyone is going to get along with their roommate. We’ve all heard horror stories, like the guy who never showers or the girl who parties at 4:00 a.m. on a Tuesday. It may take longer for you to get to know someone, and that’s okay! You don’t have to be your roommate’s BFF; you just need to be cordial and respectful. If you find that you have completely different personalities, look at it as a learning opportunity. Maybe you’ll grow to like the Ke$ha blasting from her radio, and perhaps you’ll introduce her to Nirvana. Go into your freshman year open to new experiences.
If issues do start to pop up, try to address them quickly. Search for common ground to bond over. “One of my original roommates and I didn’t get along at first,” says Michael Nadeau, a 2005 graduate of Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey. “He was a total right-wing conservative; I was a bleeding-heart liberal. We had a lot of arguments at first, but then we got along when we just decided to talk football instead. Eight years later, I’m going to be one of the groomsmen at his wedding.”
The most important rule to remember when dealing with a roommate is to always have open communication. It’s a good idea to sit down and have a one-on-one talk at the beginning of the year and set down some ground rules. You should discuss things like music, sleeping schedules, and study habits. And remember—be open to compromise!
“One way to connect with the roommates? Go old school. We had Nerf guns and old Nintendo and Genesis games that we played ’til 4:00 a.m. every night. College is one big extended childhood, so I say take advantage of it,” Nadeau says.
Finally, if the issues start to pile up and you find yourself not able to work it out, find a person to help you. Resident assistants and advisors are there to mediate and guide you. Don’t turn to a room reassignment right away—part of the college experience is learning to tackle tough issues!
The freshman 15
Everyone’s heard of the alleged 15 pounds freshmen gain when they move onto campus, and many college students worry about falling out of shape.
While there is truth behind the legend that some students gain weight away from home, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to combat the extra pounds. Now, more than ever, dining halls are offering healthier foods. Instead of gorging on pizza, you can grab a salad. Most schools have a sandwich or home-style meal option as well (like roast chicken and vegetables). It’s all about making the right choices and never overdoing it.
Keep healthy snacks in your room for those late-night study sessions. If you have special dietary needs, check with dining services to see what’s over offered before you get to campus. Many schools, like Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, can provide Kosher food as well as vegetarian and vegan options.
And it’s not just healthy options making a comeback in cafeterias on campuses. Colleges and universities try to incorporate sustainable food into every day life. The dining hall at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, is named “The Greenery” and about 35% of the food there is organic and local. Unfinished food is donated to a local food bank, scraps are composted, and there are teaching and community gardens to benefit the student population.
Exercise is essential to avoid the freshman 15, as well. To get in motion, you can join a club or intramural sport, go to the gym (it’s free at most schools!), or just take the stairs instead of the elevator and walk to class instead of taking the bus. If you have to take public transportation, get off a stop early and walk the rest of the way. The point is to try to burn those calories you’re consuming.
If you’re aware of what you’re eating and try to get in some exercise, the freshman 15 should remain a myth.
In college, there’s certainly going to be a lot for you to do—between classes, clubs, and the social scene, your schedule will be full!
The best thing to keep in mind is that you are not going to make it to every club meeting, party, or night out. Sometimes you need to stay in and study or write that paper. “The hardest part of freshman year was balancing sleep with social life and school,” says Courtney O’Brien, a student who transferred to George Mason University in Washington, D.C., after her freshman year. “Some people were just [at my old school] to party.” There are going to be plenty of nights to hang out with friends, but it will be hard to bring a failing grade up to a passing one.
To make sure you have enough time to study, gather all the syllabi you get from teachers in your first classes. Create a calendar by compiling a comprehensive list of every paper, test, and presentation you have to complete for the semester. Once your studies are mapped out, it’s easy to find the times when you know you’ll have to buckle down, or the times when you have a little more freedom. You can also use this calendar to plan ahead. If you know a friend will have a birthday party on the weekend before a test, make sure you don’t leave all your studying to a cram session that weekend—do it gradually over the time leading up to the party.
When you figure out which clubs and sports teams you want to join, find out what their meeting/practice schedules are like. Many freshmen want to join every club that looks interesting—and that’s great—but remember that you will not have enough time to be completely committed to all of them. Pick and choose a few clubs you want to focus on and make them your priority. Once you’re comfortable with your schedule, you can try to add a few more things, one at a time.
