I'll state the obvious: college can be rough, especially when you’re just starting out. Going from high school classes to college classes can be jarring, even if you took college level courses for college credit. However, college can also be a very rewarding experience. As someone who is graduating in just a few months, there are quite a few things I’d have done differently, given the chance. For example, I’d have joined Her Campus much earlier, because it’s wonderful organization full of wonderful people. However, I also would have chosen to leave the blacksmithing club I briefly attended, because it was simply a study into toxic masculinity. But that's besides the point, for all of you in search of a how-to college guide, look no further. Here's what you wish your Freshman Orientation leader actually told you.
1: Join extracurricular groups
These are wholly optional, but can enrich your entire college experience. I know people who’ve had wonderful experiences with sororities, and some who’ve had bad experiences. I know some people who put their heart and soul into extracurricular activities, and some who saw them as an extra box to tick on their resumés. The key here is to join groups you enjoy and allow you to spend time working with people who enrich your life, and to avoid those groups for whom the opposite is true. The only real advice I have here is to consider these groups even if you’re worried about being out of place. Also, on an entirely different note, just avoid fraternities. Even in the best case scenario, they’re hotbeds for toxic masculinity and rape culture, so it’s just not a good environment.
2: Don’t take 18 credit hours
I once met someone in a class who was taking 21 credit hours and working full time. For those of us that have more human capabilities, I recommend between 12 and 16, depending on the classes. If they’re heavy classes with lots of math and science, take fewer. And if they’re general education classes, or easier major classes, you’ll be able to take more. I took no more than 16 my entire college career, and it’s the only reason I haven’t had a mental breakdown yet (there’s still time though!) It’s okay to take an extra year or two, or three, I’m taking five years to complete my metallurgical engineering degree, and I haven’t worked except during the summer. It’s okay to give yourself a break too! Take a summer off, or even a year! You don’t have to be working constantly to have value as a human being, despite capitalism’s lessons. That being said, I know that’s not an option for everyone. If you’re struggling more with money and scholarships, you might be forced to take more credit hours or work while taking classes. That’s not fun, and there’s no easy solution, but remember to take some time for self care.
3: Take care of yourself mentally
I have an article all about this here. To summarize, you’re going to burn out or have a mental breakdown if you ignore your mental health during college. Many of us need therapy and medication, and that’s okay. Take the time you need as if it were a physical illness, and don’t beat yourself up about it.
4. Don’t take 1000 level classes seriously
At first glance, this is a worrying statement. Obviously, you should take your education seriously. But take it from me, introductory classes require way more busy work than anyone needs to perform. They often say things to scare students, especially freshmen. I was told by several professors that they expected we spend at least twice as much time studying outside class than in class. That’s ridiculous, and in all my years of math and science classes, I’ve only encountered one class that required that amount of time investment. (It was Quantum Chemistry, which on average had about 6-10 hours of homework minus the time spent crying)
In reality, all these classes usually require is that you stop caring about doing things perfectly (I have another article about this here) and just force yourself to pump out arguments, equations, or problems. Also, they often require purchasing a wholly unnecessary book, which brings me to my next point.
5: Don’t bother purchasing books
Again, at first glance this is unexpected advice. However, I’ve only ever bought three books in my entire time at this university, and one was unnecessary. Actually, all three were unnecessary, but two classes required the verified purchase of books in order to access the online homework, which is just a scam. Some may learn well with books, and I’m not against learning from them, I just guarantee you can find texts free online for almost every class. I learned more from searching the internet in most classes than I did from a book (and in some cases, the professor) In any case, books are not the requirement they used to be. Even if you need them for the homework problems, there will be one kind soul in your class willing to send you pictures of the problems from their book.
6: Study something you’re passionate about
Some majors have more jobs, and more money offered, but it’s rarely worth studying a subject you don’t care about just to get the jobs. Study what you love, and hope to get a job doing what you love, or one that at least gives you time to pursue what you love.
7: Find a hobby
Classes can get overwhelming and it often feels like you’re doing nothing at all to progress. Find something to do, whether it’s writing, sewing, tinkering, drawing, or anything else that makes you feel like you accomplished something. I’ve found that the art of creation is one of the best cures for hopelessness, despair, and numbing depression. It’s not perfectly effective, and your mileage may vary, but being able to look at something and say “I made that” is often more rewarding than doing well in classes.
8: Don’t party or drink a great deal
This one is controversial, but drinking alcohol is worse for your health and mental stability than most drugs. I understand that partying and drinking might be what you expect from college, but I promise they aren’t going to be healthy experiences. Be careful with all substances, but in particular avoid alcohol. You know that law prohibiting drinking below the age of 21? It’s one of the only science based laws left in our country. There’s evidence that drinking at any age below at least 25, give or take a few years, can be detrimental to your development. And yet, alcohol is the most culturally accepted drug we have, and for once, it’s even worse in other countries. An article on the subject, written by my wonderful editor, can be found here.
9: Be careful with dating
Again, I’ve written about this before here, but dating is tricky in our culture. And the best advice I have for young women, especially those entering college, is to just ignore men. I’m not saying that facetiously, or to be edgy. The reality is that a majority of heterosexual relationships are detrimental to women and beneficial to men. So, don’t date for the sake of dating, or because you’re lonely. Date people who genuinely improve your life and mental health, and who also understand the work classes require. If they’re going to be upset because you prioritize homework over time with them, they can date someone else.
10: Don’t overthink things
I know classes are going to be rough sometimes, especially for those who have a lot on their plate. Take things one at a time, make a list of the work, and do it in order of due date first, then in order of which class you’re least likely to fail (or will be least upset about failing). Math isn’t the monster they’ve made it seem like in high school. Most people just had bad math teachers, or fell behind and could never catch up. I promise, you aren’t bad at math. You might struggle, but once it clicks, you’ll do great. Next, writing also isn’t as difficult as you might think. It’s not hard to just sit down and pump out page after page, and you get good at filling space. The hard part is actually arguing your point or convincingly stating things, in which case length doesn’t matter. Also, on an unrelated and frankly ridiculous note, change all your typing to Comic Sans. I have no idea why, and I hate the font personally, but something about it makes the words flow so much more easily. I write much faster, and somehow even think faster, in Comic Sans.
I’ve mentioned it, but I want to do so again: Take care of yourself. I know classes can be a pain, and other situations can make it worse, but you’ll be okay. And there’s plenty of people (me included) who would love to help and give you advice in your college career. It’s okay to struggle, just keep going. Eventually, you’ll be graduating and surprised it all happened so fast!