Whether you’re a first-year or trying to forget you ever were a first-year, this is the article for you. That version of you who wasn’t sure how to use a gender neutral bathroom for the first time. The one who didn’t know if it was socially acceptable to go to the Deece alone. The one who kind of wished you had owned a “how to survive your first few weeks” guide on what to do so that you could make it out alive. That’s what I’m here for.
Rule 1: Eat and drink water. And sleep!
These tips sound self-explanatory, and in a way, they are. But they’re also not—because the first thing you do when you get to college is forget you’re a human being. It’s so exhilarating and stressful, and suddenly, instead of remembering to have three meals a day, you’re way more concerned with molding the perfect friend group and trying to remember to text your mom from time to time.
So, here’s my first rule for you: Go to the Deece three times a day or more. It’s one of the best things about Vassar! You can eat (sometimes) great, nourishing food (or just a humongous heaping of fries and chipotle mayo if that’s what you’re craving) literally whenever you want. This is insane. Take advantage of this. It’s fun to sit there and chat with friends, especially when you sit at one of those obscenely long tables and get to know random people. But it’s also important to go alone! Go sit by yourself (with or without headphones in, your choice) at least once in your first few weeks. You may feel awkward, but it’s absolutely necessary that you remember you don’t need to always be surrounded by people. College is a constantly social place if you want it to be, and it’s necessary to remember to take time for yourself.
On the same thread, get a water bottle and fill it up every morning! Even if you hate the taste of water (yeah, I know you guys are out there), you will be thankful I told you this. Fill it with sparkling water if you want, even tea, but put something in there and drink it. Having fluids in your body helps with any problem, ranging from chronic stress to trying not to contract that classic “first-semester plague.” HYDRATE!
And finally, get some sleep. It feels wasteful to spend so much time in bed when there’s so much exciting stuff going on around you (FOMO is indeed a real thing), but trust me, the lack of sleep accumulates. I promise I’m not trying to sound like your parent here. I came in with the idea that I was going to stay up as late as I wanted to every night, but the ensuing eye bags, dry throat, headaches and caffeine addiction are just the tip of the iceberg. A lack of sleep makes you significantly less able to handle the insane amount of social and academic situations you’re experiencing—especially in your first few weeks. Even if you need a couple of those revenge-bedtime procrastination nights where you stay up until 3 a.m. watching random videos on YouTube or FaceTiming friends from home, make sure you mix in some restful nights, too. Your future self will thank you!
Rule 2: Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself!
This does not mean that you must speak to everyone you meet in your first few weeks—that would be literally impossible and definitely overwhelming. But the easiest things to share about yourself are your name and where you come from. In fact, most conversations in your first week look like this:
Random person: Hey, what’s your name?
Me: I’m Ailynn! What’s yours?
Random person: I’m Your New Friend. Where are you from?
Me: I’m from New York City! What about you?
Your New Friend: I’m from Some Place You Literally Already Forgot.
And then you can pretty easily walk away and do the same thing with someone else. Some of those people will be in your classes, your hall or your pool of friends-of-friends; and down the road, it will be helpful that you made eye contact with them before—even if you don’t remember their name or where they’re from. The more people you introduce yourself to, the more connected you will feel to the Vassar community. Don’t worry if the people you have these little conversations with don’t become your besties. They don’t have to! It’s still nice to have friendly faces you recognize around campus.
Rule 3: Take advantage of what is given to you.
I get that not every orientation or first-year “welcoming” event sounds super interesting or fun. Your Student Fellow may not be the kind of person you admire. You could be homesick, bored or having trouble aligning what you expected out of college with the reality of being here. That’s all perfectly normal. But, a lot of what is offered to you in your first few weeks of college is there for a reason.
Take it from me—it’s really tough to start this process alone. You’re without your parents, your home friends, your pets—it all builds up and can be very scary and stressful. And yes, your roommates, hallmates and StuFel may feel like strangers at first, but the important part is that they’re there when you need someone to listen to you or remind you that other people are just as new to this as you are.
Orientation events and community circles may seem corny with their seemingly pointless icebreakers, but they can also serve the purpose of just keeping you busy! It seems counterintuitive, but in my experience, college life actually includes much more free time than high school life. You have a lot of pockets in the day where there’s not much going on, and it’s up to you to fill that time by studying, socializing, chilling on your phone, pursuing an extracurricular or going to one of these events. Give yourself activities! You will feel better knowing that you have things scheduled, and if nothing else, they can turn into a quirky story to tell your friends.
I know for myself that in high school, it was really uncool to actually take part in any school activities or optional events. In college, that doesn’t have to be the case. Workshops, clubs, office hours and anything in between can provide you with both structure and the possibility of connections with cool people who may become good friends or contacts!
This is a starting point—I definitely haven’t covered even close to everything, but keeping these things in mind helped me during my first few weeks here at Vassar. Being in college can be intimidating, but it can also be incredibly freeing and rewarding.
Take advantage of what’s in front of you. Learn what you really love and discover what you want out of your life. Be open to telling people your name. Don’t be afraid to remind them of it again, even if they don’t ask and instead give you a really long awkward look when you say hi to them. And remember to take care of your basic needs; everything’s better when you’re not blowing your nose every five seconds, I promise.
Most of all, forgive yourself for being a first-year! Forgive yourself even as an upperclassman for not knowing everything. We’re still young and figuring it out. The best we can do is make college our personal happy place, and the first few weeks are a wonderful time to figure out what that means to you.