The professor walks into the densely packed theatre filled with wide-eyed, naïve freshmen. He clears his throat with an air of importance as he adjusts his tweed jacket, and without any hint of assumed friendliness for an introductory class, he writes on the board the well-anticipated topic of the year: “INTRODUCTION TO COLLEGE 101.”
He turns backs to the class, taking a handful of gazes from a dozen pair of eyes, and says, “How many of you are well-versed in the art of College 101?” Half the class raises their hands. And then, with a small smile that throws the class off balance, he says, “It seems I will be handing back an enormous number of F’s.”
I’m confused; are you? Relax, this never happened.
So let’s take a mental pause from this infectious paraphernalia that many people include in most college stories I’ve come across, whether on Chicken Soup for the College Soul (my fav) or some random post on the Internet about what you should expect when you arrive at college. You know what I’m talking about — ones about college decor tips from Pinterest or Tumblr, popular college myths about parties and fraternities, some course you should consider majoring in. If you are relying on these caches of information here and there to have a flawless freshman experience, you can expect an F in College 101. But not to worry, I’m here to give you an honest and realistic breakdown of what this is entails: it’s not some written in stone course code, it is an experience!
You won’t ace your first year of college with a 101% from reading books, articles, visiting websites that glorify the college experience or by talking to a sibling whose maybe a year or two ahead of you. I mean, all of that helps you have a general idea on what you should expect, but not to tailor the new experiences you are going to be having to suit those. Everyone’s experience is unique, peculiar, and exclusive to them.
So relax and let out that sigh you’ve been stifling; it’s not that rigid and complicated and no one gets it completely right the first time. Time and chance happens to us all.
So this is what may likely happen: you won’t make up your mind about that elective or major until halfway through the semester with exams at the corner, and the lack of time may just be enough motivation to intensively study and land a B in that course. You’ll make poor financial decisions and have to call home much earlier than you’d expect, and your parents will refuse to answer immediately to your SOS call to teach you to prioritize and, who knows, earn you that job at the café. Your first relationship may not last, but you will be emotionally wise and prepared for the next; as they say, “experience is the best teacher.” You’ll vomit the first time after drinking alcohol because no one may have told you, you should have eaten at first. No one is going to randomly walk up to you and comment on your outfit because guess what, you still pretty much dress like a high schooler.
I’m saying this because it all happened to me. So, if I have any advice on how to ace the cliché “College 101”, this would be it:
1. Get yourself a life!
This may seem brusque, but it’s the honest truth. You are not everybody out there, and no one out there is you. Get in touch and down to earth with yourself and who you are; be comfortable in your own skin. People with identity crises are the most vulnerable and easily impressionable, and you don’t want to come off as gullible.
2. Set goals.
One of the ways goals can be effective and realized is by having an idea of what is required in the first place, especially in your academics through course outlines and study guides.
3. Attend classes.
Besides facilities and recreation or whatever, this is what takes half the tuition fee. So attend your classes, especially the first set at the beginning of the semester. You do not only get a general idea of the course, but what the professor requires of you and the psychology with which he or she grades students. They never give a hint of this in the following classes, I can bet all my money on that; they go on to just teach you what you need to know about the subject.
4. Prioritize your time.
Time is money and time lost can never be regained. Those making a difference out there know how important this is. If possible, get a journal or organizer and write down your schedule for the week or month depending on the tasks you have to do. Write, write, and write — this puts some kind of compelling obligation on you to make things happen. It also give yourself a realistic deadline of when tasks should be completed, and remember, it is better to be effective than efficient. This means that you don’t want to spend your time doing a lot tasks that aren’t immediately important. Don’t overindulge yourself with the most mundane tasks or things that aren’t so crucial; you need to prioritize tasks.
Money is the life blood of continual sustenance in college, so you want to be frugal with it. Being frugal does not entail been miserly or denying yourself certain things you know you need. Being frugal just means avoiding unnecessary expenditure; it simply means being economical. Try to know the difference.
6. Go out there, interact and make friends.
Don’t be the lone sheep isolated from the rest of the flock and easy prey for the wolves. Having relationships with people are very important — human beings are social animals. So find yourself a social niche. You can do this by signing up for a club or group that suits your style or something you have a flair for, be it a religious group, volunteering organization, a club or society. This affords you an opportunity to build a fast and reliable network of friends and potential contacts for the future. It gives you a sense of purpose so you know you aren’t wasting your time in college.
On a final note, I hope you do enjoy college and the vast experiences and opportunities it affords you. Don’t feel out of place, overwhelmed, or awkward, because there is definitely a place out there for you. Fear is a natural response when we are been confronted with something new or different, but it’s not healthy when we house it and build around it — it limits us from achieving our fullest potential.
I’ll end with this quote I heard recently: “Doesn’t being scared let you know you know you are up to something important.” Think about it.