From saving money on books to bracing for reality, these college survival tips are everything I WISH I knew when starting college my freshman year. (Seriously, let me help you learn from my mistakes.)
Why hello there and welcome to ‘Back to School’ season…aka the time of year when all these nagging regrets pop up about everything I did ALL WRONG my first year at college. *Sigh*
Seriously, I wish I took the time as an incoming freshman to really prepare and talk to those who had been through college before to catch their best tips. If I had, I could probably have saved myself a lot of grief (and money).
Heading off to college is no doubt an exciting time – and one that can be a bit overwhelming. There is just so much possibility it can be hard to know what route to go down. For most, it’s your first time living “independently” and with all that new freedom comes a lot of responsibility…and opportunity to totally mess things up. (Which I completely did.)
College Survival Tips
Good news? If you’re an incoming college freshman you don’t have to totally mess everything up the way I did because I am here to help!
That’s right, I sat down and had a good think-fest about my 10 best college survival tips and came up with a list that I SERIOUSLY wish I had when starting out myself.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of lists like this spring up and always read them in hopes of feeling a bit better about myself and all the mess ups I made in college. But, in the end, I find most college survival tips to be pretty broad. Lists like this pop up that play it safe – not offering any hardcore advice you can actually APPLY to your college experience.
First off though, I think I should say that my number 1 piece of advice is to accept that you don’t know everything and absolutely NEED guidance to get you most successfully through your college experience. (This is definitely where I failed the most because I was a bit of a brat and thought I had it all ‘under control’ when I most definitely did not.)
From there, I hope you enjoy this list of 10 college survival tips and can apply them to make your college experience a million times better than mine was. (Seriously, I could write a book about my college experience and it would essentially be a how to guide of what “NOT” to do. Oopsies!)
10 Things I Wish I Knew When Starting College
1. It’s Okay to Not Know Your Major
From freshmen orientation on, every introductory conversation at college seemed to start somewhere along the lines of “What’s your name? What’s your major?”
At the time, even though I had declared a major of ‘computer science’…I wasn’t altogether sure it was where I wanted to go and being asked upfront by every new face I met what my major was sent me into internal panic mode.
In the end, I think it’s actually better to enter college NOT knowing your major.
Give yourself time to explore your interests. College is a time of great discovery – so much so that you might find yourself wanting to major in something down the road that you didn’t even know about when you started.
Take advantage of being a lower classman and explore. This will help you 1) figure out what you’re most passionate about and 2) save you the time, trouble and hassle of changing your major one, two or even three times down the road.
2. Above All Else – Go to Class
The number one way to save time and make your college learning experience as easy as possible is to *drumroll please*….go to class.
I know, I know. When it comes to college survival tips, that sounds like an obvious no brainer. But trust me, it’s easy to be seduced by the flexibility of college and course notes that are kept online. In the end, though, you’ll find that by going to class you truly have an edge when it comes to exams because you will know exactly what your instructor is looking for…because he or she told you, in person.
Even if you’re exhausted and didn’t do the reading…GO TO CLASS! Even if it’s cold and snowing…GO TO CLASS! Even if you’re hungover (it happens)…GO TO CLASS!
My first year at college, I had a couple of roommates that would literally stay out drinking all night long…roll back into the dorm at 7:30 am or so and stumble their way back out in fresh clothes to make their 8 am class.
At the time I thought that they were totally bonkers (which of course they were), but in the end they were actually being smart. (Stupid, but also…smart, y’know.)
If I could go back and do one thing at college over again, it would 100% be to attend class religiously from the start. Down the road, I finally got the message and learned just how much EASIER college really is when you make going to class a priority. Good grades come naturally when you take the time to attend class.
Make life easier on yourself right out the gate. Go to class!
3. You Might Hate Your Roommate – But Stick It Out
My freshmen year at Ohio State, I was paired with three other girls in a “suite”. At first, things seemed fine. Then, as time went on we all drove each other nuts and it reached a point where I thought I absolutely could NOT take it anymore.
Next thing you know I’m loading up my car to move across campus – only to move in with another roommate who was most definitely worse.
