A Big Sister’s List of Dos and Don’ts for Freshman Year Wellness

At little sister’s high school graduation

Dear little duck,

I know you are more than capable of handling Freshman year on your own. You’re probably more capable than I am even having already gone through it. I have always been more of the “trainwreck” as Amy Schumer would term it. But that doesn’t matter. I learned a few things through the muck of being an 18 year old girl living on your own for the first time, and they are things I would like to share with you.

  1. DO look up the number of skips you are allowed for each of your classes.

2. DO skip a class for a personal day if you get more than 1 free skip. Use it to clean your room, watch Netflix, order your favorite meal, get lunch with friend. Do it guilt free, and without excuse. I used mine to watch “Chalet Girl” on Netflix, (and truth be told, I had a lot more than just my recommended ‘one’ of these days).

3. DO NOT tell mom and dad I gave you this advice (although in a meta sense, I guess they’ll be reading it once I post this article).

4. DO NOT use up all your free skips on personal days. You will get a cold, and it’ll be nice not to have to go to class when you get it.

5. DO NOT pregame with more than 6 shots. It does not matter if you can’t feel them yet. YOU WILL.

6. DO call me if you are sexually assaulted in anyway. I will not tell mom. Also, DO immediately go to the health center. SERIOUSLY. Embarrassment is less deadly than an STD.

7. DO go out for a pumpkin spice latte with your friends on a Sunday in the fall. Face Time mom and dad on this day too.

8. DO NOT spend too much time on your make-up before going out, especially lip stick. You will sweat.

9. DO dance with a guy even if you’re still dating your boyfriend. If you feel as though you want to make out with him, break up with your boyfriend.

10. DO NOT think it makes you bad or uncaring if you feel attracted to other guys when you’re dating your boyfriend. But remember, it is most likely a sign that something is missing in your relationship, or that maybe you are too young to BE in a relationship. If you really were meant to be with him forever, you wouldn’t think twice about your attraction to someone else. If you find yourself thinking twice, go on a break.

11. DO hug the friends you make. Often. You never know which ones you might not see after Freshman year.

12. DO actually pay attention in your classes. It’s pretty awesome that we have the means to attend college. Don’t forget that.

13. DO join a professional/scholastic club of some sort. Tennis and a social life is fine, but it makes you feel more like a person when you get to attend fancy restaurants with your professors. It also opens you up to a different sort of friendship that is based in trying to better your intellect.

14. DO befriend nerds. Especially because I am one, and I know you are too. I’ve got a lot of friends, but the ones who give me the most laughs are sometimes the ones that don’t always appear in my Instagram pictures. Life gets very, very superficial and devoid of meaning when you just care about drinking, and clothes, and boys. I am a nerd, and my conversations about Sherlock, and archaeology, and Hell’s Kitchen, and teen science fiction made my days less lonely sometimes. Some weekends I would want to stay in, and my friends wouldn’t. I stayed in with my nerd team and we watched movies with frizzy hair, pajamas, and Doritos. It was f u n. I felt like I feel when I stay at home with you. Sometimes you need that, and you shouldn’t feel lame because of it.

15. DO try and support most of your school’s clubs. Not just sports, but drama, gender advocacy, a capella, etc. You’ll meet loads more people from different walks of life (and get free shit)and that’s what college is about.

16. DO take many drunken videos. TAKE SO FUCKING MANY. They are priceless.

17. DO NOT leave your jackets in someone’s room that you do not trust. Also, write in your notes “DON’T FORGET JACKETS” screenshot it, and make it your background for that night. I didn’t forget my jacket once thanks to that, and if I did it a different time, I probably wouldn’t have lost my Free People jean jacket.

18. DO start planning for Halloween way ahead of time. I mean like the end of September early. Halloween usually lasts the weekend before Halloween, the weekend of, and the weekend after, and if you just have an idea in mind of what you’ll do without ever actually putting it together and seeing if it works until the night of, YOU WILL end up resorting to being a cat or a hippie.

19. DO NOT be afraid of admitting that you are stressed. Call me, call mom, call dad. I know you don’t see a therapist and you are fine, but stress sometimes brings on things that you’ve never experienced before. It’s NORMAL. It’s NATURAL. But you also should address it. Just as if your pee burns, you go see a doctor, if you aren’t feeling like yourself, if you’re depressed, whatever, and it lasts more than 2 days, make an appointment with a counselor. I don’t give a fuck if it’s stigmatized, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Our brain is the most important part of us, it controls everything, it makes Z E R O sense that we shouldn’t check up on it more often. And honestly, maybe you’ll never have to even deal with this, maybe you’re much healthier at dealing with stress than me… I hope you are. All I am saying is that it is OK to admit you are not OK. The strongest of us are the ones who can admit when we are weak.