If you get a little overwhelmed, go to your professors and ask for an extension (don’t do this too often, or they won’t grant you one!) or talk to a club advisor and let them know what’s going on. Everyone gets a little behind once in a while, so most advisors and professors are understanding. Just make sure you catch up as quickly as possible and stick to a schedule so it doesn’t happen often. And don’t forget to relax sometimes. “I had to learn to schedule some time for myself,” says Nadeau. “You can get so wrapped up in social activities, you have to get away from things for a bit. It can get overwhelming, so stop and smell the campus.”
Common dorm woes
There is a general lack of privacy when you’re living on campus. Freshman dorms mostly have communal bathrooms, so if you’re modest, bring a bathrobe to cover up while you’re walking down the hall. But don’t be surprised if others are simply covered in a towel. You might have to live with the opposite sex on the same floor, which is becoming more and more popular at schools like the University of Maryland in College Park, who even have gender-neutral housing in which any students can live together, regardless of sex. Conversely, you might have to deal with the fact that the opposite sex isn’t allowed on your floor after certain hours, like at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. Just remember that each university and each person has a different idea about what is appropriate. If something truly makes you uncomfortable, mention it to an RA so they can rectify the situation. Otherwise, try to roll with the punches. It makes handling problems a lot less stressful.
Many students struggle with their newfound freedom (or occasional lack thereof) in dorm life. Mom and Dad are not there to make sure you stay out of trouble. You will have autonomy that most students don’t experience while they’re under their parents’ watchful gaze. You will most likely have the opportunity to party, sleep in, skip classes, and stay out late. Though many students take advantage of the lack of restrictions, consider the impact of your actions on your grades, health, and reputation. Just try to make good decisions.
College affords a lot of freedom, but there are rules, and to enforce these rules you’ll have a multitude of people watching out for you, including resident assistants. But RAs are not just there to get people in trouble and take away your independence. They host fun activities, help keep you safe, and are there as a counselor to help you out with roommate issues, class problems, or general worries.
Similarly, the transition from dorm life to time spent at home can be difficult for some students to handle. “The hardest part of freshman year for me was when I came home to my parent’s house,” says Alyssa Mellor, a 2008 graduate of Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. “It was difficult to adjust back to their life, schedule, and rules after my newfound freedom in college.” If you find life at home difficult, talk to your parents and explain how college life has made you more dependable and responsible. You might be surprised at how receptive they are.
Living on campus is supposed to prepare you for the “real world,” and the four years spent at college will be the fastest of your life. You won’t have your mom to do your laundry or dad to fix the light bulb (tip: bring light bulbs to campus so you don’t have to wait for maintenance to turn your lights on). This is an exciting step towards independence. You’ll have a lot more responsibility for yourself, and if you handle it well, you’ll have a wonderful college experience.
What was the hardest part about living on campus?
Michael Nadeau, Ramapo College, ’05
“The hardest part for me was managing my weight. I did a terrible job. All of that late-night dining? The easy access to soda, fried foods? I blew up like a Zeppelin my freshman year. . . . Watch yourself with the takeout orders. I think I knew the local Blimpie guy by his first name. That can drain your bank account and expand your waistline. Eat as healthy as you can and limit your takeout orders to a couple times a week.”
Courtney O’Brien, George Mason University
“The hardest part of freshman year was feeling like an outsider at a mainly in-state school and balancing sleep with social life and school.”
Juliana Hartley, University of Connecticut ’10
“The hardest part about freshman year for me was finding ways to get involved on such a big campus. There were endless opportunities around you but it was tough to take the step forward in trying something new.”
Danyel Adams, University of Connecticut ’08
“One of the hardest things about freshman year was finding an umbrella strong enough to withstand the winds if the UConn campus. The unruly winds, which usually blew in circles or so it seemed, crippled at least three of my umbrellas freshman year.”
Jill Walsh, Babson College ’10
“I had a hard time adjusting to sharing a small room with other people, having no privacy, and having to deal with their bedtimes, noise levels, friends, etc. . . . The toughest part about freshman year was trying to balance school, athletics, and a social life. Adjusting to spending so much more time at athletics then I did in high school, while still maintaining a social life and doing well in school, was hard.”
Sara Ernst, University of Rhode Island ’13
“One of the hardest things about freshman year was dealing with things on your own, where if you were at home, you would have had your family to guide you and help relieve stresses. You have to be your own support system.”
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