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College Guide: The Freshman 23
Rachael's ultimate insider's list to make your first year easier
Rachael says: Savor every minute of being a college kid. This is an exciting, experimental, defining moment in your life and you should cherish it to the fullest.


I graduated from Armstrong last December with an English Communications degree, and since I’m one of those fabled “got a job straight out of college” types, I’m authorized to give you advice on how to make sure the best years of your life aren’t your worst.


Don’t be fooled. Thanks to the media’s portrayal of college life, I figured my residence hall would be a bacchanalian hellscape of booze, drugs, scantily-clad coeds, and floors so dirty you could never go barefoot. I was partly right, but mostly wrong. There were kids who partied, but not everyone was hitting up the bars and shooting up in the bathrooms. The craziest thing that happened on my hall was the time a kid let a homeless guy live in his room for a night because he felt bad for him (and that was arguably more charitable than scandalous).


Five things you must buy: a bike lock, an oscillating fan, a coffee maker, a good pillow, and a planner. Everything else is optional.


Read the syllabus. Know the syllabus. Be the syllabus.


Make friends with everyone. I befriended a bunch of conservative kids my freshman year, and while they were nice, they didn’t like to expand the group, so I hung out with the same eight kids for a semester. Not fun, especially when our Saturday nights consisted of watching Disney movies and going to bed around 11. I still wish I’d befriended more people my freshman year. College is way less clique-y than high school, seriously, so don’t be afraid to approach someone you think looks like fun.


You probably won’t stay close friends with your high school group. I still talk to several of my friends from home, but some fell off the map because we did different things and grew apart as people. If you value your friendships, start tending to them. Text your friends anytime you think about them or want to talk to them. If the texting stops or gets awkward, it’s a sign you’re not made for each other in your collegiate life.


Don’t go home every weekend! It might be tempting, but stay at school and live your life.


Schedule all your classes after 10 a.m. if you can. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to have an 8 a.m. class after being at school that early all your life, but trust me: it’s not the same, and it’s way harder to get out of bed when your mom isn’t forcing you to wake up.


A word on the “pajama pants to class” issue: Please don’t wear pajama pants to class. It’s gross and screams, “I just woke up and have not showered in days!” If you really can’t bear to wear real pants, invest in some presentable-looking sweats or leggings. Save your fuzzy Superman pants for the bedroom.


Leggings can be pants if you wear a long enough shirt. Leggings saved my life when I overslept. Don’t judge people for wearing leggings.


Never buy your books from the campus bookstore — Amazon all the way. Lots of teachers post their book lists before the semester starts, and you probably can get by without a book for a week of classes if you order them too late.


I never had anyone single me out for being a freshman, but that’s because I didn’t act like one. There are three telltale signs: wearing your student ID on some sort of chain around your neck, wearing any of your school’s attire (i.e., your orientation shirt), and carrying a map around to find your classes. I’m not saying these are inexcusable sins, especially not you SCAD kids because the city is literally your campus — how do you do it?! I’m just saying that these things will set you apart from the upperclassmen and some might be mean to you about it. (I wouldn’t have.)


Make a genuine effort to get along with your roommate, but don’t try to be best friends. It rarely works out. I had the fabled Roommate From Hell my freshman year, and I think it was because we tried so hard to be best friends and run with the same crowd when all we needed was to be cordial enough to live together. Living with someone else requires having mature discussions, being on the same page and communicating often. Focus on being good roommates first; the best friends thing might come along later. Also, a tip: shopping together and halving the cost at the register prevents all those “he ate my food!” squabbles.


Put effort into your classes. Most of your core classes will be large and repeat information you’ve already learned. Does that mean it’s OK not to buy the book, skip every class and show up only for tests? No, because if you flunk out of your core classes, you have to take them again. Skipping one class is not going to kill you, but skipping one class a week will. My best friend, now an admissions counselor at her alma mater, offers these wise words: “You are paying for your education. Not going to class is like paying for the most expensive meal at a restaurant and then not eating it.”


Get involved in anything and everything you can. Networking is one of the most important things you can do in college, and you never know who can be an ally to you later. It also makes your time at school way more fun when you have things to do every night.


“Time management” is the most frequently uttered phrase among all college faculty. You will hear this so much it will start to be replaced with the Charlie Brown adults’ “womp womp” voices. This basically means itemizing what takes up your time, a.k.a. being organized. The easiest way to be organized is to buy a planner and write everything down. Literally everything. I also made a daily to-do list and crossed off things when I did them. It sounds almost anal-retentive (I admit I have a problem) but I always knew exactly when my tests were and what homework I had already done.


I know a lot of people who gained the Freshman 15, and I understand how they did, but I actually lost 15 pounds my freshman year because I went to Zumba at the rec center every Monday and didn’t have enough money to buy junk food.


Call your mother sometimes. She wants to hear from you and know you’re doing well. (If you’re not, say you are.) Never pull a Hannah Horvath from the first episode of “Girls” and drunkenly call your parents, though. That will not go over well.


Partying is going to happen, but it’s up to you whether you want to or not. If you don’t, nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to get righteous about it and act like you’re better than everyone for not drinking, though. Just decline the invite every time and go when you’re ready.


If you do party, be smart about it. Don’t mix drinks. Pick one alcohol and stick with it. Drink water and eat grains. Don’t do more than you know you can handle. Don’t party with people you think wouldn’t have your back if you got in trouble. Don’t let anyone go anywhere alone. There’s a reason all girls go to the bathroom in packs! If you see a bad situation going south, intervene. Never leave your drink alone and never accept anything from anyone you don’t trust. Get an Uber if nobody wants to be the DD. This should be drilled into all of your heads!


If you do party, try not to take so many pictures. (This is more a tip for my past self.)


Only walk in well-populated areas, day or night. Crime doesn’t happen only after nightfall. If you must walk in an area that sketches you out, carry some pepper spray and know how to use it.


It’s cool to study and do well on the exams, but make sure you have some fun, too. Some of my greatest stories come from my college days, and my only regret is that I don’t have more to share. Contrary to popular belief, you can have fun and still do well in college. Almost everyone knows at least one person who has flunked out because they went too hard freshman year, but it doesn’t mean you will, too. The key is knowing when you need to work and having fun when you get a break. Know those deadlines!


That phrase about how college is over before you know it? It seriously is, and I’m not just saying that because I graduated in three and a half years. Savor every minute of being a college kid. This is an exciting, experimental, defining moment in your life and you should cherish it to the fullest. Don’t be afraid of change and have as much fun as you can before you enter the real world, where being at work by 8 a.m. is non-negotiable.

Have a great first year!