Advice from a big sister on University survival

Amanda Mark

Dear Danny,

Is it truly possible you are beginning college? Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday you were figuring out the cardboard didn’t go in the oven with the pizza? Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday you were four feet tall and not six feet four inches? Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday that … all right, I’m embarrassing you.

Well, my baby brother, as you enter the University of Minnesota and I leave, I would like to impart upon you some last words of wisdom – wisdom that has been gained firsthand as I battled in the trenches through four years at the University. The University can be a scary place with the dark jungles of financial aid, the narrow mazes of registration, the bottomless pit of paperwork and, don’t forget, the never-ending lines at the bookstore. As you wrestle your way through the dining service lines and fight to get the last seat on the Campus Connector, remember what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.

I leave you and your fellow freshmen with my parting thoughts.

I remember well my first day at the University. Our dad pulled up the van outside of Bailey Hall, unloaded my clothes, a few posters and my 100 pairs of shoes and then he left. It was then that dorm life became my reality. My room was tiny. The hallways smelt. The elevators didn’t work. I shared my bathroom with 20 strangers.

For some reason, this reality didn’t seem right to me. I had watched Beverly Hills 90210 (the college years); I knew what a dorm was supposed to look like. But I was at the University of Minnesota, and I wasn’t living in a dorm but a “residence hall.” What is the difference between a residence hall and a dorm? I never figured it out for sure, but I think a residence hall has more movie nights with free popcorn.

Danny, this reality of dorm life will soon become yours. You are going to share a five-by-five-foot room with a stranger. You are going to use contraptions to make this room more “spacious.” You will loft your beds – always get help – and buy plastic crates to make shelves.

Your dorm room will be a work of art Mom will never quite appreciate. It might be best if she never sees it – you know how she feels about bunk beds and unstable shelving.

I remember my first meal in dining services. It was supposed to be a picnic. I remember the yucky potato chips in the big white boxes and the limp watermelon for dessert. I also remember hunger. Danny, remember to pack ramen noodles and Easy Mac. You might want some granola bars, too, because who can make the 9 a.m. breakfast time?

“What?” you say. “I get up at 6:30 for school every morning – 9 a.m. is almost lunch!” Ah, you innocent boy, just wait. Just wait until you are struggling to make it to your 10 a.m. class. Just wait until 3 a.m. seems like a normal bedtime because, well, everyone else is awake. Please do yourself a favor and don’t schedule an 8 a.m. class. It will be the bane of your existence. If anything goes wrong in your life, you will darkly mutter, “If only I didn’t have an 8 a.m. recitation…”

Recitation? What is a recitation? Danny, Danny, you are attending the University of Minnesota. Recitations are bread and butter here. You’ll meet with a grad student who will explain what the professor was saying during the lecture you slept through. Attend recitations!

That reminds me of an essential point. The University starts your grade point average with your very first class. This shocked me. I assumed I had some practice time, and somewhere around the end of my junior year, my grades would become important. What an urban myth! The University is not sympathetic to the rigors of dorm life. They start your GPA from that very first quiz.

During my freshman year, I also discovered another startling fact. Remember in high school how you could get an extension on a paper? You would say, “Umm, this isn’t the high quality I would like it to be,” and the teacher would let you finish next week so you could watch an all-night marathon of the Simpsons.

Professors at the University tend to be trickier. While some will let deadlines slide, the majority won’t. I remember the time I had to attend a wedding, so I couldn’t make a final. I had to bring in a wedding invitation and highlight where I was listed as the maid of honor.

I hope you’re not feeling overwhelmed with all this information because I haven’t even touched upon the most essential element of the freshman year. Danny, you will live in a coed environment. When you wake up and head to the shower in the morning, you will pass by your fellow freshwomen with mascara rings under their eyes and uncombed hair. You will eat breakfast (maybe), lunch and dinner with girls. You will study with girls – they will be everywhere. When they have a fire drill at 4 a.m., girls will come out in their pajamas. This coed environment is great. It’s new. It’s fun.

But, be aware – it’s dangerous.

I remember the countless heartbreaks that occurred in my hall during the first week of freshman year. I remember the bizarre miscommunication that occurred between the male and female counterparts. Danny, be a smart guy. If a girl asks how she looks, say “fine.” If a girl asks you to go get some ice cream, have some ice cream but don’t think you’re on the brink of a serious relationship. If you want to date a girl, don’t eat lunch with her in the dining hall or ask her to the free movie night. Catch the #6 or #16 bus and go to a movie.

All right, Dan, good luck! Attend recitation. Be nice to girls. Don’t eat red meat in the cafeteria. Oh, and never wash your red socks with your white shirts.

 

Love,

Your big sister Amanda