What Advice Do You Wish You Had Been Given Before Going to College That Would Have Helped?
July 15, 2012 6:09 AM   Subscribe

What advice do you wish you had been given before leaving home and going off to college for the first time?

Kineticchild 2 (of 3) is heading off to dream college in NYC next month and it's an exciting time for everyone.

As a person living in the real world I know we learn best from our mistakes (as well as our successes) and that unasked-for advice is rarely heeded, yet as her mommy I am fully aware that she's still very much a suburban kid headed into the Big City/Big World who is in many ways, clueless (esp. about dating).

So...what say you, fellow mefites, women who left the 'burbs at 18, incoming freshman, and all others who left the nest?

What advice do you wish you had been given? What would have made this an easier time? A more fun time? A more productive time? A happier time?

(and of course, I hope she will join the NYC mefite group, it goes without saying!)
posted by kinetic to Human Relations (77 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Best advice I ever got (and followed) when going off to college: Don't get into credit card debt. So many credit cards try to prey on college students.
posted by beyond_pink at 6:16 AM on July 15, 2012 [20 favorites]

The number one thing for me would have been to have better work habits. I don't think I really understood the transition from school, where the teachers are structuring the work you do, to the independent model of university, where _you_ are responsible for your work and perhaps even more importantly, for getting the help you need to succeed. If you can understand that early, you can structure your work day better, and you can treat the teaching staff as people who are there to help you if you approach them in the right way.

If you have that solid, then I'd say the next thing is just to make the most of the opportunities to meet a huge variety of people and see what you like and don't like. It's almost impossible to recreate that later on.
posted by crocomancer at 6:19 AM on July 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

Go to your classes. Even (or especially) if you haven't done the homework; simply going to the class is a huge percentage of success. Plus, if you are going to a nice college, what you pay for each class session is probably about the same as a Broadway show. No shit-- each class. Even if financial aid is paying, don't throw away all that free wonderfulness.

If you get into any kind of hole-- not doing homework or going to class or whatever-- go see the professor or at least TA. They won't be mad at you; they may even be glad to see you. Just basically, don't be afraid to ask for help, sooner rather than later. These people have seen everything. The real problems come from sweeping stuff under the rug. But you know what? Even if you have swept something under the rug, it's fixable. Don't lie awake nights worrying about something and not telling anyone.
posted by BibiRose at 6:19 AM on July 15, 2012 [28 favorites]

Oh, and another thing. For every class you take, ask what you are getting out of it. Even the required ones. Know what you want from the experience and go after it. Don't fall into the trap of feeling like someone else is making you do this. Nobody else really cares, both for good and for bad.
posted by BibiRose at 6:24 AM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

My go-to advice for anyone starting out: Get a nice durable file box with dividers for paperwork.

No one is prepared for the sheer volume of paperwork involved in just living a normal life. Get something to hold and organize the paper, learn how to use it, and be diligent.
posted by The Deej at 6:24 AM on July 15, 2012 [10 favorites]

Join stuff. All the stuff. There are a million billion crazy niche clubs and organizations and societies at every college, and there's usually some cheesy tabling session where they're all in one place. Those kinds of clubs are a great place to meet people who are outside of your dorm or not in the same classes as you, and they're fun!
posted by itsamermaid at 6:25 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Be more confident. Most of 'em are as nervous and worried as you are.

Use your tutorials. Don't be embarrassed about saying "I totally did not understand that lecture. Please explain."

Do study a bit if you really must, but don't neglect the drinking and socialising. Oh wait. I didn't actually need that advice. :-)
posted by Decani at 6:29 AM on July 15, 2012

I went to school in a large college town that had a really good cultural scene. I missed out on a lot of it because I thought I had to Go With Someone and my roommates didn't want to go with me; they preferred to stay home and watch TV. I've made up for some of it later in life, thankfully.

Don't wait for your friends/roommates to accompany you on stuff you really want to do: just go out and do it yourself if no one will go with you, within the bounds of reason (unaccompanied night walks in isolated spots are probably not such a hot idea these days).

Also: foreign study. I didn't do it and I could kick myself now.
posted by Currer Belfry at 6:29 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ditto going to class & developting good study habits. I coasted through high school making A's without ever learning how to study, and getting to college was a major culture shock. OMG I have to take notes in class? WTF?

Drinking, or casual sex, or smoking pot, are probably best done in moderation, especially if she has no experience in those areas. These may not be things you want to consider about your baby girl, but it's stuff she'll be exposed to. Besides, as a MeFite, you're not quite as likely to be a stick in the mud about that stuff.

Her school may have free/cheap counseling or therapy available. Mental health doesn't get talked about enough, but it is very important.
posted by AMSBoethius at 6:29 AM on July 15, 2012

I had to move to a different country from my parents after high school in order to go to college. This was a very big deal in my extended family especially since my choice of program was nontraditional (back then) for women in my culture and family. So I went to my 'hero', my mother's father - who was nationally known in this same field - and I said to him,

Nanaji, your sons are saying that its a waste of money to educate me because I will only get married and have kids. I want to be an engineer and I am going away tomorrow. What is your advice to me?

He said,

If it pleases you, do it. If it feels right to you, do it. Just remember two things, don't go to jail and don't hurt your parents. That is all.

That was 28 years ago and has guided me ever since then. Disclaimer: I interpreted "don't hurt your parents" a little more liberally as "what they don't know won't hurt them" ;p but still.

wipes tear, misses nana, remembers sitting at dining table clearly and hearing him say it so emphatically.
posted by infini at 6:33 AM on July 15, 2012 [13 favorites]

The guidance counselor at my high school made every kid going to college promise her that they wouldn't skip class. By nature, I probably wasn't going to skip class for weeks at a time, but having actually sworn to someone I'd go, I resisted skipping the occasional class for almost my whole first year (I eventually skipped and went to lunch with a professor for another course late in the spring semester, figuring that was justifiable) and forming the habit of always going was a good thing. Now, as a TA, I wish my students would get it into their heads that they should turn up.

