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What I Wish I Knew Before Starting College

by Kayla Mutchler
before starting college

I can’t believe I’m about to be a senior in college. I remember moving into my freshman dorm as an eager 18-year old. With my soon-to-be best friend and roommate by my side, I was ready to explore the vast world of higher education at the University of New Haven. I took college by storm and declared that it would be the best four years of my life. And, besides the miserable pandemic preemptively ending my Italian study abroad experience, struggling through an entire school year of a “new normal,” and enduring a few friend fights, it has been. To you, incoming freshmen, be as optimistic as I was about the college experience because it can and will be amazing. I have a piece of advice for each of you, and I hope it helps. Here are a few things I wish I knew before starting college. 

Don’t Buy Textbooks Unless Absolutely Necessary

Your syllabus is lying to you. I can count numerous times that I bought a textbook and never used it; that’s hundreds of dollars gone to waste. Here’s how to ease book expenses:

1. Wait as long as possible to see if you actually need it. If your professor assigns homework out of the book, then it’s probably required. If the text doesn’t arrive on time, ask a classmate or a professor to borrow theirs until your copy comes in.

2. The library might have copies you can use. At my school, there are multiple copies of every textbook that can either be checked out or solely used while in the library. You can always look into those options and even take pictures or photocopy the pages as needed. 

3. Buy the cheapest version possible. Multiple websites offer rentals, including some that you can highlight and take notes in. Your school’s bookstore may even have rental copies. These with a paperback version tend to be the cheapest. You likely won’t need the book after you finish the class, so don’t waste your money buying an expensive version. 

4. Check if classmates are selling their books. Your school or class social media pages are the best forums to find listings. You can even sell your books, too, if you purchased one you don’t need. 

Get Involved and Do it Early

When you see the campus activity fair at the beginning of the year, don’t ignore it. Instead, you should get involved in some sort of organization around campus, if not multiple. Whether you go to a large or small school, there are so many opportunities for you to explore and expand your interests. You might even find an interest that you didn’t have before starting college.

Freshman year, I joined the women’s club rugby team, the campus newspaper, and the radio station. They all ended up working to my benefit. I no longer play rugby, but I ended up getting leadership positions at the other organizations–I even became the editor-in-chief of the paper. 

Put yourself out there. Not only does it look great on resumes, but you will learn new skills in interpersonal communication, leadership, teamwork, and much more–and those are the values that many employers look for. Work aside, it’s just plain fun!

before starting college

Photo by Brooke Cagle

You’re Going to Meet More People than You Think

College can be the crossroads of people from different states, cultures, backgrounds, and even parts of the world. No matter the size of your school, you will meet a lot of new people. From classes to eating in the dining hall, to campus events, and especially going out, there are plenty of opportunities to make friends. 

I suggest going into any conversation with an open mind. I have made so many friends just by saying “hello,” and some of them seem like they will last a lifetime. Try to break out of your shell a little bit. 

However, you will not like everyone that you meet, and that’s okay. It does not give you the authority, however, to be rude or hurtful to anyone. It’s important to still spread kindness to each other–it is a powerful tool. If you aren’t fond of someone, rather than burning bridges, either try to stay neutral or walk away from the situation–but always be kind, even if it seems difficult. You will learn and grow from being able to deal with different types of people.

before starting college

Photo by Alexis Brown

Professors Can Be Your Best Asset

Try to build a relationship with your professors, just like you may have done with teachers or mentors before starting college. Reach out to them; introduce yourself. Show who you are and why you care about their class. You will be with these professors for an entire semester, and possibly multiple times throughout college, so you’ll want to have a relationship with them. Not every class will be your favorite, but each is a valuable learning opportunity. 

Building a relationship, and a good one can be important. Showing that you’re a dedicated and caring student may even boost your grade. But you can’t just say it; you have to show it. Ask for extra help if you need it, ask the professors about themselves and careers, and care about what you’re learning. You never know what opportunity that professor can present to you or the people they know, whether it’s for an internship or job. Being a stand-out student just might land you the opportunity of a lifetime. 

before starting college

Photo by Dom Fou

You Don’t Need That Many Clothes

I don’t know about you, but I always overpack. I wish I had realized this before starting college Especially for my freshman year, I brought way too much stuff. Trust me, you won’t need it all. I suggest bringing your essentials. You’ll want formal clothes for interviews or presentations, casual clothes for class, clothes to work out or lounge in, outfits for going out on weekends–basically, you’ll want a variety. However, that doesn’t mean you need your entire closet. I assure you that a shirt you wore once during junior year of high school probably won’t be worn a single time in college. The same applies to shoes. If you wear them a lot, bring them; if you don’t, you probably won’t use them now. 

Think about how often you’ll go home during the school year and the climate of your school’s area. For me, it’s only hot for about two to three months out of the entire school year, so I really don’t need all of my summer stuff. Also, I go home every few weeks, so I can switch out my clothes pretty often. If you live further away, you probably won’t be able to go home as much, so you’ll want to bring a good variety of clothes. 

I suggest going through your clothes before you leave and donating or thrifting what you don’t need. There is always someone who would wear what you don’t.

before starting college

Photo by Sarah Brown

You Can Get a Lot of Free/Discounted Stuff

This is really one of the things I wish I knew before starting college, especially since you might not have that much money. Sure, college is expensive, but at least you can get discounts from your favorite brands and even local businesses. Always bring your student ID so you can prove you’re in college. My favorite local diner offered student discounts, and I didn’t even know until months after my first visit. Feel free to ask, too, if you’re unsure. 

One word can be your best friend: Unidays. Unidays is a website and app that is a great way to find student discounts. You can sign up for an account once you get your university email. If you have Spotify or Apple Music, for example, you can get it for nearly half of the original price. 

before starting college

Photo by Marvin Meyer

Organization and Self Care is Key

Just trust me on this one. You’ll probably have anywhere from four to six classes per semester. On top of your possible extracurriculars, it can become a hassle to keep everything in check. Experiment with organization methods to see what works for you. This is even great to work on before starting college.

Here’s what worked for me: waking up early, using a planner, writing lists, and setting reminders. Waking up early is a great way to make sure you have enough time to get everything done and plan out your day. Planners are great because you can write down what is due each day and any events you might have to attend. It goes hand-in-hand with lists, as you can jot down whatever needs to be done, in order–and crossing out a finished task feels amazing. As for reminders, utilize your phone. I know for a fact you always have it on you, so you’ll always know what you need to complete. 

Most importantly, I believe you need to give yourself enough time for relaxation. You may feel stressed out, especially around midterms and finals, but you will get through it. Try to schedule in some time each day to do something you love. Whether it’s having a DIY spa treatment, playing video games, reading, watching Netflix, or whatever else you enjoy, genuine self-care is important. 

before starting college

Photo by Denise Jans

Time Will Genuinely Fly By

As cliché as it sounds, enjoy it while it lasts. Have this mindset before starting college. This is your opportunity to shape who you want to be as a person and make a name for yourself, so do it with your fullest potential. Spend time with your friends and build close relationships. Explore the world around your campus. Focus on your schoolwork. Go out when you have free time. Meet new people.

Regardless of how you spend your time here, try to make it as enjoyable as possible. The best memories will be made at the most unlikely times.

Do you have any advice for incoming students? Leave a comment below. 

Main image by Element5 Digital. 

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