20 Things I Wish I'd Known Before College
Teens heading off to college soon? A Penn State student tells us what they should really know before they go.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF KELCIE GUNS
You’ve worked hard to get into your dream school, but getting ready takes a lot more planning than just picking out the perfect comforter and posters for your dorm room. Here’s what you really need to know before your first year.
1. You don’t need to be besties with your freshman year roommate. As long as you get along and respect one another’s space, you can have a great year without spending every single minute together.
2. Map out your class schedule ahead of time. Before my first day, I saved a photo of the campus map on my phone and marked the buildings I had classes in. It saved me from being the girl walking around with a map, making her freshman status all too obvious.
3. Two words: time management. It’s everything. In high school, your schedule is super structured. But once you get to college, you have tons of free time. Make sure to schedule time for both friends and studying.
4. Learn to do laundry. Nothing’s worse than running out of clean clothes, having your white T-shirts turn pink or shrinking your favorite sweater in the wash. I was surprised so many people didn’t know how to do it and was more than happy to teach them—it was a great way to make new friends.
5. You might not meet your best friends right away—and that’s okay. Don’t stress! I didn’t meet my close group of friends until sophomore year and later. Once you find them, college gets a lot easier.
6. Go to office hours. It’ll help you get a better understanding of the course material. Plus, getting to know a professor outside of class could lead to a great letter of recommendation or even a job opportunity down the road.
7. It’s okay to be undecided about your major. Most colleges don’t require you to declare one until sophomore year, and you’ll have to take plenty of gen-ed classes anyway. You may even decide on a major and change your mind later in the year. That’s okay, too. Just make sure to choose something you’re good at and enjoy.
8. Don’t buy textbooks until after the first day of classes. A professor might say, “I know it’s on the syllabus, but you actually don’t need the book.” Trust me, you’ll be happy to have saved the $100 down the road.
9. You’re not destined to gain the infamous “freshman fifteen.” As long as you make time to exercise (taking long walks on campus counts) and choose healthy foods at the dining hall, you’ll be fine.
10. All-nighters are never a good idea. Ever. Keep up with your reading all semester and you won’t have to cram thirty chapters in one night. It’s actually more harmful than beneficial to stay up all night because you won’t retain as much. Plus, your body won’t be able to function properly if you’re exhausted (and if you have a car, driving isn’t a safe option if you haven’t gotten any sleep).
PHOTOS COURTESY OF KELCIE GUNS
11. Call your parents. You don’t need to call home every single day, but it’s always nice to check in without asking for money. Set up a weekly phone call or Skype session at times that work for everyone so you won’t be playing phone-tag.
12. Learn to budget. Keeping track of your spending will save you time and money. Every spontaneous trip for froyo dips into precious pocket money. You don’t want to end up calling home for help, or searching for part-time work in the middle of the semester.
13. Living with roommates is all about compromise. Set ground rules about things like having friends over, using each other’s stuff and turning the lights off at a certain time.
14. Look for opportunities to get professional experience. If your school has career fairs, internship programs, resume workshops or a career services center, make sure you’re making the most of them. It’ll pay off when it’s time to get a job. I made the mistake of thinking these things were just for seniors. But in reality, it’s never too early to start thinking about your career.
15. Pay attention. Don’t be the student who texts (or sleeps) during the entire lecture like a certain someone who sat in front of me in English class. College isn’t exactly cheap, and you’re there to learn, after all.
16. Give yourself down time. You can’t give your best effort when you’re stressed. Taking just twenty minutes to watch Netflix after class really helps.
17. Get involved! Join a club or volunteer for a cause you care about. It’s a great way to make friends with people who have the same interests. I met some of my closest friends after joining the yearbook club during second semester.
18. Use the buddy system. Never go out alone at night. Your college probably has excellent campus security. Save the campus police number and all the other services like “Safe Walk” (which provides walking escorts when you need them) in your phone contacts so you always have them on hand.
19. Look for student discounts. Use your school ID at stores and restaurants that offer savings, or even free stuff to students.
20. Get organized. Keeping track of assignments, projects, club meetings and your social life can be overwhelming. My iPhone calendar, alarm, and notes apps are my best friends. My roommate went the non-digital route and opted for a paper desk calendar. Find what works best for you and stick with it.