A recent trip to Target reminded me what time of the year it was. The heaps of lined paper and endless options of pens means we've officially entered Back to School season. I guess it was hard for me to realize that, given that this is my third consecutive semester in college since I moved out almost 12 months ago (I'm not even done with this semester either). Underclassmen I knew in high school are flying to their colleges for orientation now. Wow, time really flies.
I decided to write this little nugget platter of knowledge for you incoming college students (or maybe you're in college but need help, this may apply to you). Over the course of 12 months, I've learned 10 very important lessons when it comes to surviving your first year of college.
Thank me later.
1. THE TRIANGLE
You've probably stumbled upon this on Tumblr at some point. 'The Triangle' is basically this belief that a healthy social life, adequate sleep (sometimes referred to as general health), and good grades (which can also be substituted for your work or career, or both) are the three pillars of life- but in order to reach your highest potential, you have to sacrifice one of them. That means you are either a) A good, healthy scholar with no friends, b)An amazing scholar by day and party animal by night who doesn't sleep, or c)An eat-party-sleep-repeat kind of person who doesn't go to school or have a job.
Now is there some truth to this? Is it possible to place yourself in the middle of the triangle and find balance? Yes- but also no. During my first few months, I had a healthy amount of friends. While many of them are out of state or in SoCal, I managed yo make new friends in college. As school progressed, though, those numbers dwindled. In order to be a good student, I needed to go to school and finish my assignments. In order to focus, I needed sleep. That meant minimal screen time with friends and family (because let's be real, that takes hours of your life every day). Likewise, if I wanted to go out with friends or spend a few hours on FaceTime, I would have to make up the time when I should have been doing homework with sleep. If I wanted to have a 'day off' from school, I would sleep in until 2PM and go out with friends that day. Sacrifices had to be made.
The triangle can get even more complicated. If you want to go to the gym, you gotta make a sacrifice. If you want to play some video games, you have to make those hours up. If you're anything like me and have even more priorities because you're a full-time college student with two and a half internships, a part-time online job, and a boyfriend, then your triangle looks more like a hexagon or decagon. I've lost a lot of friends since I started college. I've failed some quizzes and missed some assignments. I've spent multiple days in a row with minimal or no sleep at all. Sometimes, you have to make that sacrifice.
But you might not necessarily need to. If you truly want to be in the middle of the triangle, then you need to be organized. Do yourself a favor and buy a planner and get your life together. Establish a daily routine based on your priorities. You will probably have to make sacrifices here and there, but once you get a hang of it, you'll find yourself in the deep center. As difficult as setting alarms and reminders and following a schedule every day sounds, you'll end up having to if you truly want to find triangle nirvana.
I'm trying this method this semester too. We should exchange notes.
2. CAFFEINE ACTUALLY WORKS
Don't ever let a soul tell you that coffee doesn't work. It does. This wonderful God-given drink has given me temporary immortality for up to three days. I've had days when I am completely numb to emotion (and sometimes even physical pain) because my body is so tired and is running on fumes. Coffee can do wonders.
That said, do not abuse this gift of God. Only use it when you need it, in proper doses. It can also literally kill you. Not just by caffeine overdose, but also because you find yourself spending $5 at Starbucks every day. $5 every day is $35 a week. $35 a week is $140 a month. $140 a month is $1680 a year. That's a round trip domestic vacation for you and a friend. Be wise about how you get your coffee. Buy yourself a $20 Black & Decker coffeemaker from Target and spend money on coffee and filters (If you're like me, you might end up spending a bit on creamer too). Double check your school or apartment complex. Some offices have a coffee machine free to use for anyone. I know it sounds kinda weird that you keep having to go downstairs and get coffee when the same people see you every day, but you pay tuition or rent anyway so technically you pay for that coffee. If you want to rely on Starbucks, then at least get a Starbucks Gold Card. For every dollar you spend, you get a star. For every 125 stars you collect, you get a free drink. Sometimes, there are days when you get double stars. They also do all sorts of promotions for Gold Card members. But the best perk is that you'll have this cute golden card with your name on it that makes you feel special.
3. YOU WILL MISS HOME MORE THAN YOU THINK
Yeah, you might be a big shot small town kid on your way to live a new life in LA or New York City. You're telling your friends that you'll miss them but you'll "see them again soon". Your mom is crying as she drops you off the airport and you're brushing it off because you're a cool kid. You're excited about your newfound freedom and you will spend the first few weeks living your life, meeting new people, and trying new things until one day you'll come home from a party and pass out on the ground then wake up hungry, confused, and sick to your stomach then it'll hit you-
Mom isn't there to make breakfast anymore.
Suddenly you'll find yourself worrying more and more about people you care about at home. You might not understand it right now, but you will miss home more than you think. Never be afraid to give mom a call. Do your best to answer dad's texts. FaceTime the babysitter watching your baby sis once in awhile.
At the end of the day, they probably miss you too.
4. NO ONE WILL HOLD YOUR HAND
You want to know the first thing the Dean of my college said during orientation?
"Look to your left. Now look to your right. Half the people you see will not be here after the first semester."
Yeah, it sounds like a big bluff to make us work hard and not ignore school blah blah blah. For awhile, it was kind of a funny thing you told people around you. I poked jokes at my roomies who missed an assignment. A few months into the semester, people you sit next to in class don't come anymore. You don't notice for awhile then you finally ask someone and you find out they dropped out of college weeks ago.
It was October.
