You’ve survived the tedium of high school, the pomp of graduation, and the stress of the admissions process. In just a few weeks, you will embark on the adventure of a lifetime. You’re going to college to experience all the enlightenment, enrichment, and indulgence that you can handle. The future is wide open and the sky’s the limit.
But first, you’ll have to make a few mistakes. You’ll probably schedule a class for 8:30 on a Friday morning and regret it every week for the next four months. There’s a good chance you’ll participate in a massive group activity that involves disrobing, plunging into cold water, or assaulting a rival school’s mascot. You’ll probably switch majors once, possibly several times.
It’s all good. Go ahead. Make some mistakes. That’s how you grow.
But since you’re new around these parts, consider that there are a few mistakes you simply don’t want to make, mistakes that could set you back academically, socially, financially, even nutritionally. During this transition from childhood to adulthood–a transition which is by no means an exact science–you are especially vulnerable to the consequences of your actions. As an incoming freshman, take care to avoid the common missteps that plague the inexperienced. We want you to be prepared for everything when you walk into that first stupid orientation event, so as a public service to those of you eagerly anticipating your first year of college, we’ve complied the 10 Mistakes You Don’t Want To Make In Your First Week of College.
10. Passing Out At A Party
For urban 30-somethings, antiquing means going out to the countryside on Sundays and rifling through rusty fixtures, Victorian postmortem photos, and second-hand chafing dishes in search of a good conversation piece. For college kids, antiquing refers to the practice of exploding a bag of flour on a sleeping victim. Don’t be that victim, especially if you are among millions of Americans who suffer from a gluten intolerance.
Of course, antiquing is but one of the many indignities that might befall you should you lose consciousness at a social gathering. And as a newbie, you are especially vulnerable. If you pass out in the ever-popular, propped-up-on-a-couch, mouth-slightly-agape position, beware that somebody will put pencils in your wordhole, take a picture, and distribute a hilarious walrus meme on social media. If you pass out in the reclining position, you will become a footrest, a drink holder, or possibly even a coat-rack. If you leave a puddle of slobber on your party host’s couch…well that’s just rude and you owe somebody an apology.
On a serious note, proper safety protocol requires that you have good and trusted friends looking out for you at all times. If you’re just learning the party circuit, travel in freshman herds and make sure that your buds keep an eye out for you, especially as you verge on delirium. Bear in mind that while we don’t actively endorse delirium, we also know that it sometimes happens.
Bottom line, you don’t wanna be known as the kid who sleep-farted up the living room during your party-scene debut, and you certainly don’t wanna be the kid who showed up to your first Orgo Chem lecture with the word “boner” Sharpied on the back of your neck.
9. Opening A New Credit Card
You never realize just how much you’d do for a free Discover Card t-shirt until you get to college. That’s when you learn that you’d give somebody your home address, social security number, and the capacity to ruin your financial future. But dude, free t-shirt.
By virtue of an arrangement between credit card companies and universities, the former have historically used the grounds of the latter to prey on uninformed youths just dying to make reckless purchasing decisions. If you ever felt like you weren’t getting enough positive reinforcement in your campus dating scene, all you had to do was walk through your school’s most active outdoor square and enjoy the cat-calling.
“Free bottle opener in exchange for your savings account number!”; “Get a personalized card with your university’s logo. Just 32% APR!”; “Hey gorgeous…are you ready to experience the thrill of fiduciary responsibility?!?”
Fortunately, since the passage of a new federal law placing greater restrictions on predatory on-campus credit lending, the practice has declined precipitously. However, many companies have skirted the law by instead signing students up for debit cards, prepaid cards, and bank accounts.
This is a good time to learn that banks aren’t your friends. You need them, but they aren’t your friends so proceed with caution. Be wary of what you sign up for and to whom you give your personal information. Part of adult life is learning to smell a scam. Begin honing your skills in college by passing on the free t-shirt. Instead, seek meaningful advice on building credit, managing accounts, and planning for your financial future. Speak to a knowledgeable parent, a qualified educator, or an on-campus advisor. Stated simply, if you’re making financial decisions based on the advice of somebody working at an outdoor pop-up stand co-sponsored by Pepsi, you’re probably doing it wrong.
8. Overdoing It At the Dining Hall
Back when I went to Rutgers, there was a rumor going around town that the chefs laced the food with some kind of fiber additive to prevent students from abusing the privilege of all-you-can eat. To this day, I’m not sure if the rumors were true (or even metabolically plausible). I can, however, tell you that I routinely waddled out of that dining hall feeling as though I’d just swallowed a deep-fried, cheese-stuffed bowling ball.
