In just a couple days my sister, her friends and a few million others will begin the adventure that is their college experience. While every university and college experience is different, the upcoming event had me thinking of the things I wish I knew when I loaded all my things into the family van and was dropped off at my dorm.

My advice to college freshman, or better yet, what I wish I knew back then:

Every day do something that scares you. I’m not talking crazy, outrageous, stupid things. Rather, do something every day that pushes you to be better, that makes you stretch your comfort zone. Talk to the lunch lady, smile at someone who looks sad, raise your hand to answer a question you aren’t 100% sure of, take a class at the gym, try some new food group, eat with a stranger in the cafeteria, see a professor during office hours, etc…

Get involved early on. Find a couple groups that you want to be a part of and get in their early. It’s too easy to drift around as a freshman thinking you’ll find your place and mooring along the way somehow. Better sign up for a couple clubs, intramural sports, whatever and get involved from day one.

Make a schedule daily! You go from high school where you have class for 7+ hours a day, followed by after school activities, and then hours of homework; and now suddenly you have 3 or 4 hours of class per day. Time seems plentiful. It’s not. Suddenly your very free, unplanned day has turned into you scrambling to do your homework for the following day at midnight.

Stand firm in your convictions. You will run into classmates, roommates, professors, administrators, etc… who disagree with you. They will question your beliefs, your commitments, your very core being. Don’t cow. Don’t give in under their pressure and change who you are. Explain your beliefs, stand by them and know one conversation is very rarely going to change someone’s mind.

Remember where you came from. Stay in touch with family and friends from the past. Give your family your phone number, your address. (I forgot to leave my dorm phone number for my parents so for the first two weeks of college they couldn’t reach me. Oops.) Accept the fact that your relationships will change. You will not be as close with your best friend from high school. You will not see and talk to your family and friends daily. That doesn’t mean these relationships are any less real or important. They are morphing. Change with them. Make the effort to connect.

Set boundaries. Boundaries for yourself – parties you will go to, ones you won’t. Things you will do daily, things you will avoid like the plague. Boundaries with roommates – even if you think you don’t need a roommate contract or to agree on anything ahead of time you do! Better to get it all out in the open early on than to suffer later. Boundaries for romantic relationships – just cause ‘everyone else is’ doesn’t mean you are ‘everyone’ and need to act as they do.

Study like it’s your job. Despite what the movies or your older sibling’s pictures might portray, college is a time to study. It is a time to focus in on the profession you hope to pursue. So for the next four years, studying it your job. Do it well, even if your report card is the only performance review you’ll ever receive.

Use your freedom wisely. If you don’t attend class your parents will not be notified. If you stay out all night or only eat ice cream for dinner no one is going to tell you that behavior can be reckless. The same goes for locking yourself away in the library until you are a zombie. Make good choices – ones that help form you into the person you want to be; the one you were meant to be.

Get dressed for class. Your first week or two you’ll likely go to class looking good. You’ll stand out for that reason. But then soon after that the laziness sets in and suddenly changing out of your pajamas to go to your 8am class becomes a huge unnecessary hassle. Do it anyway! You’re more likely to excel in the class, participate, listen better, and comprehend more if you took the time to make yourself presentable. Plus, it’s a courtesy to the professor who teaches you.

Don’t buy the line that these are the best days of your life. Things keep getting better and better. If college is the epitome of life that would be a really sad existence for the remaining 60+ years. Live each day to the fullest but don’t fret that the time is flying by.

Get good at saying no. Not everything needs to be tried, experienced and lived. That’s ok. In fact, that’s good. Get used to saying no when the bad ideas come along and be ok with that.

Katie Hinderer

Katie Hinderer is a freelance writer and social media enthusiast. She holds a degree in Journalism from Marquette University. Over the years she has transitioned from traditional publishing...