Never underestimate the value of tea/coffee making facilities and a proper mug. I've just spent three weeks staying in a dorm and, by the end, was pretty much resenting my travel mug. On the flip side, getting that travel mug was a big improvement to my first year of college.

My mother insisted I have a can opener when I went to college. I don't think I used it living in the dorm, but I've been glad I have a decent can opener on multiple occasions since. (And wished I'd taken it with me on this recent trip.)
posted by hoyland at 6:35 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

A lot of good advice here. I agree on joining clubs and trying to meet everyone you can in your freshman year dorm. I walked around and would pop my head in each door to try to meet people. I do wish that I had some of the other's advice here in that I did my own thing.

There's a lot of pressure to fit in initially, and some of my "friends" who I haven't talked to in years after college had a profound impact on some of my choices that I wish I didn't listen to. An example being they didn't like me hanging out with XYZ people. Do what you want, and hang out with who you want. You probably won't talk to many of your college friends after graduation, so the pressure to fit in is really imaginary.
posted by neveroddoreven at 6:47 AM on July 15, 2012

. . . break up with your high school girlfriend.
posted by Think_Long at 6:53 AM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


You need to do all three.
posted by bookmammal at 6:54 AM on July 15, 2012

Response by poster: How about advice regarding dating/relationships? All I can come up with are variations of "Relationships aren't about fixing people," and "You've got to know when to respect your inner squicky feeling," but again; I'm her mother. She doesn't really wanna hear this from me.
posted by kinetic at 6:54 AM on July 15, 2012

1) Write out goals ahead of time of what you want to walk away with in four years.

2) Reverse engineer that list so you know what's needed year by year, semester by semester. Really. It becomes surprising how easily roadmaps appear.

3) Your summers are your best asset: get an internship every single summer. This builds your resume and gives you contacts--which is great--however the main reason to do a internship is to "try on" the career from the inside to see what it's like. I'm a college professor and you'd be really surprised by how many students change their major after interning in what they thought was their goal. It's strange how some things are so much different in real life than studying them.

4) Know that everything is much more negotiable than you might realize. If a student comes up to me and asks to modify the project to incorporate their interests [which usually makes the project more difficult] I'd be a fool to say no. Finances and curriculum fall into this category too.

5) The squeaky wheel gets the grease every time. Speak up.

6) Your parents think you're above average. However, most likely, you're not unless you roll up your sleeves and get to work.

7) Most 18-25 year olds have NO IDEA HOW FAR AND HOW FAST YOU CAN GO. How you know this is when you start failing (I'm not talking about grades). If you're not failing then you might be able to go much further then you are. Failure is a great indicator that you've reaching a limit that needs more understanding. The goal of the university is to reach these failure points as often as you can. If you're not failing then you're wasting your money. Really. Shoot for the moon. You just might hit it. Then shoot for something further out.
posted by Murray M at 6:58 AM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

How about advice regarding dating/relationships? All I can come up with are variations of "Relationships aren't about fixing people," and "You've got to know when to respect your inner squicky feeling

See, mine wouldn't be that specific; it would just be about a sense of scale-- trying not to make your college experience be about a relationship or relationships. Relationships will cause angst at this stage but try never to let your other activities and friendships drop.
posted by BibiRose at 7:03 AM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Network with your professors.
posted by milarepa at 7:05 AM on July 15, 2012

How about advice regarding dating/relationships? All I can come up with are variations of "Relationships aren't about fixing people," and "You've got to know when to respect your inner squicky feeling," but again; I'm her mother. She doesn't really wanna hear this from me.

My only thought here is similar to anyone's relationship advice. Don't spend college in a relationship with someone the whole time. I had countless friends that did this, and none of them are still together. My one friend really regrets it because he had lots of other opportunities. Also, don't be afraid to make the move to tell someone you like them. That's my biggest regret from college.
posted by neveroddoreven at 7:12 AM on July 15, 2012

The biggest shock for me was going from 12 years of coasting as one of the smartest kids in school to being average at best among my peers. It took my until my 4th semester to really figure out how to do college level work get my grades where they should be.
posted by COD at 7:19 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Not everyone you want to marry/sleep with wants to marry/sleep with you. This is okay.

Not everyone who wants to sleep with you wants to marry you. This can be okay too.

Ask yourself every now and then whether you're happy. The answer may prove illuminating.
posted by Etrigan at 7:19 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't join all the stuff--participate in what you're absolutely interested in and nothing more.

I saw many ambitious, intelligent, hard working students arrive at college excited about the prospects of being able to do All the Things (swim laps every evening! rehearse for the drama club's latest performance! attend every concert at the coffee shop! listen to every guest speaker in the lecture series!) only to accidentally overlook that they're at college to attend class and fall behind academically.

I think sheer number of possibilities can be overwhelming to some people, especially since we've been lead to believe that college will be the best four years of our lives and we will never again be surrounded by such interesting opportunities to pursue.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:25 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

How about advice regarding dating/relationships? All I can come up with are variations of "Relationships aren't about fixing people," and "You've got to know when to respect your inner squicky feeling," but again; I'm her mother. She doesn't really wanna hear this from me.

1. Just because they are a friend of a friend doesn't mean they can't be a pervert or creep. Not to make her paranoid, but just something to keep in mind.

2. Feel free to just say no and not owe anyone an explanation. Or to say yes and not feel guilty about it.

3. I second everyone's advice about exploring. The person who's just realizing his newfound sense of freedom is going to be so different in 10 years. This is the time to get a feel for what you like and don't like. After college, there's less opportunity for that.
posted by andariel at 7:30 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have a question in class because you don't understand, at least half of your classmates have the same question. Ask it. Office hours are useful and -- except for just before an exam or project -- sparsely attended. Attend.

