Having finished my first semester as a college student, it is strange to think that a year ago I was sitting at a desk in a classroom with other students who I had known for nearly my entire life. Now, I just finished my 6-week winter break, and I'm already excited to be back on campus for this semester.
Your first semester of college is a unique experience, and you really get from it what you put in. At least from my experience these past few months, I hope I can shed some light on what graduating high school seniors can expect when they arrive on campus next fall.
How would you describe the move-in process?
In a word… hectic. Hundreds, or thousands, of other students and their families will be bustling about the dorms trying to unpack the car they just drove 200 miles to campus. Since I went on a pre-orientation trip, I was able to move in a day early, but the next morning the dorms were packed. Overall, though, the move-in process is really exciting. Although your parents might help you move in, and you might have more clothes and assorted possessions than you know what to do with, you really get to design your room from scratch. The feeling of unpacking everything and feeling prepared to live on your own is indescribable. One tip: unpack everything the day you arrive; even if you are tired from traveling or lugging everything up to your room, having to unpack things that you need once classes start can be a hassle.
What should you do for the first few days, before you’ve made new friends?
The first week of school is a time to be outgoing. I remember thinking it was weird to wake up and not really know anyone else in my hallway the first day I was at school, but most other people were having the same experience. Anyone who is willing to socialize will usually leave their door open, so either go with your roommate or the first person you meet and walk around to people’s rooms. Even if the door is closed, don’t be afraid to knock. It is really easy to start conversations with people who you know nothing about at college, just ask them where they’re from and what they’re planning to study. Within the first ten minutes of walking around my floor I had met four or five people who live relatively close to me, and two people who plan on pursuing the same major. Your school will also host events around campus for students to meet each other; go to as many as you can. The majority of my close friends at college are people I met during the first week or two. If you see people gathering for a game of frisbee on a quad, or starting a game of cards in the lounge, don’t be afraid to join them. Most people are eager to make friends, and no one will fault you for being overly friendly at the beginning of the semester.
What’s it like living with a roommate?
Living with a roommate has its pros and cons. For example, my roommate has a different sleep schedule than me, so sometimes I go to sleep with the lights on. However, your roommate is the easiest person to become friends with. I recommend establishing a ‘roommate code’ during the first week about what you are/aren’t okay with in the room. Also, try to get to know your roommate before classes start, in case the two of you won’t have many classes together. If you and your roommate are willing to share food, school supplies, etc. your life will be a lot easier when you lose your calculator the morning of a test or decide you need a snack at 2:00 AM. My roommate and I don’t hang out all of the time, but in the room we listen to music, help each other with work, or just talk, and I’ve come to like having someone to bounce ideas off of when I’m too tired to do anything else. Of course, not everyone has a roommate, but the people in your dorm are close enough where they serve the same purpose. I probably spend more time in the room across the hall from mine than in my own room. That room is always open if I want to walk in, which is a relief when my room is empty and I want to watch a movie or gather a group of people for basketball.
How do college classes compare to high school classes?
In terms of content, college classes are definitely harder than high school classes. You learn more difficult content, which becomes more and more specialized as you progress through your major, and you also move at a much faster pace than in high school. In terms of the quantity of work, college may actually give out less than high school. In college, you take less classes, and you have less assignments and tests, but each one is worth a lot. Also, the problems are significantly more difficult than what you learn in class. The good thing about college, though, is that all of your friends are within walking distance, so collaboration is easy. If you and your friends establish a day of the week to work on ‘X’-class’s homework, and a time to study for ‘Y’-class’s quiz, you shouldn’t spend any more time on your work in college than you did in high school.
What are the biggest adjustments you have to make during your first semester?
The independence of college life is shocking at first. You have to decide for yourself when you can go out with your friends, when you can spend money for food, clothes, or other activities, when to eat, when to do laundry, etc. Also, waking up at 8am in College feels like waking up at 6am in high school, so if you don’t use an alarm now, you will soon. I always had a planner in high school, but I definitely ignored it most of the time. In college, your planner is a life-saver when you have to set a date for some event a month in advance and remember to attend it when the day comes. Also, the activities you join in college are a much larger time commitment than high school. While I might have been involved in five or six extracurricular activities in high school, two or three extracurriculars in college is a lot to manage. You have to make some tough decisions on what you enjoy doing, and what just isn’t worth the time. Ironically, however, you have a lot more free time in college because you have the luxury of designing your schedule; learning how to use that free time productively, though, is pretty challenging. While in high school you might have gone to play sports or watch Netflix whenever you had a free hour, but college forces you to think ahead. You might go to a seminar on resume-building, or fill out some applications for an on-campus organization you are interested in. Most likely, you will study for your next big exam (trust me, one weekend is not enough time to study for two or three midterms or finals, you need to start studying in advance). Once you figure out your routine, college becomes a lot less stressful, and by the middle of your first semester you should feel in control of your life.
If you’ve heard all of this before, or if you aren’t so sure that’s what your college experience will be like, that’s fine. Your first semester of college is a once-in-a-lifetime journey, so come at it with whatever mindset will allow you to enjoy it most. Prepare yourself to accept different opinions, try new activities, and get along with very different people. And don’t blink, because it’s over before you know it!
– Alex is currently a freshman at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. He plans to major in chemical engineering, and minor in business.