[adapted from the book The Naked Roommate by Harlan Cohen]
You are excited and likely also a little nervous about heading off to college. Everyone says that college is the “time of your life”. You are ready to experience the freedom and independence of moving away from home and living on your own. College is an exciting adventure but few people talk about how hard freshman year in college can really be - both socially and academically. Some students have such a bad experience that they end up transferring or dropping out entirely. Moving to a college campus with some realistic expectations is important so you know that you are not alone if you feel like you are NOT having the “time of your life.” Here are some tips that might help you transition to college a little more smoothly and hopefully set you up for success in college.
Expect the unexpected
Don’t set too many high expectations about college. This will only set you up for disappointment if your expectations are not met. Be flexible. College is filled with lots of twists and turns and ups and downs. Being flexible will allow you to relax, have fun and experience college for what it is.
Don’t expect everything to fall into place immediately. You likely will not find your best friend(s) in your first week or maybe even in your first year. You may not love your classes or your roommmate or even the people on your dorm floor. Be patient. It will all come together. You will find your friends! It may be in your classes, a club or sports. Everything in college is different and new for you and every other freshman student. Give it time. Just be patient and take it day by day.
Find your pLaces and people
One of the best pieces of advice to incoming freshmen college students is to get involved. Join a club, play intramural frisbee, join the dodgeball team. Join something! This is where you meet people. Join more than one club/group/team. If you find that the people in one club end up being weird, you’ve got another place to go. If you tie yourself to one particular group, you may feel pressured to conform to them. Be free to be yourself and do you! Start with things you like to do or things you are interested in. Go from there and meet your people.
Speaking of “just being you”, it is normal to want to fit in, especially on a new college campus. Know that everyone is trying to find their way and the best advice is just to relax and be the best version of yourself! If you are trying to redefine yourself in college, that’s okay too but don’t lose yourself in the process. People will want to know the real you. Surround yourself with people who are supportive and want you to be your best. Whatever you do, avoid trying to be someone that you think everyone else wants you to be.
College academics are hard
Too much partying and not enough studying can be your downfall. College is not like high school. You can’t just get by with minimal studying and some cram sessions for tests. You have to manage your time and get down to business if you plan to pass your classes. Some important tips from current college students:
Time management is one the most important tools you will need in college to be successful. If you can manage your time well, you can carve out space for both work and play. We all manage our time differently and college is about finding that balance. It likely won’t happen right away but set yourself up for success by using a planner. Spend the time between classes to get some studying done. Don’t wait until the night before a test to cram (hint: you won’t do well on your exam). If you need help with this, ask! There are professionals on campus that are trained to help you manage your time. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
Homesickness is real
The first semester of college can be hard both academically and socially and you may get homesick. This is NORMAL! Nearly 72% of surveyed freshmen “frequently” or “occasionally” felt lonely or homesick. In fact, if you don’t get homesick at all, you aren’t in the norm. Of course, you may never ever hear this from anyone around you because, well - Snapchat, Insta - only post the fun stuff. Nobody is going to show their vulnerable side. Just know you aren’t alone in this.
Want more tips?
This blog just touched on a few of the issues you can expect in college. Harlan Cohen has 102 MORE tips in his book The Naked Roommate.
I highly recommend this book to all high school seniors headed to college. It is light, entertaining and also real. It covers so many actual college experiences with true stories about topics including resident halls, roommates, finding friends, Greek life, dating, sex, drinking, drugs, money, campus safety, the freshman 15 and so much more.
College really can be the time of your life as everyone claims. It’s a time for new friends, new experiences and a lot of learning. Make sure you walk into it with your eyes wide open and learn how to be successful before you step foot on campus in the fall.
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Heading off to college for the first time as a trailblazer for your family can be scary. There are no footsteps to follow or family mentors to turn to for the simple questions about college life. College is about more than just education. You are entering a whole new world with its own set of unspoken rules and cultural norms. Here are a few tips to help you navigate this new world and set yourself up for success.
KNOW THE TOTAL COST OF COLLEGE BEFORE YOU COMMIT
Add up the cost of tuition, books, food, housing and travel. Include some extra money in the budget for entertainment and necessities. How much is this all really going to cost? Where are you going to get the money? How much financial aid is being given? Do you know how to read the financial aid letter? Use this link to get you started. Still have questions? College financial aid offices can walk you through the letter and help you to makes sense of it. Call them and ask. It is important to know the full cost of college and organized your financial plan ahead of time so that you can spend the time in college focused on your academics and enjoying your college experience.
There are many scholarships available for first generation students, but they will not fall in your lap. You have to do the research and find them. It might not be the most exciting task, but it will literally pay off in the end. Start here and here.
Finally, embrace being a college student who is cash broke! Know that most college students are cash poor – despite how they act. Don’t be tempted to use a credit card to buy things to keep up with your friends. You will have to pay it back with high interest!
CHOOSE YOUR FRIENDS WISELY
Speaking of friends, be picky and choose your friend group wisely. You want friends who will help you make good choices. You will want to have fun and live a college life but make sure your friends have your back. Surround yourself with positive, goal-oriented people who encourage you and motivate you. Build that support system that you will need in this college culture. Know that while you are in college, your friends will have more influence than your family, professors and even your mentors.
How do you find those friends? Get involved! As a first-gen student, you may feel like you don’t fit in or wonder if your background makes you stand out. Nearly every first-year college student feels out of place. It takes time to make new friends, so be patient. Do as much as you can handle. Join clubs, intramural sports, cultural groups or any of the other student organizations that meet regularly. When you find your crew, this will likely be the best time of your entire social life.
CONNECT WITH COLLEGE RESOURCES
Need help with a class? Sign up for free tutoring. Looking for a part-time job? Go to the career center. Have questions about choosing your classes for your major? Get to know your academic advisor. Your advisor can assist you more than just by helping you pick your classes. They can answer lots of questions. Your advisor is one of the most important resources to get you through college in four years so if you don’t gel, ask to be assigned to another one.
Many colleges have student groups and advising offices specific to first generation students. Seek them out and find out what they offer. You may meet other students with similar backgrounds, and you might be surprised by what is available by way of scholarships, internships, tutoring and academic support.
TALK TO YOUR PROFESSORS
Speaking of resources, your professor is an excellent resource. Take advantage of office hours and make sure your professors know you. The first time you step into office hours might feel awkward to you, but the professor does this all the time and will likely put you at ease. If you are having a hard time keeping up in a class, professors are more likely to be flexible with a student that is actively trying to succeed.
College is not a time to “fake it till you make it “– ask questions if you don’t know something.
FIND A MENTOR
Finding a mentor is one of the most important things you can do as a first-gen college student. A mentor can be anyone that you trust who has more knowledge and understanding of what college has to offer so you have someone to turn to with the smallest of questions. Where do you find a mentor? Maybe a professor in a subject or field you find interesting (see “attending office hours” above) or an advisor to an activity you are involved in or even an older student who knows more about the college system.
KNOW THAT YOU BELONG
Practically every student who is heading to college is nervous. Will I flunk out? Will I fit in? As a first-generation student, you might be feeling this even more intensely. Don’t doubt yourself! You were accepted to college on your merit and you belong there! When you get on campus, avoid comparing yourself to other students. Everyone has their own struggles, and most people are good at faking it. You only need to have an Instagram account to know this. You’ve got what it takes to make it in college. Do your best, work hard and ask for help when needed.
Mrs. Kropelnicki is a