10 Things You Need to Do Within Your First Ten Days of College
Congratulations! You’re completely high school and have reached the next fabled level of Adulthood™: college. You’re likely incredibly nervous, excited, under immense pressure, elated by the incredible possibilities before you… and confronted with a seemingly endless assortment of posters, email blasts, facebook invites, printed guidebooks, and chipper upperclassmen in the quad, all vying for your attention with lofty announcements like:
- “90s-themed party at Gamma Iota Omega Rho Xi Upsilon tomorrow night!
- “Guest lecture in Morgan Hall 4pm Wednesday… Learn all about Political Theory of Taiwanese Astrophysics and Midwifery!”
- “Special giveaway! First 200 students to purchase a highlighter/pen set from the campus bookstore this week will receive a FREE t-shirt of their choice! *xx-large club tennis shirts only*
With a daunting mixture of enticing and not-so-enticing opportunities that all aim to sound SUPER IMPORTANT and 100% ABSOLUTELY UNBELIEVING LIFE-AFFIRMINGLY UNMISSABLE, it can be tough to know which to explore first.
So, here’s an abridged resource: my top ten recommendations of things to do within about the first ten days of arriving in your new academic zip code.
They’ll not only help you feel like a Real Life College Student™, but will encourage you to explore the complexities of campus and establish healthy habits for the hundreds of days to follow.
1. Find the Food
Smoothie stands, bagel shops, cafes, and buffets — you’ve likely already heard some tips on the best and worst places to chow down.
Don’t wait; seek out food hot spots early on.
That way, you’ll not only discover your own favorite spots and items, but you’ll also know which places are fast vs. slow, which have options to fit your allergies or dietary restrictions, and which have portions that’ll actually fill you up past your next block of classes. So when you feeling extremely hangry, you’ll know exactly where to go for a fast gluten-free veggie burger, without having to take a hopeful guess.
By the way, this still applies to commuter students who’ll eat most of their meals off campus; let your GPS show you yummy options along your route to school and try a few out.
2. Talk to your RA
Your resident assistant will likely hold a hall meeting (or two or three) shortly after move in. They’ll probably also stop by each room to talk to residents individually. HOWEVER, the more residents, the more likely it is that each pre-med/pre-law/pre-youtube-star will blend together in the RA’s mind.
Chatting up your RA (by knocking on their door or when you happen to run into them) will help you establish a stronger relationship. So when you have an issue — whether it’s directly related to your room (like a broken cabinet) or something much more personal (like you just broke up with your girlfriend and the dining hall was out of comforting ice cream), there’ll be someone who cares about you and is willing to talk just a few doors down.
Additionally, if your RA knows you well, they’ll be more likely to involve you in fun residence life opportunities!
When planning a holiday party, they’ll remember that you have an amazing tiger costume perfect for a safari theme; when decorating the hall’s bulletin board, they’ll utilize your impeccable drawing talents; and when they’ve got an extra seat in their car for a grocery shopping trip, they’ll invite you along.
3. Join a Club
Just as you’ve surely heard “college is hard” or “what are you going to major in?” from approximately a billion and five people, you’re most certainly well aware that joining a club is an essential part of college life. So, I’ll hold off (for now) on explaining all the truly wonderful reasons why you should indeed join.
Instead, I’ll tell you to join (or at least, look into joining) a club very soon after arriving on campus. Making it a priority from day #1 (or #2, 5 or 10) will ensure that you have a social outlet to look forward to as you’re first adjusting to your new life. Plus, you won’t have to worry about being the only newbie in a club full of vets (err, unless it’s a veterinary club or student military veterans society), as other new students will be joining within the first week, too!
Though many student groups tend to be enthusiastically open to new members all year round, they often do their most active recruiting soon after — or even during — orientation.
Performance tropes hold auditions, student newspapers and radio stations search for contributors, club sports look to finalize their teams, and social-action based organizations plan campaigns.
Look for fliers, search the university’s event calendar, and listen for word-of-mouths mouthing about a Club Fair. Many universities will host a day or evening for current members to advertise and chat with potential new members — a perfect way to learn about many possibilities at once!
But if you miss the fair or can’t make it (too busy completing another item on my list? niiice!), don’t fret. Search the group’s name or general description on the university’s website or social media, then send the president or another listed student leader a message, expressing your interest in learning more. You can also stop by your university’s Student Activities Office or Student Union (or sometimes called Student Life, Student Involvement or Campus Activities) to speak with a university staff member, who’ll happily tell you about apt student organizations and how to join. Or if your dream group doesn’t already exist, you may be encouraged to create your own.
