By Calvin York

Don’t Eat All the Cereal—4 Tips for College Freshmen

In my first weeks of college, I could eat all the cereal I wanted (preferably Cinnamon Toast Crunch at 10 p.m.), practice poor decision-making skills that led me to staying up too late, and not tell my parents when I was going out.

This was somehow both life-giving and stressful. I met tons of new people and reveled in my newfound sense of independence. While I’m thrilled to be entering my senior year, I still miss that freshman year feeling of the whole college experience being ahead of me. I’ll catch a whiff of a specific cleaning product that takes me right back there to my dorm freshman year.

Feelings of anticipation ran rampant throughout that time. This euphoric feeling is, unfortunately, temporary. Emotional breakdowns might (read: will) occur. You might discover that your first group of freshman-year friends is kind of flakey. The cafeteria could replace Cinnamon Toast Crunch with Golden Grahams, and your world will genuinely fall apart.

The point is that you’ll inevitably hit some speed bumps, and I want to offer you these lessons to help get you through your first year of college. (As a former Resident Advisor, I’m loaded with advice from both my own uniquely chaotic freshman year and from witnessing freshmen under my supervision navigate through their first year making questionable decisions of their own.)

Check Your Email & Become Your Professor’s Fav

I can assure you that my number one pet peeve in my residents was that none of them checked their school email. Email will be your lifeline. Checking your email and knowing how to write a good one is the best way to get on your teacher’s good side. A polite email can earn you extra time to ask your teaching assistant (TA) or professor questions. There’s no feeling superior to being on your disgruntled general education professor’s good side.

Remove the “Sent from iPhone” automatic signature from your phone. However, be prepared for your professor responding three days late to your articulate email curtly answering one of your three questions or with a simple “K.”

It Takes Time to Get to Know People

Two students hugging and smiling outsideYour first friends may not be your best friends. Some of them might stick around, but not all of them. You meet many friends along the way in college, not all of them at once. I spoke to the feeling of temporary euphoria earlier. The first week of college is an extrovert’s paradise, and this can lead to feeling super connected to people you’ve known for five days.

I found myself constantly craving to be known by people around me while also trying to develop new friendships with these cool people I was meeting. You might feel slightly insane when you find yourself filling up your Snapchat memories with picturesque moments of laughing with people you just met at 3 a.m., funny faces at the breakfast table, and ordering cookies late at night.

At first, you may not notice any loneliness. But it still might be there. These people still don’t know you. Make sure to stay connected to those at home who do know you. Keep pushing and pursuing new opportunities to grow closer with these new people you’re meeting.

Be sure to be intentional with opening up but be aware of the risk that your vulnerability might not be honored or reciprocated. We need three-dimensional, deep friendships, but some friendships stay a lot lighter than others. Those are needed too. Over time, you’ll find those who you can truly open yourself up to, like confessing that you owned several Percy Jackson fan accounts over the course of middle and high school or whatever. Moving on . . . sharing more of yourself is scary but so worth it.

Perfect That Routine

Find a way to create a morning or evening routine early on. So much of college involves going with the fast-paced flow around you and gradually accessing more and more of your inner fast-talking New Yorker. You need to find some way in the delightful chaos that surrounds you to be with Jesus. When you establish this earlier, it’s easier to maintain. He will become as essential to your morning routine as brushing your teeth when you include him in it from the get-go. Each semester is a reset. Make sure to include him from the jump every time.

Find an InterVarsity Chapter

Two students smiling during partyThe thing you’ll hear constantly at orientation and every single freshmen event is the phrase “Get involved!” It still gives me shivers (and not the good kind).

Unfortunately, it’s true. If I could only tell you one thing, I’d emphasize the importance of community, specifically, finding an InterVarsity chapter near you (obviously I’m a little biased). Your faith can really become your own in college. Assuming your parents share your faith, the tether of your faith to theirs is starting to loosen. This marvelous opportunity is in front of you to tether yourself to Jesus, individually. Take advantage of it.

The best way to explore your faith in this new season is by connecting to a group of followers of Christ who are doing the same. College ministries are the place to find those people. Like churches, no ministry will be perfect. InterVarsity ended up fitting me well, but it wasn’t an instant fit. Independence is lovely, but don’t fool yourself. You need faith and community to stay above water.

College is a whirlwind of people and emotions, especially freshman year. It can be hard to navigate. Remember it’s always okay to ask for help, you’re never the only one feeling a certain way, and that college is a much better experience when you aren’t roughing it out alone. I hope you love your first year of college as much as I loved mine. Take my advice, and you’ll be well on your way!

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Calvin York is an Editorial and Social Media Intern for the summer of 2021. You can support his ministry at donate.intervarsity.org/donate#47493.

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