Orientation is a great time for you to meet potential friends, get to know your school and ask any questions you may have, but there’s still a lot to learn. And with the world reopening and many universities allowing students onto their campuses for the first time in over a year, the freedom that college symbolizes can be thrilling — and overwhelming, too. While orientation might help you figure out your class schedule, there’s a few unwritten rules of college life that you may have to learn elsewhere. So, I put together some college students’ freshman orientation tips so you can learn what you should know before you head off to freshman year.
- Pre-orientation is important
Okay, this is cheating a little because it’s before orientation even happens, but scheduling orientation is super important.
Casey, a senior at the University of South Carolina, says, “I didn’t realize it freshman year, but when you go to orientation is really important because that determines what classes you get.” A lot of schools have multiple days of orientation, and although you might think it doesn’t matter when you go, it might impact your freshman year schedule. If you go to an early orientation, there’s a better chance you’ll get classes you actually want, so keep that in mind.
- Lock your door
You might hear people say that leaving your door open is a great way to make friends and get to know your hall. And you might be tempted to keep your door open after a year spent at home; having fellow students even just walk by can feel like a novelty. But be wary — this is a good tactic for when you’re in your room and aware, but always lock your door when you’re gone and when you’re sleeping.
Olivia, a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire, says, “Definitely lock your doors, especially when you’re sleeping, because one night I left mine unlocked and someone came into my room and stole my laptop.” Of course, this is pretty extreme, but it’s better to be on the safe side. College dorms are pretty secure, but you’re still living with strangers, so get into the habit of locking your door.
- Don’t fall into a food routine
It’s super easy to always go to the dining hall closest to you, but that might not always be the best choice or healthiest option.
“You get sick of the food so easily, so try to switch up the dining hall you eat at to make things more interesting,” says Ally, a sophomore at James Madison University. “I went to the dining hall near me for a really long time out of convenience, but I basically just ended up eating pizza for two months. It gets old fast.”
It’s hard to force yourself to make the trek to other dining halls, but not only is it good exercise, it also allows you to switch up your meals and prevents you from being tempted by unhealthy options all the time.
- Don’t bring your entire wardrobe
When packing for college, it can be so tempting to just shove everything in trash bags and trek it to your school. “Don’t bring your whole closet,” Olivia says. “You’ll only end up wearing half of it anyways.”
Trust me, there’s no way you’ll end up wearing your snow pants and high school track suit at school — leave them at home. Only bring the things you’ll wear on a daily basis. And don’t bring a ton of winter clothes, either — bring them back after winter break to save you the hassle of dragging a bunch of clothes back and forth.
Of course, there’s an exception to every rule, and Halle, a junior at Wesleyan University, brings up a great point: “Bring dress-up clothes,” she says, “like weird costume supplies for theme parties and events.” You think you’re prepared for every situation until the mixer theme is “neon” and you realize that you don’t have anything in your closet that will match. Of course, you can always buy these outfits later, but if you’d rather save money and have some party clothes already in your closet, it might be worth it to toss a few into your suitcase.
- You don’t have to hook up with people if you don’t want to
In the movies, college is often depicted as hookup central, but that’s not really the case in real life. Even though you might hear people talk about sex more than they did in high school, it’s not as ubiquitous as peer pressure might make it feel — in fact, a 2018 survey of 19,664 college students conducted by the American College Health Association (ACHA) found that 36.5% of respondents had not had sex in the last 12 months. While that is still a minority, it’s not like you’ll be completely alone if you decide not to partaek in hookup culture.
“Hookup culture [is] toxic,” Halle says. “Don’t feel bad if you don’t have sex every weekend. No one is, even though it seems like they are.” She adds that “at the end of the day, no one actually cares about your sex life,” which is pretty sure — it’s not like you spend all your free time judging other people for how much sex they are or aren’t having, so nobody will be doing that to you, either. In fact, a June 2020 study conducted by researchers at the Kinsey Institute of Indiana University found that nearly half of the 1,559 respondents to their survey reported a decline in their sex life during the pandemic. While some people might be eager to jump back in, it’s probably safe to assume that many others are still testing the waters again. Don’t do anything you aren’t comfortable with — just enjoy yourself and the fact that you’re finally at college, and the rest will happen when you want it to happen.
- You’ll have a lot of downtime
College is all about managing time. Chances are, your days won’t be as filled with classes as they were in high school. The great thing about this is you have a lot more time for extracurricular activities, working out, getting homework done and making friends. Make sure you’re not holing up in your room all the time: go to the library, the quad or any other place on campus when you have some downtime so you can meet other people. The less time you spend in your dorm, the more likely you are to bump into some potential friends.
Of course, don’t feel guilty for wanting some alone time — orientation, and college in general, are exhausting. “Take care of your body because you’re going to get sick a lot,” Halle advises. “Stay in on some weekend nights, treat yourself to soup, go to bed early — college is really tiring, so prepare to self-care.” That’s sound advice to me.
- You might not love it at first
College is a huge transition from high school. Suddenly, you’re living on your own, eating on your own and managing all your time. Sure, on paper that sounds pretty sweet, but it can feel lonely at times.
There’s tons of pressure to make college the best time of your life, but it might not feel that way in the beginning. “When I first started college I didn’t really like it,” says Marie, a senior at the University of South Carolina. “I thought there was no way these people could replace my high school friends and I found myself dying to go home.”
It gets better, though. “Now, I have a hard time leaving,” Marie says. “The friendships I’ve made are so much different than the ones at home and I love my routine at school. It took me a while, but once I got used to it I actually did love it.” Don’t feel pressured to love it at first. Change takes time, but if you put your best foot forward and get involved, you’ll be sure to love your college experience.
Orientation is a great way to learn about scheduling classes, campus activities and basic rules, but it doesn’t give you the ins and outs of campus. With these tips, you’ll be a little more prepared than you were before and ready to take on freshman year.
American College Health Association. (2018). American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Undergraduate Student Reference Group Data Report Fall 2018.
Lehmiller, J.J., et. al. (2020). Less Sex, but More Sexual Diversity: Changes in Sexual Behavior during the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic. Leisure Sciences.