There is a lot of advice out there for incoming college students. While most of it comes from a good place, the truth is that no matter what rules or advice you follow, everyone’s college experience will be different. There are many things to factor in from school size and location to a secular school versus a religiously affiliated institution to public versus private- all of these will change how you experience your undergrad career.
The girls in Giant Days (Non Pratt’s forthcoming YA book inspired by the hit graphic-novel series from BOOM! Studios) are poised to have three very different college experiences. Susan is brilliant, but a little rough around the edges. Daisy is curious, but timid—thanks to her homeschool education. Esther, pretty and privileged, is dubbed the “goth princess,” because of her moodiness. Although the girls have found each other to lean on as they deal with ex-boyfriends, interesting strangers, and a club that is probably (definitely) a cult—they could still use a bit of advice as they enter the world of change that is college.
Your college experience will probably differ from the girls of Giant Days—or it might be exactly the same! Regardless, here are some pointers to keep in mind before you set foot on campus.
#1 The library is your friend. About 60% of going to college is going to class or doing coursework. (The other 40% will be divided between sleeping, eating, and texting your friends saying “idk what do you want to do?”). In order to be successful, you’ll have to do quite a bit of research. Spend time there, get to know it. You don’t want to become one of those people who visits the library once a semester, on a Red Bull-induced bender trying to churn out 10 pages in eight hours. It’ll create a negative association with a place that is truly wonderful.
Also, most university libraries have movies and other kind of media available for check-out. Some even give you access to streaming services. Become friends with a librarian. Make an appointment. They’re good people!
#2 Get to know your advisor. Speaking of friends, this one is very important. Your advisor is there to help you make choices about your academic career. They are there to help and the more you see them, the better they can help you. A good advisor will have a vague idea of who you are and what your interests are because it is their job to know; but, a good advisor becomes a great advisor if you just talk to them. They can put you in contact with people who can help you get a job or internship; they can recommend professors that they think would be a great fit. They know the courses and the deadlines, and they want to help. Get to know them and let them get to know you.
#3 You don’t need to know your major, and it’s probably better if you don’t! College is about exploration. It is about trying a bunch of different things and figuring out what fits. Unless you are studying something very specific, like bio-medical engineering or something, you don’t need to know you major your first semester, even your second semester. Some schools don’t even let students declare their major until their second year.
Take Acting Fundamentals alongside Intro to Classical Sociological Theory and Environmental Justice: Race, Class and the Environment. It will make you a better student and it will give you a better understanding of what you want to do—which may be engineering, in the end.
#4 Go to things for the food, it’s fine. It is a running joke on most campuses that if you provide food, people will show up. This is true. Nearly every event will have food—pizza, Mediterranean catering, an assortment of snacks that were bought from Trader Joe’s using a Student Org credit card. Go the lecture, planning meeting, or meet-and-greet. Make yourself a plate. You’ll get a free meal that isn’t from the café and, hey, maybe you’ll learn something about unpaid labor in Qatar.
#5 Get comfortable being uncomfortable. You will be made uncomfortable many times throughout your undergrad career and it is best if you find the learning moments in those experiences. Being made uncomfortable leads to growth, it expands your vision of the world. It is important, however, to know when being uncomfortable is productive and when it is violent and unnecessary. It is a line that you will have to draw for yourself. A good way to find your line is to ask yourself, “can I learn something new from this?” not “will this change my mind?”
#6 Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. This is a very important one. It is easy to get caught up in what other people want and expect of you. Maybe your friends want you to join a club or your parents want you to study bio-medical engineering. If you don’t want to take the class or go to the party or join the club or date that person or declare that major, you don’t have to.
Your college experience is yours and it is OK to not know what you want in the beginning, but that does not mean you must concede your experiences to the desires of anyone else. The years are short, but the days are long. You don’t want to spend them forcing yourself into situations that make you unhappy. Do right by yourself.
#7 Do EVERYTHING you want to do. This is the most important advice for all incoming college students. Try everything. If it interests you and it is within your means, do it. If you’ve never played soccer in your life but you see a sign for the intra-mural soccer team and you think “I’d like to do that,” do it. If you’ve always wanted to do theater, but you grew up in a small town that didn’t have any performing art resources, register for Acting 101. If there is a person that you like and you want to spend time with, and it is mutual, and makes you feel good, spend time with that person. Let go of everything that you’ve been taught to believe about yourself. Follow your whims. The days are long, but the years are short. Make the most of them.
Ready to head to campus? Be sure you’ve packed all of these things on the checklist!