Going away to college (or University in NZ) is one of the most exciting times in a person’s life. The age-old adage says “the friends you meet in college are the friends you’ll have for your whole life” and it’s fairly accurate. Understandably, however, most people will be very nervous heading into their freshman year.
For lots of us, it’s the first time we’re living away from our parents – especially if you’re only seventeen or eighteen. This means doing your own laundry, preparing your own meals, and taking on a lot of responsibility you might be unaccustomed to. Not to mention, there’s the whole school thing to take care of as well.
College can be intimidating, but if you know what you’re getting into, you’ll survive.
Your new life can be divided into three parts:
Regardless of what you may hear, the reason you’re at college is to learn and get a degree. You don’t want to waste your (or your parents’) money, so it is important that you find the balance needed to get your school work done.
Now, I won’t sit here and tell you that you have to go to every class, do every assignment, and study until the wee hours of the morning – I’ve been to college and frankly, only the most studious can keep that pace up - usually at the cost of another aspect of their life.
Instead, you need to go to your classes until you learn which ones can be skipped on occasion. Now, I by no means am encouraging you to skip class for no reason – you’ll be tempted, especially since this may well be the first time in your life where you can skip and no one will say anything. The fact of the matter is merely that not all classes need to be attended. Go for the first few weeks and figure out which those are. Many professors will post the lecture slides online after the lecture – if they don’t, you really need to go to class. Some teachers merely go over the readings they assigned you – this can be a waste of time if you did the readings. I’d recommend either going to class or doing the readings, at the very least.
Tutorials and labs need to be attended. Many classes contain a ‘tutorial’ or ‘lab’ component where you put into practice the things you discussed in lecture. A lot of these give marks based on attendance and completion (as opposed to grading actual assignments) so these are usually important to attend. Again, go for the first several and establish whether you can miss one here and there.
Also keep in mind – just because a class can be skipped doesn’t mean it should be skipped. Obviously you won’t get as much out of a class you don’t attend often, and really, that’s the whole point of going to post-secondary education, right?
A final thought on the school aspect of your life: just do the assignments. Try to get them done by the due date, but keep this in mind: sometimes it’s better to take the penalty for submitting something a day late (as long as it isn’t too steep – usually about 3%) than submit shoddy work. So if you have to finish something but just can’t do it, don’t fret too much. And don’t be afraid to talk to your professors and Teaching Assistants (TAs) to get advice! It’s what they’re there for, and trust me, they want to help you.
This one may seem obvious, but – assuming you actually like other people – it’s important to keep up a social life as well. Chat with your new roommates when you can, try to hang out with other people on your floor, go to faculty events – whatever you can do to just have some fun and blow off some steam. With a few exceptions, most people cannot continuously study and focus on school without having an anxiety attack. Going bowling or to dollar beer nights at the local watering hole is one way to relieve this stress.
Drinking not your thing? No problem. There seem to be a lot of myths that you’ll get pressured into drinking and doing drugs and all that bad stuff once you get to college – but honestly, it’s not that bad. People try to be friendly and offer you a beverage or a cigarette etc., and if you say no, they shrug and say ‘more for me!’ Not a big deal.
Most post-secondary institutions also have a ton of extracurricular clubs and activities. Usually in the first couple weeks, there will be club booths set up in a main area where you can check out all the different ones being offered. Don’t see one you like? You can create one.
The point is, take time to socialise. While your education is your main purpose at college, a giant aspect of it is also the people you meet. You’ll make friends for life here, and trust me, it won’t be the seminars and lessons you look back on fondly.
This may seem similar to social life, but to me it has a crucial difference. Most people need to take time for themselves. Even the hardiest partier needs a break once in a while, and it’s important that you take the time you need.
Stay in one night and watch Netflix. Play some n64. Even take a nap. Personally, I love being around people. But sometimes I'd find I'd just had enough and wanted some ‘me’ time – you’ll usually be able to find space to do your own thing, whether it be your room or the common room or somewhere on campus.
It’s much easier to do well in school when you’re rested and motivated, and it’s much easier to get yourself pumped for a night out when you’ve relaxed all day. Classes and friends are important, but the most important part of all is you.
Oh and one more thing – make sure you call home once in a while. Although they may have pretended otherwise, your parent(s) will want to hear from you – as lame as that may sound.