As you pack your bags and say goodbye to all your high school friends, you may start feeling a little apprehensive. You’re getting ready to start a whole new phase of your life, and yeah, you’re excited, but leaving your room, your friends and the barista who knows your Starbucks order by heart can be a little scary. To help calm your nerves, start thinking about all the amazing new things to do waiting for you at college! Here are seven classic college experiences to look forward to.
1. Theme parties
One of the first things you should know about collegiette living is that no one throws a party without some kind of theme or even just a title. You’ll hear clever puns (a Cabaret cast party becomes a “Caba-Rave”), fun rhymes (tropical Christmas parties called “Sleighs and Leis”) and, unfortunately, some sexist or racial slurs thought up by drunken frat boys (“CEOs and Corporate Hoes” is one college party you can probably sit out). For the most part, however, these themes are a lot of fun, and you have some pretty good leeway to work with if you forgot to bring a full-body bunny suit for someone’s petting zoo-themed party. If you have any easily portable costume pieces at home, make sure they go in your suitcase. As we all learned from Mean Girls, a good pair of animal ears can turn any outfit into a costume.
While you’re packing for college, be sure to grab cowboy hats, masks, bandanas, tutus or even just something with sequins. And don’t forget the most crucial party item of all: your ugliest Christmas sweater. Whatever your school, religion or political leaning, you WILL be invited to at least one Ugly Christmas Sweater Party before the semester’s over, and the nearest thrift shop to campus will very quickly sell out of everything but tasteful turtlenecks.
2. Greek life
You’ve seen it in countless classic movies and TV shows, and now your time has finally come to rush, should you choose to do so. Joining a sorority can be a lot of fun and, especially as a freshman, it will give you instant access to a tight-knit community of other collegiettes. You’ll have mixers, formals and plenty of opportunities to help out in your community. Plus, that sisterhood can be a huge asset when you graduate with a nationwide network of professional women in the working world.
Maybe going Greek appeals to you, but you can’t see yourself as a typical “sorority girl,” and you’d rather not spend the next four years explaining that not ALL sorority sisters share Elle Woods’s penchant for hot pink. If that’s the case, consider joining a professional sorority or fraternity. These organizations will offer you the same camaraderie and networking opportunities a typical sorority would without the usual connotations. Plus, since these groups are based on common interests, you’ll definitely have something to talk about at the meetings!
Of course, not everyone wants to be involved with the Greek system at all. Surprisingly enough, though, even the most independent collegiette can reap some benefits from a Panhellenic presence on campus. Frats will throw tons of parties, and they’ll be only too happy to have more collegiettes on the invite list. Grab your friends, slip on some sparkly flats and take advantage of the free party atmosphere! Sororities and fraternities will be putting on a lot of other events throughout the year, too. Chapter fundraisers can range from simple donut sales to full-blown carnivals, so why not enjoy them? The frats and sororities will be doing all the work so you can enjoy yourself and support a charitable cause at the same time.
What if your school doesn’t have Greek life? Even if there aren’t frats or sororities, there will still be tons of fun clubs and organizations to get involved with. Whatever your passion, there will be a club for it, and if there’s not, start one yourself! You’re sure to find plenty of like-minded people who can’t wait to get involved.
3. School spirit
As nostalgic as you may be for your high school alma mater, nothing compares to the pride you’ll start feeling for your new college or university. Not only will you finally be at a school you chose for yourself, you’ll also have had at least three months to research school colors, traditions, mascots, legends and more. By the time August rolls around, you’ll be brimming with fun facts about every aspect of your school, and you’ll be totally psyched to start life as a real live collegiette.
Collegiette spirit is more than just being excited, though. Getting into college and deciding where you go is ultimately something you did for yourself, and you should be proud of that. And, once you get to campus, chances are you’ll find a ton of other people who love your school just as much as you do, especially when football season starts in the fall. Even better, you don’t have to know or care exactly what a halfback does to have a good time. Paint your face, wear school colors, get a foam finger and head to the tailgate party. Feel free to flaunt that school spirit, and don’t ever worry about looking dumb or overly enthusiastic, because the rest of the student body is right there with you!
4. Dorm living
Why does sharing a shoebox-sized room with a total stranger rank a spot on this list? It’s pretty simple. What you lose in terms of privacy, you’ll quickly make up for with camaraderie. As it turns out, a shared hatred of communal showers is actually a great icebreaker between roomies, floormates or even just someone living across the hall (especially if they’re cute). The quarters will be cramped and noisy, and you may not have air conditioning, but those narrow hallways will be where you and your new friends start learning how to live as independent adults. You’ll be doing all your own laundry (including the whole “ironing” thing your mom is always freaking out about), waking yourself up for class and setting your own curfews (finally!). Don’t worry, though; you’ll probably still have a meal plan, so you can save your culinary adventures for sophomore year.
