I loved college. Four solid years to do nothing but read, debate about reading, read some more, hang out, and get into good-natured hijinks? Sign me up, enroll me, and send in my tuition deposit. Back when I struck out for my undergrad experience, I thought I knew everything--even though I was going to college to learn, I figured I had a solid handle on the way campus life would work.
Well...not so much. As game as I was to dive into French Lit seminars and Beowulf in the original Old English (yes, I majored in Medieval Studies, and yes, that's a thing), I had no idea about how to do some pretty basic stuff. Namely: laundry. What do all those hieroglyphics on the tag mean?
Expanding my academic horizons and making lifelong friends was all well and good, but I couldn't get to that until I'd learned the metaphorical ropes of day-to-day college existence. If only there were some kind of handy reference manual that would clue me in so I could focus on the good parts of college!
Four years, one bachelor's degree, and one commencement speech later, I wrote that book. Stuff Every College Student Should Know won't be the most mind-blowing book of your undergrad years, but it'll be no less valuable to your college experience.
Based on that book, here are seven big myths--and truths--about starting college. Read up, learn a little, and then get back to some hijinks of your own.
1. Your roommate is your new best friend.
Pity the poor housing staff at your alma-mater-to-be: They've got hundreds (sometimes thousands) of students to pair up and nothing better to go on then some generic questionnaires, and despite their very best efforts, they may end up matching you with someone you've got nothing in common with but a room number. This is okay, and actually pretty normal. Your roommate is just that: a person you share a room with. Getting along is essential, but best-frienditude is not. And just because you don't bond with your roommate doesn't mean you won't make friends elsewhere.
2. The food is gross and will make you fat.
"Gross" may ultimately be in the mouth of the beholder, but most dining halls today are well-equipped with a range of options to suit every diet and taste. That said, if your taste limits you to macaroni and cheese and Cinnamon Toast Crunch seven days a week, you'll end up in (literally) bad shape. Hit the salad bar, stick to stuff that's as close to its natural state as possible (think more baked potato, less tater tot), and remember: all-you-can-eat is a suggestion, not a challenge.
3. An all-nighter is the only way to get anything done.
Say "college student" and you're more likely to conjure the image of a beleaguered undergrad swamped with papers and countless cans of Red Bull than a smiling, well-rested student in a cap and gown. But while staying up late to cram or bang out a paper is sometimes necessary, it's not totally inevitable just because you're in college. Think Smokey the Bear: Only you can prevent last-minute rush jobs. Take good notes in class (write down dates, formulas, big questions, and everything that goes on the board), keep on top of your reading (space it out over the week instead of trying to do it all at once), and if you do have to stay up to finish something, chug water, not caffeine (the bathroom breaks will keep you just as awake).
4. You should only major in something "practical."
False, stop, no. Do not pass GO, do not collect your diploma unless you really care about the subject below your name. College is your chance to pursue your passion, and you shouldn't feel beholden to someone else's idea of what your education should be about. Even if you start freshman year raring to go in a specific discipline, allow yourself a few courses to explore and expand your thinking (browse the course catalog, for starters). If you're less sure, talk to your academic advisor for suggestions, take a class with a friend, and think about interdisciplinary degrees like International Studies or Comparative Literature.
5. Everyone goes absolutely, totally, crazy-go-nuts for Spring Break.
Don't believe everything you see in the movies. There's absolutely no obligation to jet down to Partytown USA and go wild for your semester break (but if you want to, party on! Just be safe.) It's your time off, so spend it how you want: road trip with friends, visit a college friend's home town, or just stay on campus and explore. Spring break's a great time to hit up your city or town for all its cool cultural, artsy, or foodie hangouts (and to work your college student discount for all it's worth--flash your ID everywhere, even if you don't see a discount advertised).
6. Textbooks are going to cost you a zillion dollars.
You're way too smart for this. Once you've got your course books' ISBNs (usually above the bar code), shop used, buy online, or split a textbook with a friend in your class. International editions can also run cheaper, as can shopping on foreign-language sites for literature texts (even with overseas shipping, they can still cost less!) Finally, if the syllabus shows you're only using it once a week for a problem set, consider just relying on the library copy.
7. Everyone adjusts and makes friends right away, because college is the best time of your life!
Let's review: You've just moved away from home and everyone you've ever known to a new place full of strangers with staggering academic demands and an even more staggering price tag. What about that sounds easy? College will be a great time for expanding your horizons, but it definitely, definitely takes time to get used to it. Don't beat yourself up if you feel homesick, scared, or overwhelmed, especially in your first few weeks. Friendships can evolve from something as simple as a shared dislike for the dining hall food, and a few bombed tests won't sink your future. If your bummed-out feelings stick around for longer, talk to your residential staff or a school counselor--and don't feel guilty. They're paid to help you figure stuff out.