Everything I Wish I Knew My First Semester: The Work, Sleep, Eat - Repeat Edition

Welcome back! This is the second part of the "Everything I Wish I Knew My First Semester" series. Last time we talked about classes and schedule-building, but in this section we'll be discussing work, housing, and meal plans. Get ready babes, we're going to be pulling an eight hour shift on everything first semester. So let's jump right in!



It’s not uncommon for students to find themselves working to establish residency or to pay their tuition payments. I started work at the beginning of the semester, with no idea how many hours of work I should schedule myself for. I thought, if college is as easy as high school, I could easily work almost 20 hours each week. The moment I said this to my friends and coworkers from my summer job, they told me to change my schedule as soon as I could. As a full-time student taking more than the required 12 credits, for a student’s first semester, I recommend working a maximum of 20 hours. That being said, I am privileged enough to have scholarships covering my tuition, and I have help from my parents paying part of my housing bill. My recommendation is only from my own situation, so if a student needs to work 40 hour weeks to pay for their school, I am not saying that this is not valid. But for a first-year student who is studying for ~15 credit hours, and wants a job on the side, I would recommend only working up to 20 hours each week. 


Moving in on the first day, I was convinced that I had everything I would ever need and then some when it came to my apartment. The boxes and bags filled up my mom’s Ford to the point that I thought pillows and books would fall on my head, if she took a hard right turn. My arms burned after lifting, moving, and sorting everything I had brought for the apartment. It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized what I was missing. After asking my roommates, I figured out that we were all missing a lot of the essentials. So when you’re checking your list of all the things you need to pack, make sure you have....

  • Office supplies: tape, scissors, a stapler, paper clips, and of course lots of extra pencils and pens. I can’t tell you how many times I cut things with a steak knife because no one in the dorm had scissors. Also, basic office supplies can come in very handy when something inevitably breaks in the dorm. Who fixed the Christmas lights with a paperclip and some tin foil? This girl. 
  • Electronics:
    • Laptop: There’s a variety of debate when it comes to what type, and how old of a laptop a college student should purchase. Should you save money and go for an older, lesser name brand? Or should you buy the brand new, swanky laptop with the ability to draw and use Siri? My laptop was definitely my largest purchase before school started. Before you go shopping, think about how you plan on using the computer you’re purchasing. I personally chose a brand new Apple laptop, since I had used Apple processors all throughout my childhood, and I knew I’d need a laptop to write papers and research throughout my major and beyond. I didn’t need a laptop that I could literally write my notes with a stylus pen. This might be handy for an extremely tactile learner, or a student with an art emphasis, but being able to write and draw wasn’t my top priority. And yes, I got the slide touch bar, but in the end it was really just an add-on to the bill. Make sure to choose a laptop that fits your need, not just an aesthetic. 
    • Accessories: My bed was lofted this past semester, and a regular phone charger just does not reach 5ft. In the first semester, I bought a cheap 10ft cord so that I could roll around in bed and turn off my alarms, check Instagram before bed, and watch Netflix with ease. Definitely worth an extra five bucks. If you buy a newer laptop, make sure that you have all the basic cords to charge your phone via USB, play movies by HDMI on the communal screen (most dorms will allow you to play movies and shows if you have the cord), and buy an extra set of earbuds because we all know they have a mind of their own. 
    • Cutlery: Even though it sounds like something out of Downton Abbey, nothing feels better than having your own set of silverware, dishes, glasses, and mugs. Especially if you’re living in an apartment or community with a kitchen, buy your own gear for munching. Yes, it’s nice to be able to borrow your roommates’ plates here and there to make pizza rolls, but even your roommate who wouldn’t hurt a fly, will start to get peeved when they can’t make food because all of their dishes are dirty. Even if you’re living on that meal plan life (which trust me, will be discussed later), having your own cutlery is nice when having friends over to serve the snacks that you bought at the cafeteria. Or better yet, coordinate with your roommates and buy things in bulk together so that you save space for more food! Yum!
    • Laundry: I honestly have never used the bleach I got as a graduation gift, but I love knowing that I have it just in case. I also have an ample amount of laundry detergent for each semester. The 40 fl.oz detergent bottle is perfect for washing laundry every other week. Also, get a stain stick and throw it in your bag. You never know when disaster may strike.
  • Decorations: My dorm has one consistent color: beige. Almost every wall is a shade of mind-numbing, boredom inducing beige that can easily scream “shady hotel” rather than “home, sweet home”. Collaborate with your roommates to figure out how you’re going to decorate your apartment. Admittedly, most of the decorations in the apartment came from my own paycheck, because I couldn’t handle being in such a bland space. It’s interesting how a person’s surroundings can affect their mental health, and I found out quickly that I need comfort in my surroundings to feel safe and protected. Go out to Ikea, buy some lamps, split a payment on a couch, go find cute lights to add more warmth, pick out some posters to plaster on the wall, add a tapestry - whatever it takes to make your dorm feel like a home. These decorations can be taken to your next apartment, and split amongst your roomies once everyone moves out too! A win-win!


