Hailing from San Diego (which is just as sunny but no where near as interesting as they say), Madeleine also goes by Maddie when she doesn’t want people to trip over the mass of vowels in her name. She was homeschooled through high school, then attended a local community college for one year. In her sophomore year, she fled her native forests to Vanguard University of Southern California in Orange County. Nearly three years later, she graduated with a BA in Communication and an emphasis in screenwriting. Currently, she is living back in her hometown with far too many guitars and working in a local broadcasting studio.
You probably have a shiny new student handbook sitting nearby waiting to be read, unless this isn’t your first semester, in which case it’s probably buried under notes from last semester when you were too busy trying to figure out which building was which. Pick it up and read through it, at least the first few sections. Go ahead, I’ll still be here. Done? Ok, now lose it again for now. It won’t tell you about what you to survive the next however many years you’ll be there. It’ll tell you about the bookstore and about popular off-campus stuff, about meal plans and registration times. It doesn’t tell you about how to eat well on caf food (ok, tolerably well), or how to get books for cheap. You’ll pick up stuff over the semesters, I know I did, but there is a lot I wished I’d known early on.
First, meet people. I don’t mean the roommates the housing department randomly assigned you, since there’s a chance they will be terrible and never speak to you. That sounds awful, I know, but my first two roommates when I transferred in sophomore year were already best friends, and different enough from me to have been from a different planet. You might get lucky and get amazing roommates, or you might not. I also don’t mean going to all the campus events if that’s not your thing. A rule of dorm life is that if the door is open, you’re almost always welcome to come in and talk or come watch movies. I spent a lot of time sitting in our hallway for the wifi there (it was bad enough that you had to use the neighboring unsecured Linksys network inside the rooms), and I met and talked to a lot of people by just hanging out on the hall couch by the room. I also started hanging out with my neighbors and their friends after wandering in during a couple of movies they were watching, and then staying around after the movies until the guys had to leave because of the dorm’s open hours. (Sidenote- movie nights can start Friday afternoon and last until Sunday, with breaks for homework, food, and sleep, and are important college bonding rituals.)
Figure out what rules can be broken without getting in trouble. Official stuff like plagiarism and theft is in that handbook you just chucked, but you HAVE to follow those. Rules like open hours and cafeteria food can be bent if you know your RAs and don’t get reckless. My roommate and I bent open hours after we moved to off campus housing, but our RA cared more about surfing, and we were only watching Tim Curry movies until 3:00am.
See the sign on the stand of fruit that says something about one per person? Ignore it. Everyone does, and no one cares. The oranges will go bad before people take all of them that way, so stock up on those things and horde ‘em like gold. After all, you need vitamin C, and no one wants to get sick the week of midterms. Learn to work the caf like you’re James Garner in The Great Escape, and you’re “liberating” supplies to be used or traded later. I once walked out with an unopened bottle of whipped cream in my purse. No one will bat an eyelash if you pile six cookies in a napkin when you just ate a plate, but you need to be a cookie mule for a friend. I don’t mean start walking out with whole bags of bread, though I did hear about people doing that, but you pay a lot for a meal with a meal plan, and you might as well pack food for later. Or two Styrofoam cups of granola for later. Buy a coffee maker. I learned to choke down the center-of-the-sun-hot stuff in the caf eventually and got past burning my mouth on it several times a week, but you will appreciate coffee being there in time to roll out of bed for that stupidly early class.
You may have already been told this one, but don’t buy your books at the bookstore. Some have a deal where you can find the lowest price for a book online and they’ll match it, or give you a deal close to it. I personally have never tried that, so I can’t guarantee it. Go to bigwords.com and find the lowest prices for books on different sites; and even better, you can sell your books back through there, and they’ll tell you the sites that pay the most for them. Or don’t buy them at all. A lot of professors have books on hold in the library, and you can look for public domain books for free online. If you choose not to buy your own and check them out at the library, plan your studying ahead of time as some books aren’t allowed out of the library and half the class is trying to use the book also.
Get to know your professors, and find the ones you like and who like you. They aren’t your high school teachers, and they aren’t your parents. They will speak to you like and adult, and expect you to behave like one. Profs who like you are useful later on, for project advice and internship recommendations. I found my internship that way, and it helped me land the job I have now.
There are common sense things, like not starting your capstone research paper the week before it’s due and putting off most of it until the night before and then pulling a sixteen-hour writing spree and sliding in under the wire with barely the page count and no proofreading. Not leaving stuff in common areas, or knowing there are enough people around no one would touch your stuff. Then, there are the things you learn. Things like realizing it was ok to change books you are doing a project on midway through because the author is weird, or taking turns with your roommate reading out hilariously wrong facts in a book you are both writing a paper on and then swearing never to touch again (that wasn’t a learned thing, what we learned was that profs can assign strange books on purpose just to give a different perspective). Finally, combine four tablespoons each of sugar and flour, two tablespoons coco, one egg, and three tablespoons of oil and milk/water in a coffee mug and cook in a microwave for 1:40 and you have chocolate cake.