by Nora Bradbury-Haehl
(with just a tad of editing by EBC)
AS A YOUTH MINISTER, I SAY
GOODBYE to my freshly
graduated high school seniors every August and somewhere between
leaving home and arriving on campus they become college freshmen.
Some of them seem to hit the ground running and never look back.
For others their freshman year, especially the first few months,
can be more of a challenge.
There are a number of things that make these first months away
at college tricky:
(a) You're in a new place away from everything and everyone familiar.
(b) There's no one to keep you accountable and true to the person
you have always been.
(c) You're learning to set your own limits. It's easy to get
Keep in mind though, others have gone before you and lived to
tell the tale. Here are 25 tips and tricks to help you avoid
the most common pitfalls, plus advice from other college students
and experts to get you through the next few months.
01. BE GENEROUS WITH YOUR
FRIENDSHIP BUT STINGY WITH YOUR TRUST.
The friends you have back home didn't get to be your friends
overnight. It took months or, more likely, years, to establish
those friendships. You trust your friends because they've proven
At college, it can feel like these new people are your old friends.
You're eating together, studying together, sometimes spending
more time with these people than you ever could with your friends
from back home. These new friends need to earn your trust though,
don't just give it to them. The people you meet in your first
few weeks of school may be great, some of them may turn out to
be the best friends of your life or they may turn out to be criminals.
Every freshman class has its gems and its jerks (I'm not kidding,
some of them are actually criminals). Which ones are which will
come clear over the next few months. Wait until you get to know
them a little before you loan them your car, give them all your
passwords or your ATM card, or share your deepest secrets with
02. GO TO CLASS!
Seems obvious, it IS why you're at college but you wouldn't believe
how many freshmen skip their way out of school. Do a little math
and figure out how much it costs for you to have your butt in
that chair per hour. You'll be less willing to blow one off.
Most professors will allow one or two absences but save 'em for
the end of the semester when you've got mono and three papers
due in the same week.
03. FOR THE FIRST FEW
WEEKS LIVE LIKE A MONK.
Monks take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.
There's plenty of fun to be had at college and lots of time to
have it. The first few weekends, especially among freshman, can
be a bit of a free-for-all and are often when you are at your
most vulnerable. Give yourself a chance to get acclimated to
your new surroundings before you start taking chances. Those
chances will most likely look a lot less attractive once you're
feeling more comfortable.
Chastity. College may be the
place where you meet the love of your life but you probably won't
know that in the first week of school, especially on Friday night
after a couple of drinks. It's too soon to tell who's who. Give
yourself some time to settle in before adding a boyfriend or
girlfriend to the mix or getting involved with someone who may
turn out to be bad news. Your grandmother told you and your parish
priest told you that God forbids persons who are not married
to one another to have intercourse or to do the acts that inevitably
lead to intercourse. This is not hard to understand. All you
have to do is believe it. If no one else in your residence hall
believes it, refer them to your grandmother and / or your parish
Poverty. Don't blow all your money your first weekend there.
In a few weeks you'll be amazed what you can live without. If
you have the luxury of calling home for cash, the parents will
be a lot happier if you don't do it the second week of school.
All the more so if you worked all summer for spending money that
has to last the semester. Companies love to give credit cards
to new college students. Just say "no"! Credit is bad.
It's way too easy to get in over your head.
Obedience. Go to class! If you've always been able to skate along
without really working too hard, that might just catch up with
04. SLEEP IS GOOD.
Sleep! Do it at night as often as possible. Daytime sleep screws
up your body clock and your ability to attend your very expensive
classes. Lack of sleep also impairs judgment. It may not seem
like a big deal to pull a few all-nighters, but, according to
Dr. Richard Kadison, chief of Mental Health Services at Harvard
University, poor sleep quality can lead to depression, anxiety,
reduced physical health, poor problem solving and attention difficulties
and increased use of drugs and alcohol.
05. GET INVOLVED, BUT NOT
Every club, activity, and association will be vying for your
time. The college experience is about so much more than classes.
