How to Survive Freshman Year

Freshman year of college is survival of the fittest. The most recent data from the Department of Education shows that only 58% of freshmen enrolled full-time in 2004 graduated by 2010, and a large portion of those didn’t make it past their first year. Such unflattering stats have been around for a while, as the same set of obstacles has beset generations of new students.

Many freshmen aren’t ready for college, struggling with the new challenge of living on their own in a strange environment, without their family to ensure they’re on the right path. Such environmental stress added to the rigors of academic work is often a recipe for disaster. However, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed for failure if you’re the slightest bit nervous about the newest chapter in your life.

Van Wilder said it best: “…you can’t treat every situation as a life-and-death matter because you’ll die a lot of times.” College should be treated with lightheartedness, but don’t let it affect your ability to get things done, because being “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” So sit back, relax, and take life as it comes – in moderation. Following the advice in this guide will help set you up for success.

Assimilating to Life on Campus

The discomfort of settling on campus miles away from your family is often eased by the presence of a friend or two from high school. If you’re lucky enough to have one nearby, they can serve as your support system, a familiar person on whom you can rely during your first bout with homesickness. They’ll hold your hair back when you’re kneeled over a toilet after your first game of Edward Fortyhands. They’ll lend you a couple bucks during lunch so you can get a taco.

They won’t be there for everything, though, and your ability to enjoy campus life will hinge on your ability to assimilate with your classmates. Participating in campus activities by joining clubs and organizations will allow you to meet new people and occupy your free time by providing fun and constructive activities. The amount of clubs and organizations that are available on your campus depends on its size. In most cases, a wide variety is available covering most students’ interests, beliefs, and career aspirations.

An avid fisherman, for example, may join a sportsman club. A Christian who attends church regularly back home may find weekly comfort in a Christian-themed organization. A community-minded individual may build houses for Habitat for Humanity. An exemplary student who strives to achieve may become part of Golden Key. An aspiring petroleum engineer may form a study group with his peers in the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Aside from making new friends, there are numerous others reasons to join campus organizations:

  • Networking. The contacts you make now may provide you with job leads in the future, especially if you’re part of an organization focused on your career.
  • It’s a resume enhancer. Prospective employers will be impressed by your participatory spirit when they look over the clubs and organizations section of your resume.
  • You’ll learn new skills. If you join a club with several other avid fishermen, then a likely outcome is that you’ll learn a new thing or two. The same can be said for career-based organizations.
  • You’ll grow personally. Getting out in the world and doing is part of growing up. New experiences shape who you become as a person. Isn’t that the purpose of college?

A comprehensive list of clubs and organizations, along with information about joining them, can be found on your school’s campus life, office of student activities, or similarly named website. Or you can inquire the old fashioned way by visiting the physical location on campus, which will allow you to chat with someone in the department and pick up flyers or pamphlets that may be available.

Of course, the most entertaining ways to become immersed in campus culture is to attend sporting events and visit the local bars. Schools with high levels of school spirit and vigorous near-campus nightlife produce alumni who remain loyal for the rest of their lives. Taking advantage of these opportunities is essential for blowing off steam and ensuring you have a fun three to five years as a student.

Coexisting With Your Roommate

The biggest challenge you encounter in college may not be a final exam or switching majors. It may be your inability to deal with an insufferable roommate. A typical college career isn’t complete without at least one roommate horror story. Moving into the dorm likely means you’ll be forced to spend at least a small portion of every day around someone you don’t like. Whether or not that person actually shares a room or suite with you depends on if you choose to room with a friend – which certainly doesn’t guarantee a harmonious living situation – or luck in general. It really is a crapshoot, and you’ll probably learn it the hard way.

As with any type of relationship, personal or professional, you’ll get out of it what you put into it. A buckled down engineering major who’s never had a drink in his life may have a difficult time getting along with his new purple-haired roommate who likes to experiment with anything and everything. But, if they never give each other a chance, the living situation will be doomed from the start. Making it work – or making it manageable, at least – requires effort.

  • Reach out. If you know the identity of your roommate but don’t know them personally, reach out on Facebook. Start a dialog to demonstrate you’re excited to get to know them and could be a person they genuinely value in the future. This will hopefully make them more comfortable with the situation as well. When both of you move in, spend time hanging out and see if you hit it off.
  • Be patient. You may not become the best of friends in the beginning, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get along. If they’re slow to warm up to you, don’t take it personally. Everyone adapts to new people and new environments differently. It’s unreasonable to assume they’ll handle change the same way you handle it.
  • Be quick. If they eventually do something that gets on your nerves, which is inevitable, approach the situation with a level head and discuss it. Don’t let an annoyance fester. Compromise is key.
  • Know your own idiosyncrasies and be humble. If you’re annoyed with them, they’re probably just as annoyed with you. Nobody is aware of their every flaw. Consider ways you may have been inconsiderate and change your behavior. Have a discussion and be open to suggestions on how to make them feel more comfortable.

