Since the Dean's List came out on the day of this writing, I think I can say I survived my first semester of college with some amount of confidence (notice I said "I think." I'm all about contingency plans here). Five months ago, I was a ball of nerves, freaking out over a huge transition I didn't think I was ready to make. And I was just commuting—I have a lot of respect for the dorm students. Considering I was going from two hallways crammed with 400 kids to a campus measured in acres with thousands of students...well, the anxiety kicked in. Not all of it is gone, because I've just accepted I'll be a ball of nerves for the rest of my life, but I can say, this time quite confidently, that college isn't what I expected it would be. It's better.
However, this realization has also come with some lessons.
1. You don't necessarily look pathetic. You only feel pathetic.
The first week of school was a blur. A terrifying blur. I remember feeling like everyone was looking at me and thinking, "God, she's pathetic." Turns out, that wasn't true. Well, maybe it's a little true at first, but apparently it's the most common adjective ascribed to incoming freshmen. Anyway, everyone's thinking the same thing at the very beginning. Lesson: you don't necessarily look pathetic. In all scenarios. Just keep your head up.
2. Putting some thought into your schedule isn't a bad idea.
I had no control over my schedule for this semester (probably because advising figured we might just drop out of school if we had to adjust to a new environment and figure out what a CRN was), and it showed: I had anywhere between five and seven minutes to make it to my next class on the other side of campus on the top floor of the science center. Was it great having my first class at noon? Definitely. Was it worth a daily jog while carrying half of my body weight in books on my back? Not really. What am I doing this semester? Scheduling my classes according to time and distance (and putting a pair of sneakers in my car).
3. "Doing the reading" is really only a worst-case scenario.
I hate to admit this, but it's physically impossible to do all of the reading (high school me just died typing that). Skimming is a superpower you probably should have acquired, well, any time before you stepped foot on a college campus.
4. Your syllabus is actually super important and you should probably get it tattooed on your arm.
That's a bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit. When I heard how important the syllabus was, I didn't think it could actually help you not fail (because when you don't know what the French word for "rough draft" is and the professor keeps referring to it in class, you have no idea "le brouillon" is due tomorrow until it's tomorrow). Oh, and "Syllabus Week"? More like the first 10 minutes of class. Buy your books early.
5. Commuting isn't the death nail in your social life.
It turns out the trauma of your first few weeks is good cement for relationships. Speaking of which...
6. You don't know where you're going to find your friends.
This goes back to #5: I met people I never thought I'd see again, and they've turned into some of the people I trust the most. Lesson learned? Be open to new experiences and new people.
7. No one cares what you're wearing.
I walked into class one day wearing a skirt, a button-down shirt and a sweater and the guy next to me was in sweatpants eating his lunch. There's no judgment. It's honestly impressive you made the effort to show up. And if you just happen to wear the same sweater two days in a row? Alternating class days are a gift from God.
8. Everyone talks about dropping out.
This is coping mechanism #1. You aren't a lazy, horrible person just because the thought crosses your mind.
9. It turns out professors aren't horrible people who want you to fail.
I kept hearing that professors didn't care about students before I got to college, but the opposite is true. Example? On the last day of finals, I had work and a literature exam due. I woke up early to finish my exam and email it to my professor before heading into work to deal with a massive influx of textbook returns. What went wrong? Microsoft Word; my document didn't save and I submitted a blank document. I only realized this several hours past the deadline. My professor completely understood and gave me an extra hour to retype it and didn't take a single point off for something that, if he didn't believe me, could have easily been misconstrued as me stalling for more time. Lesson learned? Professors, in general, aren't looking to fail you (most of the time).
10. Commuting has pitfalls.
You save a lot of money and can go to the mall whenever you want, but it's honestly the worst when your car dies at 7 p.m. and your dad needs to come down and jump it. Pro tip: that ugly student ID still in your wallet from high school makes a great ice scraper.
11. Involvement isn't what you'd expect.
First of all, the selection of clubs and organizations is enough to make your head spin. Second of all, no one actually has time to try everything they'd like to. I'm in three clubs (nowhere near what I was in during high school) and it's honestly the most I can handle without missing an obscene amount of sleep.
12. Campus = Petri dish.
Because the germ freak managed to get mono the second week of school and everyone else she knew was dying of one thing or another every other week. Hand sanitizer is honestly a great investment.
13. If you think you have everything figured out, you're lying to yourself.
So it turns out that there are a lot of freshmen who have no idea what they're doing with their lives. There's safety in numbers, I guess.
14. You don't need to party.
Not a partier, never have been, never will be. I like to have fun as much as the next person, but I actually like to remember having it. What's the good part? A lot of people don't like to party. I'm not knocking it, but it's not my, or a lot of other people's, thing, and you aren't looked down on for that.
15. You can push through anything.
Because never fear, Starbucks is here.