5 Realities of College Life

Hate to tell you, but your college fantasy is going to be a little different from your college reality. But don't sweat it! You're still going to have loads of fun. Just be sure you know what to expect.

College jitters got you in a panic? Does the mere mention of the word "college" send your blood pressure skyrocketing? Then you've come to the right place. My name is Matthew Castoral, and I was once a freshman in college.

Now, if you're expecting the typical "Tips on How to Survive College" post, stop reading immediately. It doesn't take too much effort to put a tutorial like that together: go to class, work hard, eat right, get enough sleep, and have fun. Yawn. If college were that simple, you wouldn't be sitting here spamming your search bar for the answers.

As a college student coming off a very successful freshman year, I can confidently tell you that tips like that will not only set you up to be overwhelmed but also fail to do justice to the complexity of college life. But that's why I'm here. Today I'm going to share with you some of my tips on tackling freshman year in a guide that I'd like to call "The 5 Realities of College Life." But trust me: college is not as scary as it seems.

1. Kiss your high school days—and your high school friends—goodbye

Say it isn't so! How will I cope without all the friends I've made over the last four years? My answer: you'll be fine. Like the old saying goes, you're all in the same boat the second you step through the door of your residence hall. Whether you're attending a state school or a private institution, big or small, everyone else around you feels the exact same way as you do: lost. Forget about who you were in high school or the clique you belonged to, because no one is going to care.

Sorry if I sound a bit harsh, but it's true. No one is going to care if you were the starting quarterback of your varsity football team or if you were the president of the robotics club. No one knows about that time in the ninth grade when you threw up in the middle of math class, or the time your voice cracked so loud during your English presentation that you could've sworn the windows splintered a little.

College is a time of self-discovery, a time when you can forget about the labels and judgments of others and just be yourself. If you want to dye your hair purple, dye your hair purple. Who's going to stop you? If you follow your heart and do what feels right to you, "fitting in" becomes an unfulfilling aspiration. And when it comes to friends, you'll find them! If your school offers an open house or orientation, take advantage of it. Sit next to someone and introduce yourself; it's not "weird" to be friendly. Give them a compliment on their outfit or strike up a conversation about baseball after noticing the Yankees hat they're wearing.

Just don't be afraid to be yourself. When you stay true to yourself, you'll find friends who are just like you. True friends—not the ones you made in physics class so you could get the homework answers. Step out of your comfort zone; join a club or organization that you've always wanted to be a part of but never had the guts to give it a chance. You'll be surprised at how many close friends you can make when you stop worrying about making them.

2. Be wary of the Freshman 15

At my school, where roughly 50% of the students are either physical education or athletic training majors, the Freshman 15 is an almost unspeakable evil. I know people who have spent two hours on a treadmill trying to burn off one chocolate chip cookie. Relax! The gaining weight thing isn't a myth. But binging on your favorite granola bars every day doesn't have to be your reality.

College is an entirely new environment, and sometimes your body may react to these new changes by gaining a little weight. Does that make you unhealthy? Absolutely not. Stress and anxiety are known to cause weight gain, but you aren't going to bed weighing 120 and waking up 140 because you're nervous for your psych test tomorrow. Weight gain is perfectly normal! It's typical for humans to pack on a few LBs after a big life change, like going away to college. I gained 10 pounds during the course of my freshman year and I'm as healthy as ever. It's all part of growing up and adapting to a new environment.

You're also adapting to new eating habits as well. Most colleges let you eat whenever you want and as much as you want, and sometimes people will go a little overboard. It's also difficult to get yourself into a daily eating schedule since your classes will likely vary from day to day. It's important to try to eat three meals a day and to watch what you're eating, but don't be afraid to have an ice cream sundae after dinner or treat yourself to some Chinese take-out every now and then. And if you do put on more weight than expected, go for a run or hit the gym. Your college will likely have a facility where you can burn off the unnecessary weight and get your body back into shape.

