What I Wish I Knew Before Starting College

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By: Rhiannon Winner, Uloop

Starting college is an exciting, yet terrifying prospect. It’s worth it in the end for most students, but there are still some things I wish I’d known before my first day.

Your student won’t connect with most of their high school friends anymore.

They’ll probably still talk to some of them, but chances are, a lot of their friendships will be lost. Group chats will die, and soon everyone will stop caring about meeting up when they all come home from college.

That sounds really sad coming out of high school, but once they’re actually a college student, it makes sense. It’s hard to maintain those relationships long distance over time, and most students make far better friends in college anyway. I wish I’d known that it’s okay to grow apart, and not to mourn the loss of those friendships.

Your student’s summer advisor was probably right.

I have friends who started college unsure of their major, but I and plenty of others were sure from the very beginning. My summer advisor suggested that I try to get gen-eds out of the way first, but I was confident in my major choice, so I signed up for a bunch of major classes in my first year. I know other students who did the same thing.

But now that we’ve knocked out a decent chunk of our major courses, we’ve got to plow through a bunch of less exciting gen-eds. I wish I’d trusted my summer academic advisor’s advice and stuck to the general curriculum at first.

Your student shouldn’t buy from the college bookstore.

At least, they shouldn’t buy their textbooks there. They take enough of your money, so why give them more? Renting, or even sometimes buying, textbooks online is significantly cheaper. Best of all, some books can be found online in their entirety for free (and legally)!

If your student is going to be reading excerpts of Plato, for example, you might want to find the text online instead of paying for a copy. I wish I’d known that every penny counts!

Your student shouldn’t rely solely on naps.

On mornings where my alarm went off promptly at eight — or worse, even earlier — I always comforted myself with the thought that I could take a nap later. Naps are awesome, and your student is going to need plenty of them, but warn them to not trade a good night’s sleep for naps. It’s easier to miss early morning classes when your student is sleep deprived, and if they have a lot of work to finish, they might not be able to squeeze in a nap at all. I wish I’d known that keeping a consistent sleep schedule and getting eight hours a night is CRUCIAL.

Your student should be glued to their student ID (and pick a nice picture for it).

I thought I only needed my student ID sometimes. If I wasn’t eating or if I didn’t need to swipe into a building, why bother bringing it? As it turns out, it’s pretty useful. Lots of local stores will offer discounts if you show your student ID. Some have signs out advertising this, and at others, your student needs to ask, but it’s best to have it on you just in case.

In that same vein, since their ID is going to be with them 24/7 until they graduate, make sure your student chooses a really nice photo. I — and plenty of other freshmen — were under the impression that IDs change yearly, like in high school. At most colleges, they don’t. Your student is stuck with that picture until they graduate. So make sure they’re happy with it and don’t just take a quick selfie the day before the picture’s due.

Your student shouldn’t be afraid to sign up for everything.

Your student has never played soccer before in their life? Encourage them to sign up for the intramural team anyway. Never really expressed their creative side? Tell them to join an art or creative writing club. Does your student feel out of the loop when it comes to politics? Have them join a political club (there’s more out there than just College Democrats and College Republicans, if their political ideology is different or if they’re looking for a different sort of club experience).

And your student can join all the stuff they expect they’ll love based on their interests. They should try everything they can cram into their schedule because they’re bound to fall in love with some things they never expected to love (plus all of the things they already knew they’d enjoy). It’ll diversify their resume and open them up to lots of new interests, connections, career paths, and friends.

I wish I’d known before starting college that it’s okay to try lots of new things, drop the things that don’t end up suiting me and continuing on with all of my new passions.

Mostly, what I wish I knew before starting college is that parents and advisors are usually right, and following your passions is always the way to go.

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