When you move out of home for the first time into your college dorm, it’s a time of enormous change. As a young person, all of your familiar environments are gone, and new ones appear to take their place. All of your old good habits have a chance to fail, and you have an opportunity to kick some or all of your bad habits. You’re suddenly surrounded by strangers who don’t know anything about your high school days. It’s a huge opportunity, so here are my tips for making the most of the big move as a freshman.
Your reputational baggage
If you’ve come from a small town, where everyone knows you, and if you’re like most people, you did some silly thing as a teenager that “everyone” remembers. The truth is that few of them probably remember at all, but still, you carry this baggage around with you, and it weighs down your identity. You’re becoming a new person in college, so give that baggage a spring cleaning!
It’s certainly true that a few friends may come with you from your hometown, but mostly, you’re around completely new people. And your friends will want to meet new people too. So let them. Try a new circle of friends and see what happens. If you have always been the “class clown”, it’s time to give up the role and find another one.
You’ll find that you will expand your circle of friends by meeting new people in classes. You’ll find that you will be invited to more parties. You’ll find that people will find you more interesting than they did when you were a hometown kid.
Your hometown social circle will always be there for you, but it’s time to move on!
Your bedroom and your body
Some people can’t wait to move out of home and get their own room. Others hate the idea of being away from home. Whichever you are, moving into your college dorm is an opportunity to kick some old habits and start some new ones.
If you’re in a shared room, you need to get to know your roommate. Don’t just sit in your room and expect that he or she will come to you. It’s not likely to happen. You need to be sociable and friendly. You have to get to know each other, and you have to like each other. In most cases, the early days are the hardest, so get through them.
If you are in a single room, make sure it’s a place where you can spread out. You need a lot of space for your stuff. Don’t let your room be a dumping ground for all the junk you no longer want at home. Get rid of it or find a place for it by donating it.
You need to have a place for studying. Even if you study in the library, you need a quiet place to get away from the noise of the dorm. If you can afford it, a good pair of noise cancelling headphones can make a huge difference.
Your body is your most important possession, and you need to look after it. At risk of sounding like you mum: Don’t get into the habit of eating junk food and drinking soft drinks. These are the foods that will make you fat, and there will be plenty of them around you in the college dining hall. Drink plenty of water. Eat fruits and vegetables. Sleep well and get sufficient exercise. Make sure you go to the gym at least once a week.
You’ll find that you have a lot more free time in college, but also a lot more things to do, so start a habit of exercising regularly. Make a plan and go for a walk, go to the gym, or find some other way to get some exercise.
A lot of guys have a hard time with this one, but you really need to use deodorant. It’s not a sign of weakness to be clean and fresh. Most girls love a man who smells good. If you were “that stinky guy” in high-school, poof, you are now a blank slate, able to wear deodorant, and no-one will judge your stinky past!
If you used to hang out at the mall, maybe it’s time to hang out in bookstores or cafes. If you used to kick around with a bad crowd who smoked cigarettes or weed, maybe it’s time to meet some alternative hippie kids who care about their health, and experiment with newer things. If you were a straight-A student, maybe it’s time to let your hair down for a bit.
The big thing to remember with this new opportunity to experiment and explore, is that you will build habits whether you mean to or not. The first place you go for dinner will most likely be a frequent haunt of yours, so make sure it isn’t fast food! If your normal bedtime in the first week is super late, then you can bet it’ll stay that way by default, unless you make an effort to establish a new habit. Think carefully about what your ideal 3-5 years (or more!) of college life should look like, and keep reassessing, as you go through your first few weeks of college.
One last tip: make sure you reach out to get the support you need from family, good friends, and the college support services. They’re there to help, so make use of them.
It’s an exciting, scary and fun time, so enjoy it!