The fruits of freedom taste oh-so-sweet. After 18 years of life dictated by parent figures, coaches and teachers, taking that first oversized bite of independence is a heady experience. Whether you’re at UW or Cornell, the precise moment when the parental units drive away from the dorm is the human version of getting tossed out of the nest. High school is a fading memory. From now on, you’re responsible for you.
Healthy boundaries are the name of the game in the dorm room. Think about it: you’ve been randomly lumped with a stranger with different sleeping, eating and hygiene habits. There will be conflict at some point, even if your roommate ends up becoming your best friend.
One way to preempt the inevitable and save a lot of grief is to take a moment early on in the semester to ask what his or her expectations are in terms of study habits, sleep schedule and cleanliness. Now is the time to share your own expectations and pet peeves—you know you have them.
Parking Lot Protection
Experts claim the first six weeks of college are when incoming students are most vulnerable to campus crime. While you may feel safe around your peers, other students commit 80 percent of all crimes. Don’t tune out with your iPod while walking, avoid drinking in unfamiliar circumstances and trust your instincts.
Refuge in the Gym
“When you go off to college your entire life schedule changes. Exercise is not only healthy for your body but it reduces stress,” says Bellevue Club Fitness Director Sue Matyas.
Between academic pressures and nearly constant social opportunities, make sure you exercise self-care and squeeze in a regular workout. Just because you played sports in high school doesn’t mean you’ll automatically stay in shape in college. Find a time to hit the gym to keep your body and mind cranking through stressful midterms and finals.
Going from mom’s home cooking can result in culinary culture shock. Want mozzarella sticks at 1 a.m.? No one’s stopping you. Nachos and freedom fries for dinner? Sure, why not.
But no matter what your taste buds tell you, a little restraint in the cafeteria will go a long way to avoiding the clichéd and very unfunny “freshman 15.”
“Most students will catch quick, fast food-type meals on the run and they tend to be high in fat and total calories with not a lot of nutritional value,” says Sue. “Make sure to have breakfast. Your body needs fuel and your brain needs carbs to be able to think clearly. Whole-grain cereals, fruits and yogurt will give you the right amount of fuel and will make you feel more alert. A cup of coffee or a latte will get you through the first hour of the day and then you are running on empty.”
Leaving the bubble of campus life can be healthy. Finding an internship in your field can kick-start your career better than any fraternity or professor ever could. Whether you want to make documentary films or develop software, intern early and often. Experience is the name of the game, and your bachelor’s degree is only the starting gate.
It’s hard to believe, but that cranky English professor might actually like aspiring students. Don’t be afraid to pester your professors after class with questions and ideas, particularly if you have grad-school aspirations. Making connections with your professors can fast-track you to research assistant positions and even a post-college career. The worst they can say is “no.”
Admittedly, college is about as fun as it gets. It’s a time to carve out your personal identity away from mom and dad. However, those great moments can sometimes be accompanied by tragic lows. Most college campuses have inexpensive or free counseling and medical services available to students. Grieving a loss or a breakup can be tough in unfamiliar surroundings—make it a bit easier on yourself by seeing a caring professional.