by Jenna Johnson
Carefully plan your first-semester schedule.
Registering for classes as a freshman can feel impossible, as there’s a litany of required introductory courses and upperclassmen have usually booked the best times. Still, make sure you take a moderate load of courses totalling no more than 12 to 18 credit hours. Spread your classes across the week and avoid times when you would be most tempted to skip, such as early mornings or Thursday evenings.
Create a communication plan with your family.
With the proliferation of modes of communication — cellphones, unlimited text message plans, e-mail accounts, Facebook and Skype — your parents might worry if they don’t hear from you on a regular basis. So, before you leave, define your “regular basis.” For some students, that means calling home daily. Others might keep in touch via text message alone. Not only does a regular chat ease parental concerns, talking with your family can make the transition to college smoother.
Take your roommate agreement seriously.
Most housing departments ask roommates to fill out a contract detailing rules regarding bedtimes, when the room should be quiet for studying, overnight guests (especially romantic ones), and food-sharing. Being upfront about your expectations from the beginning can help avoid problems later. And be sure to follow through on your end of the agreement.
Remember, your primary job is being a student.
Once you fall behind in your classes, it becomes difficult to catch up. Unlike in high school, many professors don’t collect homework or ask if you did the readings. Make an effort to ask questions during class and visit your professors’ office hours for extra help. “You have to take a greater degree of control,” said GWU Provost Steven Lerman during an orientation event in June. “You need to become more proactive than you have been.”
Come up with a routine.
Before classes start, write down what you think your schedule will be: When are you going to wake up and go to bed? At what time will you need to leave your dorm to get to class on time? When are you going to study? Work? Hang out with friends? Play video games? Write everything down in an old-school planner or program it into the calendar on your phone. Chances are, that schedule will change as the semester progresses, but it’s good to realize early on just how much or how little free time you have.
The best way to find your niche on campus is to get involved with clubs, service work or intramural sports. And don’t feel limited to only hanging out with people from your dorm. One caveat: Avoid overcommitting yourself.
Build independence from your parents.
Your parents will likely always love you and always be there for you, especially if serious problems pop up. But take full responsibility for nearly everything else. Do your own laundry, make your own appointments, solve your own problems and manage your finances.
Walk in groups. Lock your door. Don’t accept drinks from strangers. Pay attention to your surroundings. And program emergency numbers into your cellphone.
Most students are too young to legally drink during freshman year, so it’s best not to partake at all. If you do drink, it’s important to realize your limits.
Before you leave for a party, figure out how you will safely get home. If you have never drunk before, start out slowly and figure out how much alcohol you can handle. Be careful mixing alcohol with energy drinks, which keep you awake and partying when you should really go to sleep. Don’t hesitate to replace your cup of keg beer with water or to mix yourself an extremely weak drink. And don’t drive if you have been drinking or get into a car with a buzzed or wasted driver.
And be fully aware of the consequences of getting drunk: As you become more intoxicated, you become a target for crime. IReckless drunken behavior can also have social side effects, such as ruining friendships or building a negative reputation.
Ask for help if you need it.
If you are feeling down, visit the counseling center. If you are struggling in a class, ask for a tutor or visit your professor during office hours. If you get sick, visit the health center. If you can’t control your drinking, sign up for a support group. If you have roommate problems, talk to your residence hall adviser. If you miss home, call a parent or close friend. Colleges campuses are packed with resources that you have likely already paid for, so don’t hesitate to use them. You won’t be the only one to do so.
Be the person who says something.
You and your classmates are going to run into challenges over the years. And just as you would hope that a good Samaritan would help you if they sensed trouble, decide now that you will always be the one to speak up if you see someone in trouble. Never assume that someone else will take action — because when everyone makes that assumption, nothing happens.
If someone on your floor routinely gets black-out drunk, say something. If someone posts a depressed Facebook status, say something. If two people are too drunk to go home together, say something. If a student is harmed by someone else, say something. If a relationship seems abusive, say something.
Don’t try to handle these problems alone. Call 911, your RA, an administrator or your parents. In most situations, your identity can be concealed — and even if it’s not, it’s the right thing to do.
Eat at least one healthful meal a day.
The dining hall buffet lines usually have healthful options, but they might not look as appetizing as the less-healthful comfort foods. And then there’s the late-night snacking and calorie-packed beverages. Many college students gain a few pounds during their first year at college, although it’s usually not the famous “Freshman 15.” If you have pizza for lunch, opt for a big salad at dinner. If you hit up the all-you-can-eat waffle buffet at breakfast, have soup at lunch. When you stock your mini-fridge with snacks, try to buy one healthful option for every unhealthful one. Also realize that the stress of freshman year and anxiety about fitting in can aggravate existing eating disorders or cause a new one.
Be open to change.
At the end of your first year at college, chances are you will be a different person than you are now. Your friends will change, your interests will change, and your schedule will change. You might transfer to another school or switch majors several times. You might break up with that high school sweetheart.
And things back at home will change as well, as your siblings grow up, your high school friends mature and your parents convert your bedroom into an office. Realize that everyone around you is dealing with similar changes, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“In the end, the transition isn’t as bad as you think,” GWU orientation leader Michelle Brown told a small group of freshmen this summer. “Everyone is going through it.”