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Eight Tips to Start Your First Year of College Right

Academics

The summer is nearly over and you’re heading off to college. You’re excited, relieved, anxious, optimistic, fearful … or, most likely, some weird combination of all these feelings.

Don’t sweat it: This is normal. The thought of leaving the known and embarking on the unknown revs up the emotional roller coaster for pretty much every one of us. You wonder about how you will fit in …  what independence will look like ... how you’ll adjust to the challenge of a more demanding academic schedule.

And that’s just the beginning. Will I get along with my roommate? How will I stay on top of it all? Will the food be any good? Will I get lost in the crowd?

Relevant questions, all.

Whatever your gut feelings about this new adventure, there are some things you can do your freshman year to set the table for a successful college experience.

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Cultivate Relationships

An old Turkish proverb wisely states, “No road is long with good company.” The ancient Turks knew what they were talking about: You need people in your life. Not exactly a big news flash here, but this can’t be overstated when it comes to college. Try as you might, you won’t be able to do this on your own. Developing a support system early on that will help carry you through the challenges ahead is critical.

That said, don’t feel the pressure to “find your best friend” during the first week of school. Relationships take time. Let them happen naturally. And, whether you knew your roommate or not before you arrived, there are things you can do to develop rapport with them. For starters, be willing to compromise and establish an open and honest relationship that doesn’t allow grievances to pile up.

Not only will relationships enhance your personal life, they will go a long way toward building the soft skills – things like collaboration, communication, problem-solving, time management and leadership – that employers look for. Something to keep in mind as you think about what you want to do beyond college.

 

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Stay Organized

Suddenly, you can manage your own time. No parent is telling you to straighten things up and take out the trash. You are now the master of your domain. The temptation is to let things slide … to procrastinate, get lazy, allow responsibilities to pile up. For your own sake and the sake of others around you, don’t let it happen. Doing so will just add stress to your life, and you’ll probably have enough stress as it is (“I’ve got a 20-page paper due Tuesday. When am I going to find time to finish it?”).

The reality is, stress is just a part of college life. In fact, The American College Health Association reports 45 percent of college students say they experience “more than average stress,” and 87 percent said they “felt overwhelmed by all they had to do” at least once in the previous year. One way to help overcome that feeling? Get organized, make a plan, and stick to it.

One practical step to make it happen: Find an app that works for you. Did you know there are literally thousands of apps designed just to help college students stay organized? Use one of them. Or two or three if you need. Google Calendar is particularly popular with college students right now. Whatever you decide, manage your time well by prioritizing the most pressing things and being sure to work in those activities that make college so memorable. Yeah, things like a good game of Spikeball on the lawn.

 

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Find an Outlet

Speaking of Spikeball, it’s important you find an outlet to get your mind off all those assignments. You’re going to need to take breaks even though it may sometimes feel like you don’t have that time to spare. Play a sport. Paint. Find a new hobby. You’re going to need something to help ease the tension of everyday life.

 

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Take Your Health Seriously

You’re going to be tempted to stay up until 2 a.m. watching Netflix or Amazon Prime. You’ll probably eat about as much junk food in these four years than you had in the 18 years leading up to this point. In other words, it will be easy for you to let your diet and sleep schedule take a back seat in the name of “fun” or “freedom.”

Truth is, how you treat your body directly affects your stress level. And it’s no secret that extra stress in your life is detrimental to your overall health. If you eat high-fat, high-sugar foods and need caffeine to get you out of bed in the morning, you’re not only going to feel physically crummy, you won’t be providing your body with the nutrition it needs to fight stress.

In tandem with nutrition is – you guessed it – exercise. Exercise produces endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that act as natural painkillers, and it also improves sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Don’t consider yourself an athlete? No worries. Go for walks regularly, jog, or join a yoga class.

 

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Try Something New

Let’s face it: College is a time to expand your horizons. Time to explore, investigate, ask questions, push yourself. Admittedly, this will get you out of your comfort zone. But that’s OK. College is a great adventure. Embrace it, because it’s a relatively short season of your life.

Take a class in subjects that are new and maybe even a little uncomfortable for you. This will help engage your mind in subject matter you perhaps hadn’t considered before and give you a more well-rounded educational experience.

Outside the classroom, try different things. Audition for a play. Join an intramurals team. Run for a student government office. If you don’t like it, it’s not the end of the world. Try something else. Don’t be afraid to fail at something, because you invariably will. The key is to learn from the experience and move on. You’ll be a richer person for it.

 

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Don’t Go Home Every Weekend

This might be a tough one for you. If you live within driving distance of home, you may be tempted to hop in the car on a Friday night with your laundry in tow and eagerly head home to one of mom’s home-cooked meals. While it’s important to keep the communication lines open with your folks, it’s not in your best interest to consistently live in two worlds. At some point, you have to cut the apron strings.

This is a time to strike out on your own, make new friends, and try new things. For most, this is your first opportunity to truly establish a sense of personal responsibility and independence. Don’t miss the opportunity to do so.

 

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Show Gratitude

This sounds like something you might hear from your parents or perhaps a church pulpit: “Be grateful.” The fact is, showing gratitude may actually enhance the academic thinking process itself. During this time of uncertainty in culture – from COVID-19 to the growing divide along political, racial and religious lines – the temptation is to complain, become dissatisfied or to blame someone or something for all the unrest going around. Try going another route: Be thankful for what you have and for the opportunity to broaden your horizons as a college student. Some practical ways you can do this: Write down three things each night that you’re thankful for. Or write a note to someone you appreciate and read it aloud to them.

It sounds simple enough, but it’s amazing the impact a grateful attitude can have on your experience. Books have been written addressing this very topic, recognizing that gratitude and gratefulness go a long way toward building mental health and cultivating the relationships around you – relationships that will help pull you through the tough times (see Tip #1).

 

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Tap into Helpful Resources

This tip goes hand-in-hand with Tip #1: There are plenty of resources available around you, at no extra cost to you, so take advantage of them! From health and counseling centers to writing and tutoring services to career preparation offices, colleges take pride in providing their students with the tools they need to not just survive, but thrive.

Studies have shown that academic advising has consistently been proven to have a positive influence on student retention. If you’re struggling in your classes – or perhaps feel like you may even need to change your major – schedule an appointment with a career counselor, tutor or your professor, whomever you feel is most appropriate in the situation.

Likewise, health and counseling services are usually provided as part of your tuition, or for an additional nominal fee. If you feel you need help emotionally, psychologically or physically, don’t hesitate to make that call or send that email. There is nothing wrong with admitting that you need some help.

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Sean Patterson

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Sean Patterson serves as the university editor at George Fox. Though he graduated from college more than 30 years ago, he can still relate to the college temptations of staying up way too late and eating snacks too close to bedtime.

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