In general, if you're not sure if you want to do something or not, do it. (Unless you feel unsafe or it's about sex, drugs or alcohol, which deserve more consideration.)
posted by jeather at 7:33 AM on July 15, 2012

Don't bring so much stuff. A dorm (including the lounge or kitchen) has all the furniture you need. I had a big desktop computer, stereo, storage bins, fridge, microwave, way too many clothes, and by the end of college a futon and a table. I would have had way less clutter if I had simply brought a few versatile clothes combinations. I remember filling the entire back of my family's van, but if I were packing for college now I would bring two suitcases at most.

Also, go to office hours. Come up with questions even if you understand the material. Having a good relationship with lots of professors is especially important if there is any chance of grad school, but it will help make the classes better too if you are relatively friendly with your profs.
posted by stopgap at 7:33 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

NYC is a hard place to focus. Remember that you are going here to be in school, not to be out in the world just yet. Take advantage of the things the city has to offer, but most of the time, not until the work is done first.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:37 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

How little dating experience does she have?

I had none when I started college and it was completely overwhelming for me. (Not to scare you but...) I'd say I spent the first three semesters of school focused mostly on figuring out dating, relationships, and sex. Going from being completely isolated and ignored sexually, as a horny teenager, to actually having people attracted to you and interested in you is incredibly difficult. (Again, not to scare you but...) I felt like a) sex was so fun, b) I never got to do it before, c) who knows, the opportunities to do it might be taken away again!, so d) I'd better focus on having a ton of sex/cuddling/making out as much as possible.

So yeah... that was a very strange thought process that to a precocious 18 year old me made perfect sense. I still graduated with honors with a degree and got a great job and now have a great life, but I wish I had gotten more out of those first few semesters at school, you know, academically.

On the non dating/sex side of things:

Most people make friends at the beginning of school based on proximity. Some of these people become lifelong, fiercely loyal friends, but more often, after a couple months or years, you realize that you have nothing in common with them besides having been randomly assigned to the same freshman dorm. It is OK to drift apart and forge stronger friendships based on shared interests. Your roommate is not your blood relation.
posted by telegraph at 7:41 AM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

The biggest shock for me was going from 12 years of coasting as one of the smartest kids in school to being average at best among my peers.

This was really tough for me as well.

I went to an alternative college and came home for Thanksgiving the walking stereotype of the activist complainer kid talking about how fucked the administration was, etc etc. My dad took it all in stride and when I was done ranting said "Well you've got a lot of time left, is there somewhere else you'd like to go? Because otherwise you need to find a way to make your peace with this. You're at college by choice. This is your plan" And, of course, it was, so I tried to recontextualize what I was doing/feeling/seeing in light of this.

Re: relationships. A lot of people will be "trying things out" at college in various ways and so it's important to have good boundaries. Things I wish I'd been better versed in were

- confidence that it was okay to kick that guy out of my room who just seemed to want to talk but also was making me uncomfortable and not leaving
- confidence that health services was behaving pretty appallingly to me when I got an STD and it was okay to advocate for myself and/or complain or get a second opinion [and that it was totally okay to be on birth control]
- confidence that my folks still had my back and/or were there to listen even if I'd done something wrong/weird/stupid

I had a beloved great uncle who, when I was heading off to college and was at some family function beforehand, slipped a folded $20 into my hand and told me to have a good time. It was such a small gesture but also knowing that I had the support of other folks in the event that things weren't going so great with mom/dad was sort of a big deal.
posted by jessamyn at 7:41 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

My Dad told me to never skip class, always sit near the front, and try to be engaged and interested. He told me this because I, like him, am very lazy. This was his lazy ass strategy to not have to study very hard and still get good grades. Worked for me, too.
posted by Malla at 7:42 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Find a study spot where none of your friends know (preferable off of campus)

Introduce yourself to professors on the first day

Have fun! Studying is important, but being active in the campus community is vital
posted by nikayla_luv at 7:43 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Be aware of what you consume because the freshman 15 can turn into so much more weight gained.

Exercise regularly.

Put forth your best effort in everything that you do. Learn from the material that you are taught and the resources that you need to use for various classes rather than just cramming for a test or doing what you need to do in order to pass.

Use your time in college as a year of personal and professional exploration. It's okay if you don't know what you want to major in or change your mind several times. Just focus on a subject that makes you happy.

Do not take courses in the summer time because you will burn out, trust.

Become familiar with your neighbourhood and all that your neighbourhood has to offer. Venture off campus regularly. Become familiar with bus routes to and from various locations so that you don't get lost often.

Hold your liquor well, try not to be the friend that gets drunk too many times.

Be open to the idea of meeting a variety of people. Some people will still have a high school mentality in terms of how the world functions, but not everyone cares about your perceived level of popularity. University or college is a great way to start fresh in a new city.

Don't be afraid to seek help from counselling services during difficult emotional times. Make use of study workshops that are offered on campus too.

Join 1-2 clubs and become an active member in those clubs.

Strike a balance between becoming a successful student and having fun! These four years will consist of a combination of good and bad times but you will learn tremendously from future experiences as an undergrad student. Good luck!
posted by livinglearning at 7:46 AM on July 15, 2012

Also, I remember being kind of resentful that so much class time was given over to discussion. Often my classmates were clearly BSing or didn't understand the material, while the professors (the only experts in the room!) would provide minimal guidance. Obviously, this depends on the school and class sizes, but I think a little more familiarity with the philosophy of Socratic dialogue as a teaching tool would have helped me. If you think your classmates are wrong, it's your responsibility to challenge them or ask the professor for clarification. And it's okay to be wrong yourself — the classroom is effectively a safe, consequence-free zone to say what you think, as long as you keep an open mind.
posted by stopgap at 7:49 AM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

It would have helped if someone had told me:

Don't let your guard down. Just because these people are smarter than the people you went to high school with doesn't mean they're any kinder. Don't lead with your heart. Also, the most disdainful and judgmental people are the most unhappy.

You'll feel attractive for the first time because you'll meet boys who are willing to have sex with you. That doesn't mean they like you or even love you. Enjoy yourself in bed but don't take it too seriously. Also, don't worry that you've hooked up with "too many" people. There's no inherent value in keeping your number low.

