If you’re a first-year student reading this, welcome to campus! This blog post was written with you (and all your worries and fears ) in mind. Both this year and last I’ve gotten to campus early and seen more than 3,000 first-year students arrive and begin getting settled and getting used to campus. In addition, my brother is starting his first year at college, so I thought why not make my first blog post of the school year a helpful guide to navigating your first semester successfully. Morgan, if you’re reading this, this one’s for you.
1. Get sleep (and take care of yourself!)
I literally cannot overstate how important this is. I know that you think that you can handle a full course load and six different extracurriculars and get to class on one meal and three hours of sleep. You can’t. You cannot compensate with caffeine forever, and starting off any semester sleep deprived is a surefire way to sink both your grades and your mood. Burnout is real, and you don’t want it to happen to you in October when you’re approaching midterms—yikes.
Drink water. Eat a vegetable now and again. Don’t skip (every) class—yes, I believe this falls under the category of taking care of yourself, because if you fall behind now, you’ll be that much more stressed about trying to catch up later. Set yourself up for success for the whole semester.
2. Take risks—and don’t be afraid to fail
I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times before, but this is the time to try new, different, exciting, and even frightening things. I’ve heard so many people say they want to audition for a performance group or try out a new sport or run for student council, but they’re afraid of screwing up or being judged. Don’t be afraid! From my experience, Every. Single. Group. on campus is thrilled at the possibility of new members. Even if they’re audition only and you don’t make it, so what? You have plenty more chances. I’ve auditioned for a cappella something like nine times at this point, and I’m still trying. At the very worst, it’s kind of embarrassing, but no one will look down on you or judge you, I promise. This applies to not doing things as well. All your friends are joining volleyball but you’re not interested? You don’t have to go. Realize you overbooked your schedule? Drop a class. People care way less than you think about your decisions than you think, and not taking on so much might turn out to be a blessing when you’re swamped in two months and wishing you had less on your plate.
3. Make new friends—both on your hall and off
College is a total reboot when to comes to making friends. You suddenly don’t have the same people to fall back on that you’ve had through high school. I didn’t know a single person when I arrived on campus, including my roommate, which I know is most people’s experience. At most, you maybe know a friend or two from your hometown but even that is unlikely. This is where people like your roommate (or roommates) and other people on your hall come in. In my opinion, these are vital friendships for surviving orientation events, the first weeks of classes, and more.
But while those friends you make on your hall, your floor, even your building, are incredibly important, you don’t want to rely on them all year. Branching out is important, and so is making friends with people who share your interests. It’s really easier than it sounds. You can make friends in classes, through extracurriculars, or even just in the dining halls or Starbucks. Something as simple as asking to borrow a pen can lead to a lasting friendship. All you have to do is reach out.
4. Ask the experts (upperclassmen, your professors, TAs, etc.)
Who knows more about Rochester than people who have been there, working or teaching or studying for years already? I know every new student has the irrational fear that any upperclassmen they dare to approach will ignore or ridicule their request for help. The likelihood of that is essentially zero. Even students who don’t know exactly what you’re looking for will try their best to be helpful, and you might even make a friend or find out an extra tip that will help you in the future. I always let first years who ask for directions know that SnapMap is a great way to figure out which buildings are which in areas like the engineering, first-year, or Eastman quads.
When it comes to classes, go to office hours, talk to your professors, let your workshop leaders know when you need help. Friends are great but these are people who are being paid to teach you. Might as well get your money’s worth. And, like above, there’s never going to be a professor who’s mad at you for asking.
Oh, and as a bonus, be nice to the staff! The people who work in the dining centers, the dorms, the numerous offices on campus… a nice smile and a warm hello makes a big difference.
5. Take time to be alone
With so many new clubs, sports, cultural and academic groups, and so many other opportunities, it can be tempting to fill your days with rehearsals, practices, and social events with friends. But this can lead to burnout of a different kind.
My housemate Ben Weinberg says that most people think of college as divided between academic and non-academic time, but “It’s actually academic time, social time, and personal time. You can’t forget about the personal time.” Just because you aren’t in class doesn’t mean you have to be actively doing something “fun” with people. It’s okay to kick back and watch a movie, or go to dinner or for coffee by yourself. I’d suggest even leaving your phone and laptop in your room, to disconnect from that feeling of always having to be tuned into everything that’s happening. Go for a swing outside Sue B. or take a nap in one of the pods in Gleason library. Many new students struggle with alone time. It’s hard to avoid a serious case of FOMO, but the relief from being free of commitment is really freeing… and underrated, in my opinion.
I’m sure plenty of you are rolling your eyes saying “Thanks mom. But I know all this.” Or “You don’t want me to have any fun!” I DO want you to have fun, but college is long, and it’s not always easy, and it’s not a race to see who can go to the most parties, or survive on the least hours of sleep. And no matter what happens, you’ll be okay in the end. Just focus on one thing at a time, and do your best. That’s all anyone can ask for.