First semester of college

Christian is a graduate of the State University of New York at Geneseo with a B.A. in Communication and a minor in Theatre. He currently resides in Los Angeles, CA pursuing a career in the entertainment industry.

Adjusting to the demands of a college lifestyle can be a tough transition for anyone to make, but in the words of the famed author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, “Don’t Panic!” Despite the social and academic challenges this new environment brings, it is still bursting with opportunities ripe for the taking so long as you have the right mindset. So with that in mind, here’s a few tips for getting the most out of those first few months and setting yourself up for success for the rest of your college experience:

1) “Branch out.”

As I said before, college is a land of opportunity. If you were unhappy with the way things were prior to coming to college, then good news: you’re in the perfect place to start over and shape all aspects of your life on your own terms – you’re in the driver’s seat now. But with that being said, you’re never going to get the potential breadth of college experience if you stay holed up in your dorm room. So get out there!

Consider signing up for an “All-Freshman” residence hall, as they put you in direct contact with students who are in the exact same boat as you and are typically an easy place to make friends.

Get to know your Resident Assistant, as he or she can be a valuable asset in relaying information about upcoming campus events and are just a good person to talk to if you ever need some conventional wisdom or have any personal problems or concerns (little known fact: RA’s are actual people too, not just some vague authority figures).
And be sure to check out your college’s “Club Expo,” which is usually held near the beginning of the semester in the Student Union. This event showcases all of the academic, athletic, social, cultural, and interest-based organizations your college has to offer and is a great place to discover how you can become more involved in student life doing things you actually enjoy. Double bonus: you’re bound to meet other interesting peeps who share at least a handful of interests with you (i.e., the club you both are a part of), so this also makes for a great a friend-finding opportunity.

So join a club, make some friends, and see exactly what your campus has to offer.

2) “Stay organized.”

With so much going on – making new friends, campus events, club meetings, classes, intramural sports, that “homework” thing – it can become mind-numbingly difficult to keep track of your day-to-day to-do list all in your head. So though it may sound a bit like something your mother might say, you should definitely get a planner.

It doesn’t necessarily matter if its a physical notebook or an app on your phone or computer (whichever you’re more comfortable with, honestly) – the important thing is that you get into the habit of writing down everything you need to get done, and not just assignments and class-related work but chores, rehearsals, sport practices, even social meetings and events with friends. Having a visual representation of your tasks and responsibilities throughout the day is vital for keeping you on task and your momentum up on those especially busy days, which in turn helps build time management skills and long-term task effectiveness.

And taking this theme of “organization” one step further: clean your room. Okay, okay – backing off of the “mother talk” for a minute, you should definitely try to maintain some form of organization in your living space to help boost that task effectiveness that I mentioned earlier. Something as simple as creating a separate “work space” where you do all of your assignments can be incredibly helpful to maintaining your work flow (because while comfy, studies have shown that doing homework on your bed can be counter-intuitive to productivity and make it harder for you to fall asleep as well). In addition, knowing where everything is in your room helps save valuable time making it to class instead of looking for clean pairs of underwear or where you left your sociology textbook.

Ultimately: the less cluttered your living space and your schedule are, the less cluttered your mind will be. Because science.

3) “Sleep well.”

On the same train of thought as the last tidbit of advice: keep a consistent sleep schedule. Now, with the unpredictability and inconsistency of the college lifestyle as a whole, I understand how difficult and/or impossible that may sound, nevertheless I recommend it all the same. You should aim for getting eight solid, uninterrupted hours of sleep every night, but when that isn’t possible you might want to try a fairly unorthodox approach unbeknownst to most of your old high school buddies but time-tested with kids round the world: napping. That’s right, napping. There’s no shame in it, not when hectic schedules have freshmen and seniors alike clambering for every blissful second of shuteye they can get.

Here’s a insider tip: most college libraries have a specified “quiet section” (usually on an upper or lower floor away from the main entrance and exits) – these areas ban talking, playing music, or any kind of extraneous noise entirely and are designed for those who want to study in a more distraction-free environment. However, there’s no rule that states you can’t sleep in this area as well! As a bonus, there are usually comfy chairs and couches to take a quick power snooze in and I highly recommend taking advantage of this resource, provided you aren’t a particularly loud snorer or happen to make loud noises in your sleep.

Overall, try to keep those dreaded all-nighters to a minimum (which can be avoided if you follow the advice in tip #2!) and stay well-rested. It’ll make a world of difference as you go about your busy day.

4) “Be active.”

This was technically covered already in an earlier tip, but to reiterate: get involved in something on campus! But in this sense, actually stay committed to at least a couple of groups. Introductory club meetings tend to have a high turnout, but the actual number of consistent attendees is usually cut down by a third or even in half at the end of the first month. While of course there might be some clubs out there that seem interesting at first but turn out differently than you expect, if you actually find an interest group you like, make an active effort to incorporate it into your schedule. And if you’re on the fence about it, give it a good semester’s try; if at the end of the season you feel it’s not your cup of tea, no one will fault you for not returning and your reputation and sense of obligation won’t be tarnished in the slightest.

Secondly, “be active” in an athletic sense as well – visit the gym, form a running group with some friends, or join a sports team. If you’re serious about it, ask an athletics representative about the “walk-on” or “try-out” process for some of your college’s varsity teams (it can vary from sport to sport). But if you’re looking for something more casual, most colleges offer sports at the club and intramural level as well, both of which are student-run and offer varying levels of exercise and competitiveness depending on your availability and level of interest.

There are even a variety of performance teams you could likely look into (depending upon the college) that meet regularly and require a fair amount of stamina and cardio, and even if that doesn’t really float your boat, just find something where you can get your heart rate up. Exercise is a great way to clear your mind and relieve stress and it can also help you ward off the infamous “Freshman Fifteen” and stand out from your pudgy, short-winded peers.

So stay fit (or at least try to) and find some clubs and stick with them. But don’t go overboard. Which leads to the next and final bit of advice:

5) “Pace yourself.”

With the revelation of the actual opportunities in this land (… “of opportunity”) comes the temptation to want to do everything immediately and just jump headfirst into this pool of possibility (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). Now while that sounds great in theory, the main problem with this strategy of attack is the risk of “burning out,” which is essentially turning your physical and motivational energy into overdrive for however that lasts until you become an immobile sludge of a human being who only leaves his or her dorm room for food and class. Trust me, it’s happened to many a fine freshman friend.

Best way to avoid this from happening to you? Pace yourself. Relax! Don’t worry if you missed that audition/club trip/rush session. It’ll most likely happen again either next semester or next year and if you really wanted to give it a go, you’ll only be more prepared and more enthusiastic when the opportunity presents itself again.

The important things to remember here are that you have four whole years to decide what you really like and want to do and to go about things at a steady pace. I highly advise against overloading your class or club schedule and even moreso against both; it’s definitely way better (both for your personal well-being and your fellow classmates/teammates) to give your best effort and attention to a handful of obligations than a fraction of your effort and attention to a bunch.

So take a deep breath, focus, and enjoy the next four years of your life.

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