In college, you become an adult. At least, that’s what they tell you.
But sometimes, I wonder if that’s true. I know just last month, I had popcorn and carrot sticks for dinner.
Nevertheless, my undergraduate education is in the rear view mirror. And I managed to leave school with good friends, great memories, some savings, and a degree.
Not too bad, if you ask me.
In the next month, thousands of freshmen will begin their college careers at campuses across the country. And a good number of students from our church will head off to the places God has called them to learn and grow.
It’s an exciting time. But in the midst of the frantic activity that accompanies this period of incredible change, it can be easy to neglect long-term planning. Few people take intentional steps to cultivate their mental, emotional, and relational health while at college.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Here are four things first-year students can do in their first five days on campus to ensure that their time at school is healthy, balanced, and well spent.
1. ESTABLISH A RHYTHM
Habits are easy to form, harder to break, and impossible to avoid. Given time, everyone develops a rhythm. In your first five days at school, think carefully about your routine. How will you fill your day?
If your first few nights end on YouTube at 3am, chances are high that you’ll have a nocturnal semester. If you spend those early afternoons at the gym, your odds of uncovering that six pack by Spring Break will dramatically increase. If you go to church your first Sunday, you’ll keep going. If you don’t, you probably won’t start. Habits are like that. They develop quickly and sometimes unintentionally.
There are many ways to craft a routine. The worst way is without any thought.
Be deliberate about what you do during your early days on campus. Establish an enjoyable, sustainable, and healthy schedule. In November, you’ll be thankful you did.
2. TEXT NEW PEOPLE
It will be impossible to accurately describe the things you’ve done and the people you’ve met to your high school besties. So don’t. Stop texting them so often. Live where you are.
Too many first-year students avoid the healthy social awkwardness that accompanies new places and unfamiliar people by doubling down on their digital relationships with old friends. Don’t make that mistake. Old friends are good. But new friends are worth making. And your first five days at college present an unequaled opportunity for beginning new relationships. Everyone’s looking for friends. New bonds are easily formed.
This incredible social openness only lasts a little while. Don’t waste your time.
Join clubs and attend events. Get new numbers. Make plans. Do fun and fascinating things on your new campus with new people. Then, you’ll have good stories to share when you see your old friends at home during Thanksgiving Break.
3. GET REAL WITH YOUR ROOMIE
Dorm life and international flights have a lot in common. Both involve sharing a small space for a long time with a relative stranger. Though polite conversation can make the first hours pass pleasantly, the moment comes when you realize you’re stuck with the person next to you until the trip is over.
You’ll be living with your college roommate for the next eight months. The honeymoon will end. Friction is coming. Start preparing now.
Many take time to get to know their college roommate in their first few days on campus. But few establish healthy lines of communication that will facilitate successful coexistence over the long run.
Though it’s exciting to explore a roommate’s past loves, favorite movies and biggest regrets, the discussion must progress. It’s important to determine how you will approach each other with frustrations, to set expectations for borrowing items and inviting guests into your space, and to schedule regular times to address simmering conflicts or to clean common areas.
These discussions aren’t always fun. But they’re the kinds of conversations that make long-term relationships work.
Healthy communication with your roommate will go a long way in guaranteeing that your first year on campus is absent from unnecessary conflict and stress.
4. REFLECT THOUGHTFULLY
College will change you. Expect it. Exposure to new ideas and people brings transformation.
But not all change is good change.
Before the semester has time and space to shape you, sit down with a pen and paper. Give yourself 10 minutes. Write down who you want to be, what you’d like to do, and how you want to interact with others. And be honest. This exercise is worthless if you aren’t.
This written record of your aspirations and values won’t be useful for a few months, so store it someplace safe. But after some time has passed, pull it out and read it. See if you’re still on track to be the person you wanted to be.
Maybe your goals have changed. If they have, ask why. Use this document to assess if your new perspectives and ambitions are for better or for worse.
A college student who reflects on who they are and how they are changing is a rare thing. Making this small effort during your first five days on campus could pay huge dividends, allowing you to use your four years on campus to bring about the type of maturity and growth you’ve wanted when you began.