Advice to Incoming First-Year College Students
The summer before first leaving for college is typically filled with anxiety and anticipation. I just finished my college freshman year, and I can remember those emotions last August as I packed and prepared for my college experience. For those of you heading to college for the first time this fall, I can certainly understand, given the changes of the past couple months and the uncertainty of the future, that you may feel even more anxious than I did. While I can't speak exactly to what your college experience may look like this year, I put together some advice for you to take on this next adventure as we continue to navigate this new pandemic reality.
College has previously been an extremely social environment for many, and it is understandable that you may feel frustrated by limitations put in place this fall due to the pandemic. My best advice if you are feeling like you can't be as social as you would normally be, or you can't get involved in activities right away, is to focus on schoolwork. It may be tempting to spend the time you would normally spend with friends watching Netflix or being on your phone, but consider taking advantage of the extra time. If social opportunities are limited now, starting your college career off by doing excellent work in your classes will set you up for success so that when more social opportunities are available you will be in a position to spend more time with friends. Instead of wasting your free time away, do the work now and you will thank yourself later.
Worried about making friends? Don't worry, everyone is! This fall making friends may be an even slower and harder process due to social limitations. Most colleges have class Facebook groups, which are a great way to get to know people before the fall even starts. If you are not on campus this fall, don't be afraid to reach out to other students over social media, even if that's not something you would normally do. Different times call for different measures.
Force yourself to talk to anyone and everyone. Put aside assumptions, and do your best to not judge people right off the bat--I have heard so many stories from friends who ended up besties with someone who they thought they would never become friends with after meeting them for the first time. Be open to meeting people different from you and different from the friends you may have had in high school.
Join a club if you can! It is a great way to immerse yourself in a group of peers with a common interest. It doesn't have to be something you have done before--trying something new will help you grow! Some clubs may be hosting Zoom meetings if meeting in person is not possible. Join them even if you are hesitant. Put yourself out there in whatever ways you can.
Most importantly, it is totally normal if you don't make best friends right away. Don't stress! Especially this fall, it may be harder to foster and build new close relationships. While some people may make fast friends, most of the time it takes a while to find your people. Be patient with yourself and know that you are not alone.
DO NOT OVERPACK. I cannot stress this enough. You do not need to bring everything you own. You do not need to be prepared for every fashion emergency. Bring what you need, bring your favorite things, but keep it minimal. If a speedy evacuation occurs, you do not want to be in a panic thinking "How will I pack all of this? How will I bring all of this home?" Even in a situation more common, like a room change, the less stuff you have with you the better. You do not need to bring every pair of shoes you own. I promise.
Going off of that, stay organized. Not only for your roommate's sake (although that is important too), but because dorm rooms are small enough as it is and clutter only makes them feel smaller. If you are stressed and anxious, it is natural that your room may reflect that, but keeping things moderately tidy does wonders for your mental health. Spending 5-10 minutes once a week (I usually pick Sundays) to put things away, and sweeping up any dust or crumbs will make a huge difference on your peace of mind and keep you healthier, too.
With so many adjustments on college campuses going into this fall semester, some of you may not have to deal with a roommate this fall. But if you do, my biggest advice is to talk with your roommate(s) UP FRONT about your needs and your like/dislikes. Having those discussions and coming to agreements and some sort of "contract" before issues arise is going to help prevent them. If something that you didn't anticipate becomes a problem, it is best to communicate honestly about it. Do so calmly, kindly, and as soon as possible. Too many people hold in their frustrations with their roommate and let it out through passive aggressive behavior, which only leads to your room becoming a hostile environment, which no one wants. Sometimes, the desire to avoid conflict leads students to bend too far to their roommate's needs without sticking up for their own. It is important to be willing to bend a little, but it is okay to ask for your roommate(s) to bend as well so that all parties involved can have an enjoyable living experience.
View challenges as adventures. This fall will likely be filled with unexpected challenges and will force you to adapt to new situations. Instead of being afraid that everything is new, seek to see each day or each hard moment as a new adventure and an opportunity to learn. Experiencing college this fall is a moment that future job interviewers may ask you about in the future to learn about how you respond to challenges. Viewing this fall with a spirit of adventure and openness rather than with stress and anxiety will help you to grow and thrive despite any limitations placed upon you.
At the end of the day, the more open and adaptable you can be this fall, the better. These days, the only constant is change and there will likely be challenges and changes throughout. Be patient with professors and administrators even when plans do not go as expected. Try your best and remember that everyone is trying their best, too. Embrace the change and try to keep the bigger picture perspective in mind, and know that if you feel overwhelmed, there are probably lots of other people who share that feeling with you. Be kind to yourself, and be kind to others. Best of luck.
Alison Rutyna is a rising sophomore at Muhlenberg College. She is a Theatre Major and Spanish Minor, and works in the college's Office of Community Engagement and in the college Writing Center. This summer she is teaching virtual Spanish and Creative Writing classes to elementary school students in Acton, Massachusetts.