No need to freak out, freshmen. Here's an insider's guide to what's really in store your first year at college.
This article is for those who will one day soon be college freshmen.
As the mother of three people who went to college, allow me to say: You’re about to experience the best four, five, six or whatever years of your life.
But you’ve heard that already. And let it be the last piece of conventional wisdom you take to heart. There’s a lot of well-intentioned misinformation about freshman year. I’ve compiled a list.
Conventional Wisdom: Arrive at your dorm room at your assigned time.
Actual Wisdom: Get there before your roommate. Do you want to be the one stuck with the dinged-up furniture? Do you like sleeping next to a radiator, the de facto dryer for decades of sweat socks, or in the connecting room of a three-room suite (“the common room,” to drunken roommates)?
√Functional Advice: Why take chances? Get there the night before. Some schools permit early move-in (for a compelling reason) on a pay-per-night basis.
SEND PARENTS PACKING
Conventional Wisdom: Say goodbye to your helicopter parents as soon as possible, so you can dive into campus life.
Actual Wisdom: Your mom is thinking about the day you learned to walk; your dad is thinking about getting on the highway to beat traffic. Out of earshot they already agreed not to be “too clingy” in the wake of a study showing that college students with overly controlling parents get lower grades. (Low grades just might be why the parents hover in the first place, the researchers, at the National Survey of Student Engagement, suggest.)
√Functional Advice: How much money do you have in your “bank account”? Compared to Mom and Dad’s? Would it kill you to be nice? Suggest a leisurely dinner at the French restaurant in town. Your dad may give you $100 just to get out of it.
THE LANYARD QUESTION
Conventional Wisdom: Don’t wear your ID. Google searches of “lanyard” and “freshman” bring up about 55,000 responses, including “How Not to Be THAT Freshman” and a pro/con thread on College Confidential called “Lanyard or No Lanyard?”
Actual Wisdom: Be proud. Wear a lanyard. In fact, bring back the dink, the beanie students back in the day had to wear their entire first year. Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, keeps the tradition alive — for the first week.
√Functional Advice: Don’t wear the mass-produced lanyard they give you. Make your own, handstitched. Everyone will think you are an Etsy seller.
FIND YOUR PASSION
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Conventional Wisdom: You need to quickly identify an interest that will provide creative satisfaction and a job with a salary high enough to enable you to pay back your student loans. If necessary, consult one of 2,486 books on Amazon with “finding [or find] your passion” in the title.
Actual Wisdom: Aren’t you sick of hearing this by now? Everybody knows you don’t find your passion. Didn’t you learn your lesson during your gap-year internship with the Cirque du Soleil trapeze squad? It finds you. Usually because you are in the wrong place at the right time.
√Functional Advice: Avoid reverse somersaults in midair, but everything else that seems risky is fair game.
Conventional Wisdom: Sample a wide variety of courses before deciding on a major by the end of sophomore year.
Actual Wisdom: At most public universities, there’s less than a 1-in-5 chance that you’ll complete all the classes you need to graduate in four years (about 1 in 3 at flagship state universities), according to a study done last year by the nonprofit Complete College America. Partly to blame are all those alluring electives in the course catalog that distract you from requirements. History is rife with examples of people who went far with an incredibly narrow focus: Christopher Columbus, Ringo Starr and the Zuckerberg boy. Not a one studied broadly.
√Functional Advice: With your lack of passion for anything, as soon as you have a glimmer of what you might want to do for the rest of your life, pounce on it.
GET TO KNOW A PROFESSOR
Conventional Wisdom: Wise and kindly professors will mentor you and be great advisers and job references for the rest of your life.
Actual Wisdom: Adjuncts will probably be teaching your freshman courses — and lucky for you. A study at Northwestern University found that its contingent faculty members were better at teaching introductory courses than tenured/tenure-track professors, and their students got higher grades. Besides, have you ever spent much time with an actual, honest-to-God professor? An accounting of how 30 professors at Boise State University spent their time found that only nine hours a week on average were spent face to face with students, including seven in classroom instruction.
√Functional Advice: Save your ardor for the adjuncts grading your papers.
Conventional Wisdom: You are going to gain 15 pounds your first year in college from eating too much of the wrong things.
Actual Wisdom: Freshmen gain weight, but only 2 or 3 pounds on average, according to research conducted at Ohio State University. And guess what? Young adults who don’t go to college gain almost the same amount. As people age, they get heavier. The study also sees a correlation between first-year poundage and — no bombshell here — heavy drinking.
√Functional Advice: Just keep repeating this mantra: “Cheese is not a salad.”