Meal Plans:

When I was looking at what meal plan to choose, I remember my mom’s voice echoing in my head saying “you’re definitely going to need at least three meals a day on your meal plan”. Whatever you do, do not listen to that voice. Meal plans are ridiculously overpriced and only provide underwhelming food. I purchased the smallest block meal plan that I could find (40 meals over the course of the semester and $400 flex dollars) and I was still struggling to use it all by the end of the semester. Most schools give “flex dollars” or some equivalent that allows you to purchase almost anything on campus (except the *cough cough* really good food trucks that you actually want to buy food from), so one would assume that it’s better to buy a larger package of meals and flex so that you’re never hungry, right? No. 

Meal plans are a convenient way for the university to snag another dollar from students, because they’re a bulk package that seems convenient, when in reality, the food gets old in less than a month and students end up drowning in the extra meals they don’t want to eat. This leads to money going to waste by the end of the semester unless in the off chance meals and flex roll over. At the U, flex dollars roll over to the next semester, but they do not roll over to the next term. So say you didn’t use 150 flex dollars fall semester, now you’re beginning spring semester with 550 dollars that must be spent by May, or else it goes to waste. 

It is so important that to honestly think about the things you like to eat before the semester. I thought I would be fine going to the salad bar and getting curry from the Heritage Center, but after a few too many undercooked potatoes and underwhelming options, I found myself cooking more at my apartment. I didn’t realize that some of my favorites would never be served anymore because they weren’t a “popular” dining option. So if I really wanted a stir fry, a decent chili, or a gyro, I’d have to make it myself, or go out and find it at a restaurant off-campus. It sounds ridiculous, but trust me, you do not need 21 meals per week or 150 meals per semester. Even with just 40 meals, I had to force myself to go eat at the dining locations at least twice a week in the hopes of reducing my meals, a deadline I barely made by the way. 

But one pro-tip for trying to cut down a meal plan: buy items in bulk at the markets around campus. Right before finals I stocked up on freezer burritos, smoothies, chips, snacks, and candy. Having something ready to go when I was running to study groups, hosting study sessions, or finishing an essay at 3am was extremely convenient. Figure out when the markets get their new stock and then you too can feast like a frozen meal king come finals. 

If you do have access to a kitchen, figure out some meals you enjoy eating, something that reminds you of home, and something that you can make in less than ten minutes. It doesn’t matter if it’s Kraft mac and cheese, or your mom’s best leftover turkey soup, make sure that you have food that you truly enjoy. This semester I’ve been lucky to experiment with a lot of cooking, and now I’m the proud owner of my own spice rack, a variety of sauces, and even a legit cookbook! Have fun with your meals when you have time, it’s a great way to relax and do something good for yourself. Not to mention, cooking is a skill that takes time to develop, so it’s best to start early!

When it comes to the grind, it's important to budget yourself out with classes, work schedule, and seriously how much money you're spending. Try and get organized this semester to know your hours, your schedule, and like last time, be willing to relinquish a stressful schedule for the sake of your happiness. Everything will become wild come the end of the semester anyways, so overloading from the beginning of the semester is a quick way to burn out. Ask your boss for a few less hours if you can manage it, maybe organize work hours so they are spread throughout the week rather than just several long days, and check your meal plan to see the ways you can save! Best of luck my dear reader, see you next time when we talk roommates and college friendships!

Image Sources: 1, 2 (me in my dorm on the first day), 3