Your First Days of College

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This should have been published a few weeks ago, but school starts for me next week, not this week. I realized after talking to incoming freshman, they were over whelmed. They felt that someone should have explained to them certain things they didn’t know that people thought they should. The key to success is to minimize the mistakes, and to take full advantage of YOUR college experience.

The ultimate goal of college (argue if you wish) is to land your first job. I want you to think about that. With that said, it is you, and you alone that are proving to others that they should offer you that first job by showing them that the last four years you worked on yourself.

Here are your goals for each year. Obviously, these are macro goals:

Freshman: Learn and play the game. The saying, “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game,” is 100% true. The quicker you learn it, the more successful it is. Find out where all the successful people are and stick with them.
Sophomore: Choose your major, and what you want to do in the future. Start looking for jobs and internships.
Junior: Get a summer internship, work on “special projects,” and build that resume.
Senior: Finish all requirements, and get the job.
Super Senior: Finish college by any means necessary.

Freshman Year:
You are going to make mistakes, so unless you know better, accept it. Things like not showing up to recitation the first week, or buying books at the bookstore, or even getting too drunk, are things you can’t avoid. Just don’t do them too much and you will be fine.

You have six weeks before any real exam, so spend the first four focusing on learning what is going on. In no particular order, you need to 1) Learn the requirements of your classes, 2) Be social, 3) Stay healthy, and 4) Create a workflow.

Day 0)
Assuming this is move in day, move in. You will obviously forget something, so while your parents are still there, arrange for them to get it to you. Sign up for Amazon Prime: Student, ( It will give you free two-day shipping, on all prime eligible items for six months. is great for cables and accessories that you may have forgotten. I will almost guarantee that you didn’t bring a long enough ethernet cable. DO NOT GO TO THE BOOKSTORE, and pay the stupid tax.

Say hello to your roommate, and figure out your living situation. The first major test is which bed goes where. Treat each other with RESPECT. Notice how I didn’t say be their friend. Don’t expect a best friend forever relationship from them. It will only end badly, the night before an exam. Respect their space. Respect their stuff. Respect their friends. Respect your roommate. Treat them how you want to be treated. Hopefully your Resident Advisor (RA) will ask you to sign a roommate contract. Think about what you want carefully. A major issue that pops up almost always: Is the significant other allowed to sleep over, in the same bed, and for how long? Think about yourself, but understand you are sharing a room. Will you have an open door policy, literally will you keep your door open or closed?

Next say hello to every dorm-mate you see. Walk up to them and say, hello. They are in the same situation you are, so don’t feel embarrassed. The first week is about getting to know everyone. Don’t be obnoxious to anyone who is shy or doesn’t want to talk to you, but don’t feel embarrassed. Don’t go sharing every detail of your personal life, but niceties will go a long way. Until you know everyone’s personalities, ask as many people as you can to go to the dining hall. These people you are living with for the next ten months, and you want to know who they are. During my tenure at Rutgers, everyone knew everyone in the building, so an open door policy, even while we were out was fine.

Don’t trust anyone yet. Everyone will be nice to you, but don’t trust them. You just met everyone, and you have no idea what is going on. Don’t shun your dorm mates, but don’t trust them yet. Some will not be trust worthy.

Make sure your computer and Internet are working. Don’t leave it until later. You will be surprised how many ethernet ports magically fail. You and thousands of others have the same problem. Put the problem in early.

You have a download and upload limit. Most schools are 2 gigs a week (2,000 megabytes) download, and 500 megs upload. They will shut you off, and won’t appeal it. Dropbox and Google Drive count against your limit. Internal network traffic does not (this is important). File sharing internally is not counted. You may or may not having wireless in the dorms. If you bring a router, hide the SSID, and do not give the password to anyone. There is no support for your own personal router, so either buy the smart a gift, or read about how to do it yourself. Telling tech support that you had a router and gave the password to someone who downloaded over the cap, will only make your life worse.

Make sure your profile can be found by everyone. Disable some privacy controls so people can find you. Make sure your picture is current, and is appropriate. You are trying to know as many people as possible, so don’t make it hard for others.

Very simple: School email for school communication ONLY. Again, School email for school only. Do not use anything but your school email for school. If you don’t have a legitimate email address, create a Gmail address. Use that other email for everything else.
Day 1)
At some point your RA will have a team building exercise that is extremely corny. Do it! Don’t skip out on orientations because you are too cool, and want to find out where the “cool” people hang out. You are still the small fish in the big pond. You will have a ton of other opportunities for that.

