College serves as a promised land for adolescents aching for their first taste of freedom. Gone are nagging parents and controlling teachers, replaced by independence, easy-breezy classes and frat keggers — all for a cost equal to a major nation’s gross domestic product.
But jumping into higher education can resemble the scene in 28 Days Later where the main character wakes up in an abandoned London: extremely jarring, though with fewer zombies. Everyone is a stranger, every class is a risk and every party could suck. So, having a little help on hand can’t hurt. Having survived Northwestern thus far (including Tour De France-speed bicyclists on Sheridan and a Chinese class), I’ll dish out valuable tips to reduce pressure on freshman new to Evanston.
10. Make your room comfortable
College guides and brochures tell incoming freshman to buy roughly a million objects before showing up at their dorms. Recommended items range from small necessities, such as clothes and bedding, to more obscure tools, like a water heater or a whaling harpoon. Most of these wares will gather dust as the average student gets by on what really sustains life: food, water and Facebook.
You can buy any essential items in Evanston, so don’t stress about material goods. A good room design will make you happier, though. My roomie and I foolishly kept our room’s original design, unaware beds could be debunked and desks shuffled. Our room felt as welcoming as a World War I trench, not to mention my roommate mistook my head for a bunk bed step every night.
So instead of talking who should bring the fridge and who should bring the HDTV, experiment with the layout of your dorm room. You’d be surprised how much time you’ll spend in your room, so develop a design the two of you will enjoy most. Plus, you might have more space to store all your unnecessary junk, so your room doesn’t resemble a landfill.
9. Sleep whenever you can
College turns even the most sleep-spoiled individuals into insomniacs. This holds doubly true during the first quarter, when new friends spend late nights learning about one another and deciding who to hook up with at some point.
Take advantage of free time you have between classes, club meetings and crunkin’ events. Nap every chance you can, and get a spec of sleep during the night. The next four years of your life will be deprived of sleep, so stock up early.
8. Figure out your classes early
After three days I thought I figured Northwestern out. I’d unpacked completely, made some friends and adjusted to dining hall food (well, as much as one can). But on the eve of registration, I nearly committed myself to a mental hospital while trying to decide which still-open class would be more rewarding: Elementary Logic or Diversity of Life (answer: neither).
Take some time your first week to focus on what classes will burden you Fall Quarter. There may be fun activities going on your first week, but don’t forget academics do exist in college, and they will have a major impact on whether you love university life or would rather enter a more relaxing field, like deep-sea diving. Don’t blow off classes assuming you can just take whatever remains on CAESAR come registration time. Otherwise, you’ll end up in lectures brimming with the same amount of energy as C-SPAN 2.
7. Go to football games
Two characteristics separate NU from the typical state school. First, we actually study a bit before we get trashed/baked/PCPed out of our minds. And second, we don’t have a good football team.
Don’t let the fact our squad resembles a pack of ex-construction workers who just discovered what “tossin’ the pigskin” means discourage you. Wildcat football has the mystifying quality of bringing so many together for a product so very terrible (call it the Spider-Man 3 effect), as many Northwestern students walk to Ryan Field to scream and hold their hands out like a stuffed cougar from the Field Museum. It’s one of the coolest events you’ll experience here, and one of the few times the campus displays any school unity, besides everyone vomiting simultaneously on Dillo Day. Who cares if our team loses to Shitville Community College by 28 points (or Duke by six)? It’s still super fun.
6. Don’t take early classes
You might have gotten up at 5:30 in the morning during high school for whatever god-forsaken club you were a part of, but college is a whole other beast. If lecture starts before Passions airs, pass on it.
5. Get to know upperclassmen
You have enough freshmen faces to worry about that you probably aren’t too concerned about the sophomores, juniors and rare senior scattered about your new home. But take time to get to know upperclassmen. They are veterans of the college game, and can tell you which professors will change your life and which will make you relocate to another continent. Older students also know what campus events are worth your time, and can enlighten you to the traditions that your dorm holds. At the very least, they can tell you where the good parties happen.
4. Explore the dining halls
As I prepare to enter the scary world of off-campus housing, I will always regret never eating at Elder’s dining hall. The one time I finally ventured up north to sample the mysterious dorm’s foodstuffs, the dining hall wasn’t open. The pain I felt upon seeing the “closed” sign hurt worse than discovering the truth about Santa Claus, but not as much as learning the truth about professional wrestling. I don’t know if the pain will ever fade.