If you aren’t accustomed to the everyday buffet that will greet you at your campus dining hall, be warned. This will either be your opportunity to exercise self-control or the reason for your exercise regimen. The dreaded Freshman 15 is an, actual real thing.
Trust me. I only did freshman year once, but I gained 15 pounds twice. The causes for this weight gain are several. Alcohol is generally considered Public Enemy #1. But the dining hall is a close second on the ‘most wanted’ list. A preponderance of carb-heavy foods, greasy steam-tray dishes, omnipresent soft-serve ice cream form a gauntlet of temptations for even the chastest of eaters.
Avoid gorging. And if you’re afraid you aren’t getting your money’s worth from your meal plan, just bring a bunch of baggies and swipe as much as you can for your dorm micro-fridge. If anybody gives you a hard time, tell them we said it was cool.(Unless your university has an explicitly stated policy against this type of stockpiling, in which case, don’t mention us at all.)
7. Buying Stuff Without Using Your Student Discount
Companies expect you to be broke but it doesn’t mean they don’t want your business. It’s understood that, as a college student, you are living on your own but you aren’t working a full-time job. This unique set of circumstances often means that you are learning how to get by on modest means.
Amazon gets it. Apple gets it. Even Jo-Ann Fabric gets it. And they’ve got your back. You’re going to need tons of stuff for college, from books and project supplies to electronics and dorm room essentials. DO NOT walk out of a store our check out your online cart without inquiring about a student discount. Chances are pretty good that there’s something they can do to help. And if not, at least you’ll have their pity.
But you get more than pity at Amazon. You get free two-day shipping for six months. And since you can buy pretty much anything on Amazon, you will most definitely find a use for this one. Students who have been accepted to college can also get $200 dollars off a new Mac, which makes the cost of the computer pretty steep instead of prohibitively expensive. And Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores? 10% off to all participants enrolled in the Student Discount Program. Blam! That is a sexy student discount.
As a college kid, you can also enjoy a price-break on a subscription to the New York Times, discounted membership at Sam’s Club, and 15% off at Banana Republic (because people who are cash-strapped tend to shop at Banana Republic).
I admit, none of these discounts are going to take the sting out of your $38K tuition. But every dollar counts. Exploit your student discount wherever applicable. Check here for a comprehensive list of participating businesses.
6. Posting Party Pics on Social Media
Seriously. You need to know this by now. Incriminating Instagram photos are like arrest records and STDs. They typically start in college and follow you for the rest of your life.
The stuff you put on the internet never goes away and believe me, there are many things you will do in college that you will want to go away. It’s awesome that you showed up for a tailgate party on a cold day wearing nothing but suspenders and a foam beer-hat. We admire your confidence. But you don’t want it on your virtual resume. For the sake of future relationships, job interviews, and mortgage applications, you need the stupid things you do in college to remain tucked comfortably into your past. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do stupid things in college. You’re going to do stupid things. That’s part of getting a good education. Just don’t take pictures of those stupid things and broadcast them all over the interwebs. It won’t end well. It never does.
You know why your parents got good jobs out of school? Because Facebook didn’t exist and there’s no proof of the many inadvisable, embarrassing or disqualifying things your parents did when they were in college. Use social media to share kitty videos, wrongly-attributed quotes and unsubstantiated celebrity death hoaxes. Keep your personal antics contained to your personal life.
5. Buying Every Single Book On Your Syllabus
You may be under the illusion, because it was usually true in high school, that you need to own every single book listed in your syllabus for every single course. Not to sound paranoid, but that’s what they want you to think.
Hmmm. I just read that back to myself and it sounds paranoid. But it’s true. You don’t need to buy every book, and considering the shocking cost of college texts in general, you should do your best to figure out where you can save a few bucks. Do some sleuthing. Ask some upperclassmen. Go online and read reviews on sites like Rate My Professors. Do your best to determine which books will be absolutely necessary, which materials can instead be acquired online for free, and which texts the professor is forcing you to buy just to shove it in the face of his ex-wife, who said “nobody wants to read your rumination on the historical fluctuation of wheat prices as it pertains to cultural inclusion, you pompous blowhard.”
