Look, I’m going to be blunt with you here: The most useful pieces of advice that you could possibly get as an incoming student are the ones that people are either too nice — or not allowed — to tell you. Thankfully, I’m not an official university representative and I’m not trying to sell you anything, so I’m free to give you the most helpful advice I can. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve been at this college thing awhile now, so I feel at least somewhat qualified to offer a few helpful hints.
1. Be tolerant of the people you are living with.
Unless you are lucky enough to live on your own off campus or managed to score a single room in the residence halls, you will likely have to deal with difficult roommates at some point. Look, I get it: your roommate is super weird. Their collection of potato chips shaped like Steve Buscemi’s face really freaks you out, and they make Jell-O in the their underwear at 4 in the morning. We’ve all been there. But no matter how strange, smelly, or generally unlikeable your roommate is, don’t attempt to retaliate with your own unsavory behavior (and yes, this includes passive aggressive status updates and sub-tweeting). If you live in the residence halls, your resident assistant has been specially trained to deal with these situations, and there is no shame in showing up at your RA’s door and telling them, “I’m having some trouble getting along with my roommate. Can we talk?” Your RA can help you develop strategies for navigating your difficult living situation or assist you in filing for a room transfer if the situation is truly unsalvageable. However, this should be a last resort. Dealing kindly with people whom you find strange or unpalatable is an important part of normal adult life, and the sooner you master this skill, the better.
2. If you have any kind of problem brewing, get help now, before it’s too late.
Maybe you breezed through high school and never learned how to study or do research properly. Maybe you have an underlying physical or mental health problem that you chose not to (or couldn’t) seek help for before. Maybe you struggle with depression or anxiety or body image issues or navigating social situations. My advice is the same: get help and get it now. College is a never ending torrent of new emotions and experiences, and if you have some sort of underlying problem that’s gone unaddressed, your first year will tear that wide open. You might be embarrassed about having to visit the Writing Center for help or make an appointment with Counseling Services, but your senior self — and your GPA — will thank you later.
3. College is not for everyone.
Really. It’s not. Not only is college not for everyone, but many people don’t realize their mistake until several years and $20,000 too late. While a college education can be extremely beneficial and rewarding for those who choose to seek one, there are many who aren’t ready emotionally, don’t see the need for one, or simply don’t thrive in the college environment. You’ve decided to give college a try, and that’s great! But if at the end of your first year you find yourself unsure if college is the right place for you, there is no shame in taking some time off to reconsider if this is what you really want (or need) to do to get where you want to be in life. Be honest with yourself and take the time and the space you need to consider whether or not a four-year college is right for you. For some, college is a blessing and an opportunity. For others, it is a mistake. A really, really expensive mistake.
4. You are probably going to do something that worries or disappoints your parents, and that’s OK.
Whether it’s making the decision to stop going to church on Sundays, going on a spring break blowout to Bora Bora with your roommates, or deciding to get your first tattoo; it’s almost inevitable. You are going to do something in the next few years that will make your family cringe with worry and that’s perfectly OK. Making decisions that your family might not entirely agree with or support is a normal part of growing up. As you become an adult, it is perfectly natural to discover that you might have values and beliefs that are fundamentally different from those of the people who raised you. As long as you aren’t putting yourself or anyone else in danger (or you know, doing something that’s actually illegal), exploring these different beliefs and ideas is a perfectly normal part of becoming a functioning adult. The privilege of adult decision-making comes with adult consequences, and sometimes you might find that your family was right all along. Other times, you may find that they were entirely mistaken. It’s up to you to find out for yourself.
5. Your professor is not a jerk. You’re probably just a crappy student.
Your professor caught you playing Farmville during a lecture, scolded you and asked you to leave. You’ve flunked the exam and might have to retake the class again. There are many viable solutions to this conundrum and absolutely none of them are “the class is too hard because the instructor is a stupid meanie jerk face who likes to laugh evilly while watching students suffer.” Even if the class is legitimately difficult, your personal feelings about what kind of person your professor is (or vice-versa) have next to nil to do with your ability to succeed in class. If you spent even half of the effort on studying the course material as you did finding a way to banish Professor Satan back to the fiery pits from whence he or she crawled, you might not have failed that exam so abysmally.
“But you don’t understand!” You lament. “The professor gave us four pages of essays to write! That’s evil!”