3. College: your academic wake-up call

Not trying to make you jealous now, but, for me, high school was a breeze. I never studied, was unorganized, and drifted off in class more often than I should have. Somehow—and this is still beyond my understanding—I finished with a solid GPA and graduated near the top of my class. So, naturally, coming into college, my mindset was the same: “If I could get through high school without trying, then college shouldn’t be too different.” Boy, was I wrong. Not only was I unprepared for the workload, but I had no idea how to manage my time so that I could balance my social life with my academic life.

But it’s not too late for you! Staying organized will make your transition from high school to college much easier than just “going with the flow.” Keep an agenda on you at all times, and after you receive the syllabi for each of your courses, make sure to set some time aside to copy all of the assignments into it. Not only will this help you to stay on top of your workload, but it will also help you develop planning and time-management skills.

Also, make sure you go to class! When I say “go to class,” I’m referring to actually sitting and paying attention to the lesson, not showing up for attendance and then sneaking out of the room when no one is looking. Make sure to take good notes, print out any additional material that the professor has posted online, read the textbook, and never be afraid to ask for help or clarification. Most professors will be more than happy to help you; after all, what professor wouldn’t admire a student’s dedication? Take advantage of all the resources your school has to offer: go to the library, get a tutor, or even start a study group with other students you are familiar with. College is what you make of it, and in the end, it’s your choices that will determine whether you sink or swim.

4. Maniac or BFF? Choose a roommate that’s right for you

When I talk to most high school graduates, their biggest fear about starting college in the fall is their roommate. What if they’re crazy? What if we don’t get along? I’m here to tell you that you can completely avoid these stresses altogether. These days, finding the perfect roommate is easier than ever. There are many websites available for incoming freshmen that survey your interests and lifestyle habits and then match you with someone with similar results. In addition to this, you can usually find groups on social media platforms (Facebook, for instance) where you can interact with other freshmen attending your school and find the roommate that’s right for you. My freshman year roommate actually contacted me, and after getting to know each other over a few weeks, we decided to room together and have been close friends ever since.

However, there are always those few individuals that get stuck with a roommate that’s simply not for them. Don’t panic! Try working through your problems or disagreements to get to a point that you both are comfortable with. If that doesn’t work, try talking to someone in your residence hall about switching roommates. Regardless of whether you like your roommate or not, make sure you have a solid group of friends you can fall back on in case things don’t work out. It’s up to you to decide what kind of people to surround yourself with during college, and those people will have a significant impact on your college career.

5. Stress vs. fun: how much is too much?

This is the biggest issue most freshmen struggle with. It’s easy for “I’ll do it tomorrow” to become “I’ll do it next week,” and although you can’t major in it, procrastination is something that college students are really, really good at. Independence is like a drug, and some students don’t realize the importance of studying and working hard until they’re sitting in a final exam staring at the page like it’s written in a foreign language. School work should be your #1 priority in college, and the skills and knowledge you acquire will form the foundation for your success in a career later in life.

Related: How to Balance School Work, Exercise, and Other Activities: Students Speak

That being said, we all know that you’re not only going for the education. If that were true, then why would your school go to such great lengths to surround you with so many clubs, organizations, recreational facilities, and off-campus activities? Establishing a balance between work and fun is essential to having an awesome college experience. A stressful day of classes can be easily remedied by a game of basketball at the gym, and test anxiety is no match for a fun night out on the town with some friends. Academic success will no doubt lead to a promising future, but making sure to relax and have a good time is just as important. Don’t lose sight of the future, but don’t forget to have fun!

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About Matthew Castoral

Matthew Castoral is a sophomore professional writing major and communication studies minor at the State University of New York at Cortland (SUNY – Cortland). He is an up-and-coming writer with the dream of becoming a published author and television/film screenwriter. He resides in Long Island, New York, where he spends the majority of his time working on his novels and reading the works of Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway.


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