Upon writing this article, I’ve officially been a freshman in college for 27 days--just about a month. This month has been a whirlwind of change, most of it related to the COVID-19 pandemic as Notre Dame shut down and started up again in an effort to temper any outbreaks. But even with the Zoom classes and face masks and 6-feet-apart social distancing, the things I’ve learned in the past month have been more about everyday life in college than anything else. I’ve learned basic survival skills particular to Notre Dame -- don’t step on God Quad unless you want to fail your theology, avoid DeBart “water” like the plague, and download Grubhub before you even walk into Duncan or LaFun. Yet, the vast majority of what I’ve learned are tips that sum up the generic college experience -- things that everyone seems to experience but no one seems to say much about. Here are 10 things I wish people had told me about the first month of college.
- That first night, and/or the next day, will most likely be miserable.
It just will. My roommate cried in bed her first night. I woke up the next morning so nervous I threw up in the bathroom. I promise you -- it gets better, and it gets better very quickly. That first week, we were so busy with decorating the room and participating in dorm festivities that we didn’t have much time to think about missing home. Then classes started, and we really didn’t have time. Just because of the campus pace, you adjust fast: about two weeks in, I was already devastated at the possibility of going home when campus had to shut down due to a COVID outbreak.
- The initial get-to-know-you conversations are painful. Force yourself to keep having them.
By the end of “Welcome Week,” if I would have had one more superficial conversation about where I’m from, I am convinced I would have lost it. The conversations are repetitive. They’re boring, and 90% of the time you walk away not remembering their name, and she becomes “the girl in the pink tank top from Farley, or maybe Howard.” But that other 10 percent? They become your acquaintances, who may ultimately become genuine friends, and they are invaluable your first month. So, have the conversations, even if you know and they know that no one cares if you’re from Chicago or they’re from Pittsburgh.
- Even though you’re paying some absurd amount of money for the meal plan, really, really temper your expectations upon your first swipe in.
Now, this is one where COVID-19 likely plays a role in my experience, as I’ve been told that the pre-packaged dining hall food we’re eating now is significantly worse than the food is in normal years. But in this past month, my experiences with NDH and SDH have left much to be desired. We’ve been mostly surviving on dry chicken sandwiches and mushy pasta that manages to be simultaneously overcooked and undercooked. I have no idea how those with dietary restrictions are even surviving at this point. Point being: you will use your Flex Points, a bowl of GoldFish back at the dorm will become “lunch”, you will need to use Amazon Whole Foods Delivery. Make sure you have ample space for a refrigerator or some sort of snacks area in your dorm room.
- Just leave it at home (And, at the same time, think about what you actually need.)
For some reason, I brought about 30 pairs of socks and at least five sweatshirts/jackets I’ve yet to wear, but neglected acetone, which I needed to take off my acrylic nails. I ended up ripping them off with dental floss the night before classes. It was not my best moment, so pack lightly, and wisely. (Side note on the acrylic nails -- you may think you’ll be able to keep up with having acrylic nails. You won’t. Get them taken off before you come to campus.)
- Those friends you make during “Welcome Week” festivities probably aren’t your forever friends; they’re friends of convenience. It doesn’t matter. Hang with them anyways.
The first couple weeks on campus, little friend groups form within dorms and out on the quads. Chances are, whichever group you choose won’t be your friend group at the end of freshman year, or even at the end of the first month of school. But don’t go into freshman year with the mindset of finding your “forever friends” immediately. Just get to know people, say yes when people invite you to do something with them, and your closer friends will come naturally.
- Get a Brita. You will be hard-pressed to find decent water on campus.
Depending on where you’re coming from, it can be difficult to adjust to the water quality on campus, especially since a college campus typically does not have the best water. Upon arriving at Notre Dame, I quickly found this to be true -- the water in my dorm tastes like metal and I was quickly told to avoid DeBart water. When the biggest academic building, which houses most of your classes, has inedible water… just get the Brita and thank me later.
- RateMyProfessor.Com is probably the Bible.
You likely didn’t have much control over choosing your professors as an incoming freshman, leaving you at the mercy of your freshman advisor. Once you know who your professors will be, research them on RateMyProfessor or ask upperclassmen in your dorm about their experiences with your professors. If you know you’re stuck with a bad one, don’t wait to have your parents ship over your calculus notes from high school.
- Get a tree hammock, or bring Spikeball, or something!
The first week freshmen are on campus, classes aren’t happening yet and people are just milling around on the quads trying to get to know people. It helps to bring a Spikeball set (which unbeknownst to me is super popular at Notre Dame), a set of cards, or tree hammocks just as activities to help you make friends.
- The autonomy is a huge transition … be generous with yourself.
Going from an uber-scheduled day of high school classes and after-school activities to the more blank canvas of college is difficult. There’s temptation, especially at Notre Dame, to spend all your free time studying. School’s important, but be kind to yourself… I literally spent an entire Tuesday morning lying on my floor watching TikTok. It will be OK if you push the homework to the afternoon. Sometimes, you need the break, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it.
- College is so much change all at once, so find things that keep you sane.
Try to find some normalcy to keep yourself sane. Even though Welcome Week is busy, find the time to put up pictures of your family, friends, and (in my case) Harry Styles on your wall. With family and friends back home, FaceTime is a godsend. Once classes start rolling, find the time to go for walks around the lake once or twice a week. Also, Insomnia Cookies delivers up until 3 a.m., and the cookies are warm… Need I say more?