Every student at St. John’s has experienced the ultimate demotion in their educational lives. The one where you go from being the big cheese at the top of the food chain to the mere mortal barely clinging to the bottom rung: from the almighty senior to the unfortunate freshman.
Besides the obvious “shift in power,” there is a plethora of other traps and issues that can plague your freshman experience. Has my high school reputation followed me to college? Will I have friends? How will I ever choose a major? Can I handle school and a job?
Upperclassmen even grapple with these same questions, but wouldn’t it be better to get over all of this unnecessary anxiety now? Let’s nip it in the bud. This is how you can survive your first year of college…
Think of college as a fresh start.
So what if you were known as “The Stoner” in high school? Who cares that you graduated with a stellar 1.5 GPA (the teachers were tired of seeing your face)? So what if you slipped through the cracks of the Office of Admissions? This is a whole new chapter of your life, so turn the page and get started! Unless you went to the pen at age 15, that ever-present “permanent record” that you used to hear so much about is rubbed clean with an eraser known as “The College Years.”
I am not suggesting that you pull a Jekyll/Hyde-type transformation, but if you want to start anew and be the model student you were not in high school, now is the time to do it! What you do, academically and activity-wise, during your years of higher education is what will be looked upon the most when post-graduate interviews come along in about four years. So, if you want that Dean’s List GPA, earn it; if you want to shed the skin of “The Stoner,” reemerge as “The Most Likely to Succeed.”
Take this opportunity to meet new people.
If you chose to stick close to home, college can seem like the “Thirteenth Grade.” The same groups of people from the same high schools tend to flock to together; it can be very comforting to have familiarity on such a big campus. On the flip side, if you decided to go to an out-of-state school, you can feel a sense of loneliness or isolation. However, St. John’s is not just 100 acres of tall buildings and grass; it’s also a community of major diversity.
Although it may be hard to step out of your comfort zone, you should try to get to know at least one person who is absolutely nothing like you. Ironically, you will end up learning more about yourself, your likes and your dislikes.
So, how do you do this? It really does not have to be such an overwhelming task. Begin by seeking out the people that you tend to see on a regular basis, such as people in your classes, residence hall or dining areas. The easiest way to spark a conversation is by focusing on an area where there is an obvious common interest.
Don’t let “Major Dilemmas” get you down.
You are sitting in your usual window seat in an 8 a.m. Discover New York class, groggily waiting for the teacher to show up. You and the girl in the next seat (who turns out to not be as mean as she looks) strike up a rousing conversation of “What’s your name?” and “Where are you from?”
You ask her, “So what’s your major?” and she recites a very detailed list of short- and long-term goals of her collegiate experience. Still stuck on her superhuman, yet realistic soon-to-be life story, you faintly hear her ask, “So, what’s your major?”
All of sudden you feel sick and wonder why you opened your big mouth? Do you actively seek out ways to lower your self-esteem? You have no idea what you want to do and you see the word ‘undeclared’ everywhere you look. You have a “major dilemma.”
Choosing a major does not, and should not, have to be a Maalox moment. It is rot not a big deal, especially during your first year of college. It would be nice to have a clear idea about what makes you happy and what you want out of life; that’s what the University’s combined degree programs are for. But let’s face it; the majority of first-year students barely know who they truly are as people, let alone what career field they see themselves in 10 years down the road.
Take the first year to get to know yourself and fully explore your interests. It is better to have an undeclared major for a year and a half than to decide your senior year that you hate the degree you have been working toward for the past four years.
One of the predominant fears of first-year students is that you will have no free time. You want to do well in school (after all, you are paying big chunks of green stuff for this education) and the only way you feel you can do well is if you hit the books 24 hours a day. You tend to believe that all you will be doing is going to class and studying. Three weeks into the semester, you come to realize that you have way more time on your hands than you know what to do with.
Many of your peers resort to excessive partying, some simply become hermits, slowly qualifying for the title of “computer geek” (if they don’t already). The rest choose the far more productive route of getting involved in campus activities. Whether it is through athletics, theater, volunteerism, campus ministry or even Greek life, there is usually at least one organization that will appeal to you.
Learn how to survive on (and stick to) a budget…
When you first begin college, your parents are more than willing to be of any financial help to you, but after about a month or two, that overflowing well of “Mommy Money” will dry up. Your parents will get sick of having to send you money for that book you forgot to get or you will simply develop a sense of pride that will not allow you to ask for or accept a penny from your parental units.
If you are lucky enough to live on campus, starvation can possibly be your last concern (when push comes to shove, you can always endure that splendid Montgoris cuisine) or, if you live off-campus, you can always get away with bringing a brown bag special from home.
Whatever the living situation, money is always an issue-or maybe, more accurately, the lack of it is an issue. The solution: a budget. The easiest way to avoid financial “hardship” is to budget the money you receive (while Mom and Dad are still in a generous mood) so that it is available when you really need or want to use it.
Of course, it is tempting to go out every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night with roommates or new friends to one of the Big Three establishments that serve as the usual haunts for SJU students, but let’s be honest: you usually end up going home in a literal funk, having a not-so-great time anyway. Instead of reliving the same dismal, and very costly, social experience three times a week, why not put yourself through it only once every other week? Your pockets are like your stomach: they will thank you for keeping them so full and oh-so happy!
…But do not make money your only source of drive.
It would be nice if we could all be one of the elite few who do not have to scope out the cracks in the sidewalk for bus money.
The sheer embarrassment of that last statement is enough to make the laziest of the lazy get out of bed and get a job.
Having a job is marvelous, especially it you are fortunate enough to do something that you genuinely enjoy. It
gives you an opportunity to find out what it is you really like to do. You get to add to your resume and the best part is that you get paid to do it. How cool is that?
However, with this monetary surplus comes sacrifice. You may not have as much time to hang out with friends, time management must become your forte of expertise and you may not be as involved with campus activities as you would like.
Many first-year students become so excited about part time jobs, particularly if it is their first position of employment, that they lose focus as to why they are in college to begin with. It is great to have a source of income that is independent of your parents, but do not work if you see that your grades are suffering. Besides, you are in college to get a job that is far better than that engaging waitress gig at that cool coffeehouse or the secretarial position in the city’s top-notch law firm.
The key to a successful college experience is maintaining a positive and open-minded attitude and staying true to your long-term goal of being happy. Remember that college is what you make of it. I guarantee that the person who leads a well-balanced existence of rewarding extracurricular activities and well-earned academic success will have fonder memories of college than the guy whose daily schedule consists of three hours of class, five hours of eating and 16 hours of sleep.