Campus activities and organizations are a great way to expand
your horizons and connect with other students who share your
interests. Be choosey and if you're a "joiner" be careful
not to over commit yourself.
06. LIVING WITH A WEIRDO.
They might be weird or messy or talk too much or keep different
hours than you but work hard to establish and maintain a positive
relationship with your new roommate. You may not spend every
waking moment together, nor should you, but even roommates who
are polar opposites can still offer each other a little sympathy
after a hard day. It's also nice to have someone to go to the
dining hall with.
07. HOMESICKNESS CAN BE REALLY
TOUGH BUT ONE OF THE WORST WAYS TO FIGHT IT IS BY HEADING HOME
FOR THE WEEKEND.
Tough it out for one more weekend and make the effort to get
out and do something. You'll miss out on a lot of college life
if you hit the road and spend all of your weekends back home.
Plus when you get back on campus Sunday night you can end up
feeling even more isolated. If you really can't make it without
a little homemade TLC try a nice long phone call first or see
if you can con your folks into coming to visit you.
08. HELPFUL PEOPLE: THEY COME
STANDARD ON VIRTUALLY EVERY CAMPUS!
Coming out of high school it can be easy to think of administration
as part of the problem, but there are lots of people on campus
whose job it is to help you. Depending on your question or problem
there are any number of folks to help you through: health services,
counseling, your academic advisor, your RA. Colleges know the
transition can be a rocky one. Don't be afraid to ask for help
when you need it!
09. FIND OUT ABOUT CAMPUS
Speaking of helpful people, in addition to the folks mentioned
above, many campuses have great Catholic parishes and staffs
that can both comfort and challenge you in your faith. It'll
be different than home but should be familiar enough to keep
"We call ourselves a student parish, this is your parish
and you shape what happens here." said Dave Nantais.
Campus Ministry can be a great place to meet people with similar
values, get connected with service and retreat opportunities
and can be a real life line if you find yourself struggling later
in the semester. Prayer groups, social events, interfaith opportunities
and even spiritual direction (someone to act as a mentor and
guide for your prayer life) are often available through campus
10. BE YOURSELF AND TAKE TIME
College is a great opportunity to reinvent yourself but don't
go too far. Remember that whomever you decide to become is the
character you'll have to play for the rest of this drama. Don't
forget who you are just because you're in a new place. You're
still you and it's gotten you this far! Your values, your likes
and dislikes, the things you're good at haven't changed, hang
onto those things, especially while you're getting used to this
Father Charles L. Currie, SJ, president of the Association of
Jesuit Colleges and Universities, explained that there is "an
explosion of options" for students in their first few weeks
After your first week reassess your new friendships. Do it again
after your first month. If the friends you connected with initially
don't seem to be a good fit, widen your circle. If you find your
group stays in when you want to go out, drinks too much or just
has different interests don't be afraid to continue meeting new
12. TOO MUCH OF A DANGEROUS
You might be tempted to tune this advice out because you've heard
it so many times before. Don't! I can't tell you how many kids
I've known who've bombed out because they drank too much!
Without the simple limits of home - curfews, my mom will know
if I spend the night hugging the toilet, friends who don't want
to go drinking - it's easy to find yourself with a very expensive
waste of a semester. It's a really embarrassing way to flunk
out of college or get yourself into stupid trouble. If you won't
take my word for it, the statistics on the effects of college
drinking are astounding. If you're getting wasted every weekend,
you're headed for trouble. If you're missing class because you're
hung over, you're in trouble. Underage drinking is a bad idea.
Don't do it.
13. PSYCH 101.
Later adolescence and early young adulthood are the blooming
seasons for many mental illnesses. The college environment, little
sleep, no supervision, a lack of people who know what "normal"
is for you can all add up to danger when it comes to addiction
or mental illness. If you find yourself behaving in ways that
are contrary to your values or like you're in the bottom of an
emotional pit and can't get out - get to the counseling center!
Addiction and mental illness are two of the deadliest issues
for college freshman.
14. GO TO CLASS!
15. DATING, RELATIONSHIPS
AND SEX ON CAMPUS.