Unrequited crushes are probably inevitable, but don't get wrapped up in them. Focus your time and energy on the people who like you for who you are.

Many of your classmates are going to be a lot richer than you, and seeing all the things they have and do (and don't have to do, like work-study) will be disorienting. But being poor, and coming from a poor family, gives you a critical perspective on social and economic power dynamics that many of your classmates will always lack. This is an advantage that you will come to value tremendously.
posted by southern_sky at 8:00 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Don't be afraid to be part of the "out crowd". Find your own crowd. A big deal for many of my high school friends was the turning upside down of their status in the popularity stakes.
posted by infini at 8:03 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

How about advice regarding dating/relationships?

Do not sleep with, briefly or otherwise, people in your dorm; it sucks that there is still a double standard but people will talk and it's shitty. Do not sleep with your professors until you are out of their class; it can really fuck up your entire term and your mental health. Do realise that NYC is a very particular environment to come to grips with drinking; if you cannot afford to go out with taxi fare home, you cannot afford to go out that night. Things... happen, and you do not want to roll out of some club or bar or bed or whatever and realise it's 4 am and you're drunk on a street corner five miles from home in heels with no safe way back.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:03 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Academically, never hesitate to ask for help or speak to a prof in person. You might feel stupid and intimidated but at the undergrad level it can only distinguish you. Also speak up in class as much as you want, at least in smaller classes where it's appropriate.

Relationship-wise, as a mom you might not want to hear this but explore as many different relationships, including sexually, as you can sanely manage.
posted by werkzeuger at 8:06 AM on July 15, 2012

This is the sex talk I just gave to someone going off to college:

Practice this phrase: This isn't working for me. Let's try something else.

Practice that phrase over and over so that it's ready when you need it.

Along those lines, surround yourself with people who are willing to hear it, and people who are willing to say it -- in sexual situations or non-sexual situations. It's a lot of work to deal with people who can't say it or hear it.
posted by vitabellosi at 8:21 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding that academically, she should ask for help. Talk to profs, talk to TAs, go to office hours (that is the whole point of office hours and you wouldn't believe how few students take advantage of it), understand the study resources available to her. And if she gets into other trouble, again, schools have a lot of resources devoted to helping students - counseling, etc. The people who work for the school, including profs, are largely very helpful with extracurricular matters and trouble like "I'm overloaded and don't know what to do next."

On relationships:
Develop your list of boundaries and stick to them. You have every right to set those boundaries and if someone is pushing them, it's a red flag that they may be a jerk. Don't date jerks.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:26 AM on July 15, 2012

I started dating someone my second week of college; this was a mistake, lasted way too long, and ended in anger and frustration and serious bad blood. Don't tie yourself to someone before you've started knowing other people, and when you start being unhappy, evaluate whether or not it's worth the effort to fix. There is so much in college, don't get tunnel vision and isolate yourself.

Try to cultivate friends from a bunch of different places. I had dorm friends, anthropology friends, swing dance friends, African studies friends, random acquaintance friends who I couldn't remember how we met ... but the point was, it means you always have options and support.

Living in a big city, it's important to be situationally aware. Especially if you're obviously a college kid wandering around with a big group of college kids who may or may not be drunk and obnoxious, or if you're wandering around by yourself. Don't do stupid shit because you feel indestructible (I had a friend get robbed at gunpoint after deciding to go drink outside the St. Louis Arch at 1 in the morning, for example). Don't be rude or dismissive of locals. Explore your city outside whatever bubble forms around your university.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:29 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Read the syllabus and put every assignment on there on your calendar. Then put the prepwork you need for each assignment (going to the library, etc.) on your calendar. The professor may not remind you about each assignment, so it's up to you to be responsible.
posted by Soliloquy at 8:39 AM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Those meet-and-greet mixer things that most places make their freshmen go to in the first few weeks? Go. Even if they seem dumb or boring or a thing she would never be interested in. My undergraduate adviser made me go to a sorority information mixer thing (first years weren't allowed to rush first term, so it was just a "who we are, what we do" kind of thing). I locked eyes with another woman who had this "What the fuck am I doing here??!" look on her face and we are still friends, 25 years later, having seen each other through the ending of relationships, cross-country moves, and parental deaths.

And leave your dorm room door open when you're home (and not studying for the Big Exam the next day). Say hey to people who walk by.
posted by rtha at 8:41 AM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ask for help as soon as you need it. Do not wait until it is too late. There is no shame in needing a tutor or some help to understand new information get one as soon as you think you feel you are having troubles with a subject, if you don't get the basics of a subject the rest won't magically make sense later in the course. The money,time and emotional energy invested up front is so much less than if you have to repeat a class and delay the rest of your degree.

Get into as little debt as possible while studying, zero is best but I understand is hard to do in the US.
posted by wwax at 8:46 AM on July 15, 2012

You've probably had a lot of success in your young life. Now it's time to take a risk and fail. Fail miserably. You can fail in the classroom, fail in love or fail in an extracurricular activity. The stakes are pretty low in college. Experiencing a setback and regrouping to rally and overcome that setback will benefit you in college and beyond.

Also, utilize your university's alumni network early on, not just when you're looking for a job. If you think to yourself one day, "I'm interested in doing X when I graduate," go have coffee with three alums who are now doing X and learn what classes they took and how they reached their destination.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 8:52 AM on July 15, 2012

It's OK not to indulge. Sometimes your friends will need you to be the sober one.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:58 AM on July 15, 2012

The friends you make your freshman year don't have to be your friends for all four years of college.

You'll probably get into a serious relationship in college, but you probably won't marry that person, so don't make any major life decisions around preserving that relationship.

Here's what the grades mean: "C: satisfactory, B: good, B+: very good, A: excellent." So don't freak out if you're doing good work and you get a B. That's what good work deserves, and it doesn't mean you shouldn't be in the class.

