Megan Ake

Nearly nine years ago to the day, I climbed out of a grey Ford moving van sporting a Broncos t-shirt, gleaming white New Balance tennis shoes, and an optimistic, but perhaps naïve, attitude.  That day was the first day of my life as a college freshman.

My head filled with a million thoughts as I lugged box after box of stuff into the all-too-small dorm room I would share with a friend for the next year. 

“What will my teachers be like?” 

“Who will I meet?”

“What do I want to do with my life?”

Yes, life on Western Michigan University’s campus those first few mind-boggling weeks proved to be some that I would never forget.  Though I felt, for the first time ever, that I had just about zero clue what I was doing, I blindly grasped out at life and groped my way around that year.

And I survived to tell my tales.  Looking back now, almost a (gasp!) decade later, I realize I learned some crucial lessons that year.  So here’s some advice, those of you who are new to the college scene, that I gleaned from my back-in-the-day freshmen year.

1.Meet new people.  Say hi to dorm hall neighbors, and make friends with other students in your classes.  Though getting a college degree surely improves your resume, it also can help out your social life.  Having a circle of friends to lean on for all-night study sessions and coffee breaks can save your sanity during what will surely be a long and arduous year.

2.Talk to professors.  No, they don’t bite.  I promise.  Having a strong relationship with your teachers might actually score you a nice letter of recommendation one day, not to mention they can be great guides when it comes to career planning questions.

3.Buy used books. This isn’t high school, and books don’t magically appear free of charge.  They’re costly - I once spent $105 on brand-new book that I didn’t open once.  That hurt. To combat a hefty tab at the old bookstore, always check for the little yellow “USED” sticker first.  Amazon and also offer some previously studied books for a discount.  If all else fails, see Item No. 1 above, and then suggest that the two of you share the cost of books for the class.

4.Discover campus.  I’m no Gulliver, but I have traveled to a decent share of college campuses in my life.  Many of them are very neatly kept and offer a plethora of places to study quietly, enjoy the sun, or work on a project.  There will be little time to enjoy your surroundings once stuck in a cell-like cube in a 9-5, Monday-Friday routine.

5.Get out on your own, really.  Struggling with a mountain of laundry?  Have no idea how to cook?  What about paying that hefty cell phone bill?  If you weren’t super independent in high school, you’ll need to learn how to do all of these things stat. Luckily, freshmen year is definitely not too late to start ticking things off a “need-to-learn” list.  The great thing about this one, though, is that you’ll start to appreciate being truly independent in all aspects of life (read: if you want that Twinkie for breakfast, go for it!)

6.Finally, figure out what you want to be “when you grow up.”  Hopefully, you’ve thought about this very thing at least once before, but if not, college presents an abundance of intriguing classes that can jumpstart your career planning.  Sure, the college experience may take four or five years, but those years can become more costly the longer you wait to declare a major.

Bottom line:  Enjoy these years, but do so a memorable, but responsible way. 


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New students: Meet new people and talk to your professors