Before I got to college, I imagined my assigned dorm room as a majestic suite at the Hilton—with a bedside Gideon Bible, complimentary toiletries, and one of those spiffy magnetic cards to unlock the door.
The image was shattered on move-in day when I opened the door of 30C to reveal the walk-in closet I would call home.
It was the first of many surprises during my first weeks as a college freshman. Some were good surprises, some not so. Guess which category Room 30C fell into? Here's a hint: Although there were no bars on the window, the hall director may as well have worn a badge and slipped bread and water under my door twice a day.
Okay, my initial impression was exaggerated, and I came to learn that my room's prison-like characteristics were part of its "guys' dorm" charm. Still, I could have used a little forewarning.
While I really did come to love my first year on campus (including my experience in cell 30C), I still wish I'd been better prepared for my freshman year. But, hey, why waste all those "learning the hard way" experiences? With every soon-to-be freshman in mind, I'd like to offer these field-tested tips for getting settled into college life.
No more free rides
Back in high school, I had two ways of getting around: 1) Mom's free taxi service; 2) Mom's free car rental.
That changed in college. Lacking access to a car for the first time in years, I thought I'd take a stroll one day to the bank before class. What I thought was going to be a 15-minute stroll turned into an hour-long hike across town. And small campuses, like small towns, can be larger than you thought when you have three minutes to get to class.
It's a wise idea to spend the first week or two at college figuring out where things are and how long they actually take to get to. How far are your classes from the cafeteria? Is there an ATM you can get to if you only have 15 minutes and need cash? Time spent exploring can save you a lot of time and anxiety down the road.
My life as a cocoa puff
Growing up, my best chance for enjoying sugary cereal was to sneak a box into the shopping cart when Mom wasn't looking. But in college, I was free to indulge my lifetime obsession with Cocoa Puffs, uninhibited. They were always available for breakfast, lunch and dinner—right there on the cafeteria counter.
So I made them the centerpiece of every meal. Fortunately, I was able to shake my Cocoa Puffs diet before I turned into one. It turned out to be pretty easy. I got sick of them.
But learning to take care of your body isn't always that simple. Since school cafeterias offer all the food you can eat—without having to cook it yourself or pay extra—it's important to choose meals wisely and not go back for thirds or fourths. Eat a balanced meal at every sitting—but stick with one balanced meal per sitting.
Believe it or not, even with lots of activities, cool weight rooms and running to make it to classes on time, it is possible to not get enough exercise at college. I have a friend who has earned the distinction of being the PlayStation2 champion at his campus, after hours of practice. He has also turned into a marshmallow. So, take advantage of intramural sports and the campus fitness center.
Fear not the Ketchup Lady
I blame it all on the Ketchup Lady at that McDonald's in the early 1980s. The ketchup dispenser wasn't working, so I asked the cashier for some. Her rude reaction to my request sent me whimpering away with my tail between my legs.
Perhaps you too have some scars from meeting new people. Maybe you're just shy. That was me in my first few weeks at college. I approached everyone like they were the Ketchup Lady; I was timid, shy and protective of myself.