Surviving College in The First Year

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The first year in college is filled with momentous life changes. Some of them will be lifelong, others will only last as long as you are in school. A few will be suggestions your parents have been making for years, and some will “just happen.” They will impact how you live as a freshman surviving college.

Of course, this is assuming you will go to college. OutOfYourRut.com frequently offers alternatives to getting a degree with sound arguments. This article is only for those (and their parents) who are convinced the four years invested at a university is worthwhile and ultimately valuable. And everything we present is subject to customization. Use your imagination and be innovative with these starting points.

Dr. Randell Hansen, Ph. D., writes, “It doesn’t really matter what you did in high school as you make the transition to college. High school success (or lack of it) doesn’t automatically apply to college. You start college with a clean academic slate, along with a lot of independence and a myriad of critical decisions as you begin the transition into adulthood. The decisions that you make and the actions you take during this first year of college will have a major impact on the rest of your college experience.”

Surviving College in The First Year
Surviving College in The First Year
“According to American College Testing (ACT), one in every four college students leaves before completing their sophomore year — and nearly half of all freshmen will either drop out before obtaining a degree or complete their college education elsewhere.”

But don’t get the idea we’re trying to discourage you. Keep reading and you’ll find some tips on how to make that changeover easier.

Your Finances

How do you keep from overdrawing your checking account? And let’s be realistic here; you’re going to need your own, local checking account. A checking account not a credit card! The banks will make a gazillion offers to you for credit cards, with the goal of your getting so immersed in debt you’ll be obligated to them forever. Every college town has a bank catering to students. Look for it when you visit the campus before you enroll. Then once you get there, open an account immediately. It’ll save lots of hassles when you pay with a local check, not one drawn on your bank in Ypsilanti.

When you open that account, it will likely have a condition that you maintain a minimum balance to avoid monthly charges. Make your initial deposit for that minimum balance plus what you think you’ll need until your next infusion of cash. IMMEDIATELY in your records, deduct the amount of that balance requirement from the balance. That way in your mind, you will not have that cushion.

Budget! At least for the first six months. Keep detailed records of every penny you spend. At the end of a month, go back and categorize everything. From that you can develop a spending plan, estimating what you will spend for things in advance. Now, take your next bundle of money (whether from your folks or a job, stipend, whatever) and put in an envelope labeled with each type of expense the amount you expect to spend for it. During the next month, when the cash in that envelope is gone, that’s all you can spend until the next deposit. Check out Dave Ramsey for the details of how to use the “envelope system” in controlling your budget.

Don’t buy new textbooks; used ones have the same content and there’s no shame in using them, and it can cut your expenses by a major amount.

Watch the snack and junk food, not only for your health’s sake but for your wallet. Five trips to the Golden Arches a week can burn big holes in your pockets.

It’s not “geeky” to take advantage of the amenities your university offers. If you’re used to exercising, join an intramural league. Great way to make new friends, too. There should be some free entertainment, too, like concerts and movies. Check out the clubs that meet your interests and hobbies. It might be a good idea to stay away from the Greek scene at least for the first half year. Fraternities and sororities can consume gobs of money they don’t talk about at the rush parties. Go to the parties, but don’t make any commitments! Julie Mayfield (mother) and daughter Lindsey wrote in September, 2011, that the family spent $3,258 on the sorority in Lindsey’s first year.

Each situation is different, but don’t count on your folks to bail you out of any money holes you dig for yourself. College is education inside and outside the classroom. There’ll be time enough for you to ask for a little help later on. Right now you need to sprout your wings and grow your own legs.

Your Health

Thanks to the wonders of The Affordable Health Care Act of 2010, your parents can keep you on their health insurance plan until you are 26. That being a good thing is debatable. But it doesn’t mean you should go running home to the old GP with every ache and pain. Every university has a health service for its students. Use it. The prescriptions are usually dirt cheap, and it helps to have a practitioner within walking distance of where you spend the most daylight hours.

Learn to cope with homesickness. It’s only natural that there will be times when you miss your family, even if you were one of those kids who couldn’t wait to get away. Find a way to deal with those feelings, such as making a phone call or sending some email home.