Everyone seems to have a story about a bad-dating decision or
a hook-up gone wrong. Whether it's an older student that takes
advantage of freshman naïveté, a crush turned stalker
or simply a case of leaping prior to looking, campus relationships
can be a bit of a minefield. Be particularly cautious in those
first few weeks when everyone's still adrift. Falling for someone
who's just looking for a little recreational intimacy early in
your first semester can mess up your head not to mention your
Besides a broken heart or a bruised ego, there are lots of other
reasons to avoid hooking up. College is a great place to get
an STD. Somewhere between a reported 20 and 25 percent of college
students are or have been infected with a sexually transmitted
disease. Wait until you've been on campus and have built some
friendships you can fall back on before getting into a romantic
relationship. Then if your romance works out you'll have some
friends to be happy for you and if not there'll be somebody to
hand you a Kleenex when you're crying into your teacup.
16. A FEW WORDS ABOUT RELIGION.
There will be lots of different ideas floating around campus.
It's one of the best things about the college atmosphere and
an open mind is a great thing to bring with you. Hopefully some
of your ideas will be challenged and you'll explore your faith
more deeply because of it. However, if you find yourself in a
conversation about God that leaves you feeling defensive, don't
feel like you have to keep talking or listening. Just because
you're not a good arguer, that doesn't make you a bad Christian!
There are churches that train their young members to attack and
to recruit and to take no prisoners. Young Catholics are prime
targets, especially insecure young Catholics who fell asleep
in CCD class. Usually these persons are not interested in your
ideas or theology. They only want you to leave your church and
join their denomination or cult. Bring your questions back to
someone you trust.
17. WASH YOUR HANDS!
Your mother was right. Studies have shown it's the single best
way to avoid getting whatever bug is going around on campus.
18. LEARN HOW TO BE A COLLEGE
Organizing your time and using it effectively, utilizing study
groups, the library and all the different learning centers and
resources available on campus, and learning to advocate for yourself
is a whole new skill set for most people. Give yourself some
time to get used to this new learning environment and don't expect
that you should be able to figure it all out yourself. Seek out
other students who are good at these skills and imitate them.
Ask upperclassmen, especially those in your major, what they
did freshman year to keep up with class material, study for tests
and relate to professors.
19. REMEMBER THE HALT METHOD
OF KEEPING YOUR ACT TOGETHER.
Don't let yourself get too Hungry, too Angry, too Lonely, too
Too Hungry: Your mom's not here to remind you to eat, get to
the dining hall and take care of yourself. Skipping meals messes
with your mood and your appetite.
Too Angry: Manage your emotions,
take a walk, work out, talk to a friend and especially don't
drink when you're angry! Angry + drunk = stupid behavior, sometimes
involving campus security.
Too Lonely: Stay connected to your support network. Call your
mother! IM (instant message) your old friends, e-mail your youth
Too Tired: If you find yourself weepy all the time, impose a
strict bedtime on yourself and see if that doesn't improve your
mood. All-nighters are a bad idea. Nobody does their best work
under pressure that's just something we procrastinators tell
ourselves to rationalize our bad behavior.
Whether you're an experienced or novice pray-er, now's a great
time to do it. Your understanding of who God is and how God works
will most likely change a lot over the next few years.
When you have a decision to make Father Charlie Donahue suggests
prayer. "Spend some time in your own head and heart mulling
over what you really want to do and what would be healthy."
Prayer can keep you open to new directions and insights. It can
also simply be a reminder of God's love and care for you. And
most importantly it can keep you centered, calm and ready to
deal with everything life is throwing at you right now.
21. FOOD - FINDING THE BALANCE.
Doritos is not a food group. Everyone's afraid of the "Freshman
15," that infamous fattening up that happens to so many
new college students, but many people have trouble avoiding it.