4. Talk to Your Family
This might be the most obnoxiously obvious suggestion to many students, who’ve heard “call me, sweetie!” numerous times via texts, calls, emails, facebook messages, fax messages, and bird calls. But establishing a specific communication plan may help calm your loved ones.
Rather than vaguely telling your adoring mother that you’ll “talk occasionally” or your faithful cousin that you’ll “speak soon,” work with them to establish mutually acceptable plans.
Perhaps you’ll dial dad at 7:00pm every Sunday and Wednesday, plus text him briefly each Friday to assure him that your homework and social life are going well. Maybe grandma will receive long emails once a month, your uncle will get texts after each swim meet (since he’s your biggest fan), and your siblings will each receive a phone call before marching band practice on Sundays.
This will allow you to maintain control over your busy schedule, while assuring your closest friends and family that indeed, they are on your mind and you will be in touch. Hopefully, then, no one will assume you’ve died tragically via calculus pop quiz or mascot trampling if you don’t call every single day; they’ll understand that you’re simply too busy at the exact moment… and you’ll ring next at, say, 3:15 Tuesday.
5. Get Lost
I’m not imploring you to journey so far away from familiar territory that you need to spell out “HELP” in the sand and search the sky for rescue helicopters. But wandering around campus for an afternoon — or even just 20 spare minutes — will help you stumble upon new parts of campus, which you didn’t notice on the online map nor visit during orientation. Perhaps you’ll find the perfect shady spot to study, a library room set at your ideal temperature, or a vending machine that has your favorite chips. You may even discover a great shortcut to class, meaning more chances to…
6. Indulge in Some Free Time
The first week of college — actually every year of it — is full of “need to”s.
- You need to study.
- You need to buy 19 books, 5 binders, 2 highlighter sets, and a loofah.
- You need to add that guy Steve on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook.
But one thing you should also do each day is ignore all the need tos and take some time to truly enjoy yourself — however that may be.
Even if it’s just for 20 or 30 blissful minutes, treating yourself each day to something that makes you reliably happy will go a long way in sustaining your overall happiness throughout the week.
Otherwise, stress can build up so much that you run the risk of eventually shutting down completely, ignoring all responsibilities for a while. Trust me, I’ve been there.
You’ll want to avoid this vicious cycle:
overwork → shut down → hate yourself for shutting down → overwork → repeat
by allowing yourself daily moments of relief. Personally, I like to watch a show or two on Netflix, bake (chocolate = mandatory), read a novel, or, if my mind is relaxed enough to allow it, nap. Some students enjoy tossing around Frisbees in the quad, editing photos, playing video games, crafting origami, or, like one of my eccentric former classmates, yodeling. (But please avoid doing that last one in the library.)
7. Introduce Yourself to a Professor
Just like Hagrid, most professors aren’t nearly as intimidating once you get to know them. Whether it’s a lecture with 500+ students or an intimate 15-person seminar, establishing an individual relationship with your professors is always an A+ idea.
No, I don’t mean that Mrs. Dr. Professor, PhD will give all your essays A+s just because you once shook her hand firmly, but if your professors know a bit about you (besides just your name, seat preference, and the fact that you like to sip on chocolate venti frapaccinos covered in whipped cream at 7:45am) they’ll almost certainly feel more invested in your academic career. They may cater a lesson related to your niche interest, spend more time writing helpful essay critiques, or set you up with their best TA for tutoring. Plus, if/when you’re eventually in need of a letter of recommendation for an internship/job/research opportunity, they’ll be much more likely to pen a truly personalized letter, rather than needing to unearth their dusty class roster as proof that you even took the course.
I realize that introducing yourself to a professor can be scary… so that’s exactly why I recommend trying it out at least once within the first few days!
After you’ve done it successfully once, it’ll be much less daunting the next time. Here are some suggestions of how to best approach and engage members of the endangered professorial species:
- Research them online beforehand and mention a shared interest or background in a brief, professional email. (“I’m excited to start your Organic Chemistry 101 course this Monday. I really enjoyed your piece on Yadda Science Yadda for the New York Times in 2011. I hope to hear more about your research for that piece in class.”)