Ryan Lytle wrote an August. 22, 2012 post on 10 Tips College Freshman Should Know: “There are many things that can pressure new college students: making friends, doing well in class, and enhancing their résumé, to name a few. But freshmen may be able to alleviate some of this stress by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, or seeking out counseling services on campus.”

The earlier comment about avoiding the fast food mills needs to be repeated, not only for the money aspect, but because for many students, college is the first time they’ve been responsible for their own meals. Freshmen who want to fight the bulge should consider counting calories—and many schools have made this easier to do by sharing calorie information. (Editor’s Note: Our children’s pediatrician told us that when kids go off to college they gain an average of 15 -20 pounds from a combination of eating the wrong foods, and a sedentary lifestyle. – Kevin)

Eat breakfast. Start your day off right with a good meal when you get up. Whether you’re rolling out of bed at noon or up at the crack of dawn for class, make sure you start your day with a balanced, healthy meal.

Drink moderately. While college students are known for their partying, you can still have a good time without consuming all the calories that come along with binging on beer, plus you’ll avoid the hangovers and other negative effects. Drink in moderation and you can have a good time without hurting your health.

Drink water. Drinking enough water can help boost your concentration as well as keep you from overeating. Make sure to keep hydrated as you go through your day by bringing water with you.

Limit sugary and caffeinated beverages. Beverages may not fill you up, but they sure can help fatten you up and have a detrimental effect on your overall health. You don’t have to completely give up soda and coffee, but you should scale back in order to keep yourself in tip top shape.

Try to eat fruits and veggies. Even if fruits and vegetables don’t comprise some of your favorite foods, try to incorporate at least a few of them into your diet each day.

Your Life

US News & World Report says on its 10 Tips College Freshmen Should Know – “Remember you are moving into a small space with little storage, advises a College Admissions Q&As post. Students should pack shareable items for roommates. Don’t forget storage boxes that can be slipped under beds and in closets.”

A big change for many college students is getting used to sharing a small space with someone else. Avoid issues by setting ground rules at the beginning. Plan cleaning schedules and how to handle having friends over so everyone is aware of the way things will work.

Go to all orientations. Do you really need to go on yet another campus tour? Yes. The faster you learn your way around campus — and around all the red tape — the more at ease you’ll feel and the better prepared you’ll be when issues arise. Take the time yourself to learn the “cross country” shortcuts to get from one part of the campus to another. When I was at the University of Georgia, I discovered the fastest way to get to my dorm in the middle of the way was to leave one building, go into another, take an elevator down to a basement floor, through a tunnel and then out across a courtyard. Also, that route kept me dry on rainy days.

Get organized. Your high school teachers led you through all assignments and due dates. In college, the professors post the requirements — often for the entire semester — and expect you to be prepared. Buy an organizer, use an app, or get a big wall calendar — whatever it takes for you to know when assignments are due.

Find the ideal place for you to study. It may be your dorm room or a cozy corner of the library, but find a place that works best for you to get your work done — while avoiding as many distractions as possible.

Avoid the temptation of sleeping in and skipping that 8 am class. In addition to learning the material by attending classes, you’ll also receive vital information from the professors about what to expect on tests and changes in due dates.

Seek a balance. College life is a mixture of social and academic happenings. Don’t tip the balance too far in either direction. A big problem for a lot of new students is a mixture of homesickness and a feeling of not quite belonging. Think about joining a select group — and be careful not to go overboard — of student organizations, clubs, religious organizations and sports teams. You’ll make new friends, learn new skills, and feel more connected to your school.

Stay on campus as much as possible. Whether it’s homesickness, a job, or a boyfriend or girlfriend from home, try not to leave campus too soon or too often. Get to know the campus and your new friends; you’ll feel at home away from home. And why not take advantage of all the cultural and social events that happen on campus?

Be prepared to feel overwhelmed. There’s a lot going in your life right now. Expect to have moments where it seems a bit too much. As one student says, be prepared to feel completely unprepared. The trick is realizing that you’re not the only one feeling that way.

( Photo by juliejordanscott )

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