College is the perfect intersection of freedom and young adulthood: Never again will you be allowed to have that much fun while being responsible for so little. But as generations of students have learned the hard way, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by that freedom and go overboard. It’s a fun but intimidating time, and the best way survive your freshman year is to be prepared.
How to Survive Your Freshman Year
Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan
Spoiler alert: You can’t do it all. Not even close.
College is about learning to prioritize and tell the difference between what you can do, what you want to do, and what you need to do. The biggest mistake freshmen make is taking on too much.
If you want to get ahead, you’ll have to scale back.
Set up a schedule to follow each week and stick with it. It doesn’t have to overly detailed or break down your life into 10-minute chunks. But, you should be able to look ahead each week and know what you’re doing every day and every night, from attending class to studying or just taking some time off to be with friends
You should also plan for free time, too. That might sound counter-intuitive or just plain impossible, but it’s not, and it’s absolutely worth it. As you build time for study and class, leave open chunks for hanging out, eating, wandering the dorms, or just seeing what comes up. Maintain your schedule and your sanity.
Avoid Credit Cards
Building credit is important in the long run. It shows banks that you’re trustworthy, it gives you access to better interest rates on loans, and it generally makes you feel like an adult.
But it takes years of controlled work to do that, and freshman year isn’t the time to start. Managing credit means using cards wisely, and only to make purchases you could buy with cash at that moment. Credit cards aren’t for making big buys that aren’t in your budget; they’re for showing banks you’ve got enough cash and maturity to pay your debts in full.
Getting into credit card debt while you’re still in college means you’ll be under the thumb of major lenders before you’ve even gotten your degree.
There’s plenty of time to be an adult and work with the complicated payment structures that come with credit cards. College is not that time.
Establish Your Independence
Don’t go home too often.
College is a crucial part of the development process as you make the rocky transition from childhood to young adulthood. It’s tempting to make frequent trips home, whether for a homecooked meal or clean laundry.
Unfortunately, that’s detrimental to your long-term success as a student and a rounded human being.
Independence is usually hard-earned, and that means getting used to being bored or rejected or even alone on campus. It means meeting people and making friends. It means shaking up your established routines and coming up with new ones. It means staying away from home.
College teaches resourcefulness and problem-solving, but you won’t be able to learn those skills without first relying on yourself.
Don’t Rush the Big Choices
Freshman year can feel like a barrage of life-or-death questions: What’s your major? What do you want to do? Where do you want to live? Do you want to go out sometime?
You don’t have to commit to a major when you begin your freshman year.
Many schools don’t push you to declare until you start your sophomore run. Use your freshman year to take your school’s required course and explore topics that interest you.
Your major will be a guiding force in your education and career, and it’s not a choice to be made lightly.
One of the worst things you can do is select a major because you don’t want to weigh any other options, or if it’s something you don’t like but are betting you will come to love in time.
Take your time on this one. Take a month, a semester, a year. Don’t just leap; look carefully. This is a great opportunity to get to know your guidance and career counselors, as well as professors in fields that grab your interest, to find out what’s required by students in your prospective major. Check out employment prospects with seniors or counselors.
The real lesson in picking a major is to learn how to examine yourself and figure out what you want, then take the steps to get it.
That’s not something you can knock out overnight.
Get Some Sleep
Really, do it. Get some good sleep as much as you can. Your mental and physical health depend on it.
A 2009 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that only 30% of college students surveyed got more than 8 hours of sleep a night, while more than 68% percent (!) had trouble sleeping because of stress related to their academic or personal lives. As a result, students with poor sleep habits turn in greater numbers to over-the-counter drugs to regulate their sleep cycles and moods.
Sleep-deprived students tend to perform worse in class and on tests than their more rested counterparts. Your body becomes sluggish, your brain operates through a thick fog, and your moods become erratic.
So what do you do?
Freshmen are terrible with time management. They stay up too late the night before an early class. They skip sleep altogether in favor of doing all the things. The FOMO is real, and it leads to some hectic and damaging hours. Don’t cheat yourself out of healthy sleep. It’s one of the best things you can do to stay healthy.
If there’s one adage every freshman should heed, it’s this:
Strive for moderation in all things.
Party, but party responsibly. Work hard, but leave time to relax. Make new friends, but give yourself time to recuperate. Don’t shy away from big choices, but don’t rush into them, either. Lean on your folks, but not too much.
Freshman year is like nothing else. If you do it right, you’ll never forget it.