On Your Own: First Semester at College
You've written the applications, sent in your housing forms, and it's real now. You're going to college. But what can you expect when you get there? The whole focus seems to be on getting there, but I know that I was in for lots of surprises my first semester at college. There's nobody who can tell you exactly what to expect, but there are some universal firsts. Remember, every freshman is new and is probably going through very similar things -- talk to people!Getting There | Getting Started | Balancing your Time | Emotional Adjustment
Move-in can be a hectic time. You're probably meeting your roommates for the first time, and the other people who will be living in your dorm, as well as leaving home. The building is new, and it's a mess trying to move your things into your room. Making a list of what you want to bring will alleviate some of the stress of forgetting things. Check out what size mattress you will have (most have Twin XL) so you can get bedding in the right size. Talk with your roommates beforehand about whether they're bringing large items such as a fridge, television or rug.
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Laundry, working out, staying in touch with friends, going to meals. You probably had a routine all worked out and then, of course, it all changes. Make sure you get into a new routine that works, and that gives you enough time to study and sleep.
Eating healthy is important too. The "freshman 15" is something you can avoid by maintaining a healthy balance of nutritious foods and exercise. Even if you feel like you don't have time, working in the 30 minutes at the gym plus a walk later in the day can improve your time spent studying later, because you will feel more energized. Find a workout buddy to stay motivated, or listen to energizing music at your school gym.
Healthy eating in the dining hall can seem impossible. There is an endless supply of fried or greasy foods. However, look for balanced meals with protein, whole-grain carbohydrates and fruits and vegetables. Snacks at 1 a.m. may seem like a good idea, but if you’re staying up late, brain food like pretzels and carrots, an apple, popcorn, or yogurt are better choices than pizza or Chinese food.
Laundry -- check if your school uses an electronic system or if you need quarters. I know it seems cliché, but do remember to separate your whites and colors. The first month of school there were lots of laundry mishaps. Don’t make these mistakes! Remember not to leave your clothes in the washer or dryer after they’re done. Other people need the machines too and you don’t want your clean clothes to end up on the laundry room floor.
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Balancing your Time
It may seem like all this new freedom is endless. You have much more control over how you spend your time. But use it well! Besides going to class, you can structure your time by joining clubs you're interested in, sports (intramural, club or team), volunteering and many other things.
Making sure you plan free time to do something like going out to dinner or a movie is a fun way to get to know people and to relax. But do make sure you find quiet places to work, and not be distracted by things like Facebook or visitors. Some people work well in their rooms, but explore libraries, common rooms and local cafes.
Talk with advisors and professors about a balanced schedule for your first semester, and take classes that look exciting. In high school, you probably had way fewer choices, and now there's course catalogue the size of your phone book. Balance introductory classes with smaller classes, and classes with lots of reading and writing with more problem-set heavy classes.
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The adjustment to being far from home (or simply not at home) can be difficult, but there are many ways to stay in touch with friends and family. Between calling, e-mail, IMs, and video chat you shouldn't have a hard time. Just taking the time to update your parents makes a big difference. You're used to seeing these people almost every day. While you're involved with all these new and exciting things at College, life at home keeps moving on, just without you there, so they may notice the change more than you.
Your friends and advisors are great resources if you or your somebody you know is having a hard time adjusting. It isn't necessarily easy, but it can be a very exciting and fun time — just remember to do your best to balance, and make changes if something isn’t working out. It takes time to feel comfortable in a new place, but use the resources available to you and enjoy your new surroundings.
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Read Katie's article on preparing for college: College: Where Do You Start?
TeensHealth: Going to College
Center for Young Women’s Health from Children’s Hospital in Boston