There’s plenty of reading material available for college students who are nervous about living with someone new, the most notable of which is The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College. Author Harlan Cohen, a syndicated columnist who specializes in material for teens and young adults, provides common sense advice based on questions from real-life students who’ve been in your shoes. It’s a quick read that shouldn’t interfere with time set aside for class assignments – assuming you’ve set any time aside.

Managing Your Time

While participating, going out, and meeting new friends should be a priority, it shouldn’t consume all your time. Remember the reason you or your parents are paying for college: So that you receive an education, earn a diploma, and enter the real world prepared for a career. You must find the perfect balance between work and play, with work being the top priority.

  • What are your daily commitments? Do you have a job? Is your commute time-consuming? Are you part of a campus organization? Do you value daily exercise? Obviously you will have classes to attend. Your new daily routine will have to account for each of these activities.
  • Set aside daily study time. Amid your busy schedule you will need time to hit the books. Always keep your class syllabi so that you know what to expect for the upcoming week. Estimate how much study time each class will require and spread it out. Completing large amounts of work at once may cause you to burn out. Also determine where and when you study best – interestingly, researchers from the University of Adelaide found that the brain learns more effectively in the evening.
  • Calculate personal time. You’ll need time to rest your mind and blow off steam. Partying is important, and you don’t want to miss out on too much of it. Reserve your weekends for socializing. When your workload reaches its peak, such as during midterms or finals, make the necessary adjustments.
  • Record everything. If you have trouble remembering commitments, make a list or buy a planner. If you’re addicted to your smartphone, consider downloading the Google Calendar app, which will allow you to keep your daily schedule in your pocket.
  • Take care of yourself. Don’t spread yourself too thin. If you find yourself getting four hours of sleep per night because you’re spending too much time at work, participating in too many campus organizations, studying, and maintaining all your social commitments, then it’s time to cut back. You’ll need your physical health to accomplish your most important goals.

Learning how to manage time isn’t an overnight endeavor. It takes self-discipline, something most incoming college students lack. Trial and error is part of the process, so don’t get discouraged when you experience a hiccup. If you need advice on the topic, ask a successful friend or family member how they get things done. Your academic adviser or campus health center may offer resources with useful advice.

Managing Your Money

Surviving freshman year is impossible if you’re broke. Who wants to spend their evenings rummaging through campus dumpsters in search of dinner? You certainly don’t have time. And if you’re parents are like other parents who are somewhat generous with their pocketbooks, they’ll only send you so much before they threaten to cut you off completely.

Financial responsibility is another life lesson that comes with the college experience. The decisions you make now will affect you for the rest of your life. If you graduate college as a spendthrift, then you may enter your 40s as a spendthrift. If you rack up an inordinate amount of debt now, you’ll be paying for it in your 40s literally and figuratively, as your credit will take a hit. A mature, disciplined approach – like living with a new roommate or managing your time – to handling your money is needed. Here are some positive habits to adopt:

  • Live frugally. You’re a college student. You’re poor. Live like it. This means you’ll have to establish a strict budget by which you must abide. Instead of eating out every night, you may have to learn to cook. Buying inexpensive store brand products and preparing meals that will feed you for a couple of days will save you lots of money. Impulse buying nice clothes and other unnecessary items will set you back. If you need help formulating a budget and following it, can help you out.
  • Seek out student discounts. Many businesses surrounding campus try to attract students by offering products or services at reduced rates. Frequent these places consistently and the savings will add up. The extra money can be put aside for other important uses.
  • Enroll your bills in auto-pay. With your busy schedule, it’s easy to forget that a payment is nearing its due date. Missed payments can harm your credit, the most important determinant of your financial well-being (or lack thereof). Don’t risk having service disconnected. Online baking enables account holders to set up recurring payments. Do it now and you won’t have to worry about bills in the future.
  • Avoid credit cards and excess debt. These days, debt is an inevitable part of college for students, who increasingly rely on loans to cover the cost of tuition. You can minimize the damage by taking measures to reduce the cost of tuition, such as applying for grants and scholarships. Avoid those credit card offers you’ve been receiving each week en masse, which can increase your debt total. People tend to treat credit cards like free money, but they’re quite the opposite. It’s more financially healthy to spend the money you have.

At no point in your life will you receive more advice than in college. Some of it will be warranted and some of it will be worthless. You will heed some of it and you will ignore the rest of it. Ultimately your path to happiness and success can only be determined by you.