20. DO realize that you can only recognize what you value, what is light, what makes you smile, what “good” is, when you experience the bad. Whether its a fight with your roommate, a break-up, a reeeeeeallly drunken night, a horrible grade — they’re all bad stuff. They’ll give you stomachaches and make you cry. But they’ll pass, lil duck. They’ll pass.

21. DO buy your roommate her favorite snack and set it up all nice on her bed if you like, I don’t know, accidentally drunkenly lock her out of your room like I did once? A long apology text is necessary too but I promise the snack will thaw the ice.

22. DO make friends with an art student, even art photo. They’ll have a bunch of events you can go to with free food, and also you can try attending a nude sketching class with them. It’s AWESOME, but try really hard not to laugh, and if you don’t think you’ll be able to, don’t go.

23. DO take advantage of anyone asking you to go to dinner in Pittsburgh. Family, distant family friends, whatever. Even if you think it’ll be awkward with just you, it’s a growing experience, and the food WAYYY outweighs any awkwardness you might feel.

24. DO tell people to send you mail but do not post your address on Facebook. Even if it’s nothing but a card, it’ll make your day to get mail. One time mom mailed me stuff I forgot from home but sent me a card with a lil piggy on the front and wrote “WE MISS YOU :)” on the inside. I cried. It’s taped on my wall now.

25. DO post stuff on your walls that fills your heart, not stuff that “looks cool.” No one cared that I had David Bowie CD covers or an Urban Outfitters bag taped on my wall. I definitely didn’t. That doesn’t help you fall asleep, or get you out of bed when you’re tired. One lesson you’ll learn in college is to be genuine, because an image we have in our head of what would make us appear cool to someone else doesn’t carry shit in the long run. Tape pictures of you and your friends to your wall, of you and mom, you and dad, me and you. Quotes from “Harry Potter,” or maybe “The Office” for you. Quotes that make you smile. Quotes that make you tear up. Posters of places you want to visit some day. Optimistic and uplifting sayings. You are most likely never going to be photographed for an Urban Outfitters catologue one day, but there is a 100% chance that you will feel lost at some point during college. Your bedroom wall should help ground you.

26. DO have a soft blanket with you.

27. DO make good impressions on your professors IN class. It’s not all about office hours, though they may like you more if they see initiative in you to go to them. But you can show just as much initiative in class. If you’re texting in class, not paying attention, looking like you’d rather be buried in wet cement, not asking questions, etc., going to office hours will not save you.

28. DO wear outfits to concerts or parties that are slightly shameful, that you’d never want mom or dad to know you wore. You’ll grow out of it, and it shouldn’t be to every party, but maybe to one or two in the warm season. It’s just a college rite of passage. But also, never look the most “shameful” in the group you’re going out with. You’ll constantly be comparing yourself to everyone else at the party, and it’s not good to compare ourselves to other people. The “unwanted attention” factor doesn’t even matter because you’ll get that shit no matter what you wear.

29. DO decide on at least one day a month, or every two months, to dress up with your friends and go out somewhere nice to eat on a Saturday night in the city. Yeah, I love Eli for being with my blacked out self countless times in a sticky basement, but I love my memories of us going to Pastabilities or Margaritaville more.

30. DO stay in on a Saturday or Sunday, and watch romantic movies with tubs of ice cream. Yeah, it’s a cliche, but I’ve learned that cliches are there for a reason.

31. DO Face Time mom! Even if it’s for no reason. It’ll make her happy, and I promise you, there’s nothing like seeing your mom’s face when you haven’t in so long.

32. DO call dad and tell him all about your accomplishments in class. Call him and just tell him you’re watching Netflix. Call him and tell him anything. You’re his baby, he’ll love to hear your voice.

33. DO NOT be afraid to share your deepest self with your friends. All we have in the world is our ability to connect. Stay up until 3 am telling stories of how your parents met, of how they fought sometimes, of your insecurities about why boys treat you like shit, of whatever else has taken up residence in the darkest parts of your soul, untouched for too long. You will give each other strength and you will feel that there’s always someone out there who loves you even after really knowing you.

34. DO NOT be too upset if you have to just “do it live” on an exam. It’s impossible to fully study the amount you want to, and sometimes you’ll have more than one exam in a day and you have to make judgement on which test you have to devote more study time to. DO NOT pull an all-nighter to study both. It’ll just make you do worse on both exams. Study one as much as you can, and then whatever time you have left to get at least a decent 6 hours of sleep in, use it to study for the other one. I have literally gone into tests blind and got B’s on them. Your brain can surprise you with how much you remember.

35. DO watch you tube videos of “I Dreamed a Dream” to get you back on the study horse after you’ve fallen off into a thorny, muddy grave of despair. Susan Boyle’s version has its perks, but my personal favorite is Anne Hathaway’s rendition because, really, you can’t complain about your essays while Fantine is missing teeth and has anywhere between 2 and 19 infectious diseases.