Long story short, you might not like your randomly selected roommate(s)…but it’s much better to stick it out. Sure, dorms are small and it might seem like torture to live in such close quarters together, but it’s only one school-year.
College offers so many other social opportunities to you that who your roommate is ultimately will not matter.
Sure, you may find yourself enjoying your roommate and becoming lifelong friends. But, there’s also the chance that you’ll make a circle of completely different friends and find yourself merely existing together…and that’s totally okay.
4. Use Your Meal Plan
The summer before my freshman year, I got a job as a server to save up spending money for college. I can’t quite remember what all I saved, but I know it was a fair chunk of change to get me through the school-year.
At the same time, my mom signed up for a meal plan so large that it honestly could feed a family of four (at least).
Over the first few weeks, I found myself using my meal plan while tagging along with groups from my dorm. After a while, I found myself friends with people that largely preferred to eat off campus — and that’s when my spending money started to dwindle dramatically.
It’s no mistake that anyone advising you on conserving money starts by stating you need to limit your meals out. I found myself “living it up” and blowing through my spending money so quickly that I had to take a job that I otherwise wouldn’t have needed to had I budgeted properly.
In the end, I worked my way through college from that point on. That’s definitely not something I regret, but when I think back on all the money I wasted on food by ignoring my bought and paid for meal plan? *cringe*
**Side Note: I was so committed to not using my meal plan that one time I actually sold it at the start to the semester for extra spending money…and that was also, so NOT worth it! Use your meal plan.
5. Be Prepared for a Bumpy Ride
Yes, I suppose there are those that have a smooth sailing college experience – but for the most part, I think you can expect that not to be the case.
Truth is, fresh out of high school there is a lot you don’t know about yourself and college will test you in ways you didn’t quite expect. Both in and outside the classroom, you’re going to face challenges you never expected and that’s all part of college life.
My college experience no doubt included some of the best times of my life (thus far), but also a lot of the worst. There were highs…and there were lows.
I think if I knew NOT to expect the perfect college experience, I honestly would’ve saved myself a lot of headache. But when you’re young and naive, you go all in and expect it all to go according to plan.
Except the trick is, with college…for many the plan is a contorted one. Fortunately, the downfalls will ultimately shape you in ways you won’t fully understand until down the road. In the meantime, expect things to get a little messy.
6. Don’t Pledge a Sorority Unless You LOVE It
Okay, here’s a bit of a ‘controversial’ one, but for me…I wish I skipped pledging a sorority altogether.
Yes, several people have wonderful experiences getting involved in Greek life at college but for me it was a colossal waste of time and money.
Following a line of sorority sisters in my family, participating in rush seemed like a given. And so there I was, trucking up and down 15th Avenue in the freezing cold. (For whatever reason, Ohio State’s open rush was held in January and not in the fall.)
Don’t get me wrong, the experience of rush wasn’t a waste. It was a great way to get practice putting myself out there and step outside my comfort zone while facing interviews at all of the houses. But, if you don’t fall in love with a chapter in your gut…I would recommend not taking the leap of pledging one.
On bid day, I remember thinking to myself there really was not a single sorority I was interested in and yet there I was accepting a bid that night. As a pledge, I made the effort and attended all the chapter classes and social events that I could…but still in my gut didn’t feel connected to my sisters or sorority. Cut to ignoring my instincts, going through with initiation…only to later face the music and quit.
Basically, by not listening to myself and following my own instincts…I wasted not only my time, but also created some awkward social situations for myself. For whatever reason, sororities can be intense and when you quit a sorority…you’re burning a bridge you didn’t have to.
I suggest participating in rush to see if Greek life is right for you, but only pledge and go through initiation with a sorority if you honestly and truly LOVE it.
7. You’re Going to College – Not Mars
I remember when I was packing for college, I made sure to include anything and everything I could ever possibly need…as though I was literally preparing for life on a deserted island.
From clothes for every form of weather imaginable, to band-aids, Sudafed (even though I probably hadn’t needed it in years), a toolkit, sewing materials and even duct tape…I had EVERYTHING.