Today is the day where you are to get your books, and be a grown up. Hopefully it is a weekend with a home football game. GO TO THE FOOTBALL GAME. I don’t care if you don’t know anything about football. Just grab a bunch of people, throw some face paint on have fun. It is an excuse to let loose a little. You can even most likely get a free t-shirt. RU has free t-shirts on College ave, but then you have to Busch campus for the game.

Go to the bookstore. This is a touchy, and rather complicated subject. The bookstore will rip you off, but you may not have a choice. For your first semester, it may be worth reducing stress by paying the bookstore prices. Somewhere on your schedule or on the bookstore there is an ISBN number. If you are daring, you can search online for the books. If you can find it, pay the expedited shipping. Most likely you have significant savings over the bookstore (even used). Buy used books. You are not that special that you need new. At the end of the semester you reverse the process and sell the book. The process of buying the books, then selling the books netted me a positive return of $10 There is way more to this subject, but that is the overview.

Find the gym, and all that they offer. You need to get exercise. You should really get sixty minutes of activity a day, but anything will do. Get moving. It is relaxing.

Find your mailbox, and learn how to access it. You do not have door to door service. The post office people will sign packages on your behalf, so you don’t have to worry about missing it. This used to be important in my day, but give your parents that address just in case they have to send you something, or you need something sent to you (Amazon Prime from above). Learn how to access it. Postal workers cannot hand your mail to you from your mailbox (security issue).

Parties: Like the bookstore this is a complicated subject. Go have fun, but remember you are on your own. Your RA will walk you through how to handle yourself. If you can go with your roommate, create a buddy system. Arrive together, leave together, and watch each other’s back. You have a combination of freshman who know nothing, and seniors who want to exploit that. Be careful. You need to experience it, but be smart and safe about it.
Day 2)

I’m assuming this is Sunday or Monday with no class. Learn where your classes are. Make your weekly schedule. College is about you and you alone. Nobody is going to wake you up, tell you to go to class, or do your work. Spend a decent amount of time trying to create some schedule, but be flexible. You will fail at it. You will miss the bus, forget the stop, get lost, or many other things. That is normal. Pull out your map, take a deep breath, and solve the problem. Ask if you need to, people aren’t mean yet. When you get home, analyze what you did wrong to prevent it in the future.

Find the library and the computer lab. Learn their hours, rules, and procedures. Learn how to use them. If you wait to the last-minute, you will fail.

If you can pull up the syllabus online, do so. Take every single date that is important, and put it on the calendar. Things on a syllabus are legally binding. Those test dates cannot change unless there is some reasonable circumstance. All changes will may occur will happen on day 1. Tests are not necessarily during class time, so write it down.

Spend the rest of day getting things ready. Try to foresee problems. Go to your RA sooner than later if you have questions. Remember they are students too, and will start having classes to worry about. If you haven’t hit the gym yet, go there.

First Day of Class)
Budget 30 to 45 minutes more than you need. If you need to get on a bus, plan for a LOT of extra time. The first week everyone shows up. Once week four hits, the bus gets less crowded. Like I said earlier, you will get lost, a class room will change, or you forgot something. Plan for extra time. Once you get to class, pick a seat and sit there EVERY SINGLE CLASS. Don’t pick the last seat in the back, but you don’t have to pick the front row center seat. Your professor won’t know who you are, unless you put the effort. Sitting in the same seat every time is a sure-fire way to get your professor to remember you.

Take notes as to all the important information. Day 1 is about communication. Learn how to submit work, and the best way to get a hold of the professor. Email is the most impersonal way to get a hold of someone. The best way is to go to their office hours. Going to their office hours is one of the best ways to get ahead in class. All it takes is one or two visits to ask for a *simple* clarification will get the professor to remember you.

When you are done, go back to your dorm, round-up some people and get food (if you have time). This will give you a chance to hear how you are not alone. Crowdsource your issues.

In the evening reflect how you did. If you have reading to do, do it. You will find out the only assessments are the midterms and finals, but don’t let work fall that far behind. Call your best friend. Call your mother. Don’t be afraid to admit defeat to your closest friends.

At this point, everyone is going to ask you to do something. Assess the workload you have and make a decision. The first few days you can afford to have more fun, but during the semester no one is going to tell you to finish that paper. There are 60 people on your floor with 60 different schedules. The only person that cares about you is yourself.

If you were independent in high school, you should be fine in college. College is a game where the faster you figure it out, the more you get out of it. You can go to college and never see the outside of class and the library. You can go to college and never see the inside of a classroom or library. You choose what happens. Remember someone is paying for college, so make it worthwhile.

Next I’ll try to explain life hacks that will make your life easier. For now I’ll leave you with a blog entry from Tips from a senior:


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