Let’s be honest, college is a pretty big deal—especially if you’re going into your freshman year with no idea what to expect like I was. Swapping the comfort of your own home, family and daily routine for new friends, higher expectations, and a brand-new home can be scary to say the least.
A little about me: I’m currently a sophomore at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, so I totally get everything you’re feeling right now. I’ve been through the whole act of moving to a big scary city from a small town, leaving everything behind, and not knowing what the heck I was getting into. Luckily, I’ve learned some things along the way, and feel it’s only right to share them. Read on for 21 tips and tricks every college freshman should know—student to student!
Make staying organized a top priority.
For many new college students, it can be extremely difficult to get—and stay—organized because you’re very much on your own. In high school, you had teachers reminding you at the end of every class when your next test or paper was. In college, that’s usually not the case—some professors tell you at the start of the semester when each paper is due and exam will occur, making organization a skill you’ll definitely want to get good at. For most students I’ve spoken with, keeping a weekly agenda or planner to write down every important date—from assignments, to dance team tryouts, to your professor’s office hours—is absolutely key. If you aren’t organized, you might get off track with assignments only leading to declining grades, and who wants that? If you’re more of a digital person, use your phone’s calendar and set reminders.
Use every resource available to you.
Whether it’s for something simple like using the writing center—a place where other writing-savvy volunteer to help with papers and essays—or using the counseling center if you’re feeling overwhelmed, colleges have these centers set up for a for people to actually use them. Your teachers and TAs are also excellent resources. Since they’ve all been through college and most likely have worked in the industry you’re majoring in, ask questions and get to know them. They can be used as references, or just people that can offer you some really great advice.
Join clubs and organizations on campus …
It’s not lame to join clubs, people. Especially during your freshman year, your main priority (besides doing well in your classes) is to make friends. Most of the time, the friends you make in college will be the ones you hold onto for life, and can even become people you collaborate with in the future on business endeavors. One of the easiest ways to make friends on campus is by joining clubs, organizations and sports teams. Whether it’s joining an arts club, students unions, politically-charged organizations, or a cultural club, you’ll easily find people with similar interests that you can instantly click with.
… But you may want to think about saving internships and jobs for the second semester.
One of the biggest mistakes I see freshman make year after year is taking on way too much way too early. Especially at FIT, everyone is eager to get their hands in the industry, but it’s important not to bite off more than you can chew. Since you have four whole years to take part in internships and jobs, make sure you really think about how much you can take on your first semester before you apply to an intense internship or job. It’s important to use your first semester to get familiar with the campus, join a few clubs, make new friends and explore your new town or city before you dive into anything too serious that requires a big time commitment.
Fight the “Freshman 15”.
Ugh, this one’s probably the hardest. Most freshman end up getting a meal plan first semester and while it’s the best thing ever to walk into the cafeteria and not ever to pay for food with cash, you should take into consideration exactly what you’re eating and how much. It’s a sad fact, but a girl can only eat so much pizza, pasta, soda, and french fries before you start to notice it. Not only do you not want to gain weight, but you want to stay healthy so you feel well enough to perform your best throughout the semester. Along with junk food, every college under the sun also has healthy food, so take full advantage of that. A good way to enjoy everything your dining hall has? Commit to eating well during the week, and save the pizza and fun food for weekends.
Don’t get involved with the wrong crowd.
Making friends is challenging, I’ll be honest. Many times, you make your first friends at orientation and you might feel stuck with them, but you totally shouldn’t. You might find out along the way that those friends you made during orientation are into some questionable things that you might not agree with, so you shouldn’t ever feel like you have to change yourself to fit in. There are hundreds if not thousands of other students on campus—many that have the same interests as you—so don’t feel afraid to expand your friend group.
Try your best not to overpack.
When it comes to your living space, keep in mind that you’re moving into a dorm, as in an incredibly small, characterless room with not much storage space. Oh, and you’ll likely be sharing that room with at a least one other person. That said, it’s key to really take the items that you need. You always have the option to have your parents UPS more if need be, or you can pick up more stuff when you’re home for break. What I do when packing is ask myself “Have I worn this in the past two months?” If not, I leave it home and if I did, I’ll take it with me.
Abide by campus rules.
Your freshman year is not the time to break the rules and do something dumb that could possibly get you suspended or expelled—especially because you’re paying real money to go to school rather than attending high school, where it’s usually free. If you live on a dry campus, take your partying elsewhere. If you can’t have cell phones in class, leave it in your bag. It’s as simple as that!
Take advantage of internships.
Internships are an exciting, hands-on way to help you figure out what you want (or don’t want) to do after you graduate. You’ll meet people in the industry as well as get a behind-the-scenes look at what one does in the field you’re interested in. Especially if you live in a big city, there are probably hundreds of internship opportunities around you. This might be something you want to save until your second semester and beyond. If you need help looking for an internship, contact your school’s internship/job center or check this out. Always perform your best at internships because they can totally lead to jobs (how do you think I got here at StyleCaster?!)
Never pay full price for text books.
