You know it, and I know you know it: college will be difficult. But it will not be difficult in the way you are expecting. If you took Dual Enrollment, Advanced Placement, or even several honors courses while still in high school, you will more than likely be prepared for the workload at the average college. What you won’t be prepared for is – well, everything else. I certainly wasn’t. I came to college expecting lots of tests and exams, and several papers, and that sort of thing. I got all of that, of course. (Mostly the papers.) But I wasn’t expecting all the other challenges that come with adjusting to college life, and I made some big mistakes my freshman year. Later, I realized that I wasn’t alone: a lot of fellow freshmen had made their share of mistakes, too. When you’re on your own for the first time, it happens. But a lot of the mistakes I made can also be avoided. I’m no expert – truthfully, I’m still figuring this whole college thing out myself, and I don’t think I’ll have it figured out until well after I graduate – but I do have a few quick tips that might set you on the right track, and hopefully make the adjustment a little easier on you.
Don’t overwork – or overplay. It’s important to focus on your academics, of course. Don’t slack off because you think you’ll be able to pound out a ten-page paper in a night or two, or because you don’t really need to study for that class. (You do. Trust me.) But it’s just as important to make sure you don’t burn yourself out on the books. My roommate spent so much time working, she barely saw her friends or had a chance to relax, and her mind was always on the next thing due. She never gave her brain the chance to recuperate. I made the same mistake – I would spend weeks at a time involved in nothing but my assignments, until I was ready to cry, or collapse, or both. So allow yourself breaks every now and then. Go to that party once you finish your paper. Buy yourself one of those designer coffees when you pass that exam. Reward yourself.
Don’t allow good habits to fall by the wayside – and maybe pick up a good habit or two as well. The former is terrifyingly easy to do when you don’t have your parents hanging over your shoulder, checking in to make sure you’re doing your homework or getting a good night’s sleep or eating a balanced diet. All my healthy eating went out the window when I got to college. Gone were the homemade square meals I was accustomed to, and it was just too easy to swing by the taco stand after class or to order a large pizza for dinner than to actually, you know, make something myself. This went from a monthly thing to a weekly thing to an almost daily thing by the time finals rolled around, and though I hadn’t noticed it taking a toll on my health just then, I did see it hurting my bank account. That was enough to make me reconsider my eating habits and whip them into shape for this semester. And a good friend got into the unfortunate pattern of staying up until about three or four in the morning, just because she could – which didn’t bode so well for her when she had a big test in her 8:30 A.M. class. (I will acknowledge that there are those who might be able to get away with that. If you can function on little sleep, more power to you – but it’s not for everyone, and if you don’t know if you can or not, don’t test it during your first semester of college.) Luckily, starting college is a wonderful time for new beginnings, as well. As easy as it is to lose good habits, it’s just as easy – maybe even easier – to pick up some good habits, too.
And finally, don’t be too hard on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes, but we’re not very forgiving of them, especially when they’re our own. This is why I spent much of the past month berating myself for last semester, but that didn’t help me one bit. What did help me was learning from the mistakes and then moving on. You might be mad at yourself for a while if you bomb a quiz, or you overspend one week, or you mess up your exercise routine. And that’s okay – but don’t dwell on it. It happens, and accepting that will make life that much easier. You’re already in the process of adjusting to college – you don’t need to dwell on that other stuff. Look at it this way: you made it this far. A little mistake won’t stop you from going farther.