In reality, I was moving to a state capital to attend a school with tens of thousands of other students. There was a CVS right across the street from my dorm, a grocery store just a couple blocks down the road and several shopping centers within a 5 to 10 minute driving distance. (Not to mention I was only 90 minutes away from home… *facepalm*)
Long story short, don’t feel like you need to pack for life on another planet. You’re going to college, not Mars. You don’t need to have everything you could ever possibly need for the entire school-year crammed into your small dorm space on day one.
8. Completely Ignore the On Campus Credit Card Reps
No doubt, its easy for college students on a limited budget to think a free t-shirt and a high interest rate credit card sounds pretty great…but it’s not. It’s also easy to fool yourself into thinking a credit card is Monopoly money…but it’s most definitely not.
I remember at one point actually getting excited like it was my birthday when Capital One wrote me that they were upping the limit on my credit card. Seriously, I thought I had somehow been gifted free money. Yes, that was me…the college idiot.
With college tuition and living expenses being so high as it is, taking on credit card debt seems almost a necessity at the time…but in the end, I promise you will MUCH rather pinch and save those pennies.
If you’re desperate for a credit card, look for the best credit card for no credit online or at the bank. IGNORE these campus reps! They’re only looking out for their company, not you as a student. You’ll need a credit card for bad or no credit as it’s unlikely that you would have built a significant amount of credit by this age and with the credit card, you can start to build your own credit score.
Student loans are bad enough, don’t make life harder on yourself by building up a bunch of campus credit card debt on top of it.
Trust me, that shopping trip is NOT worth it.
9. NEVER Buy Your College Textbooks On or Around Campus
On the subject of shopping, let’s talk about textbooks and what a complete RIP off they are if you buy them on campus. (Or really, what a rip off they are altogether.)
You will be amazed at just how much a college textbook costs. You will also be amazed at just how quickly textbooks become outdated because of how frequently publishers release updated “editions” with minor edits to completely rip you off.
No doubt, textbooks are one of the highest hidden costs of college and you’ll find yourself wanting to vomit when you see how much you’re spending on one semester’s books alone.
Ultimately, there’s no easy way around wasting money on textbooks…but my #1 advice is to never, under any circumstances purchase textbooks from your college bookstore OR any of the surrounding bookstores located near your campus.
Only, and I mean ONLY, order your books online and ALWAYS buy them used when possible. (Hello, Amazon is your new best friend!)
Yes, that means you might be without a book for the first week or two…but if you’re going to class every day (which we’ve already discussed is a top priority), being without the book for a short period of time while it ships in is completely worth it.
** If you’re really looking to save money on textbooks and are open to sharing, I suggest partnering up with someone to trade books. That could be someone who shares your major or someone in your dorm that also has to take the same old required classes as everyone else.
10. When It Comes to Partying, Ignore FOMO
Lastly, I want to touch on the partying aspect of college life and how you should ultimately ignore FOMO…aka, “fear of missing out”.
Yes, when it comes to college parties…a lot of that may depend on the social scene of which school you’re attending. Such as, if you go to a smaller school…partying might not be as ingrained in the student culture as it is as a larger state school. Either way, though, there’s going to a come a time when you face temptation to ignore your studies in favor of hitting XYZ party or social gathering.
If there’s one thing I can say about college life for sure, it’s that there will ALWAYS be another party.
Missing out on one, two, ten or even forty isn’t going to make or break your college experience.
My first year of college I was a complete social butterfly and hardly ever stayed in. Not just on the weekends, but on weekdays too. There was ALWAYS something going on and I found it way too easy to ignore my homework in favor of following whatever social opportunity next popped up.
Don’t get caught up on possibly missing out on something fun, because there’s always going to be another chance.
But remember, even if you do get caught up in the evening and nighttime social scene…when that alarm goes off in the morning to go to class….by all means GO!
Hopefully this list of college survival tips helped prepare you a little more than I was for your freshman year. If you want more tips, I also shared this post on 5 things I wish I knew when heading off to university.
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