College is a time to learn things that you don't know, not to demonstrate your knowledge of things that you already know. Unless you're premed and you need to protect your GPA, never decide not to take a class because you're not good at the thing the class is on - that's the whole point.

Always go to class, always do the reading. If you have a question, ask. If you don't think you can do all the work talk to a professor, but talk to him or her before the thing is due, not after.

Bonus NYC advice:

Everybody gets confused by the subway at first. You'll probably end up in the Bronx and Queens by accident once or twice before you get the hang of it. This is normal and should not be cause for alarm.

Speaking of the Bronx and Queens (and Brooklyn), the outer boroughs are more fun than Manhattan.

Practice making a face like you're focused on where you're going and will punch anyone who bothers you. This is your ice grill. It will come in handy, especially if you're walking around alone at night. Don't worry if it doesn't come naturally; after a few months here you really will be focused on your destination and you really will punch anyone who bothers you.

Don't pay a cover charge anywhere that a band isn't playing.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:06 AM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oh! And if you're trying to save money, you can eat dinner for free every night if you find an event that has food. It doesn't matter if you don't really want to be a doctor. You can go to the premed info session for the pizza.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:08 AM on July 15, 2012

I'm heading into my last year of college, so I'm still in the middle of it all, but here are some things that I think bear mentioning:

If it's not the right school (which I hope it is!) don't be afraid to transfer. It is totally doable, especially between four-year schools. But wait for the fall, not the spring.

Get an on-campus job. Maybe not your first semester, but this is a great opportunity to feel useful and get paid, and gives you a whole other set of connections that you wouldn't have had otherwise. The school library/museum/tech-support are likely good places to work.

And finally, don't avoid studying something that you really like just because you think it is a dead-end that won't get you a job. I did this, and am now much happier as the English major that I should have been to begin with. And I'm not too worried about that job...yet.
posted by tooloudinhere at 9:09 AM on July 15, 2012

As a country girl who went to college in the big city, I would say this:

1. Don't be afraid! There are so many new opportunities that will open up due to suddenly living in a huge city. It's so much better to get out there and try things rather than staying in the dorm and pretending you're on any other college campus in America.

2. Go to Freshman Orientation events. I skipped a lot of them because I was Too Cool For School (literally?), started college very much on the wrong foot, and I think this is what contributed to me being unhappy at the school I started in. Ultimately transferring was a good choice for me, but in hindsight I could easily have stayed had I given it my all and really tried to make new friends.

3. Don't worry too much about doing stupid stuff or Not Being Aware. The reality is that all of the large universities in New York City are somewhat self-contained in certain neighborhoods, and everyone who goes to those neighborhoods can pick out the freshmen from halfway down the block, come September. Nobody cares. People might cluck to themselves about the "new crop", or think it's funny that they run in packs, don't know the most efficient way to cross the street, or whatever. But your daughter will learn, and next year she'll be the one giggling about the n00bs who don't know how city life works.

4. Related to #3, keep in mind that New York is extremely safe. "Blending in", "looking like you know where you're going", etc. are not as vital here (again, assuming we're talking about her campus' neighborhood) as they would be in other places. Don't do anything obviously stupid, but by and large your daughter can come and go as she pleases* and not worry too much about getting mugged at gunpoint.

5. The subway is perfectly safe. Taxi fare home? Maybe if she's going to Rutgers or Queens College or some mystery school in Staten Island I've never heard of. But the subways run 24 hours a day and are plenty safe at the times and places most NYU or Columbia kids are out partying. I wouldn't want to be completely smashed and alone and waiting for a train in Bed-Stuy at 4am, but it's highly unlikely that your daughter is going to be in that situation, anyway. The garden variety pack of NYU kids taking the L train to a house party in Williamsburg is not going to be a concern.

6. Agreed about the dating thing. Don't tie yourself to someone the second week of college.

*With a slight caveat if this Dream College is Pratt, in Brooklyn. The general neighborhood there is safe, but it's a little easier to wander further afield and end up in a bad part of town where there really might be people who want to prey upon a drunk college freshman.
posted by Sara C. at 9:15 AM on July 15, 2012

Work hard to define happiness on your own terms.

Recognize college may not be part of that happiness.
posted by Ookseer at 9:18 AM on July 15, 2012

First - treat college like a job. Always have a first class at 9 a.m. or earlier, and spend the rest of the day until 5 p.m. in class or in the library or lab doing work. 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, that's all you need to be at the top of your class. Grades always come before anything else.

Second - select extracurriculars with focus. One should be a sport -- and if you weren't an athlete, before, now's the time -- anyone can do martial arts or long-distance running. One should be something with a strong practical contribution to employment or graduate admission.

Third - do a foreign language. College foreign language instruction is light years better than high school. You can be at zero the first day of your freshman year, and with a semester abroad in your junior year, can graduate proficient, if not fluent. HUGE life advantage, very hard to replicate later.

Fourth - if you are remotely the kind of person for whom it makes sense, join a fraternity or sorority. It's a kind of fun, with a kind of social upside, that's not replicated elsewhere. You can always quit if you don't like it.
posted by MattD at 9:21 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just to second, very forcefully: DO NOT GO INTO CREDIT CARD DEBT. The people who are trying to convince you to sign up for a credit card (whether it's a Visa or a department store card or whatever) do not have your financial best interests at heart.
posted by scody at 9:51 AM on July 15, 2012

Yeah, seriously don't get into credit card debt. Also don't (necessarily) sleep with the first person that comes along.
posted by saul wright at 10:03 AM on July 15, 2012

I'd actually recommend that she sign up for a credit card and use it well. I got a credit card at age 18 as a freshman and used it all the time, paying off my monthly balance in full each and every single time.

Now I'm 23 and have excellent credit with high credit limits, but some of my friends are still stuck in their ways of relying on cash and debit cards...

Honestly, it makes sense to start earlier and you'll know whether your daughter is responsible enough to handle a credit card. I don't see how difficult it is to understand the concept that you can only buy what you can afford. But that's just me. Apparently there are millions of people who can't handle something as simple as a credit card.

