How to Prepare for a First Year at College

by JoHarrington

This period could impact the rest of your life in ways that will not be immediately obvious. It's not just about the academia.

This isn't a guide to tell you what books to read nor what clothes to pack in your suitcase.

It's far more practical than eating, sleeping and achieving an academic education. Use the college's official advice for that.

These are the things that you'll want to know, which aren't on the institution's website. Real stuff.

Read on for real tips from someone who has been there, got the t-shirt and, almost incidentally, walked away with the degrees too!

A Huge and Terrible Mistake

Except it wasn't. It was actually a great thing that was about to happen to me.

The first day that I walked onto campus, I thought I had made a terrible mistake. This all seemed a long way from home, and I'm not referring to mere miles.

I registered my paperwork with the front office, then explored the Student Union. All around me were people with middle class accents and conservative clothes. They didn't speak to me.

After a couple of hours of wandering around with a growing sense of dread, I found a quiet spot, hidden from the world behind towering metal bins.  Perched on a low wall, I assessed my options. They appeared bleak.

I'd given up a job for this. I was staring three years further education in the face, amongst people who weren't my sort of people. I'm not ashamed to say that I shed a couple of tears.

Then a voice piped up, making me jump. "Hey! What's all this fuss about?"  His was a broad Scouse accent. He was further away from home than me. 

I was so startled that it didn't even occur to me to question what he was doing hiding behind the bins too.  (It turned out later, after several months had sealed our friendship into such confessions, that he was doing exactly the same thing as me.  Standing there panicking!)

After chatting for a bit, we decided to move this conversation into the bar.  The building no longer felt half so intimidating, now that I had someone with whom to chat about the enormity of the situation.

Paul became my first friend in this brave, new world.  He was by no means my last.  Some of the people I met there are still my closest allies over twenty years later.

My first, very practical tip is to load your 'phone or other mp3 player with your very own music. Something up-beat and familiar is key.

College and university will be an exciting, exhilarating experience, but crossing the threshold onto campus is nerve-wracking for even the most confident of souls.  By having a good tune ready at the touch of a button, you have carried a little piece of home in there with you.

Let it be the music that anchors you at your center; that keeps you steady, when all the world has turned strange.

I didn't know this at the time, so I had only what happened to be playing as I stepped out of the bus.  As I walked across the green, towards those fabled halls, I was listening to Ned's Atomic Dustbin's Cut Up (The Tartan Shoulders Mix).

Perhaps it wasn't the best choice in the world.  It didn't tell me anything about my life and situation.  It wasn't meaningful in the here and now sense.

But it was the best choice in the world, because it was the one that was there. 

Buy an MP3 Player for College

Having your own music to hand will help get past those initial nerves. It also provides a quick boost of confidence when you need it.
Apple iPod touch 8GB (4th Generation)...Coby MP620-8GBLK 8 GB 1.8 Inch Video ...Samsung Galaxy 4.0 Android MP3 Player

Make Friends and Talk to People

You might call it stepping out of your comfort zone. I call it creating whole new ones!

You can't hide behind your music forever on campus. Nor should you. That's just for walking in.  The real value is in meeting new people and broadening your horizons.

Let's face it, we all live in tribes.  It's human nature to want to surround yourself with people just like yourself.  It's reassuring. It validates who you are and, more importantly, what you most definitely are not!

I'm more likely to strike up conversation with strangers who have the same accent as myself. I instinctively trust those wearing my football team's colors. I'll nod and smile in the street to other people with dreadlocks just like me. I can only truly let down my guard with those of the same social class.

This is tribal thinking. It is also the kind of thing which you will have to practice shedding for your freshman year.

Those with confidence and the ability to make friends easily won't have any problems at all. The shy, retiring wall-flowers will find themselves hiding behind bins thinking they've made terrible mistakes.

Remember one huge and vital fact.  Everyone arriving for their first year at college is in the same place as yourself. They might be away from home for the first time. They also don't know a soul in there. Behind all of the bravado, they're probably just praying that someone says, 'hello'.

Before you leave for college, think up some things to say to begin a conversation. Think about how you will make friends, as you explore the campus.

Particularly contemplate what you can say to people who are nothing like you at all. These are the ones who will have the most to share with you in the long-lasting friendship which may follow.