Never mind the fact that your professors probably enjoy writing your exam questions about as much as you enjoy answering them. After all, your instructors are people with friends, families and Netflix queues just like everyone else. The next time you feel the urge publicly shout pejoratives about a difficult instructor, just think about how awful your instructor probably feels when they find out that their students find growing imaginary corn more interesting than the work they’ve chosen to focus their entire lives on. (And then put your iPhone down and do your reading, you lazy crybaby.)
6. Be the CEO of your own life.
You are the chief executive officer of the Company of You. As CEO, you are allowed to promote or demote anyone you please, at any time, and for any reason. You are allowed to fire people whenever you like, without prior notice or promise of severance benefits. Unfortunately, whether it’s a lousy friend, a manipulative family member or a less-than-stellar romantic partner, cutting bad relationships out of your life will never be entirely painless. The important thing to remember is this: You do not owe anyone an explanation for your choice to end an unhealthy relationship. As you grow and mature, you will become better at determining which people are toxic to you and which ones are worth keeping in your life, but always remember that you do not owe anyone an apology for making decisions that are in the best interest of the Company of You.
7. Beware the Sunk Cost Fallacy.
Have you ever started doing something only to later realize that if you keep doing the thing, you’ll end up someplace you don’t want to be? And then did you keep doing the thing anyway because “Oh well, I’ve already invested this much time, money, or emotional energy. I might as well just see this thing through,” even though the most likely outcome was undesirable and probably preventable? If that situation sounds at all familiar to you, congratulations! You have experienced the sunk cost fallacy in action! If at any point in your life you begin to feel that you current course of action is going to lead to an outcome that is undesirable, for any reason, the most logical course of action is always to change course. Juniors who are vacillating about changing majors, I am looking straight at you. Why? Because you’re never going to get back the time, money, and energy that you have invested into a doomed endeavor — those resources are lost to you whether you see the outcome through to the end or not. And since the resources you sunk into your doomed endeavor are lost forever anyway, what’s the point in adding insult to injury by accepting an undesirable result on top of it? Extricating your own behavior patterns from fallacious thought practices is easier said than done, but it’s something that gets easier with experience. The sooner you learn to identify these patterns, the better off you’ll be.
8. What do you call a skinny blond girl wearing a short dress and a Bump-It?
Her name, I hope. And if you don’t, you are going to have a very serious problem very, very quickly. I understand that we all have our prejudices and preconceptions about different groups of people, and there is no shortage of different types of people around campus — there are people who go out partying every weekend and people who never want to touch a drop of alcohol in their lives; people who think leggings are definitely pants and people who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them with a tunic shirt; people who live for greek life and people who would never consider joining a chapter in their wildest dreams. What do all of these people have in common? They are all students at K-State who are doing the best they can with the resources they have to feel comfortable in their own skin and want to be respected as people. There will always be people you don’t like — that’s not bound to change any time soon. Some people just aren’t your cup of tea, and that’s OK. But when you meet someone you don’t particularly care for, leave them be and don’t gossip about them or loudly trash on them in front of your friends. Your choice not to associate with them has already told everyone everything they need to know about your personal opinion of them.
9. Don’t do work without compensation.
By compensation, I mean the green stuff. You are now a (hopefully somewhat) functioning adult with your own unique set of skills and abilities. If you are doing a job that makes use of that skill set, you should be getting paid — and no, being paid in “experience” or “exposure” doesn’t count.
Practice this phrase: “I’m sorry, I don’t accept jobs without fair monetary compensation for my time and effort.”
Recite it like a mantra. Tattoo it on your forehead. If a prospective employer would pay a non-student worker for the same job, then they should be paying you as well. Beware of employers and other adults in your life who attempt to use the “student” label to belittle you or make light of your accomplishments or skills. Anyone who condescends to you because of a perceived experience gap will not respect you or your work and is probably not worth your time. There are many fields, such as the arts, where unpaid internships are the surest path to a permanent career, but do not make this choice lightly and think hard about why exactly it is you are so willing to work for an employer who doesn’t think your work is worthy of fair monetary compensation. You are an adult. You should be paid like one.
When I look back on my first few years in college, it was a lot like a roller coaster ride. Its ups and down will in equal parts thrill and terrify you, the loops you’ll be thrown for can be disorienting but ultimately really fun, and you will likely encounter more than one puddle of puke along the way. With any luck, the entire car won’t derail and you and your fellow students will all reach their intended destinations safely and be able to pick up some fun souvenir photos on your way out. Sit down, buckle up and keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times. Welcome to K-State, Wildcats!
Iris LoCoco is a senior in art history and pre-law who has goofy hair and is not cool or funny at all. Please send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.