"Survival 101” isn’t a required college course for freshman, but maybe it should be. It’s far less painful to learn from other people’s mistakes than your own when it comes to surviving that critical first year, which for most incoming freshmen will start in about a month.
From what to pack and what to call your teacher to how to study and how to relax, here’s a CliffsNotes version of that nonexistent course, with lessons from faculty, staff and — perhaps most important — current students.
Chapter One: Pack light
When it comes to packing for college, less is more than enough — especially when it comes to clothes.
Just ask Catherine Holland or Sam Purcell, two Bloomington residents who started college last fall.
“I ended up bringing basically all of my wardrobe because I love my clothes and love my shoes,” said Holland, who will be returning to Yale University.
She wound up wearing only three pairs of shoes: walking, dress and rain/hiking shoes.
Purcell also brought a lot of things she didn’t need right away — like a winter coat in August in Carbondale, where she is attending Southern Illinois University. She also brought a lot of food and snacks, even though she had a meal plan at the residence hall.
“My roommate thought I was a Ramen (noodles) hoarder,” Purcell said with a laugh.
“If you have to bring a U-Haul, you have too much stuff,” said Colleen Kjellberg, a resident assistant at Illinois State University’s Watterson Towers.
One way to pare down the packing is to coordinate with roommates, so you don’t both bring a refrigerator and television, she said.
Chapter Two: Meet people
Purcell attended Bloomington High School for two years before her family moved to South Carolina, so she was somewhat used to starting over. Nevertheless, she considers herself a shy person.
When she went to SIU, Purcell decided, “I didn’t want to be alone here for four years. I had to come out of my shell.”
During the first week, when almost everyone else was going through the same thing, Purcell said, “I tried to meet everybody I could.”
Ce-Ce Brookins, ISU’s assistant director of university housing services, suggests going on the website of the school you will be attending to find activities that might interest you.
“There are tons of things to do when students first get on campus,” she said. “Be open. It’s a time when we have over 3,000 people moving in and most of them don’t know each other.”
Even standing in line — moving in, buying books, buying supplies — can be an opportunity.
“Get to know the people in front of you and in back of you,” Brookins said.
Holland, a University High School graduate, said, “Don’t go to parties expecting to meet people and socialize.” Instead, she recommends attending extracurricular activities and class-related events.
Jan Paterson, ISU dean of students, suggests joining two organizations the first year: one that’s academic and one that’s “just for fun,” adding studies have shown students who get involved in activities beyond the classroom are more successful.
Pass your class
Although, as one person said, it “should go without saying,” the universal advice for freshmen: Go to class.
Zach Petrea, assistant professor of English at Heartland Community College, said, “Your mom doesn’t know if you didn’t go to class” — and that freedom can be tempting — but going to class is important.
“Not only do you get points for participation,” he said, “you might accidentally learn something.”
Individual responsibility is just one part of the adjustment. For students who sailed through high school with little effort, the increased academic demands can catch them by surprise.
Amy Munson, Heartland’s dean of student success, said, “They don’t realize how much out-of-class work there is.”
Petrea said the general rule of thumb is three hours of studying or other outside work for every hour in class, although it depends on the course and varies during the semester.
Holland suggested identifying three places where you can study without distraction. Purcell said she schedules her homework and assignments “for an equal workload each day.”
Kathleen Montgomery, associate professor of political science at Illinois Wesleyan University, has seen students suffer from what she calls “the ostrich syndrome” when they struggle in class.
“Things start to feel out of control and they stick their heads in the sand,” she said. Instead, they should turn to their professors early, while there is time to turn things around. Start by knowing their office hours and preferred method of contact: in class, by phone or by email. Most, if not all, schools also offer support services such as tutoring.
And read the syllabus for each course. It generally includes course requirements, test schedules and the weight given to tests, written assignments and other elements of class.
“I see the syllabus as a contract with the students,” Montgomery said.
Kjellberg said students need to strike a balance between social life and classes.
People warn about partying or socializing too much, but Kjellberg said focusing on academics to the point that you have little interaction with your peers isn’t good either.
“College isn’t all about fun, but you can’t be afraid to have fun,” said Purcell.
Munson said college students need to learn to manage their resources: time, money and health. The latter includes getting enough sleep and eating right.
“Find ways to deal with stress,” Holland said. “Music has always worked for me.”
Some of her friends volunteer at an animal shelter. Several schools, including Yale, ISU and Heartland, bring in dogs or other animals as stress relievers, especially around finals.
Purcell said, “Physical exercise is a good way to de-stress yourself.” She suggested running around campus, riding a bike, going to the recreation center or playing intramural sports. The latter also is a good way to meet people, he said.
One thing Holland and others recommended against was turning to alcohol.
“Drinking causes more stress,” she said.