At last… (cue the dramatic ballad “At Last” by Etta James), the college chapter of your life is on the horizon. The next four years are a blank slate, and it’s hella exciting to toss your grade school life behind you and set off on your own to paint a brand new future. Your next four years are going to be full of quirky, crazy, invaluable experiences that you’ll hold dear for the rest of your life – and they’ll even reveal new sides of yourself you didn’t even know existed.
However, there’s probably a little voice in your head that’s trying to tell you that college is everything but sunshine and rainbows. One minute you’re fantasizing about living the quintessential college life, full of rocking a 4.0 GPA and collecting quality friends, and the next, your mind is running a mile a minute, worrying about how to stay organized and how to even make a friend.
But, have no fears, pre-collegiettes! We promise that they won’t play out nearly as bad as you’re thinking. In fact, college is actually pretty darn amazing, so squash out those annoying worries, and replace them with these six kernels of wisdom.
1. “How will I make friends?”
Making friends in college is a piece of cake – simply because everyone is so eager to meet new people! Pretty much all college freshmen are in the same boat of knowing hardly anyone and wanting to make friends. And luckily, this makes people willing and open to talk to each other pretty much anywhere: during class, while waiting in line at Starbucks, and even in college dorm bathrooms (indeed, that’s how I made friends on my floor during my freshman year!).
Another tried-and-true method I used was to get to class early, sit down next to someone, and then just start making small talk about the weather or the class.
Chelsea Jackson, a junior at Iowa State University, has a recommendation of her own. “Immerse yourself in any welcome week activities and prop your door open so you can meet people on your floor or ask students in your classes to start study groups,” she says.
A good rule of thumb is to take advantage of opportunities that are right in front of you. If you see someone who looks like a pleasant person, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and ask questions like “Where are you from?” or “What year are you?” You can even just give out a compliment like “I love your backpack!” These may sound cheesy, but I promise, they work. I also really recommend allowing yourself to be a little vulnerable and tell people you’re nervous about starting college – opening up to someone new can instantly put them at ease and start a bond!
People really aren’t scary, and at the end of the day, it feels great just to be acknowledged and approached in a friendly way. So never be afraid to say hello! You could be meeting your new best friend for the next four years.
2. “Will my workload be super stressful?”
If you’re thinking, “How in the world am I going to make it through college classes while also having a social life and getting involved and feeding myself and doing laundry and staying sane?!”, then look no further.
The secret is balance.
Don’t feel like you have to overwhelm yourself – that’s the wrong approach. Do try things out, since college has so much to offer, but don’t spread yourself thin. Find what you’re passionate about, in terms of picking classes for your major and clubs/organizations to get involved with, and then put your energy into those things.
When you’re putting your energy into what brings you joy, the feeling will spill into other aspects of your life, and you’ll find yourself not only being productive (which frees up time to hang out with friends and have fun) and doing great work, but you’ll also be less stressed.
Rachel Reiss, a graduate student at the University of Florida, agrees. “I learned freshman and sophomore year to not put too much on my plate, a mistake I had made in high school,” she says. “Since then, I’ve been able to invest more energy in a few meaningful things.”
There is also a ton of apps out there to help you stay organized and tackle whatever college throws at you.
3. “Do I have to party and drink all the time?”
There’s a misconception that all college students love going out and getting drunk each weekend, but that is not true, and it definitely isn’t expected. The best thing about college is that there’s no such thing as “fitting in” or being “cool.” As long as you’re spending time in ways that make you happy, then you’re golden.
Don’t feel like you need to be going out because “everyone else is.” There are so many other college kids who could care less. All you have to do is listen to yourself. If you want to give yourself a challenge and step out of your comfort zone to go to a party, then go for it! But if you want to take it slow and maybe try it out another time, then that’s cool too.
Casey Johnson*, a junior at the University of Florida, reiterates the importance of this point. “I told myself in high school that I would never go to a college party,” she says. “But, I realized how limiting that was. I only get to be in college once, so I tried it out. I didn’t fall in love with the party scene, but I was proud of myself for being more open about it.”
Don’t completely limit yourself, but if you’re positive that you would hate a college party and want to leave immediately, then by all means stay back and have a Netflix and chill session.
4. “Will I be a small fish in a big pond?”
Being suddenly thrown into an environment with a ton of students of your same caliber might seem intimidating. It can lead you down two not-so-great paths if you let it: you might become overly competitive and forget about what you’re at college for in the first place, or you might want to give up.
However, you can avoid both of these paths if you find your niche. Join clubs that interest you and hang out with people who like doing the things you like to do, who make you feel good and confident and who build you up. This will make college feel more geared toward what you’re all about, and it will make it seem way smaller.
Erin Smith, a law student at Charleston School of Law, notes the importance of asking questions. “So much at college is new and scary, especially at a big school, and it’s really easy to feel like you’re left to figure out everything on your own,” she says. “But I promise you aren’t alone, and other students and instructors are always more than willing to help you out. You don’t have to figure out college alone.” There’s always a listening ear out there, and remember that someone is always there to pick you back up when things get difficult.
Related: 10 Ways to Calm Pre-College Nerves
5. “Is the Freshman 15 real?”
Luckily, this is just a myth, which means it doesn’t sneak up on you if you don’t let it.
Here are some little habits you can adopt to prevent the annoying weight gain:
1. Instead of taking the bus or driving to a class that’s fifteen minutes away, leave a little bit early and walk.
2. Before you rush over to start snacking, ask yourself, “am I eating because I’m actually hungry, or am I just bored or stressed?”
3. Drink water throughout the day. You’ll find that this will prevent overeating.
4. Only keep healthy snacks, like bananas, carrots and hummus, apples and granola at your place. This makes it easier to avoid the accidental “oh no, how did I just eat half a bag of Dorito’s in one sitting?!” situation.
5. Take advantage of a gym on or near campus, and try to go for at least 30 minutes a few times a week. And if you can’t make it, then pull up YouTube and do some routines right in your room. Don’t be afraid to improvise!
6. “What if I don’t get along with my roommate whom I've never met?”
If you’ve never lived in the same room with another human for a whole school year, living with a complete stranger can seem daunting. But good news: It’s usually a positive experience.
Erin roomed with someone whom she had never met before move-in day, and she was pleasantly surprised by how the year went. “Everything turned out fine!" She says. "Just remember to be considerate and nine times out 10 you’ll have nothing to worry about. If you’re that unlucky one out of 10, definitely talk to your resident assistant. That’s why they’re there — to help!”
I also roomed with a stranger during my freshman year, and she and her friends became my #squad for the rest of the year. I met a ton of new people through our roommateship and it enhanced my college experience for sure.
A “roommateship” can be as simple as asking how each other’s days went, or it can be as involved as having deep talks until 2 a.m. Whether you’re acquaintances or close friends, as long as you stay tidy, use headphones when your roommate is studying, and check in with your roommate before you have other people over, then the year should be smooth sailing.
We know you’ve got this, ladies! Keep your head up and enjoy every moment that college brings. Don’t be scared to try things you’ve never done, when you get a gut feeling that they might be exactly what you need.
*Names have been changed.