36. DO NOT beat yourself up for gaining weight. You will. Even if you go to the gym, you will. Maybe not as much, but you’re going to gain some. Do not start eating less. Weight gain in college is a sign of your social life, which isn’t a bad thing! 10 pounds is not something to get upset over, honestly. Especially when every one else is going through the same thing.

37. DO always drink water when you get back from going out. If you only try it the next morning, you’ll barf.

37. DO NOT go out on a Thursday if you have class the next day. You’ll tell yourself that you’ll make it, and maybe some days you will, but one day you’ll feel like Satan’s bowels and you’ll have to skip and then feel like double shit. You’ll never miss anything on a Thursday night. Saturday nights are when shit goes down.

38. DO NOT EVER leave a party (or go to one for that matter) alone. You’re more likely to leave one alone though because you’ll be drunk and you’ll think you can, and you might even be so tired that all you want to do is sleep. I don’t give a fuck. There are so many times when I’ve walked home blackout drunk and the next morning I wondered how I got home. That is awful, and dangerous, and disrespectful to everyone who loves you. It is by the grace of the universe that I am okay, and that I am even able to say, “I’ve learned my lesson.” Do not leave your life up to fate. DO NOT EVER LEAVE ON YOUR OWN. And even if you leave with a group, try to walk near other people. (These walks also make for the best drunk videos…)

39. DO try yoga. I know you think yogis are annoying. That’s fine. If you start opening yourself up to yoga, your older self will thank you for it one day. It’s about learning to trust what is inside you, and looking to yourself for strength, rather than to anyone else. Having a boyfriend will not help you get into a headstand. Just as having a boyfriend or having good clothes won’t actually make you happy. YOU will ultimately make your own happiness. It has taken me a long time to realize that, and I’m still not fully there. Start with yoga.

40. DO give yourself a little self-talk each day when you get out of the shower. Look yourself directly in the eyes and tell yourself you are beautiful and loving. Tell yourself the things you are grateful for, and tell yourself that you will have a good day. Tell yourself if other things happen to make it not a good day, you are strong and you will get through it. Say these things even if you don’t believe them. Eventually you will get into a routine of feeling more grateful than resentful, more hopeful than cynical, more self-empowered than self-judgmental. It makes all the difference, duck.

41. DO remember that a bad day is not a bad life.

42. DO remember that it will pass. Not every day will be a good day, but that’s no reason to despair. That must mean that not every day will be a bad day either.

43. DO stay close to anything and anyone that makes you happy to be alive.

45. DO NOT think twice about cutting something or someone out of your life that pulls you down. You have no obligation to them. Even people who you think need your help. You don’t have to be cruel or unkind, but you don’t have to go out of your way for them.

46. DO be wary of people’s intentions, especially men. I wish I could tell you that you should trust people. You should trust people who have proved themselves to you. But men care about sex in college. I’m waiting to hear of a case where they don’t. This guy bought me tweezers, he ate lunch with me, he watched movies with me, we worked on math homework together. He also sexually assaulted me. Be careful of people Tyra, but also remember there are loads of people ready to die for you. That same night, 10 girls who I knew only a few months, sat up with me while I was sick, showered me, and slept in my room to make sure I was OK. I owe them my life, really, truly. There are bad people out there, Tyra, but that does not make it a bad world. I can’t wait for you to meet all the beautiful people.

47. DO sign up for extra-credit presentations. You’ll say to yourself, “I can’t get up in front of all those people, I can’t do it.” Present your stuff. Your face might get all red, your throat might get tight, your hands might shake…you’ll make it through it. And you will feel so much more accomplished afterwards.

48. DO NOT take yourself too seriously. Laugh at yourself. You’ll be someone people want to be around, and more importantly, who you want to be around.

49. DO take a foreign language class if the credits allow. You’ll meet people who open up your worldview and you might also get to try foods from different cultures. It doesn’t matter if it brings down your GPA a bit. That goes for a lot of things. EXPERIENCE matters so much god damn more than grade points, Tyra. I don’t care what religion you believe in, what occupation you have, we all bleed, and we’re all going to die. If someone gives you the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, what memories will kill you to forget? Not the damn GPA.

50. DO remember how much I love you, and how much Dad loves you, and how much Mom loves you, and how much Simba loves you, and Nala, and Grandma, and Grandma and Grandpa, and Aunt Debbie, and Aunt Marion, and Uncle Chuck, and Aunt Ellen, and Jenny, and John, and Chuckie, and MaryGrace, and Cara and Michael, and Melissa, Stephanie and Maura, and Aunt Lorie, and Uncle Mike, and Mrs. Wynn, Evan, your elementary school teachers, Jimmy, and etc. I feel it necessary to name the whole list because it’s a big one. And we are all ALWAYS in your corner.

I hope this list adds to your Freshman year. That year was the beginning of a time that I cannot quite describe in words. Growing, might be a good one. The most important, are an accurate three. Scary, is one that applied sometimes. Not readily traded for anything, are an absolutely truthful five. I hope you’ll be able to say the same.

Love, Alexa.

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