Instead of chowing down at the same bland hall every night, gather some friends and hit up every cafeteria on campus during Fall Quarter. Going to the same place day-in and day-out is the college equivalent of an eight-to-five job. So explore NU’s culinary wonders, from Stir-Fry Steve down at Hinman to the well-decorated Sargent to the tasty made-to-order grill at Foster Walker. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Eat everywhere you can.
3. Drink appropriately
The biggest change new college kids face is the availability of liquor. If you partied it up every week during high school, the environment won’t seem drastically different (don’t forget, rush week starts winter quarter). But, for anyone who drank seldom or never, the atmosphere can be quite intimidating. Getting wasted plays a prominent role at NU, so you should know how to deal with drinking before your first party.
If you plan to take your first sip of the stuff come fall, or drank only a little during high school, you have to learn moderation. Some new students approach drinking like Will Ferrell in Old School, believing the worst that could happen is they’ll streak or make horrible comedies. Unfortunately, overindulgence leads to embarrassment, as you’ll either make a massive buffoon of yourself or yak into a bush on Ridge and Davis. Learn your limit, and then never cross your boozy boundaries. Remember: When the sink starts resembling the sofa, you should cut back on the PBR.
If, like me, you choose not to drink at all during your first quarter of college existence, the situation seems even more terrifying. When everyone gets trashed every weekend, you can feel alienated. As tough as it may seem, don’t betray yourself, regardless of how much pressure your inebriated peers heap on you. As Disney-sappy as it sounds, being true to yourself really is important, and you aren’t alone out there. You can make great friends, even when shunning Smirnoff. Plus, you probably won’t accidentally coat anyone in a sheet of vomit.
2. Don’t develop a boozy reputation
Going off the last point, don’t become the dorm drunk. During my New Student Week, one dude got so trashed he roamed the halls like a loon for several hours. The title “dorm drunk” got latched to him for the entire year, and he couldn’t shake it off. He could have rebuilt New Orleans and bought everyone in the city a puppy and he’d still be defined by their New Student Week debauchery. But there is a hitch…..
People absolutely adored these guys. My fellow dormmates flocked to the people who reveled in an alcohol-heavy lifestyle (and still do), viewing them as folks who know how to have a good time. One time, about a dozen people defended one guy who had his party broken up, hurling hate towards the CAs, who had committed the grievous sin of doing their job. For anyone who doesn’t down liquid by the tubs, this can be the most frustrating feeling at college, watching as people acting like John Daly get showered in admiration.
But don’t let it get you down too much. Instead, work towards developing a good reputation. Alcohol trumps all during these four years (kids really adopt the mantra “ya only live once, better act like anarchists”), and people will always love the drink-centric types. But you can still create a popular personality, one people are drawn to, without jugs-worth of Jim Beam. Plus, in the end, a reputation built on something cool like having good taste in movies or being able to juggle traffic cones is much nobler than the guy who once double fisted fourteen beers.
1. Find a good group of friends
A bit anti-climatic, right? Of course you need to make friends: That may be the most obvious task Fall Quarter. But I’m not talking about the one guy you talked to at College Democrats or the one lady you chatted up at the theater party who you Facebooked the next day, a person you will never see again and could live in Brazil for all you know. No, you want a tight group of friends you can trust.
You’ll occasionally see an acquaintance walking along the street, and you’ll exchange very polite “hellos” and go on with life. A truly tight circle of friends sees you on a daily basis, and picks up on the intricacies of your schedule. They figure out what makes you tick, what brings you down and what cheers you up. You have your fits with them, and things aren’t always simple, but they are the people most present in your life, the major players in the disorganized show known as “the best four years of your life.” Eventually, people in this group start saying everyone needs to branch out. Fine, cool, variety rocks. But they all come back together, because that’s where they feel safest and most cared for.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. The number of Facebook friends isn’t going to enrich your life, so don’t worry yourself with knowing everyone on campus. Find a good circle of friends. Because college doesn’t get any easier after your first Fall Quarter. It gets harder and more confusing. Heck, I still feel overwhelmed most of the time. But (corny message incoming), with the right people around you, everyone can get through unscathed, and for the better.