It is Back to School season! College freshmen and their families are checking off their "to do" lists before loading up the car or packing up the suitcases for their journey to college. Naturally, there are feelings of excitement, anxiousness, hesitation, and anticipation. Preparing for college is more than purchasing your Bed Bath and Beyond "bed in a bag" and filling your shower caddy with supplies (including showering shoes, please!). You should also prepare emotionally for the challenges that lie ahead and learn how to avoid the pitfalls.
Don't get me wrong; college is wonderful! It will be the most amazing four (or five, or six…) years of your life! You will discover more about yourself in those few transformative years than you have in your first 18. You will make life-long friends, and, most importantly, you will build an academic foundation from which you will springboard your career.
But not all students land on their college campus and ease right in. Transitions are tough. Change is stressful. And, once again, you are the freshman: on the bottom rung just waiting to be a cool upperclassman. This is all okay this is what the majority of first-time college students worry about; regardless if they admit it. Try to worry less about this stuff; it is out of your control anyway, and concern yourselves more with course selections and mapping out the quickest route to your classrooms.
A highly recommended book, The Naked Roommate, offers over 100 issues you could run up against in college. It is written with humor, but the issues are real. Really real. Check out the book and peruse the issues; they make great conversation pieces.
I will try my best to keep this blog post upbeat, but I must warn you, there are real, very serious situations that occur on college campuses across the nation that you need to be on the alert for. The key is to be educated and prepared in case of emergency. Consequently, here are just a few pitfalls to avoid in college I didn't have time to write 100 pitfalls to avoid, that's what the book, The Naked Roommate is for.
1. College is often a time for exploration. Some students dye their hair, pierce random body parts, or get tattoos (my heart palpitates thinking of my children doing this…). Others tend to be more rebellious than changing their look. Drugs and alcohol run rampant on college campuses and are widely integrated into the social culture. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, "…research shows that more than 80 percent of college students drink alcohol. Each year an estimated 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes". Excessive drinking or drug abuse can quite possibly land you in an emergency room. You think your parents are going to enjoy receiving that phone call in the middle of the night? Or worse, the hospital bill, especially if you are carted away in an ambulance? That is a several-thousand-dollar lesson to be learned. The Dean of your college may also receive that call and that could lead to probation, revoked scholarships, even expulsion.
Consider this: Women should always travel in a pack; it is safer. There should be one designated sober person in each pack (this role can rotate) so that there is one level-head of the bunch who can determine when the pack leaves together no girlfriend is left behind. There is a strong correlation between drug and alcohol abuse and sexual assault. I will touch more on that in bullet # 2. Men, aggressive behavior, and alcohol just seem to go hand-in-hand. If you want to avoid breaking a nose or worse, best to avoid imbibing. Your judgment also becomes impaired and making rash decisions or being disrespectful toward others could lead you down the wrong path. Don't become that guy. It's not worth it. Be smart in your decision-making. Find alternative transportation to/from parties, such as a taxi cabs, buses, campus shuttles, or a designated driver. No amount of substance abuse is worth the consequences.
2. Sexual assault According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "...one in five women have been sexually assaulted while in college and 80 % of female victims experience their first rape before the age of 25. Students should know their rights, and seek help immediately if they or someone they know is the victim of violence". When drugs or alcohol are involved, messaging can get even more confusing. Remember that, regardless of the situation, no still means NO, and maybe means no until the two have mutually consented (preferably sober and after careful consideration). Subsequently, females need to know about Plan B, if this doesn't conflict with your personal and religious beliefs, and how to obtain it, either on campus or a nearby pharmacy.
3. Do we even need to discuss sexually transmitted diseases? Yes, we probably should. If you are going to be sexually active, then you need to be responsible. College campuses provide Health Clinics for this very reason. You can receive free condoms, STD testing and treatment, and general health care services. It would be wise to visit your Health Center before you decide to become sexually active or have a new partner. Subsequently, the art of "hooking up" might be a new term to the inexperienced college freshman. A night of beer pong, some friendly flirting…next thing you know, you are "hooking up." Prepare yourself physically and emotionally for what lies ahead.
4. In addition to health clinics and the services they offer on campus, there are mental health services, academic tutoring services, reading and writing labs, computer labs, career counseling, and academic counseling, to name a few options. All of these services are offered at a reduced rate or free. Take advantage of the various services on campus to make your life less stressful and more fulfilling. Help is always within reach. There is a whole community ready to help you thrive in college.
5. There are still only 7 days in a week and 24 hours in a day. The academic pace of college can be quite different from that of high school. Take that into consideration when managing your time and schedule. Letting academic responsibilities slide doesn't work. The whole point of a syllabus is to enable time management. Lack of time management puts students on the slipperiest of slopes. Try to keep at least your first semester (or first two quarters) light. Allow yourself time to adjust to your new surroundings. There is plenty of time to get involved on campus ease into the extra curricular activities after you have a good handle on the academics.
6. DO NOT miss class! It just isn't worth it. If you are a late riser, avoid registering for those 8:00am classes. Be accountable. You are an adult now, so demonstrate adult behavior. If you are very sick, stay home and rest. Contact your professor or a friend in class to get information you may have missed. Falling behind and playing catch-up is a recipe for failure. Treat college like a job put in the time necessary to fulfill your academic obligations.
7. Stay healthy! Living in a dorm, sharing bathrooms, eating junk food, sitting in stuffy classrooms, not sleeping enough all of these can lead to a compromised immune system. Keep your stress levels down (referenced in items #5 and #6) and remember to exercise. Eat healthy foods (this could also help avoid the infamous "freshman 15"), drink plenty of water, and most importantly, sleep! Forget pulling an all-nighter. Get your rest. Your brain and body will thank you.
There are many more pitfalls to avoid, but I don't want to go on and on and on… but do know that your college campus awaits you with welcoming arms and is there to help you. Find adventure in your college experience, but do so with a level head and confidence.
Oh, and while you are away, learn to do your own laundry and don't forget to call home.