- Simply say hello after a lesson, expressing your enthusiasm (“Hi Professor McGonagall. I want to introduce myself. I’m Josh M. Freshman. I can’t wait for the session on _____ in 3 weeks. I studied that in high school and am eager to learn more.”)
- Stop by their office hours, listed on the syllabus or course website. While it’s true that some professors may hold office hours solely because the university requires them to, many genuinely want to meet their students and hope they’ll stop by. If you’re not sure what to say or worried about it being awkward, come with a specific question from the textbook, bring along a classmate, or simply thank them for a thought-provoking lesson. (It’s not “sucking up” if it’s truthful, and the professor will especially be impressed — by your enthusiasm and attentiveness — if you cite something specific from their lessons.)
8. Meet with an Academic Adviser
Before I first met my academic adviser, young(er) me imagined our session would be a useless time waster. I envisioned a personality-less woman slowly droning on, reading course descriptions that I could easily find in the course catalog all on my own, thanks very much.
Academic advisers do far more than reiterate course catalogs, academic procedures, and graduation requirements.
Rather than talking at you, advisers will ask you about yourself: your academic interests and passions, your professional goals, and your learning styles. Then, they’ll help you build a course schedule that’s right for YOU, while adhering to college requirements.
But it’s also a-okay if you have no idea what you to study; my reply to the dreaded “what your major?” question throughout my freshmen year went something like: “Well, I’m kinda sorta perhaps interested in history, poli sci and English lit. Or sociology or psychology. Oh, and I’d like to learn more about linguistics. Or um, archaeology… maybe?”
Rather than playing academic matchmaker/dictator and forcing me to take Introductory Birdhouse Building or Gerontology 201, my adviser got to know me — my natural talents, my study habits, my values — to support, coach, and guide me along my unique academic journey.
Also, meeting with your adviser early on can help you gain a trusty resource beyond just the initial course selection period. Advisers can provide valuable time management tips, help your GPA recover from that C- in Organic Chemistry, talk you through the pros and cons of taking 16 vs. 20 credits, and even suggest awesome co-curricular opportunities that relate to your courses and expand your education beyond the refurbished walls and carpeted floors of the classroom. It’s similar to hiring a professional life coach or career counselor — without a price tag. (Welllllll, besides that pesky thing called tuition.)
Note that colleges tend to all differ slightly on what roles advisers do and don’t play, but if they cannot personally offer any of the above services or words of wisdom, they should be able to direct you toward a campus resource that can.
9. Chat with Your Roommate
I‘ll give you the benefit of the doubt: if someone is in the same 200 square feet as you, you’ll know to at least say “hi”.
But in addition to your attempts to make your new roomie a life-long buddy/future speech-giver at your wedding, it’s vital to have a strategic, detailed chat about your use of the shared space.
And for that, I shall introduce… (drum-roll please, even if it’s sarcastic):
the roommate contract!
Heck, given that I pulled those links from university websites, perhaps your school requires you to complete one, in which case you can skip this step.
Roommate contracts encourage you and the person who’ll sleep in the neighboring twin bed to discuss habits, goals, and expectations for the room. Like, who’ll clean which spaces and when? Which items are up for sharing? Can a friend or two stop by in the afternoon? How about 30 close buddies who’ll juggle and play banjo at 4:30am?
That way, you’ll know that your roommate has agreed to say, turn the TV off by 11:00pm nightly, rather than just assuming they will… and getting angry when they don’t.
I realize that saying “Hey Amy/Jessica/Gary/Thor, I printed out two copies of a document I’d like to discuss thoroughly before signing” can be more than a wee bit strange. But, your RA can help! Simply let your RA know that you’d like to complete a roommate contract… and they’ll surely be glad to play along, innocently suggesting it to your roommate, without said roomie knowing that you were the one to request it. Plus, chances are fairly strong that your RA will have their own version of a roommate contract on hand.
Oh, and for students living at home, I highly suggest talking with dear mother, step-sister, auntie, great-uncle-twice-removed — whomever your roommate(s) may be — about your changing habits. Now that you’re in college, perhaps you’d like the house to be quiet Sunday afternoons while you study, or you’ll no longer have time to babysit your little brother every Thursday evening but can do Tuesdays. Sharing specific expectations with your family will help them become supportive partners in your new life as a student, rather than unintended nuisances.
…preferably not in class though.