My 2 cents.
posted by 6spd at 10:05 AM on July 15, 2012

Don't let your relationship with your SO take over your life to the extent that you sacrifice relationships with friends. Don't let your SO move into your dorm room. Don't move into theirs. Maintaining your own space, physically and mentally, is a good thing for relationships.
posted by corey flood at 10:07 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's OK to sleep with someone you don't love, but you shouldn't sleep with anyone you don't like.

Go to office hours. Even if you think the material is really easy and you've totally got this -- go to the office hours, to make sure you aren't missing something.

Dealing with hoopjumping bullshit sucks, but everyone has to do it, and if you leave the hoopjumping bullshit alone and undone, it multiplies into RADICALLY MORE hoopjumping bullshit. Hoopjumping bullshit is like tribbles. Whether it's paperwork or library fines or required classes, get it done and get it done early.

Working hard and studying effectively are skills, and ones you need to learn if you don't already. Not just for college but for your whole life. If you are having trouble developing these skills, ask for help; this is part of what you pay your tuition for. Ask your professor, or your RA, or call the damn Dean and ask what resources are available if you have to, but do not let your freshman year end without you having learned how to knuckle down and work hard.

And finally, as regards late-night parties and socializing, I will give the same advice I give my five year old when she jumps on the neighbor's trampoline: Nobody can keep you safe but you. If you don't feel safe, say "I don't feel safe." And if people don't immediately start helping you? Scream until they do. People who will disregard your feelings about your safety are not people whom it is worthwhile to spend time with, and the sooner you learn who they are, the better.
posted by KathrynT at 12:02 PM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Some small practical suggestions, regarding printing out things:

Print things out double-sided.

If she has a reading with small print, she should fiddle with the scale percentages so that tiny text is easier to read.

Check the preview document to see how many pages are just endnotes so she knows which pages she won't have to print.
posted by dean_deen at 12:26 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

study in the library between classes. don't go back to the dorms. treat college like a 9-5 job.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:28 PM on July 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

proof from a printed page, not the screen. go over every word with a red pen. mark all the mistakes, then go back and fix them all at once, marking them off on the corrected sheet with a blue pen. Finally, go over the paper to make sure all of the corrections have a blue mark next to them indicating they've been fixed.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:29 PM on July 15, 2012

Try to organize a schedule. No really, try. So your laundry is done and your hair is washed and you don't look/smell bad. Good for your morale, and good for making friends. Do not engage in bullying "pranks" harmful to another person - you may want to run for president someday.
posted by Cranberry at 1:11 PM on July 15, 2012

I was told by my interviewer for the college that I went to that it "teaches you how to learn", which I kept somewhere in the back of my mind while I was there. So, looking back, the most important thing I learned from college was:(1) How to assess what I didn't know. (2) How to figure out what I needed to know. (3) How to learn what I needed for step 2.

I lost sight of my interviewer's comment at many points while I was in school, but afterwards, it helped me contextualize what I had learn and stop worrying that I couldn't remember after a few years how to solve partial differential equations--I could always learn it again if I needed to. And could figure out how to do just about anything else on an as-needed basis.

The biggest thing that I wish I had figured out earlier is just to be comfortable with who I am. That didn't really happen until well after I graduated (around age 25) and not until I was really shocked into it a bit with my first job...

From Mr. chiefthe
-Live on campus.
-If you are interested in it, take a class in it.
-Don't be afraid to meet/talk to people.
-"I wish there was someone in college that told me to be more ambitious in general, particularly for activities outside of class."
posted by chiefthe at 1:19 PM on July 15, 2012

Oh, and if the choice is between a course that sounds interesting but with a bad professor or a course that doesn't with a good one, always choose the good prof. Also remember that hard professor doesn't equal bad, and easy doesn't equal good.
posted by jeather at 3:04 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Three things I haven't seen mentioned among the excellent suggestions above (apologies if I missed them):

1. Even if you're not a morning person by nature, try going to bed and getting up early for a week or two, especially as you near the midterm crunch when lots of assignments and tests are coming due. You can get a lot more done between 6 and 8 am than between 6 and 8 pm. You're more productive after sleeping than during an all-nighter. And who knows, you might even discover that you're secretly a morning person! Bonus: in a big city like NYC, it can be magical to be one of the few people out and about when things are still relatively calm.

2. Figure out the laundry system early on, and do your laundry regularly. Having clean clothes, and dressing for the day because it's what you want to wear, not just because it's the only outfit that's not totally disgusting, makes a big deal to your self-esteem. Plus, when you know how to work the laundry, it's easy to meet people in a setting that's not socially charged, and find out what you think of them.

3. Eat meals at a regular time, and encourage people to join you. When I was in college, this was more or less a given, at least for breakfast and dinner, because the dining hall hours were limited. I gather from my students that this is no longer the case at many universities, but I think it's a good thing to have a routine, to get to see the same people on a regular basis, and to hash out what's going on in your lives over food.
posted by brianogilvie at 3:20 PM on July 15, 2012

Advice from a professor on skipping class when you haven't quite finished the paper that is due that day: "It's always better to show up and not have the work than to not show up and not have the work."

My grades got a lot better once I decided that I would not skip class, ever, under any circumstances. Like, from a 2.9 to a 4.0 some semesters better.

Doing the homework also helps.

This is specific to people with mental health problems, and also generalizable beyond college, so it might not be strictly on topic, but for me, freshman year of college was when I kind of went off the rails, mental-health-wise. I wish that I had realized I had a mental health condition that was affecting me rather than believing that I was a bad, lazy, broken person. So- don't be afraid of reaching out for help, going to the counseling center, getting meds, etc., even if you are convinced you don't need it or things aren't THAT bad.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:20 PM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Kineticchild 2 (of 3) is heading off to dream college in NYC next month and it's an exciting time for everyone.