There are all kinds of motives behind required course texts. Sometimes professors are working to earn out an advance. Sometimes, professors are just so old fashioned, they don’t realize that they could save you hundreds by pointing you toward free online content. Sometimes though, you really will need those books.
Do some extra homework upfront to determine which books you need and which you don’t. It’ll save you a bundle.
4. Misplacing Your Swipe Card Twice
Nice work. You’ve been here three days and the security dude already hates you.
Just kidding. It happens.
Your school will provide you with an I.D. card that probably also serves as your meal plan swipe and the key to your dorm. At some point, largely because you are unaccustomed to holding your entire life in a single swipe card, you will leave your dormitory without it. And the second you step outside, and that heavy door swings closed behind you, you’ll realize that you’ve screwed up.
If it’s during the middle of the afternoon, no biggie. Invariably, somebody more responsible than you will come by and let you in. If nobody’s around, you’ll probably have to knock, or buzz, or fog up that little fiberglass slotted window in order to get security’s attention. If you do get their attention, there’s probably a system in place where they’ll write your name in a book and keep score against you.
Now, if the hour is late enough, and security has closed shop for the night, snuggle up with the bushes because you’re sleeping in the dirt. Of course, mistakes we’ll be made. We’re none of us perfect. You may just forget your swipe card, or drop it on the bus, or misplace it under that putrescent laundry-heap in the corner of your dorm room. Since you’re just learning the ropes, you probably won’t take too much heat for doing it once.
Just don’t do it twice in your first week. That kind of serial doofery just screams “freshman.”
3. Thinking Anybody Cares About What You Did In High School
No matter who you are, college is a big pond and you’re a little fish. The social hierarchies that governed your high school have no jurisdiction on your college campus. Nobody here knows that you were prom queen. Nobody here cares that you were a stud discus thrower in a county were track & field is a really big deal. Nobody here has any idea that you’re supposed to be cool, popular, or important.
On the bright side, it works both ways. Nobody here knows that you were a dork. Nobody here cares that you’re a geek. Nobody here remembers the time you threw up Campbell’s Chunky Soup in front of the whole 3rd grade class.
Whether you spent your primary education building a reputation or trying to escape one, all bets are off. Welcome to the clean slate that this college. You have the opportunity to evolve, to improve, to explore, to redefine yourself. Use it.
2. Assuming Everybody Is Your New Best Friend
Going to college is exciting but it can also be scary. You don’t know anybody. You don’t know what to expect. You wonder how well you’ll fit in with your classmates. Take comfort in knowing that literally everybody feels exactly the same way. This is all uncharted territory and everybody is feeling their way around.
That first week of college is a whirl of handshakes, introductions and ice-breakers. And in this haze, you will meet all kinds of awesome new people, people who make a charming first impression, people who seem fascinating at first glance, people who remind you of yourself.
Do not be shocked if you find yourself considering a restraining order against these very same people by the approach of midterms. It’s common to make fast friends in college. You should enter into the experience with an open mind and open arms. You will find that most of your classmates have taken the same approach. But human chemistry is a funny thing.
You will not find longterm compatibility with every friend you make in that first week. In only a matter of months, you might not even be able to stand the sight of certain friends you make in that first week. But don’t let that stop you from trying. Meet as many people as you can. Entertain as many friendships as you can. Just don’t take it personally when they don’t all pan out. You’ll find your friends and your scene, even if it takes a few tries.
1. Freaking Out Over Classes
Jeez. Calm down. You just got here.
In that first week, you will attend anywhere between five and seven course introductions. You’ll review syllabi, glance at future assignments, and come to understand the full scope of your courseload. Professors will use all kinds of intimidating language and some of them will take steps to convince you that you’re in over your head.
If you’re feeling queasy and under-qualified, take a moment to catch your breath. Don’t let them scare you. They’re just classes. It’s no different than high school except nobody’s looking over your shoulder. It’s up to you to stay on top of your work, to ensure your own progress, to learn at your own pace.
And there is tremendous freedom in this responsibility. It’s also up to you to decide what to make of your classes. Are they merely a means to high marks and a degree? Or are they a means to learning, becoming enriched, and growing as a person?
This isn’t a trick question. If it’s about the former, you’ll probably freak out anytime things don’t go your way. If it’s about the latter, it becomes a lot easier to keep things in perspective. Learning, enrichment and growth are nothing to fear.
If you can master this notion, then you are ready for anything college life can throw at you. Good luck, Frosh. Go make some good mistakes!