'Safe' topics of conversation:

  • The weather
  • College
  • Things you've found already on campus
  • Where people are from
  • The journey to campus
  • The city/town/village where you're now based
  • Subjects that you're here to study
  • Music/books/movies/sport
  • Empathy (if they look scared, then approach with 'it's a bit nerve-wracking isn't it?')

And the ever popular, 'tell me about yourself'.  Though try not to sound like a psychiatrist with a patient on the couch at the time!

Shy People! Pick Up a Guide to Making Friends

Making Friends

The Dos and Don'ts of Making Friends

I'm sure that we've all made some huge mistakes over the years, scaring people away; or maybe we're good at fitting right in wherever we are. Share your tips here please!
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I made a friend when I....
EMK Events Ltd on 06/19/2012

Just start a conversation with people. You will soon know if they're not interested. If they are, then just keep talking.

Alex on 06/18/2012

was totally myself. People can easily tell when someone is faking something and when they're trying to be more than they are. There should be no reason for someone to fault you for being the best you that you can be. If you click with them, awesome. If you don't, better to learn off the bat than hide behind a facade until it comes out.

Why Are Friendships So Important Anyway?

Someone's got to find the bail money, haven't they? Oh! And study partners, things like that.

There are many sensible reasons to make a lot of friends at college.  For a start, you're surrounded by intelligent people, which means that they will eventually be the ones in the best jobs. 

It's not what you know, but who you know...

Moreover, they are people who will be studying alongside you, so you will have someone to help you revise.  You can share books and proof-read each other's essays.  Worse case scenario, you will be able to swop notes, if one of you misses a class.

All of which is not the reason that I'm recommending making friends on campus.

You are going there to gain an education, but that's much wider than the things that will result (hopefully) in a nice certificate.  If this is your first time away from home, then you have a lot of memories to make, mistakes to cringe from, situations to find yourself in that you will never, ever let your parents uncover.

During this time, none of it matters, unless you have people sharing the moment with you.  If only to call for an ambulance or a lawyer.

These are the sort of friendships that endure, because you've been there together and forged bonds when all the world was crashing around your ears. These are the sort of friendships where, decades on, when you're all grown up and sensible, they will still be the ones who you call at 4am because it's all gone wrong.

Of course, I'm not advocating doing anything criminal or dangerous. But if you haven't got something that those friends could potentially blackmail you with later, then you didn't explore every avenue of your college education.

Going to college or university is all about broadening your horizons and expanding your mind. Your friends add value to that. They are the ones who, after it's all over, will know what it was like to be there!

You could perhaps prepare by looking up good hangover cures and keeping the ingredients handy.

Friendship Bracelets for your New College Friends

I recall spending three years with my wrist covered in these things! They were all the rage back then.
Handmade FRIENDSHIP BRACELETS ~ Set o...Hand Woven High Quality Cotton Friend...12 Woven Friendship Bracelets in Asso...

What or Who Have You Always Wanted to Be?

"One of these mornings, you're going to rise up singing; you're going to spread your wings and take to the skies..."

Two of my friends came out at university.  They had been reluctant to be so open back home, surrounded by people they knew and loved.  So far away, they were able to be themselves without such restrictions.

They received a lot of support from the LGBT Society.

I had been interested in Paganism, but in a 'read it in books, not sure about the reality' kind of way.  I met the High Priest who initiated me on campus.  He did so after shattering a lot of my misconceptions; and telling me things that I'm only just realizing now were very wise.

The Pagan Society kept me from falling into some quite dodgy hands.

Campus societies molded one friend into a priest; and honed the debating skills of another, until he stood as a Member of Parliament.  I've spoken with people who learned on-line political activism, then worked hard at making the world a better place.  

I've known others who were just there for the craic.  They joined societies which went on day-trips, so they could see much more of the country.

What I'm getting at here is that you get to be your own person.  You get to do that in an atmosphere where there are societies across a broad spectrum of interests.  You can be whoever you want to be on campus.  You get to start with a clean slate.

Before you leave for college, it would be an ideal time to sit back and reflect on what your interests actually are.  You've been in full-time education, doing what everyone else wanted for you for so long, that this might take some thinking about.

