Transitions are hard. When high school finished, I truly believed I was about to get everything I wanted. I was 18, going to university across the country, and finishing the planning for my big solo trip to Europe. Surely, all this meant I was an adult. Little Maggie had dreamed of this moment.
Graduation meant leveling up.
With all the arrogance of someone who thinks they’re prepared for everything, I barely listened to what people had to tell me about going to university. No matter what they told me, my first year was going to be perfect. I wouldn’t have regrets or mistakes to learn from.
I don’t know if that was optimism or just plain foolishness, but I do have some regrets and mistakes to learn from. Hopefully, you’ll listen to my advice more than I would have. I’m not saying that finishing my first year means I know best (or even that I know anything at all), but I do think it grants me some authority on the subject of surviving freshman year. I made it out alive after all.
ONE – You don’t have to become best friends with the first people you meet
I’m a shy person. In a room full of people, you’ll probably find me near the snacks stuffing my face so I don’t have to make small talk. Moving to a new city means creating a new support system and I was desperate to create one. I found some (lovely) girls in my hall and befriended the heck out of them. We became inseparable. I have nothing mean to say about these girls, and we’re still friends, but they weren’t the main support system I needed.
Being me, I thought that because I made friends with them first that was it. The friend groups had already been formed on campus. Better luck next time. But that isn’t the case. There isn’t a time limit to when you can make friends. Continue making friends all year and shifting who you hang out with until you find a group (or one person) that vibes well with you.
That being said, you also don’t have to become best friends with your roommate. Be friendly with them and communicate, you are sharing a very small room with them, but you don’t have to become best friends. Help them out when they’re sick (either because of cold and flu season, or that party they went to last night) and don’t leave them hanging. You don’t have to become best friends with your roommate, but you do have to live with them. Remember that.
TWO – don’t feel pressured to drink (but do go to parties)
I’m not a big drinker. I just don’t see the appeal of getting drunk. In fact, I didn’t start drinking until I was 18 (the legal age where I live). So I’m no stranger to being the DD or the sober friend at a party. During frosh week, lots of people make friends by drinking at parties. A lot of my friends don’t have the best memory of what happened during those five days because of this and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just not my style. I’ve found that, typically, no one cares if you’re the sober one at a party.
While drinking can make parties more fun for some people, don’t feel pressured to join in if that’s not your style. But do try to show up to parties. Like I said, it’s a great way to meet new people or bond with your friends. I never want to go to parties, but I always make myself go if I’m invited or if I know of one. Unless there’s a really good reason to stay in that night, go for at least an hour and a half. I almost always end up wanting to stay longer once I’ve made an appearance. If after the time is up (and you’ve been kissing some babies and shaking some hands – gotta make an effort while you’re there), you still don’t want to be out, then go back home. I promise you won’t regret going out.
THREE – Make time for your friends (off campus)
There’s a reason they say the first year is hard and why your stomach is probably doing flip flops thinking about it. University is a lot different than high school and learning how to transition can be difficult. Sometimes, in the craziness people forget the importance of making time for friends off campus. At least once a week leave your dorm rooms and the library behind (if only for an hour) and do something fun with your friends. It can be something as simple as going for a walk through the park or as complicated as a day trip to a nearby town. As long as you’re leaving campus and doing something enjoyable, it’s worth it.
My biggest regret from my first year is that I didn’t spend enough time exploring my new city – alone or with friends. I spent a lot of time in the library and a lot of time watching Netflix. Exploring with friends can be a great way to get to know people and find your favourite spot in town. Even if you live with your friends (either as roommates or just in the same building) making time for them shows that you care about the friendship, and it isn’t just a passive thing.
FOUR – study smarter, not harder
This is probably the thing that took me the longest to figure out. Studying in university took something different than the study methods I’d developed in high school. In my three years of high school, I can count on one hand the number of times I studied with friends. In my last year of university, I can only give you a ballpark figure. For me, study groups saved my grades second semester.
After realizing that not only was spending hours alone in the library ruining my mood, but it also wasn’t doing anything for my grades I decided to change my tactics. Because I’m me, I went to Pinterest to find study tips. While some of them were helpful, others weren’t that great. It took a lot of trial and error but eventually I found some study methods that work really well for me. Now, instead of spending all of my free time in the library and feeling drained every day, I spend about half that time studying and noticed an increase in my energy and general happiness.
FIVE – take advantage of things happening on campus
I lived on campus my first year so really I have no excuse for not participating in campus activities. I heard about a lot of them through my school’s facebook page and group, but I only attended maybe 10% of the things that interested me. Why? Because I’m lazy. I even missed things like free mini donuts in the quad because I didn’t want to walk the eight minutes it took to get there. It’s a silly thing to regret, but as of writing this post it’s been three months since free donut day and I’m still feeling upset that I missed it.
