How incoming students can conquer college

by Erin Ghere

Normally, I can’t stand older people trying to tell me how to live. They did it their way and I’ll do it my way, so why bother with advice? But at this point, I have to consider myself one of those “older” people. I graduated from the University this past August, after five wonderful years in college. As I leave, I’ll attempt to impart some wisdom to the thousands of new faces on campus. If you, like myself, find it condescending, stop reading now and go it alone.

To start, there is a fact every freshmen student quickly realizes: winter at the University sucks. Be prepared to perform the feet-in-the-air, land-on-your-butt move at least once each winter while walking to class. In my estimation, you could actually freeze to death from the frigid Mississippi River winds in the time it takes you to walk across the Washington Avenue Bridge.

And although the Campus Connector buses might save you from a blistery death, they are so cramped you’ll likely have to wait through at least one bus to find space or accept sharing your personal space bubble with three or four other people. Or both. I once rode across the bridge with my backpack stuck in the door because it was so crowded I couldn’t get my bag inside before the doors closed.

Living in the residence halls can easily suck if you let it, but it can also be one of the best experiences of your college career. People who can’t stand tight quarters, don’t get along well with other people or refuse cafeteria food are going to have a hell of a time. But, for a few years, you get to learn from 50 floormates, have planned activities that practically force you to make new friends and live within several feet of all your buddies. Most of the good friends I made during my freshman year are still my friends today. In fact, my next-door neighbor from my first year here will be a bridesmaid in my wedding next spring.

Dorm life has its advantages: Hundreds of dating prospects in the same building, best friends you can bother during the middle of the night while you’re dressed in your pajamas, already prepared food in mass quantities and close proximity to classroom buildings. Believe me, off-campus residents would kill for some of these perks.

Although studies should be your main priority and deserves a high percentage of your attention, don’t overdo it. In addition to getting a higher education, college is about learning who you are, what your limits are and where your dreams lie. Don’t get so sucked into the grades and test scores you forget to keep yourself healthy – treat yourself to the occasional night out to relax.

By the time you’re a senior, you will have learned the class days you can skip and those you cannot. Intro courses, in general, are a cakewalk. I got a ‘B’ in Astronomy 1001 by attending the biweekly labs, the first day of lecture and reading the online class notes the night before each test.

My father, a history professor, would probably kill me for saying that, but it’s true. Some professors lecture on the exact same material you just read the night before – so you can often choose to do just one: read the books or attend class regularly. Other professors ramble on so much, it’s not even worth going to class because it’s merely confusing.

While bypassing some classes may be easy, circumventing the University is not. There is an office for everything, and you should assume from day one that not a single office can answer your simple question all by itself. Also, if you have any kind of question about registration, tuition or financial aid within the first three weeks, be prepared to wait an hour in line.

Once you get comfortable taking courses, don’t buy the books until a few days after classes begin to get a feel for which books you’ll really need. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars by buying only the essential textbooks, and I got by just fine. Also, when it’s convenient, share books with a friend or classmate. If you’re buying textbooks for any kind of language, budget at least $150 – they make you buy the books, workbooks, tapes, answer keys and a CD-ROM.

Speaking of which, start your language requirement and take the Graduation Proficiency Test in your chosen language as soon as possible. Take the advice of a person who waited until the last minute and almost wasn’t able to graduate because of it.

Out of all this advice, most of all you should enjoy this time. But do it safely. Don’t – as a guy in my freshman residence hall did – try to hang things from the ceiling sprinkler-head while you’re drunk. Drink responsibly. If you’re too drunk, recruit a sober friend to drive you home, or walk home with a group.

Do not, especially women, go into unsafe situations with people you don’t know. If you feel uneasy about it, don’t do it – although most other students are like you, others, sadly, are predators. Respect those around you. Use protection. Seek out University resources for mental health, sexually transmitted diseases, and financial and tutorial help. And, overall, gather as many good experiences as you possibly can.

As I leave the University, I have made lifetime friends, been educated on an array of topics and gained some of the best memories I’ll ever have. I wish the same for all of you. Have a great year.


Erin Ghere welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]