So you’re packing up and leaving for college, huh? Or maybe you’re staying in your hometown and attending school there. No matter what, lots of transitions await you. The next 8 months will be some of the most challenging, surprising, revealing, frightening, and fun of your life. Here’s some advice you may listen to or you may ignore—but either way, you’ll eventually find out I’m right. Cheers.
1. Get over yourself (but be confident).
You may have been principal cellist or all-star quarterback or valedictorian in your high school, but no one at college will care about that. Hanging onto those kinds of accomplishments in adult life will not get you anywhere. They’re just the wrong currency. People will admire you if you’re smart, talented, athletic, disciplined, etc., but you have to continue to be good and prove yourself. The competition away from home is much steeper, and you will be humbled.
That being said, work up the courage to try hard with academics and extracurriculars. There will be an adjustment period wherein you will learn to really read the syllabus, interact with new people constructively, and take advantage of your learning style. You will get the hang of it—they accepted you for a reason.
2. Make friends first, then worry about dating.
I’m sure you’re excited for dating in a college atmosphere. There’s more freedom, more variety, and more excitement altogether. However, romantic relationships are often unpredictable. First and foremost, you need a support network. Whether it comes easily to you or not, making friends at college is an act of self-preservation. Your first roommates and friends will be the ones to help you when you get lost, when you run out of ramen noodles, when your cellphone dies, when you’re heartbroken, and most important of all, when you’re homesick.
Furthermore, you may go in thinking you know who you’ll want to be friends with, but you don’t. My first roommate was an Idahoan marching band kid who wore knee-high Converse and rode a unicycle around campus. As a snarky, cynical, Northeastern orchestra-kid, she seemed perfectly programmed to irritate me to death.
However, I learned a lot about myself and we became fast, close, and enduring friends. She gave me rollerblades so I could keep up with her unicycle, we watched old classic movies together, and she bought me candy when I cried about missing home. I do not know what I would have done without her, and I’m glad I chose not to face that alternative.
3. You will discover a lot about yourself—mainly that you’re weird (but so is everyone else).
Until I, a weirdo, lived away from home and had to perform in day-to-day concert with other weirdos from other places, I did not know how weird I was. During my first year of college, I found out that I have a very old music taste, I interrupt people constantly, and that crowds overwhelm me.
I realized these things because people around me were either similar enough to me that we annoyed each other or different enough from me to notice and observe my behavior. After a couple of confrontations, I came to the conclusion that I had never known how I come off to others and wanted to change. My advice for when someone draws attention to your weaknesses: listen.
You will also find out a lot about yourself just from being independent and alone. You’ll constantly have busy people around you in apartments and campus buildings, but you will spend much of your time eating, walking, attending Doctor’s appointments, shopping, and entertaining yourself alone. It will be interesting to get to know yourself, and scary because you’ll grow and change very quickly. And after all, being independent is a crucial part of becoming an adult and becoming yourself.
4. Take care of yourself, because no one else will.
As lovely as it is to have good, caring friends (which you can and will find at school), it is nobody’s job but your own to make sure you’re well-fed, well-rested, on time, and wearing deodorant. It can be challenging to constantly be around other people while still focusing on your needs, but make sure you are a priority for you. Especially if you’re an extrovert (like me), who adopts the needs of the group rather than those of her own, you’ll need to take inventory of how you feel, what your priorities are, and when you need to be alone to get things done or just relax.
5. You have no idea what’s going on, and that’s ok.
It’s a rare student who chooses a major at 18 and still thinks it’s just right for her 2 years (or even 2 months) later. Fully expect to change your major or at least some of your career aspirations as you become familiar with the opportunities out there and your skillset. Take your GE’s and pay attention to what you’re good at and enjoy. It’s also essential to talk with professors about your education and career path. They will notice when you seem naturally cut-out to do something. Additionally, the professors you resonate with and admire are usually the ones who will help you find where you fit best.
6. Whatever you’re leaving behind is great, but what you’re preparing to do happens once in a lifetime.
You may go to grad school or have other experiences like college, but truly nothing is like your freshman year. The combination of dorm life, roommates, homesickness, new experiences, freedom, independence, first jobs, new professors, new friends, terrible food, amazing food, late nights, early mornings, and constant self-discovery does not really happen any other time in your life. If life seemed to you full and rich and perfectly satisfactory in high school, I promise you will find something similar in college. If life seems like it’s been delayed for this exact moment, that’s valid too.