In high school, your teachers will bug you to submit everything on time, which could make it dreading to do homework or go to class. In college, your professors most likely will not bother reminding you when something is due. Missed a paper? Too bad. Missed class? Too bad. You're paying to be there. They're just doing their job. Submitting assignments on time and showing up to class is yours. There will most likely not be any hand holding. Did you forget that you're independent now?
While it might look like you have a lot of free time because you're not at school from 8AM to 3PM anymore, those hours will come back to haunt you as homework. It's easy to get lost in college because there are so many things that will tempt you to not do work or skip class. I've seen people drop out for missing class because of video games. I've met people who dropped out of school after a semester because they partied a little too hard.
I wish they didn't.
Nowadays it seems like having a college degree is a bare minimum to get a decent job. Going to that party on a Friday night in the middle of midterms week might sound fun, but having financial security and sipping mimosas on your rooftop deck sounds fun too, right?
5. IT'S OKAY TO FALL IN LOVE
Have you ever heard someone say something like "you won't have time for a relationship in college so don't do it" or "if you date someone in college you will do bad in school"?
Those damn naysayers.
I am in a healthy, long term commitment with the man of my dreams. In the 10ish months we've been together, we pushed each other to become better versions of ourselves. My college has talked to Austin about showing his audio productions to incoming applicants, and he was voted #1 Digital Audio Technology Freshman after one semester. I've been in the school headlines, been on Huffington Post and PBS, and met President Obama since we met (sorry for the flaunting, but it is what it is!). I think the best thing about our relationship is that we don't deal with petty problems or bring each other down.
Today, we work at the same non-profit and live together. Yes, we live, go to school, and work together. Of course there are days when we want to take a mini vacation away from each other (I once left Austin for 10 days while I went to Washington D.C.- he didn't do any laundry or dishes, and survived off instant ramen and Mac N' Cheese), but at the end of the day he's my other half and he pushes me to reach my true potential.
Don't be afraid to fall in love- just fall in love with the right person.
6. EVENTS MEAN FREE FOOD
Most college events will have free food. Go. That's it.
7. IT'S OKAY TO WEAR SWEATPANTS- NO ONE CARES
Amidst spending nights writing papers and some nights partying your life away, you will have days when you wake up thirty minutes before class. Or maybe you just don't really feel like putting make up on or color coordinating your outfit.
Put on a tee and some sweatpants and go to class.
Don't worry so much about looking amazing every day. Just look amazing during the first few weeks so people remember how bomb you can look. Then spend the rest of the semester wearing oversize tees with your hair in a bun or in your Star Wars onesie. No one cares. We're all on the same boat trying to make it out alive. People will understand why you have no make up on.
Just do us all a favor and please take regular showers and use deodorant.
8. YOU WILL GET LONELY
There will be some days when you want to talk to someone but no one can pick up the phone. Your friends from high school have their own friends in their own colleges now. Things have changed.
You will get lonely. Brace yourself for it.
Going to college, I thought that I would be satisfied being a lone wolf. My personality just makes it easier to have a small cluster of close friends than a large amount of close-ish friends. It's not easy making new friends, you know? Plus I thought I'd be satisfied with my PS4 and Netflix. I thought I was set. But there were weekends when I would be alone in my apartment. I have a good amount of friends at school but not enough to guarantee I would have someone to hang out with when I'm free. I live a relatively close-yet-far distance from home and am always grateful when friends get to down to see me. But the truth is, it doesn't always look that way. When you have as much responsibilities as I do, it tends to get really lonely (even with great roomies and a solid relationship).
I don't really have anything inspiring to say about this one. Loneliness is a common human emotion. Please don't be afraid to ask for help if you find yourself unable to handle it and your school work.
9. DON'T BE AFRAID TO CRY
This ties with number seven. I find this especially true for boys. Some of us are taught to 'suck it up' and suppress our emotions. We go about life doing this, bottling up emotions and only letting them out when the bottle is full.
Sometimes, it's okay to break down.
This doesn't make you weak, feminine, overly emotional, or inferior. It makes you human. We can only take so much stress before we break down, and sometimes the only way to empty that bottle is by spilling what's inside.
When the time comes, don't be afraid to let it out. Just trust me on this one.
10. LIVE IN THE MOMENT
Every now and then I call my dad to complain about financial aid. "How am I supposed to pay all of this off?!" I would ask. I'd be in this state of anxiety from checking my ledger and realizing this whole college thing isn't free. It's easy to forget that you're paying tens of thousands of dollars to be here when you have so much school work in front of you.
But every time I call, my dad says the same thing.
"Live in the moment."
Yeah, whatever dad. I always brush it off. But you know what? He's right. I don't have time to be worrying about the crippling student debt (also my favorite card from Cards Against Humanity) when I have ten pages to write about a Chipotle's imaginary breakfast menu. Living in the moment doesn't necessarily mean forgetting what happened or ignoring what looms ahead- it means being present in the state you are in and doing your best to get the best possible outcome by learning from what's in the past. Remember the quote from the old turtle in Kung Fu Panda?
"Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift; that's why it's called the present."
To wrap it up, remember:
1. Respect the triangle.
2. Coffee is your friend, but don't abuse it.
3. Call home.
4. Don't flunk- work hard play hard.
5. Fall in love (with the right person)
6. EVENTS=FREE FOOD
7. Sweatpants are okay, body odor is not.
8. You will get lonely,
9. and it's okay to cry.
10. Live in the moment.