There are so many (free!) things to do on and around campus. Unless there’s something major that stops you from going, try to make it to as many of the events as possible. The same goes for joining clubs on campus. Everyone says you shouldn’t join a million clubs, but I don’t see why not! Try a bunch of them out. Who knows if that assassin’s club or feeding squirrels is for you! You won’t regret going to get free donuts, but you may regret not going for months to come.
SIX – make friends with people on campus
Even if your campus is huge, there are people you see every day. It could be the student at the coffee shop you frequent or the nice lady who serves in meal hall. If you see these people daily, make friends with them. At the very least learn and remember their name. There’s no particular reason for this. I just think it’s respectful. I know a lot of people who didn’t even bother learning the names of the people who cleaned the dorms (whom we saw almost daily) or served food in the meal hall.
This also includes befriending your professors. Not every professor is going to want to become friends, but you can go to them during office hours often and develop a professional relationship (which is probably better anyway). While I go to a small university, so this is probably easier for me, getting to know the professors can make a difficult class that much easier to pass. I haven’t heard of a single professor that hates talking about the subject they teach, usually, they’re passionate about something to do with the class (that’s why they teach that it!). Luckily, my classes were all about 12 people so my profs all knew my name, but if you have a class of over a hundred, make it a goal to have the professor remember you by the end of the semester.
SEVEN – find your muffin (or practice self-care)
One piece of advice I got when I was preparing to go off to university, was to find my muffin. The moral of the story is find what makes you happy and use it as a self-care routine. Self-care is so important, and it’s something I feel most people forget about. If you don’t give yourself any time to relax (whether relaxing for you is watching Netflix or hanging out with friends) then you’re going to burn out. Your body will fight you, and you’ll get sick. Even if it’s just something small you can add to your day, like sitting under your favourite tree on campus or eating your favourite muffin, remembering what makes you happy is a survival skill.
The story basically goes that my aunt loved this coffeeshop on campus because they sold the best muffins she’d ever had. It was a little place, but just going inside to get her favourite muffins could improve her mood instantly. Because of the muffins magical qualities, she often saved the trip for a rainy day so as not to overuse the muffin’s powers. The muffins became a comfort food for her four years and were a form of self-care.
EIGHT – you probably don’t need it
Imagine this: it’s your first year and you’re moving across the country. As you get ready to move into your dorm room for the year, you remember you don’t have access to everything in your parents house anymore. That thought is a little terrifying so you overbuy and suddenly your dorm is filled with things you’ve never taken out of the box. This story, or something similar to it, happened to a lot of my friends and it’s bound to happen to you. One of the best decisions I made was to wait to buy a lot of things for my dorm until I was fully moved in. Sure, this meant that I had a very poorly decorated and kind of gross dorm for the first week or so, but it also meant that everything in my dorm was something I needed (but even then I ended up with a junk drawer).
When going through all the lists on Pinterest (like this one!) about what to bring to school, it’s easy to think you need everything. But I’ve seen lists that say you should buy an ottoman to double as extra storage and a chair. I don’t know about you guys, but there is no way my dorm would have been able to fit an ottoman. I would have been stubbing my toe on the daily. If that’s your thing, go right ahead and buy extra furniture, but remember you’re moving out of your dorm after exams in the spring. Do you really want to pack all of this away?
NINE – Facebook is amazing
Facebook is popular for a reason. My school might only be a thousand kids strong, but we have so many Facebook groups dedicated to selling old textbooks, clothing, questions about certain majors, incoming students, different clubs – you name it. I’m sure my school isn’t the only one. Check Facebook often for updates on events happening around your campus or maybe that textbook you’ve been dreading buying is being sold for half price!
It’s also a good way to keep in touch with your friends from back home. This is something I didn’t do that often, and there’s no excuse. I still love my friends from high school, but I thought they couldn’t possibly understand what I was going through my first year (most of them took a gap year). While everything went back to normal when we were in the same city again, keeping in touch with friends and continuing to grow those old relationships is super important if you want to maintain those friendships. If you don’t want to, that’s all you, but if you can’t see them everyday, at least send them a crazy Snapchat.
TEN – don’t be afraid to get creative with your food
Either in meal hall or in your dorm room, getting creative is the key to eating well when living in dorms. I’ve learned how to make pasta with a kettle and a travel mug in desperate times. Sometimes I think first year is just a test to see who would make the best MacGyver or who would win survivor (hint: not me). Until this year, I never fully appreciated people who could take what seems to be nothing, either in meal hall or their room, and turn it into something cool. It turns out, this is a useful skill and something I should have been working on for years before I moved out of my parent’s house.