Each crop of freshmen hears it a bazillion times: The first year is a really big deal.
That statement is usually followed by a string of obvious suggestions from parents, grandparents and teachers. Study hard, get involved and keep the partying to a minimum.
Solid tips? Sure. But to get down to the nitty-gritty of college life in the first year, we hit local campuses and picked the brains of some former freshmen. Their advice covers everything from how to get along with your bizarre roommate to not freaking out about gaining a little weight.
Here are the rules for how to survive, thrive and not feel overwhelmed as the new kid on campus.
Do something crazy
Studying is important, but don’t be a 24 / 7 bookworm. “My biggest success was storming the court during the Indiana vs. Minnesota basketball game at Williams Arena,” said Barflaan Tedoe, a junior at the University of Minnesota. Seize opportunities to try something new. “You’d be surprised at how easy it is to get involved in really cool projects,” said Zach Simon, a junior at the U. “Think DJ’ing at your college radio station could be fun? Try e-mailing them and asking how you can get involved. It is exactly that easy.”
Leave the door open
“Dorm life is tricky; it’s almost like a sick science experiment,” said Ryan Bennek, a junior at Minnesota State University, Moorhead. Indeed, your fellow dorm dwellers are curious about you — so invite them inside. “My biggest success was leaving my door open while I was in my room,” said Ally Sevold, a senior at the U. “It may sound like a silly success, but it introduced me to a lot of my neighbors and started that conversation, which eventually led to a friendship.”
Join the club
Whether you join the ski team, a sorority or a people-watching club (yes, Campus People Watchers is a real club at the U), immersing yourself into a campus community is a surefire way to get the most out of your college experience. Isaac Howard, a senior at the U, said, “My biggest regret was not finding a church immediately upon arrival — a place of tight-knit community — that would invest into me and I into them.”
Don’t be an overachiever
College is tougher than high school, so don’t spread yourself thin. “My biggest mistake was probably taking on too much at the beginning. I signed up for a lot of clubs and tried to attend every meeting while also working on research with a professor and taking 17 credits, including piano lessons,” said Alexandra Kennedy, a senior at St. Catherine University. “Pick a few activities that you are really passionate about and put your all into those few.”
All you can’t eat
Unless you’re a heavyweight on the wrestling team or have a tapeworm, there’s probably no reason to get the unlimited meal plan. “It’s nice knowing you can eat every meal at the dining hall if needed, but it’s highly unlikely you will, and, therefore, it’s a waste of money,” said Cameron Mailhot, a senior at the U. “Fourteen meals a week was completely fine.”
Draw your own conclusions
When it comes to getting the dirt on which professors hand out A’s like Halloween candy, Google with caution. “Don’t put too much stock in the Rate My Professor website,” said Baihly Warfield, a senior at the University of St. Thomas. “The only people that post are students with really good experiences or really bad experiences. Professors have different styles, just like students.”
Get to know your professor
Don’t be afraid to get to know them beyond the lecture hall. You might need an internship or job reference later. “I really, really regret not taking up a lunch offer from a professor,” said Feven Gerezgiher, a junior at the U.
Don’t be shy
Meeting new people can be harder than calculus, but in the grand scheme of things it’s just as important. “No one tells you that it can be really hard to branch out after your first year in college,” said Erin Murray, a junior at Macalester College. “I would have gone out of my way to meet more people and make more friends early on.”
Show your school spirit
There’s just something exciting about freezing your tail off at a subzero football game that brings people together. “Being from California, I did not realize how much I love hockey, and I really wish I had got season tickets sooner,” said Shannon Hargis, a junior at the U.
Catch your Z’s
Study often, but not all night. “I would have followed the ‘3 by 5 Rule.’ It states that you should study at least three hours a day, five days a week,” said Rachel Spatz, a junior at the U. “Some students may study more, but successful students know that three hours of hard work a day will allow for a balanced social life as well as allowing for a good night’s sleep.”
Take a ridiculous class
Lighten up your course load by taking “The Science of Superheroes” or “Star Trek and Religion” (both real classes). “I took a salsa dancing class for two credits and joined Unicycle Club,” said Mackenzie Madsen, a sophomore at the U. “It feels silly at first, but the experience is well worth branching outside of your comfort zone.”
Embrace your roommate
There will be worse things in life than sharing a mini-fridge with a slob. Besides, it’s good practice for when you will have to share a cubicle with a bizarre co-worker. Linh Nhu, a sophomore at St. Catherine University, said the solution to living in harmony is simple: “Act like the kind of roommate you would like to have.”
Stray from campus
There’s a brand-new world beyond the campus walls. “The amenities of a city go far beyond its college campus or its Yelp! reviews, so you have to explore and experience your college town on your own,” said Larry Lorbiecki, a senior at the U.
Let go of the past
It might be tempting to go home every weekend to hang out with your high school friends. Don’t. “During my first semester, I stayed so connected with things happening at home that I did not take the time to immerse myself into the college life,” said Kelsey Klingel, a sophomore at the U. “After winter break, I had realized that not only did I not have any friends at school, but my friends and lifestyle back home were slowly slipping away from me.”
Own the ‘freshman 15’
Be healthy, but don’t be obsessed. “You’re supposed to gain weight in college. You’re not supposed to be 18 forever,” said Kaitlyn Sturdy, a sophomore at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Don’t listen to your parents
Up until now, your parents knew best. Always keep Mom and Dad’s advice in the back of your mind, but forge your own path. “I would have taken classes I actually thought sounded interesting instead of going straight into tough classes my freshman year,” said Lucy Zhou, a junior at the U. “Take the ideas that others have put into your head and throw them out the window. It’s your time to figure out who you are as a person and what you are interested in.”
Aimee Blanchette • 612-673-1715