This weekend a beautiful thing happened: my facebook feed filled up with pictures of dorm rooms and bittersweet status updates about kids growing up. It’s the time of year that sons and daughters leave the nest for the wide world that is college.
It’s a particularly special fall for me because it was 10 years ago that I was a college freshman myself. If I close my eyes, I can smell that musty old dorm smell and see the layout of the the corner room on the 5th floor that my roommate, Lora, and I shared. I remember all the snow that fell during our first spring break, figuring out which smoothies sold at the store in my building tasted the best, refering to the student union building as the SUB, attending any event that offered free food, finding my place (at school and in myself) and feeling just right. It’s a great feeling. And all of that is at the feet at this new crop of college freshman, some of whom were among the first students I ever taught back when they were itty bitty 7th graders.
I thought it’d be fun to share some advice a la Amy for those embarking on the path to collegiate greatness this fall. From an old lady thinking back on the glory days, I present to you:
Amy’s Advice for College Freshman
- Buy paper towels. Everyone always tells you to wear shoes in the shower (duh), but no one tells you to buy paper towels. Do it. You’ll need them. (Or if you want to do it the cheapskate way that I did, grab handfulls of napkins from the dining hall and take them to your room.)
- Take some strange classes. Your plate will be full with all the hours of classes you need to take, but there will still be time for the occasional class that you want to take. Do it! Your school offers one-of-a-kind classes, strange, random classes and this is your chance to take them.
- Your grades do matter. It’s important that you enjoy yourself. It’s important that you balance fun and academics. But don’t forget why you are there. Those grades can open doors for you. My summa cum laude status (yeah, had to throw that in there) is written clear as day at the top of my resume. The first teaching job I got was based on those grades (my department head told me so!), and every job application I have ever filled out has asked for my college GPA. I never regretted studying as much as I did or saying no to some social activities in favor of making flash cards.
- Go to class. Your professors might not take attendance, but you should be there anyway.
- Figure out how you study best (if you haven’t already). I’m a visual learner, so it was flashcards for everything for me. But maybe you need somone to quiz you or you need pneumonic devices, or you need to do something physical. Whatever it is, do it! (And don’t be afraid to seek out help. Chances are that your school offers free tutoring services. They are there to help you.)
- Leave your dorm room door open, or (better yet) get out of your dorm room. Go to the gym, hop on the campus bus, eat in the dining hall, study in the common area. I spent my first semester holed up in my room playing Gem Drop on my Dell and being utterly homesick. The next semester, I joined a club, found my people, and everything went up from there.
- Be Brave. As a sophomore, I dramatically quit the club I had joined as a freshman. (It involved making a speech in front of everyone in the club during elections and storming out. Very movie-esque.) Even though the shoddy eleciton practices of a small-time club aren’t that important in the scheme of things, it was the first time I really took a stand, and that is important.
- It’s ok to change majors. (If Mom and Dad are footing the bill, they might feel differently, though.) You should spend your time focusing on your passion on something that makes you happy on something you feel good about. If what you are doing isn’t it, make a change. (I was originally studying to be a middle school math teacher, changed to a high school math program, and ultimately settled on ELA middle school teacher.)
- Talk to strangers. (That was the last thing my mom said when she dropped me off. It’s still great advice to this day.)
I could go on like this for days, but I think that is the best combination practical and big picture advice that I have to offer. While I wouldn’t say college was the best time of my life, it was so much better than high school and more care-free than post-college life. It’s a time meant for learning and fun and exploring. Lucky me, I will be going back in October for homecoming. I can already hear the fight song…”we will hit ‘em, we will wreck ‘em…” Oh wait, that’s just Stephen playing the song on his computer at full volume again.
What advice do you have for those bright-eyed, fresh-faced college freshmen? Anything you wish you would have known?