What to Expect Your First Weeks at College
Alright, so, you’ve moved in and you’re first weeks at college are ahead of you. You’ve made friends with your dorm mates and have hopefully seized the opportunity to party and have late nights with new friends for a few nights straight. At last (or for some, too soon), your first classes start.
It’s a nice change of pace to see the campus bustling and at max occupancy. Your general education lecture halls will be brimming with students sitting in the aisles trying to crash the course. You will be barraged with flyers, petitions, and the likes by organizations and interest groups welcoming and coercing you to join their club as you walk around. Greek life will come beckoning, and the parties will only get harder.
Your campus may have a set of welcome activities and events for you as freshmen. These are great chances to meet people in your graduating class that you’re sure to run into again during your college tenure. And if you have a common eating area that most of your dorm is headed to, try to coordinate trips with a group to get to know each-other better.
People approach these first weeks differently. For some, it’s all about joining organizations and rushing Greek life. There will probably be a central walkway or campus square where members will be trying to recruit and events will take place nearly ceaselessly in the first weeks of the year. Alternatively, and especially at larger research universities, many will bypass this entire scene to focus on the start of their new coursework and engagement in activities like research or volunteer work.
It’s important to find a balance, which will be inherently dynamic. Coursework is light some weeks and heavy others. You don’t want to miss out on opportunities which you can initiate easily at this time, but you also don’t want to overburden yourself by spreading too thin and not being able to really immerse or engage in anything.
My advice is slanted towards figuring out your educational situation first. Know what courses you plan to take every term early on. Meet with your counselor and plan ahead. There’s many opportunities to double count classes and make sure your not taking time (and spending money!) on extra classes you don’t need. Speak with other students and read online to find who the best professors are (this could mean the best lecturer or the easiest grader or a number of other things depending on what you are looking for). Get your books early and adhere to the syllabus to get a head-start on studying. Try your best to know what to expect by attending office hours and reading before each class. Plan to attend discussion or resuscitation sessions. Allocate time to your coursework starting the first day of class.
But it is only too easy to become focused and one-dimensional in your coursework, and getting a high GPA. The reason college is the best time of your life is because of the many social gatherings and other avenues for personal development that occur outside of the classroom. There are loads of opportunities awaiting you if you put forth interest. It is a dynamic balance, but, again, my advice is to learn to do well in your courses as a first priority, then gauge how much time and energy remains. For a lot of people, the first term might be just coursework and a night or two a week partying with dorm mates and exploring campus. For others, you may have time for partying and hanging out most the week. This is not a bad first term. Don’t feel overwhelmed to try everything at once!
In sum, there will be loads of activities and opportunities to engage in campus life during the first weeks of the term. From student organizations representing your interests to heading to a university sports game, there are a wealth of options. Extracurriculars are often much less time-sensitive than coursework, and going hard on the latter early is an easy way to get ahead. It is empowering and you will feel better throughout the term. If you have strong interests in a particular activity, say an organization or a recreational sport, or if you are intent on exploring extracurriculars in your first weeks, plan your first term to be light academically. Have a plan going in and shop around, but maybe don’t take up leadership roles or demanding positions in organizations until you have your feet on solid ground academically. You will know when you’ve found the right balance, and, as always, enjoy the process!