Are you starting college this fall? This post is for you! It’s full of practical advice and insider info from Rachel Tripp of Winchester, Virginia. Rachel graduated from the University of Virginia in 2014.
Here's my best advice, taken from my first year experience. There were both things I think I did right/glad I did and things that I learned from:
NOT helpful: naps. They made me feel even more tired throughout the day. I averaged around 5 hours of sleep in my first semester and it caught up with me. I need at least 6 solid hours of sleep to function normally and not feel groggy throughout the day. Get enough sleep!
Meeting new people when and where you can is fun, but it’s also important to intentionally make 3-4 friends that are close to you and that you can get along with. That way you can begin to make deep relationships (that you could live with next year) rather than a width of friendships where you feel lost as to who to hang out with.
And I also learned that it is OKAY to take time away from people. The common term of FOMO "fear of missing out" is so true! My first year I was so afraid to be alone ever, and always had this anxious feeling that I was missing out on something. As a result I did not get good sleep and found myself competing in how many people or friends I knew. Too many friendships that you try to deepen can wear you out!
In an hour or so by yourself from time to time do something simply for the pleasure of it. That can be playing around on a guitar, drawing or crafts, or taking a run/walk around grounds. Take time to do something simply because you want to!
Get creative with where you study. I enjoyed my first year trying out all the amazing scenery and fun nooks and crannies to study in! Sometimes I would study by the Tennis Courts if I was by Memorial Gym. Sometimes I would study in the Amphitheater, a place conveniently located near the Dumplings truck! Sometimes I would study in first floor Clemons or stacks of Alderman. There are also the gardens by the Rotunda, benches by the Dell, and so many more fun places to study. This can make homework a little more exciting by mixing up the location and bringing a friend along if you enjoying studying with others!
As far as grades and classes go, establish your routine of how you take notes as early as you can. Try out different techniques. Some people record notes or write down everything either on paper or computer. If you record notes this can allow you to simply listen if that works for you. Handwriting notes worked best for me, to also be able to make diagrams or draw out the concept. I would get too distracted by my computer and the temptation to go on other sites like facebook.
In my first semester I would sit in the back and as a result fell asleep in many of those classes. In order to really pay attention and not get distracted sitting up closer really does help! Even sitting behind someone on facebook can be highly distracting, and has been proven by research to distract other students to the point of really hurting their grades! Also going to class with friends that you sit by that want to go to class is important. I went with a friend that would want to skip the majority of the time, as a result I skipped that class more and did not do as well as I could have.
Study groups worked very well for me. I never did or needed them in high school, but they are highly helpful in college. I would study on my own first and then study in a group. With a group study, you can clarify confusing concepts from a class and double check any notes that you missed if the teacher talked too fast.
Amidst all this studying and learning, there will be many many fantastic clubs and groups to join. You will probably sign up for every other group that sounds highly interesting to you. What I did was sign up for a wide variety of groups to 'trial and error' where I could fit in. Ultimately, however, you may find that a maximum of 3 clubs is more than enough. For me, I picked one main organization that I really wanted to devote my time and heart to: Chi Alpha. I had tried University Dance Club, Nursing Student Without Borders, Oluponya Records, International Justice Mission, and Abundant Life. Eventually however I have limited myself to Chi Alpha and International Justice Mission, so that I can enjoy other various social/active opportunities at UVA.
Plan fun breaks or spontaneous ones with friends as you venture the grounds of UVA. Grab a group of friends to check out Observatory Hill, go to the Corner together, buy groceries from Barracks together, or go to a football game! Once we went out at 2am just to throw a glow-in-the-dark frisbee. It is so easy to find or grab people to come with you on an adventure if you have an idea! Along with fun group hangouts, it also makes it fun to invite other halls or floors to make for co-ed hangouts! We would try to do weekly dinners with some girls in our hall and some of the boys on the floor below us! It is so important to see the game group of people at least on a weekly basis in some form to help make you feel connected!
Peer pressure does exist! I learned this from 'trial and error', I found myself doing things I never thought I would do. Streaking the lawn was fun, but hangovers from alcohol was not so much! It was so important for me to make friendships outside of the party scene, because that is where you can have a relationship based on more than enjoyment of alcohol. If you think 'everyone' is doing it, think again and try out meeting a different group of people if you find your current friends pushing you in a direction that you don't want to go.
If you do decide to go out, be sure that the person you go with can be trusted to stick together. Several times I would be left alone, and learn the hard way that some people can abandon you at a party. Trying to find your way back when you don't know where you're going is not fun! Have a phone number of an upper classman that you know very well that has a car, so you can call them if anything happens!
Have a fantastic first year at college!