Remember in high school when life was good and textbooks were FREE?! Well, not anymore, my friends. They’re actually pretty far from being free. The best places to find textbooks are on the internet on sites like Amazon, Textbooks.com or Barnes and Noble. If you know you won’t want to keep your book forever, rent them! It’s usually about half the price. If you end up finding a cheap used book, you can always sell it back at the end of the semester to get some cash back.
Make yourself feel at home.
Dorm rooms are pretty much depressing until you get in and decorate them. It’s important to fill your dorm room with things that make you comfortable and feel at home so you don’t get too homesick. You’ll want a place where you can hang out, study, eat and sleep and actually want to be (and hey, you’re paying enough for it so you might as well personalize!). Websites like Pinterest and Tumblr are filled with cool ideas to make your dorm unique and homey on a budget (which is basically a college student’s dream).
Actually pay attention at orientation.
Okay, I totally get it. Orientation may seem like the most boring thing on the planet because of the seemingly endless hours of information sessions, but it exists for a reason. All the “boring” things that you’re learning are really things that you’ll more likely than not be needing throughout the school year. It’s better to just learn it now and not have to find someone to answer your questions later. Use orientation to bond with a new group of people and learn the ins and outs of campus. Walking around not knowing anyone or where anything is isn’t cute.
Don’t freak out over one bad grade.
If you’re anything like me, getting one B seems like the end of the world. After being in school for a few years, I’ve realized that one bad grade didn’t hurt me at all. If anything, it helped me to push harder next semester. As long as you’re working your hardest in your classes, that’s the best you can do! Don’t stress over one bad mark because more than likely, it will hardly hurt your GPA. If you’re really concerned, don’t be scared to ask your professor why you got that grade, and what you can do better in the future. Trust me, they’ll be so glad you care.
Use your student discount everywhere you can.
You wouldn’t believe how many businesses offer student discounts from the small things like school supplies and clothing to investments like cameras and laptops. There are even special programs like UNiDAYS that tons of fashion companies take part in to offer exclusive student discounts to anyone with a college email address. Google searching “[insert item here] student discount” will get you lots of results so you can can get what you need and save some cash while you’re at it.
Highlighters are your new BFF.
This pretty much goes along the lines of keeping organized. I’ve found that in my two years trying to keep myself together, the thing that’s helped me the most is color coordinating all my work. In my agenda, I always designate one color for each class, that way when I’m looking for anything that has to do with my [insert class here] class, I’ll look for that specific color and be able to weed through my work that much easier. Again, no one will be reminding you every day that you have a test next week. Most of the time that’s all on you.
Invest in a mattress topper.
I’m just going to come right out with this. most dorm room mattresses are not the least bit comfortable. The best thing to do if you want to get a good night’s sleep is to invest in a mattress topper. The best places to get them are online at Amazon or at stores like Bed Bath & Beyond or Macy’s. Always check Home Goods or Marshall’s, too, since those will be cheaper. Trust me, by finals time you’ll be so happy that you’re comfortable enough to sleep through the night!
Meet people outside of your major.
At FIT, many of the students—especially design majors—only get to know the students in their own major since they’re spending so much time in the small classes with them. But, it’s important to meet other students outside your major so you can get different perspectives and meet people that can even help you out with projects you’re working on. For example, design majors would totally benefit from meeting a photography major when they need their garments photographed. You never know when you’ll need a friend with a different set of skills!
Keep yourself occupied when you start feeling homesick.
If you can move to a whole new city with new people and new routines and not feel homesick at least once, then props to you, but it’s probably never happened. Feeling homesick is completely normal so never feel like you should be embarrassed or ashamed of it. For 18 years of your life, you’ve been following the same routine then it just comes to a halt one day. The best thing to do when you start missing home is to keep yourself occupied—hit the gym, go to lunch with friends, take a walk around campus, anything. Make time to Skype with your old friends, and call your parents often. Remember that this is new for them too so it’s important to not make them miss you too much either.
Study abroad if possible.
College is the absolute perfect time for traveling and exploring. Most colleges have study abroad programs that you should definitely look into taking advantage of. Of course, there’s the money situation which is usually what prevents most college students from taking advantage of the study abroad programs, but you’re already investing money to go to college in the first place, so you might as well put your loans to good use while you can! Plus, when are you ever going to be able to spend a week, month or an entire semester in another country and not have to worry about work and taking time off? Um, never.
Always make time to do the things you enjoy (and to relax).
Taking the time to relax and do the things you enjoy like reading a non-school book, flipping through your Instagram feed, or grabbing a cup of tea and people watching is crucial when you’re in college. So many times you get caught up in studying, clubs and friends that you never take any time for yourself. College can be stressful so taking even 10 minutes out of your day to just sit down and do something you enjoy can really make a difference on your mood and even on how you perform in school.
And most of all, have fun!
While it might sound obvious, have fun. You’re in college!! You’ve made it this far, might as well celebrate. For me personally, I focused 100% on school and work and never took even a night out to have a night on the town with friends because I was so focused on getting things done. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I one day realized that I have my entire life to worry about work and that I should take this time in college to have fun! You all should too!