1. It's Going to Be Really Hard.
"Any last questions?" I asked.
"Um, yeah," he said, looking a little sheepish. "Is college...awful? Because my teachers make it sound like it will be. They are always warning us everything will be harder, we have to study more, we won't have free time..."
I replied, "I'm not sure why they told you that and I'm sorry they gave you the wrong idea. I think they were trying to prepare you for some of the changes between high school and college."
But no, I reassured him, college isn't all work. I explained that college is society's permission for young adults for 2-4 years to be a little self-centered. You get to explore academic interests and personal hobbies, while going to an occasional football game and party.
You shouldn't be working all of the time, I told him. Make sure to have fun too.
2. It Will Be All Fun.
Fortunately, campuses have a resource for nearly any problem imaginable. Find an academic advisor, a financial officer, a mental health counselor, a study abroad representative, a career center, etc. to help you with your questions.
3. You'll Meet Your BFF Or Significant Other
Maybe you will become best friends with your randomly assigned roommate, take classes together, go on a graduation trip somewhere, stand up in each other's weddings, and live next door to each other eventually. But don't be disappointed if you don't.
Relationship and friendship dynamics can't be forced. You may just tolerate your roommate. That's fine. Plenty of other places to find a friend on a college campus. And even if you do meet the love of your life during your freshman year, it's entirely possible your ideas about what you want in a lifetime partner will change before or after graduation.
It's also entirely possible you will meet a best friend in graduate school or at your first job after college, or you'll meet your future spouse during a one-week volunteer trip or on the train to visit your parents for Thanksgiving.
Chill out about living the College Fairy Tale. It happens for some people, but for most of us, we date, we make some friends, and we move on.
4. You'll Get To Choose What You Study, When
That was a big question, but before I could answer, a girl waved her hand vigorously. She knew THE ANSWER. I pointed to her and she exploded, "College is GREAT! You get to take whatever class you want, whatever time you want." She beamed, "I'm only going to take classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. 4 Day Weekend!!"
Oh, girl. No.
I gently broke it to her that while, yes, there certainly are more choices about what you study, some classes are non-negotiable. You might have to take a writing class as a freshman, or a math class when you are a Fine Arts major.
And sometimes those required classes are only at 8am on Mondays or at 4pm on Fridays. What can you do? You just suck it up and get through it for the semester.
5. You're Degree Is In The Bag.
It's not enough to show up most of the time, participate if and when you feel like it, and do the work you get around. Tuition alone does not a graduate make.
Most schools require you to maintain a minimum GPA, especially if you are on scholarship, represent the university in some capacity (such as an athlete), or are part of a specific program.
6. Easy A's
When I had to fulfill a fine arts credit at Notre Dame, I signed up for Drawing I. I figured we'd draw some fruit in a bowl on a table and call it a day. Nope. There were several required materials for the class, and the professor had fairly rigorous standards for his budding artists.
However, I ended up enjoying the class immensely and was finally able to draw a decent face. So while it wasn't an easy A, it was definitely worthwhile.
As a grad student I made the same mistake. A classmate advised me to get my elective credit out of the way by taking a class at the Kennedy School of Government. So easy, he promised.
I signed up for "Science and Technology Studies." Oh, me. I had no idea that I had just volunteered to take a place from ONE OF THE FIELD'S CO-FOUNDERS. Like, the scholar who made STS a formal discipline of study.
Yep, that wasn't an easy A either.
7. Your GPA Doesn't Count The First Year.
That being said, give yourself a break about maintaining a perfect 4.0 if you struggle to get through some required classes that are not your forte. Just do your best, and know that you can bring your GPA up when you are able to pick more classes according to your interests and strengths.
8. Luxurious Living Accommodations
Sorry folks, but most universities' living accommodations are not as seen on TV.
Sure, an increasing number of colleges are investing in outfitting student quarters with luxuries like recreation centers and on-site snack bars. But the majority of schools are more concerned with squeezing as many students into the space as possible.
Expect a fairly small space, which you will probably share with at least one other person. There might be rules about what you can and cannot have in the room (mini fridge ok, but sometimes a microwave isn't). You usually can't paint the walls and have to make do with the furniture provided, which usually entails a set of bunk beds with a little pallet of a mattress, a desk, and in some cases, an in-room sink, mirror, and cabinet.
That doesn't mean you and your roommate can't add some personal touches and make it comfortable, cozy, and feel like home. Just don't expect a walk-in closet and crown molding.
Yes, your grades count - for everything from your GPA to getting the degree itself, beware of the myth of the easy A, and be proactive about finding assistance if you are struggling.
And then have fun. Really, consciously carve out time to enjoy yourself, whether that means scheduling long dining hall dinners with your friends, attending every basketball game, or joining a club.