10 Things Freshmen Should Know Before College

You know that saying, “kids today?” Well, kids today might be getting into college in greater numbers, but they’re doing it at the expense of obtaining real world experiences. How many teenagers do you know who can do calculus, but have no idea how a credit card works? There are just some things that freshmen should know before they go off to college — from simple chores to how different relationships will be.

I didn’t get perfect grades in high school, and I spent the time I wasn’t studying to pad my resume with a part-time job and extra curricular activities. My parents raised me to be independent and self-sufficient from a young age, and I was probably better prepared than most to go off to college. But there were still some things about college and college life that no one prepared me for. Things that they didn’t teach us in high school, and that most kids had to figure out on their own.

Hopefully, though, I can offer some insight into some things I think every person going off to college — whether you’ll be living in the dorms, off-campus, or still at home — should know before setting foot on campus in the fall.

1. How to do basic chores like laundry, dishes, and vacuuming

This might seem like a no brainer, but seriously — I still know plenty of college-bound kids who have never even touched a washer and dryer. I was raised by a single mother, so I learned how to do my own laundry and run the dishwasher way before I went off to college. It’s not like it’s that hard, guys.

You might not have laundry facilities inside your dorm, but laundry mats are still viable options if you’re going to school more than an hour away from home. If you’re across the country, you can’t expect to bring home your dirty clothes to mom every month. As for other basic chores like vacuuming, your dorm mates or roommates will appreciate the clean apartment from time to time.

2. Who to call in an emergency besides 911

Of course, if you need the police or fire department, please call 911 immediately. But if your backpack was stolen from the library, there’s a wild party down the hall, or (since this is still a real, super scary problem on campuses) you or someone you know is sexually assaulted, you should know whom to call. Have the numbers for on-campus security, your RA, and organizations like RAINN and the Suicide Prevention Lifeline in your phone so you don’t have to scramble for them in an emergency.

3. How to write a check

I learned how to write a check in 4th grade, so as technical adults going off to college, you should be able to manage it. You might not need to write a check every month if you’re living in the dorms or your parents handle your rent and utilities, but you should still know how to do it. You could need to pay for a doctor’s appointment or a campus expense, and not have any cash on you, or they only accept checks. It’s also a good lesson in learning how to balance a checking account, if you can track all your expenses via checks.

4. Relationships are different in college

This is something I really wish someone had told me when I went to college. I’m not just talking about romantic relationships, though those can be very different from your high school flings, too. I’m just talking about in general. I went from a high school of 2,000 people to a college of 35,000. It’s much harder to make friends when you only have a two-hour class one day a week with someone. And since this is probably the first time you’re living with someone other than your family, you’ll also come to realize that not all roommates are created equal — and you could end up not liking any of yours.

As for those romantic relationships, they can be much more intense, or much more casual than what you were used to in high school, so my best advice is to just be open and honest with what you’re looking for. This applies for every relationship, really. You don’t have to compromise your goals or who you are to make friends or get dates.

5. How to handle car problems and general maintenance

This is only relevant if you’ll have a car at school, since I know some schools don’t let freshmen have them, or living on campus in a city with public transit renders them useless. I went to a commuter school and lived off-campus, so my car was basically my lifeline to get to and from school. Luckily, I had also lived far away from my high school, so I had the basics of car maintenance down. Make sure you know where a good mechanic and an oil change place are in your new home, and get AAA if you can afford it. They could all be life savers if you blow a tire or your check engine light comes on.

6. Jobs and internships are as important as getting good grades

Your college graduation might be years away, but let me tell you that your degree will only take you so far if you have no job experience at the end of your college days. Unless you’re trying to get into nursing school, medical school, or law school, or another program that takes grades into account, getting a B in a class because you’re also working or doing an internship is fine. Take a part time job on-campus, or an internship in a field you’re interested in to help beef up that resume for when you’re looking for your dream job later on. Everyone has to start somewhere, so don’t be afraid to take a crappy first job for a while.

7. Registering for class can be the most stressful thing in the world, so plan ahead

Like I mentioned, I went to a big school with lots of people. And since so many of us needed to take the same GE classes, registering for classes was literally the most stressful, frustrating thing imaginable. Not only do you have to hope and pray that the classes you need haven't filled up by the time your registration date rolls around, but you also have about 10 minutes after your time starts to snag everything you want before they do fill up. I'm sure this is different at smaller schools, but the feeling is the same. So, take some time to browse the online catalog of classes, research the professors, and see which classes are still open before you have to register. Unless you like taking Saturday morning science classes (of course you don't).

8. Which meals you can easily make in a pinch

Most dorms come equipped with a few kitchen appliances these days, and an apartment will have everything you need to cook a meal. Sometimes you’ll come home from a study group too late to hit up the cafeteria and too broke to get takeout, so you should have a few easy meals you know how to cook. My go-to in college meals were pasta, rice, hamburger patties, and pancakes. And yes, putting frozen pizza or taquitos in the oven or pouring a bowl of cereal can count. Bonus: you’ll also need to learn to plan your grocery shopping around what you eat and spend accordingly.

9. Your professor will make or break the class

For your first two years or so, you're going to be taking a lot of generic, general education classes like Astronomy 101 and Art History 170. For the most part, every section of these classes will be the same — the material will be the same, the course work will be the same, etc. The deciding factor? The professor who teaches it. You could get a professor who is so boring that you won't learn anything, or you could get a professor who is so mean and strict that it will ruin your interest in that field forever.

It might seem old school, but I used to choose almost all of my college courses. And it's not just about the professors personalities, it's also their teaching styles. If you're a visual learner, you probably don't want a professor who lectures with no PowerPoints or hands-on instruction, right?

10. You will get home sick

Growing up, I could not wait to get out of my small town and go to a big school in a city somewhere. But as excited as I was, I was also extremely home sick my first year. It’s hard to leave all your family and friends to go somewhere new, and you’ll find that you miss people and things you thought you wouldn’t. I was able to go home almost every month since I was only three hours from home, but for those of you traveling farther, you’ll need to capitalize on Skype hangouts and care packages. I promise that it eventually gets better as you make more friends and get more comfortable in your new world.

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