Incidentally. also think about hair-styles.  This is your big moment to do something weird and wonderful with your hair.  Dye it purple, spike it into a mohican or dread it.  You won't be encouraged to do that later, when there are job interviews to consider!

Need Some Hair Supplies?

It's one way to stand out in the photographs! And everyone will remember you later, if only because your hair kept changing color.
Sexy Hair Healthy Soyl Sculpting and ...Knotty Boy Dreadlock Starter Kit DarkManic Panic Semi-Permanent Hair Color...

Preparation for your First Year at College

Assuming, of course, that you've already checked the courses and matched the best ones to your grades.

I've made this sound like college will be one long party from start to finish, punctuated with the occasional stresses of papers and exams.  That's because it is.  But that isn't necessarily the case.

There are many students who simply put their heads down and work hard.  They emerge with brilliant grades, but no different to when they went in.  A little more academically adept and slightly older, that's all.

In preparing for college, I wish merely to point out that this is an opportunity for much more than that.  It's up to you what you decide to do with those chances; and therefore how greatly college will ultimately impact upon your life.

Whatever you decide, enjoy your time there!

More articles to help you through college life

Knowledge is just a process of information going in, being understood and coming out again. So how do you study?
Writing an essay, whether at school, college or university, need not be daunting. Here are some simple tips for gaining top marks.

Hangover Cures on eBay

This Wizzley article is dedicated to Alex.  Damn that was awesome.
Updated: 10/01/2012, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 06/27/2012

Thank you! And don't we all! I know I'd have done some things differently.

BrendaReeves on 06/27/2012

Great article, Jo. It makes me wish I was 18 again.

JoHarrington on 06/24/2012

Aww! That's compassion really. You were crying for your sister.

Those first weeks is just breaking the ice. After that, you get to find out who are going to be your great friends.

I forgot to mention places like the refectory/cafe. That's where everyone relaxes, so it's a good place to make friends. LOL I love your spoon story!

Ember on 06/23/2012

I cried on my first day too. I still don't know why, because it was a moment I looked forward to for so long. I was out of my parent's home, I was on my own. It started when we were driving there, and my poor then seven year old sister, who was sitting next to me in the car, bent over and wept quietly into her lap. So I started crying too, and I didn't all day long. Truthfully a lot of the people I met at first were all friendly enough, but I can't say I'm still very close friends with any of them. The dialogue always started with the same set of questions, where are you from, where are you living (because all students lived on campus until they were 21), etc. I made all my long lasting friends in time though. Freshman year, for me, the people I knew were all of the people I lived with and all of the people in my collegium. It was such a tiny school though, that if you got out and talked to people, by the time you were finished with your fourth year chances were you'd know just about everyone, in some way at least.

I wanted to answer your I made friends when I...but none of my answers make any sense really. Be forced to live with someone, how my old roomie and I became friends despite strongly...disliking each other at first. ...Erm, walk into people's dorms unannounced. Weird things like that. Although, some of my favorite days on campus was eating in the caf, because in general my uni always had a welcoming atmosphere, and I could walk up to any table of people and have lunch with a group of acquaintances. Plus all of the best activities happened in the caf...Like we had these large round tables that could seat, comfortable 10-13 people. So of course we'd go to lunch and when people would come in we'd hail them to sit with us, to see just how many people we could cram into sitting at one table. Our record was 24 or something like that. And another tradition was spooning the boys. If a boy managed to sit at those round tables, and all of the other open seats at that table were filled with girls only, everyone in the caf would get up and give the guy a spoon. Ah, college :D

JoHarrington on 06/19/2012

EMK - I'm planning on growing old disgracefully. :)

Lucas - Ah! You bumped into the people who are looking for the grades over experience. Fair play to them. Now you have to make similar choices. Good luck to you too. <3

Lucas on 06/19/2012

Enrolling for my degree in ~2 months.. Still nerve-wrecking even though I've been there for 9 months getting my Foundation done... And found out I'm taking my life way too easily compared to them... Hard to mix in with a lot of them when they spend so much time studying and all I feel like doing is go online and relax :/

EMK Events Ltd on 06/19/2012

Ned's Atomic Dustbin! You're showing your age there.

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