Also, if she is perchance going to Columbia, she should take the swim test her first semester. That way she won't have to worry about it as a graduating senior and she will feel very accomplished!
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:22 PM on July 15, 2012

Don't know to what extent she has any experience with alcohol, but I should've heeded a friend's advice - don't drink sitting down the first few times, or else you won't be able to gauge quite how drunk you are. That could've saved me from a sticky situation or two.
posted by Devika at 4:56 PM on July 15, 2012

I wish I'd known really practical stuff like that I was probably still on my parents' health insurance. Just knowing I could afford to see a doctor would have saved me a lot of pain and possibly problems I still have. Or, later, that I should get car oil changed, and how often. Basically I knew nothing practical!
posted by Occula at 5:47 PM on July 15, 2012

I'm in my final year but I've taken kind of a roundabout way to get here. The things I wish I had known were:

1. You will make mistakes. They will scare you, you will feel ashamed, and you likely will want to hide your mistake. Resist that. Own up to it. Ask forgiveness. Challenge your shame and talk to people who can help you fix it. (I missed an exam my first year because I wrote down the wrong day. I was so humiliated but my school let me defer it with only a stern talking to because it was my first semester and I was obviously devastated.)

2. Challenge your social boundaries just a little. Say yes to as many social things as you can (so long as you feel safe; if you're intimidated, go for it anyway). Go to meet and greets at clubs the first weeks, agree to coffee with classmates you barely know (especially if they're also women, this gets sketchier with men), let your roommate drag you down the hall to meet people in your dorm, etc. You don't need to do everything but try to do something. (My university experience got at least twenty times better when I adopted a 'say yes' philosophy that pushed my socially anxious butt into social situations.)

3. You will make friends. Seriously. You will make many friends. Don't feel like you owe them anything (especially sex, money or loyalty if they hurt you). Don't feel like you need to stick with them all four years. Your friends group will change and that is not only normal but fantastic! You will change so much in these four years, it only makes sense that your taste in people will change too!

4. Relax when it comes to dating. I know it seems overwhelming at first but you have plenty of time to find your footing. Date who you want to date, don't date those you don't want to date, practice saying "this isn't working for me, can we try something else?" as well as "I'm sorry, that won't be possible" and "no, I'm not interested". If you find someone you like in the first few months and want to date them - date them! Just don't feel like you have to stay with them all four years. Beware of turning your relationships into transactions (well if I do X that means they'll do Y for me...) or keeping score (I did X five times this week so that means they have to do it five times before I'll do it again!). Communicate. If you communicate well and your partner is a decent person, you'll be surprised as to how much easier it'll be.

5. Get a file folder of some sort for your paperwork. I only started doing this in my 3rd year and oh man, was it ever useful. I knew exactly where to look and if it wasn't there, I didn't have it. It saved me so much worrying.

6. Colour code your classes in your calendar when you write down all your assignments. If your campus association gives out agendas, get one! I found it super helpful to write the next week's assignments on Saturday and Sunday so that I would remember them instead of flipping the page Monday and going OH MY GOD WHAT. Watch out for assignments that are close to each other so you can prioritize properly (based on ease of completion, weight of each assignment, etc). Don't be afraid to present first if it minimizes conflicts in your schedule! Also, if something happens and you find yourself behind, please talk to your prof or TA. They are often very flexible and helpful. (I had my mom get sick and pass away, several major depressive episodes, etc., and my profs/TAs were almost universally helpful in rescheduling things or guiding me to those who could help me reschedule.)

7. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Whether from your profs, TAs, friends, classmates, counseling services, department advisor, parents, so forth. Don't let yourself get buried because you're too proud or scared or intimidated - there are people there to help you. Please use them.

8. Enjoy your experience! Don't try to make it into "the best years of your life". Don't do things that seriously bother you (if you don't want to drink/smoke/sleep with people, don't). Ask yourself periodically if you're happy and if not - why. Then take steps to fix that. Be kind to yourself.
posted by buteo at 6:23 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Learn at least one skill that you can use to make money later. You don't have to major in it or love it.
posted by jcatus at 7:09 PM on July 15, 2012

Keep your best essays! And take pictures!
posted by Occula at 7:56 PM on July 15, 2012

Congrats to her!

Consider joining/creating a study group. You'll learn a lot, either by being helped or by helping others. Hopefully both.

Make sure to take care of your needs: sleep, food, etc. If you need 9 hours of sleep, do it. Naps work, too. Other people may do well on less, but you need what you need.

Do the readings before class.

- Hopstop.com is your friend.
- Explore the city and do some things not associated with your college. If you like volunteering, NYCares is a good organization.
- If the dream school is Columbia: 1) go enjoy Sakura Park, 2) if you're trying to save money, there are tons of events where you can get free food. Some departments even have a set time for snacks.
posted by wiskunde at 8:01 PM on July 15, 2012

The biggest advice I can give you is to study really hard. I made the mistake of seeing college as mostly a social opportunity, neglecting my school work and flunking out....which set me back like five years (I had to work for two years in order to pay off my debt, then transfer to another school, ended up changing majors). Also, I ended up with a shitty transcript and no recommendations, severely limiting my grad school prospects.
posted by timsneezed at 9:10 PM on July 15, 2012

Seize your right to privacy. It can be hard to recognize in the close environment of college, but it is really really okay to keep as many things you want to yourself: your "purity test" score, your grades, your past experiences, what college services you take advantage of, your opinions about every single thing, your career plans, what precisely happens physically and emotionally with each person you date, what types of medications you take, what your or your family's financial situation is like, whether you're hyper-organized or a massive procrastinator, etc....

I'm not saying to block yourself off from people, but in retrospect, I wish I'd understand sooner in college how valuable it would be to carve my own path regardless of what external approval I might've thought I needed (primarily from people I haven't even been in touch with for years and years now, for what it's worth).
posted by argonauta at 9:27 PM on July 15, 2012

Ear plugs to drown out noise—great for sleeping/studying in a noisy dorm.
posted by blueberry at 10:53 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

My Dad gave me two pieces of advice both of which were really good:

1. Use condoms. To which I would now add "use condoms until you are engaged to be married. Men don't like condoms. Don't let them pressure you into breaking this rule." My ex boyfriend failed to mention to me that he had slept with hookers in south America when in the army until after we'd been together for two years.