Most of us are used to having our mom set a plate in front of
us with a pretty balanced meal - something meaty, something green,
something starchy. When you head into the dining hall the first
time you may be dazzled by the array of choices but make sure
that what ends up on your plate has some balance to it. And just
because you can have ice cream with every meal doesn't mean you
should. Try not to skip meals; you can end up overeating at the
next meal or just wolfing down a bag of chips (or three) back
in the dorm because you've gotten so hungry. Drink water not
soda. You can easily pack on a few pounds in your first semester
by adding two or three cans of soda to your daily food intake.
This also applies to other canned beverages. They don't call
it a beer gut for nothing.
The other extreme: Eating disorders. In this new high-pressure
environment some people respond by controlling the one thing
they feel they can, what they eat. You probably already know
if this is a danger for you.
The people who would normally help you keep an eye on your eating
problems are also the people who would help you deal with the
stress that causes them and they're not here! Ahhhh! But fear
not! You can hook up with some help at the counseling center,
find yourself a supportive friend or two that you feel you can
share your struggles with and stay accountable online to friends
or family from back home who can encourage and support you.
Watching your weight can become a dangerous obsession that will
distract you from your goals just as surely as any other addiction!
If you've never had problems with dieting, binge eating or weight
obsession before but you find yourself distracted by calorie
counting, controlling your weight, or are afraid to eat talk
to someone! The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and
Associated Disorders offers help and resources.
22. ARE YOU EARNING YOUR
BA OR YOUR IM?
Whatever your game system, favorite online RPG, or electronic
distraction is, be careful! That harmless looking little X-Box
can be your education's worst nightmare. It should stay in the
closet and only come out on weekends after your paper is written!
Anything addictive or familiar right now is going to be more
attractive than going to class and getting your work done. TV,
Facebook, blogging, You Tube, downloading music, IM-ing or just
surfing can all be nice stressbusters,but it's a slippery slope.
You start out just finding a little comfort or harmless distraction
and before you know it you've stayed up all night, not written
your paper and missed a couple classes because you were up too
Self-discipline is a bigger challenge for some of us than others
but one of the biggest tasks in life is setting your own limits.
If you're struggling, give yourself an Internet, television,
or Playstation "allowance" each day and stick to it.
When you're doing homework, put up your away message.
Nobody can multi-task! All it does is slow you down and keep
you up later. Chat for 15 minutes and then get off IM and get
your work done! Afterwards you can stay up and chat without the
worry of the unfinished work hanging over you.
And while we're talking about the Internet, here's a hint - online
porn and poker are a baaaad idea! 2008 Class president Greg Hogan
robbed a bank to pay off his online gambling debts! Hopefully
you won't go to such extremes but because you're in a strange
place with new people (and suddenly without the people and habits
that would set external limits on you) anything addictive can
be a danger zone. Porn and online gambling, besides their general
unsavory nature, are both extraordinarily addictive and the Internet
gives us unprecedented access. Don't get sucked in! Quit. If
you find you can't quit, even when you know you should, there's
lots of help available.
23. ALL WORK AND NO FRIENDS.
One of the biggest challenges is worrying about all these new
issues at the same time you're building a new support network.
Make sure you take time to tend your relationships - the old
ones and the new ones. Parents can be one of your most important
supports right now. Take time with new friends to really get
to know each other and keep in touch with friends from back home.
When the chips are down and you need some encouragement to keep
moving forward you'll be glad you did. Even if you haven't been
great about keeping in touch, an old friend or mentor is usually
thrilled to hear from you, even if it's just so you can whine
for a little while. Don't let guilt or worry about work to be
done keep you from tending these life-sustaining relationships!
24. DON'T BE AFRAID, JUST
There's a lot to think about its true, and a lot to be cautious
about, but this is also the opportunity of a lifetime. You will
probably make some of the best friends of your life, you will
probably fall in love, you will probably grow more and learn
more and discover more about yourself than you ever thought possible.
You don't have to be afraid, just be aware! Like a mountain climber
- you've got all your safety equipment. You know the safety rules.
You've been preparing for this climb for a long time. Everyone
who knows you is hoping for your success. Keep your eye on the
summit and don't be afraid!
25. AND - DID I MENTION?
- GO TO CLASS!