Mastering all these new skills is definitely a struggle, especially when you barely have room for all your shoes. But with the right attitude, living in a dorm will be one of the best times of your college career. Besides enjoying your newfound independence, all of your friends, study groups and parties will always be right next door. Plus, even the most inconveniently located dorm is probably closer to your 9 a.m. class than any off-campus apartment would be. You’ll have plenty of freedom, but your RA (Residential Adviser) will still be around to help you out if you need any guidance.
Your RAs and fellow dorm-dwellers will want these first few months in a new environment to be a positive experience for you, and move-in day icebreakers are just the beginning. Social activities with your floormates are easy to organize and super convenient. Post a sign-up sheet in the floor common room or post a message on your floor’s Facebook group to see who else wants to check out campus landmarks, grab ice cream or even just drive to the nearest Target for some much-needed groceries. If no one has a car, talk to your RA about using floor funding to rent a van!
In addition to heading off campus with your floormates, there’s plenty to do without even going downstairs. From study dates to dorm parties to floor-wide formals (cleverly called “Floor-mals,” of course), your floor will be a great place to hang out and meet tons of new people, especially in the winter, when it’s way too cold to go anywhere else!
5. Free swag
A lot of schools will send out a free T-shirt or bumper sticker the minute you commit to attending their institution, but the giveaways don’t stop there. College kids love free stuff, so businesses in the area will be loading you down with swag bags, school supplies, clothes and whatever else it takes to grab your attention. Plus, your school wants you to be glad you chose them, so for the first few months of the semester, you’ll be showered with gifts branded with the university’s name and logo. By the end of the semester, you’ll realize half of your wardrobe has somehow become either school-spirited or part of an advertisement, and you’ll probably end up ditching most of it. But really, why turn down free stuff?
Two more things you’ll quickly learn in college are how quickly dining halls get monotonous and how little extra cash you have to go out to eat. The solution? Free food on campus! All those clubs you’re joining will probably be serving refreshments at each meeting or even just giving it away at special events (psst… the Spanish club serves free burritos every week. ¡Vámonos!). Basing your extracurriculars on the quality (and amount) of food they serve can even lead you to explore something you never thought you’d enjoy. If your stomach and wallet are feeling particularly empty, look for public lectures held by various academic departments—chances are pretty good they’ll be catered.
6. Study abroad
Not only are you moving to a new room, city or even state for college, you’ll also have the opportunity to leave the good old U.S. of A. behind completely… at least for a few weeks. Most colleges are full of opportunities to study abroad, but if there’s a specific place you’re dying to go to, make sure you check your school’s website to see if they offer a program there. If they don’t, talk to the study abroad adviser about making your own program or working with the abroad offices at another school!
Colleges will offer tons of study abroad programs, ranging from week-long language-intensive programs to year-long immersion programs. To find the program that’s best for you, think about what you want to study. As much as you love sushi, a semester in Tokyo may not be the best choice if you’re a Spanish major. On the other hand, if you’re interested in art but don’t plan on majoring in it, see if your school offers an English-language summer drawing program in Italy! You should probably also consider how much time you really want to spend off campus and whether or not your abroad credits will transfer back home. Once you know what’s right for you, having an amazing abroad experience will be a snap!
7. Campus traditions
Just like your high school swim team that painted their faces in school colors before competing at Regionals, college will be home to tons of ancient, time-honored and completely insane traditions. But somehow, just like you got used to those overenthusiastic high school athletes tracking paint all through the hallways, so will these college traditions become strangely endearing. After all, they’re your school’s weird quirks, and therefore, you’re allowed to take pride in them.
From naked runs through the quad to flash raves in the library to kick off Finals week, every school has their own little oddities. Even if you never participate, you’re sure to take pride in relating the tales of your friends’ apparent insanity to all the folks back home. Plus, some traditions, like free milk and cookies during exam week or a glow-stick-lit march through campus for Freshman Convocation, can actually be pretty sweet, help you feel at home, and remind you exactly why you were so ready to leave behind the comforting familiarities of wherever you grew up.
Leaving home for college can be scary, but saying goodbye to Mom and Dad will be a whole lot easier knowing all the awesome stuff you have to look forward to! This list is just the beginning, and everyone’s paths will be different. College is where you get to figure out what you love, so consider these tips a starting point to all the other amazing experiences you’re going to discover all on your own!