The best advice usually comes from someone who's been there, done that. So for guidance on how to make the most of your first year at college, who better to ask than a graduating senior? Emma Bilello shares insights shaped by personal experience in the first of three articles addressing the specific concerns of female students during freshman year. The following 10 tips can help ease the transition from high school to college and provide a heads-up on what to expect.
1. Remember that first impressions can be misleading. At college, you are exposed to a whole new spectrum of different people from all over, many of whom are just as eager as you to make friends. Sometimes, though, the people you associate with during those first few weeks don't end up being the same group of friends you keep during your time in college. Get to know a person before you tell them things about yourself that you may not want everyone to know. Early in my college career, I made the mistake of telling my life story to someone I don't talk to to anymore as a senior. This can go for guys you encounter as well. You may find yourself getting hurt if you believe a guy every time he tells you that he wants to "spend the rest of his life with you." It is important, though, to not question the intentions of every person you meet.
2. Give the college experience a chance. Whether we're talking about the people you meet or the college you attend, keep in mind that first impressions are not only misleading but can make you doubt yourself and your decision. Between missing your family and friends, and confronting the new-found academic challenges higher education brings, it is easy to believe that you "hate" college itself, or even the college you go to. While it may be rough in the beginning, if you allow yourself to look at the positives of being at college rather than the negatives, you will find your experience in the first few months to be a lot more enjoyable. Get involved with clubs or student government and go to events at your school to make new friends and get comfortable with the new environment you're in. Look at the change in difficulty of the coursework as challenging rather than impossible, and think of it as an opportunity to use your academic skills to their fullest potential. Of course, if you find yourself constantly struggling, seek help from your professor or teaching assistant.
3. Don't let homesickness consume you. While it's important to keep in contact with your family and friends back home, it is also completely natural (and expected) that you'll be homesick. When I woke up the very first morning of my freshman year, the first thing I did was call home because I already missed my family. However, it is crucial not to immerse yourself in your life back home to the point where it begins to hinder your school work and your ability to make new friends. Cell phones, social networking sites, and programs such as Skype make it easier than ever to stay connected, but be sure to limit your use of these tools. Remember that there are plenty of other new college students who feel the exact same way you do (this may even be grounds for starting a conversation) and it will be hard to get to know some of them if you're ruminating on how much you want to be back home.
4. Prioritize. There are a lot of new experiences waiting for a girl when she starts college: new friends, roommates, different places, etc. With all of these new things happening all at once, it can be easy to get distracted. Although it is important to socialize and engage in activities outside of academic areas, it is equally important to remember that one of the main reasons you are in college is to get an education. Although going shopping with new friends is a lot more appealing than studying for an exam, in the long run the latter is the better choice. Similarly, avoiding procrastination is another often-stressed but key tip for being successful in college. If you develop time management skills as a freshman, even if you struggled in high school you are more than likely to keep these good habits throughout your college career.
5. Be aware of your surroundings. This sounds like a given, but in a situation involving lots of people, it can be easy to lose track of what may be happening around you. If you are drinking at a party, opt to mix or pour your own drink or watch the person who is doing the mixing or pouring. If you have to step away from your drink for a few minutes, ask someone you trust to guard it or even hold it for you. Whether you're with a group or on your own, knowing what types of situations may put you at greater risk of rape or sexual assault on campus can help you avoid those scenarios. Go with your gut instincts and don't be afraid to look over your shoulder every once in a while when you are walking, especially if you are alone.
6. Take action to protect yourself. If you engage in consensual sexual activity at any time, make sure that you use protection. It is important to make sure that your partner is aware that you want to take this precaution upfront. If he refuses to condone to this, then simply don't get involved with him. Make sure you stand your ground with this decision too; don't give into the temptation of changing your mind if your partner tries to persuade you otherwise, or even if he verbally puts you down. Unwanted pregnancy is not the only reason for this; according to the Sexual Health Awareness Group, college students have a high vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases. More and more colleges across the country are making condoms easily accessible to students -- some even provide them for free.