2. He told me that there were times in his life that were so horrible that he might have considered suicide except that he always knew that things wouldn't stay that way, they would get better...there were times in the subsequent twenty years that I've needed that advice. My dad was 20 years ahead of Dan Savage:)
posted by bananafish at 7:18 AM on July 16, 2012

Encourage her to defer college for a year if she has any issues with a lack of focus, if she hasn't developed a solid system for getting work completed/good study skills, or if she has no idea what she wants to do with your life. I wish I would've maximized my undergraduate years by growing up a little before plunging headlong into a world that was miles apart from my relatively easy public high school experience. I went to an academic institution full of valedictorians and prep school students who had been "bred" to attend such elite universities, so if your daughter is going to such a school, she will need to make a huge lifestyle adjustment. Your way of life living on a university campus is so different from high school that I would give this advice to any prospective college student, but especially premed or prelaw students for which GPA is of utmost importance. Best of luck to your daughter!
posted by sunnychef88 at 11:14 AM on July 16, 2012

I went to college in NYC, having grown up in the middle of nowhere midwest. It's its own beast. If she happens to be going to the one in Morningside Heights and has any specific questions, please feel free to Memail me and I would be more than happy to chat about stuff particular to Barnard or Columbia.

There's a lot of good general freshman advice here already, so I'll just hit a few of the NYC specific things that spring to mind:

1. Keep a balance between being in New York and being in school. Do take advantage of the city, because, hey, it's part of why you're there, right? I had lots of friends from high school at the other NYC schools or just living in the city, so I tended to spend a lot of time off-campus and involved with Big People City Things, especially in the "art scene", had a funky off-campus job, etc., all of which made me feel very glamorous and all of that at the time. But I sacrificed building relationships and being involved with more on-campus, college-type activities, which I now regret a bit. On the other hand, I had some really cool internships, had some really wild life experiences that you can only get as a 20 year old in New York City. Balance is really the key. If you can afford to stay in the city through the summers, that is probably the best time to take advantage of some of the non-school opportunities that abound.

2. If she is not wealthy, she will confront the reality that, at least at NYU and Columbia, there are a lot of wealthy kids who will forgo their studies and go to very schmancy parties and events and things around town a good deal of the time. Maybe try to be friendly enough to get invited to some interesting things and see how the other half lives, but don't try to keep up with these kids or lose perspective when she sees them out buying $1,000 bottles to get a table at a club in chelsea.

3. Take advantage of student pricing. There is not as much as there used to be, but some Broadway shows still do student tickets, some museums do student admission, etc. Take advantage of this as much as you can.

4. Live on campus all four years. You do not want to deal with NYC renting on top of being a college student in NYC. Plus, living off-campus in NYC is not like living off-campus in a small college town. You have to deal with the subway to and from class, it is not convenient or fun at all, it is a hassle. I learned this the hard way.

5. Take one NYC history or architecture class that involves walking around different parts of the city. Seriously. You'll never get another chance, and it's like a semester long historical tour of NYC with a professor. It's amazing.

6. Be careful. NYC is really not a scary place in general, but scary things can happen. You don't want to find yourself wasted and alone in the middle of the night in a not great part of town or park. Travel with buddies if you're going to be out late, get cash for cabs early in the evening, etc. Be smart about partying. If you're going to buy weed or other drugs, get it from someone on campus. Don't buy drugs on Amsterdam or in Washington Park or the like (not saying she will do those things, but if she does, better to be responsible about it).

7. Be cheap on everyday things so you can spend money on the bigger and better things in New York. Shop at Fairway not at the boutique grocery store. Don't eat out everyday at mediocre places - save up and eat at a really cool place. Make your own coffee. The thing about NYC is that you are just surrounded by the finest of many things. Learn to prioritize.

8. Re: sex/love. At Columbia and from what I found in the good amount of time I spent (sometimes partying/engaging in sexual activities at) NYU, I found that the sex cultures of both schools are pretty healthy. Healthy in the sense that consent is considered a Cool Thing by all parties involved, safe sex awareness is high, contraception is readily available, counselors are accessible if needed, etc. Outliers of course, but pretty good in general (Barnard is an awesome place and their big campaigns and the like about explicit consent and being able to say no and respect have a pretty good deal of influence on the culture at Columbia, ime, but all of my best friends were hippies from Barnard so ymmv). Still, make sure she knows that she never has to anything she doesn't want to and being drunk is not an excuse for bad behavior. As far as dating goes at a college in NYC - it's actually pretty fun. It's easy to meet people in college, and then you have this great big city to have romantic grown-up dates in. With that, however, it's easy to get swept up and fall quickly into seemingly serious relationships. The best advice is just not to rush and be careful.

9. Cabs will drain your spending money. Take them only in a desperate situation. Learn to take the bus to the airport and the subway home from a night out downtown. Pro-tip: the subway is FANTASTIC for studying. When I needed some hardcore, unreachable by phone and away from facebook studying time, I would ride the train up and down Manhattan.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:44 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Relationships: Many college communities have a very strong hook-up culture where students are expected to be very casual about sexual relationships. The community seems to value being 'low maintenance' which can mean not going on dates, being available all of the time, and not expecting emotional intimacy or monogamy or in some cases, basic common courtesy. People who did demand those things were told to chill and stop taking it all so seriously.

Let your daughter know that it is okay to want what she wants. If she is truly happy to keep things light and casual, that's great. But it is also okay to want something more serious and to expect more from her partners. She just has to be honest with herself and them.

I had many friends who really wanted a full on relationship with all of the trappings but settled for casual hook up status because they weren't comfortable addressing their own needs. Of course, their unhappiness was painfully obvious to their friends.
posted by oryelle at 6:43 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

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