Just when you finally figured out how to work the high school system, you graduated and are now being thrown into a totally foreign environment: college. While it no longer matters if you know exactly how short you can roll your skirt before the dean notices, and you no longer have to worry about catching the school bus or remembering your locker code, there are plenty of new mysteries to solve. From lecture halls to the cafeteria to the fitness center, your college journey will take you into plenty of unknown territory. To make sure you get off on the right foot, here are a few insights on how to make your freshman year one to remember!
1. Get on good terms with your TAs
Of course you want your instructors to like you, but when you’re one of 500 students in Bio 101, catching the professor’s attention can be a little challenging. Luckily, most of your huge lecture classes will have at least one, if not four or five, Teaching Assistants (TAs). TAs range in age from sophomores to PhD students, but no matter their age, they’ll definitely be more accessible than the elusive prof who’s too busy with his academic research to even tell you his office hours. Plus, TAs are usually the ones who are actually grading your work, so they’re usually more willing and able to lend you a hand.
The first step to getting friendly with your TA is making sure they know who you are. They can’t help you if you’re just another name on the roster. The easiest way to introduce yourself is going to their office hours, which are special times they’ll set aside during the week specifically for the purpose of meeting with you. These hours will be listed on the syllabus, so even though you’ll be handed a billion pieces of paper during your first few days of college, do NOT lose this one! Besides office hours, the syllabus will also have all your assignments for the semester, course expectations, a grading scale, and tons of other stuff you’ll need to know. You may also want to put each TA’s name, phone number, email address, and office hours into your phone just so you’ll always have their information.
Go to office hours with a question about class lectures or homework, or even just to say hi and to let your TA know how excited you are to be taking their course.
2. Befriend your classmates
Some of the most important relationships you’ll make in college will be with your classmates. First off, no one likes sitting alone all semester, especially if the lectures are less than riveting. So, on the first day of class, either look for a big group of people who all seem to be introducing themselves, or look for someone who’s sitting alone. Ask if the seat next to her is taken, then strike up a conversation about which dorms you live in, your levels of interest in the course, or whatever you can think of. Don’t worry if you feel a little awkward. This conversation will only last until the professor starts talking, and by then you’ll have already met your first potential study buddy. That means you’ll have someone to sit with in class, someone to study with before exams, and someone who will give you her notes if you happen to sleep through class at some point during the semester.
Befriending your classmates is pretty easy, since you automatically have something in common to talk about—even if it’s just how the midterm next week is going to kill you. But since most college courses only meet two or three times a week, you’ll have to try meeting up outside the classroom if you really want to get to know your classmates. Not to worry, though, because you already have a built-in reason for meeting up: studying for that murderous midterm. If you don’t feel like waiting for an exam, you can still meet over coffee to do your homework or to edit each other’s papers. You can also invite them to parties, ask what they're doing that weekend (to see if they'll invite you along), invite them to a movie, or see if they want to get lunch after class. With a little effort, your classmates can become some of your closest friends!
3. Form effective study groups
Another reason to buddy up with your classmates is to make sure you’re not left alone in your dorm the night before an exam, freaking out about how many notes you have to outline before the big test. Study dates with friends are way more fun than solitary panic, but sadly, they’re not necessarily more effective, so choose your study buddies wisely. The girl in your Anthro class who invited you to all those awesome parties may not be the best choice for your study group if she slept through every one of your 9 a.m. discussion sections. On the other hand, the girl who sat in the front row with a rainbow of highlighters lined up on her desk every day is probably a good person to get to know.
Once you know who you want in your study group, your next challenge is figuring out when to meet. Everyone’s schedule will be crazy, and if a key member of your group is only available Saturdays at 8 a.m., you’re going to have to get creative. Consider putting your groups’ notes and outlines on a shared Google Doc or meeting up via Skype or Google Hangout. This can be a huge help, especially if you’re dealing with upperclassmen who live off-campus. Divide up the semester’s notes by week or subject and have each of you work on one section so that everyone comes to the study group meetings prepared and ready to be productive. But remember that the point of a study group is making your life easier, so if getting everyone organized is increasing your stress level instead of helping you relax, it may be time to rethink your arrangement.
4. Meet new people through extracurriculars
The best way to make sure you have friends all over campus is to get involved with plenty of different extracurriculars. Don’t be afraid to throw in some variety, even if that means trying something you’ve never done before! College is the perfect chance for a fresh start, whether that means auditioning for an a cappella group or taking up a sport you’ve never even heard of (inner tube water polo, anyone?)!
Getting to know these new and different people will mean taking a risk and stepping outside the comforts of your chosen major or assigned dorms. But upperclassmen will usually be willing to take you under their wings, showing you the ropes and the unique joys of that club. So check out the school’s activities fair, sign up for anything that looks interesting, and try stuff out until you find what you love (or, at least, who you love to hang out with)! Rachel, a recent grad from Butler University, says: “My rule of thumb is to grab a flyer for anything that sparks your interest. Also, sign up for mailing lists so that you don’t miss out on upcoming events. Getting involved in clubs early is a great way to know what else is going on [on] campus!”
Lauren, a third year at Exeter University, says, “In terms of meeting new people, you just have to throw yourself in at the deep end right from the beginning! Go to as many events as possible in the first week and just speak to lots of different people.”