Campus Life: What to Expect

Your first year of college presents a lot of new experiences: living away from home, meeting new people and managing your own time. Prepare for life on campus by figuring out what to bring, how to handle challenging circumstances and what you can do to manage your workload.

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What to Bring to College

When you go away to college for the first time, you want to make sure you're prepared. You may be living on your own for the first time, so there could be some items you wouldn't normally consider taking because someone at home, such as a parent or guardian, usually takes care of them for you.  Consult your college acceptance literature for any specific items your college asks you to bring. If you're able, touch base with your roommate prior to school to make sure you're not bringing duplicates of large items such as TVs, couches or refrigerators. Having double will just take up space and make for a less comfortable environment.

Dealing With Roommates

Having a college roommate is most people's first experience living with someone who is not related to them. It comes with both benefits and challenges. Getting along with your college roommate can enhance your college experience. You get an instant friend, someone to confide in and keep you company during your first time away from home. However, since many colleges randomly assign your first roommate, you also run the risk of being matched with someone you find challenging or don't relate to right away. Either way, here's some good advice:

Establish some rules at the beginning.
Make your preferences known from the start so you and your roommate are clear on what to do to avoid conflict. Establish what space is whose, when you need quiet time to study, which items you can share, what time you go to bed, if you like to sleep in on weekends and who's allowed to eat what in the refrigerator.

Some residence halls even require roommates to write up a roommate contract to put your rules in writing. Perhaps this is something you and your roommate could do on your own. Make it a fun introductory exercise and hang your contract somewhere in your room as a reminder. This way, if you do find yourselves disagreeing, you have something to help negotiate a solution that works for both of you.

Have good communication.
Practicing direct communication will help you in good times and bad. Dorm rooms are close quarters, so even if you get along with your roommate, there is bound to be a conflict or two. Handle such conflicts with open communication. You can't expect your roommate to be a mind reader, so if you get upset or frustrated, communicate it to your roommate right away. Use a respectful tone and choose your words carefully. You'll find such communication gets better reception and ultimately a better response than if you just attack or criticize.

Good communication also comes into play during everyday interactions. Try to engage your roommate. Ask how his or her day was or congratulate him or her on that good essay score. A little praise and interest can go a long way.

You need to compromise.
Whenever you're dealing with the wants and needs of other people, you need to compromise. When it comes to doing chores around the room, listening to certain kinds of music, watching different TV shows and requesting privacy, compromise is key. If you give a little, your roommate will give a little. Compromising does not mean giving in to all of someone's requests; it means coming to a mutual agreement. So, utilize positive communication, and talk through the things you and your roommate differ on until you can reach a compromise.

Even if you find yourself in a situation where you and your roommate just don't get along, moving out should be the last resort. Dealing with roommate conflict can be an important lesson, and moving out is a hassle. However, if the situation is burdening you after three months, it may be in both your best interests to consult student housing. You can always talk to your Resident Advisor (RA) and ask for help to resolve conflict.

Greek Life

You will find Greek life on most college campuses. Although traditionally divided into fraternities for men and sororities for women, some fraternities are co-ed. All are organizations of students who come together based on common goals or interests. Greek life also offers a sense of belonging and built-in social network to those who are members.

Millions of college students take a part in Greek life to network, build friendships and interact with their community. Millions of college students also choose not to join; it's really just a matter of personal preference. If you think you might be interested in Greek life, find out what percentage of students participate at your school, and research the organizations available. Every campus is different. Talk to your parents or guardian to see if they participated in Greek organizations. Also, consider some things about yourself, such as whether you consider yourself a social person, and if you can handle the time commitment a Greek organization requires plus your financial status. Most Greek organizations require fees, so if you're on a tight budget you may not be in a good position to join.

In addition to sororities and fraternities, schools often have other interest-based groups. Some students consider Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) as a "co-ed fraternity." And some school organizations have additional societies that are major-related, such as the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). These groups offer the same opportunities for networking and socializing as Greek groups and, again, are a matter of preference.

ROTC (Today's Military)

National Society of Black Engineers (official site)

Living Off Campus

Most colleges require freshmen to live on campus but after their first year, many students consider living off campus. Off-campus living can be appealing for a number of reasons: privacy, independence, responsibility, and, in some instances, affordability. But it also comes with its setbacks: isolation, transportation issues and possible increased costs. So before jumping right into off-campus housing, make sure you take these things into consideration. Remember to also think about your school's housing program and student body norms. Every college is different, and some support off-campus living more than others.

If you decide you do want to live off campus, there are several ways for you to find a good place to live. Check your college's off-campus housing office, which most schools have, or with local real estate agents. You can also find listings online through various real estate search engines or popular college sites; here are a few suggestions:

Craigslist

Apartments.com

Choosing a Major

A major is a concentration of courses in a specific academic subject or professional field, and it is something many colleges require students to declare at the end of their sophomore year. Some students know what they want to major in before they even leave for college; however, many students are initially unsure. To help decide what major you should choose, consider the following steps:

Do some self-evaluation.
Think about what you really love and what you're good at; majoring in something that interests you and that you have a natural knack for will come more easily and be more enjoyable. For some students, family, cultural or financial obligations play a big role in choosing which major will fit their desired lifestyle. Talk to family and friends to get their input.

You should also consider what you want to do with your life, and what will make you happy, not just what career you think would pay you the most. There are several questionnaires and tests that have been developed to help you narrow your focus. Usually these tests work by measuring your abilities in a variety of academic areas, in addition to asking questions about your interests.

One of the more popular versions of these tests is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). The ASVAB was originally developed to increase students' awareness of their skills and interests and to understand how those abilities could translate into military and civilian occupations. However, the current version of the ASVAB isn't just career-focused. It is designed to assist all students, whether they are planning on getting a job right out of high school, joining the Military or going to school at a university, community college or vocational school.

The ASVAB provides scores in several different areas that are specifically designed to help you narrow your search for careers (or majors). The results are provided on a summary sheet that not only lets you know how you scored, but also how you compare to other people who took the test. The summary sheet explains what each of these scores mean and gives you suggestions on how to proceed.

The ASVAB is only one of the many options available in terms of testing, but, besides being well established and thoroughly tested, the ASVAB is free, which makes it worth looking into. Ask your school counselor if the ASVAB is available at your school.

ASVAB (official site)

ASVAB Tests (Today's Military)

Visit your school's career center.
Career centers exist in part to help students decide which major to choose, so take advantage of them. Career counselors can give you in-depth information about each major and offer self-assessment tools such as the ASVAB, to help you choose a major. They can also put you in touch with professors or alumni who can give you firsthand evaluations of the coursework and job opportunities for specific majors.

"Test-drive" a major.
Go ahead and sit in on a few classes of the majors you are seriously considering. Chat with the students in class and ask for their impressions on the major. Also, speak with the professor to ask questions about coursework expectations and major requirements. You may even want to get an internship in a field you are considering. There is no better way to evaluate a field than to get firsthand experience.

Managing Academics

During your first year of college you will be juggling many new experiences: new friends, new living situation, new activities, new classes and new teachers. While a lot of these new experiences are exciting, they can challenge your time-management skills and academic adjustment. Even if you balanced a full course load and extracurricular activities in high school, in college you alone are responsible for deciding what your schedule will hold and managing your time accordingly. Set up some structure by giving yourself specific study hours, setting some goals for time management and sticking to them. And, do your best to eat well and get enough sleep.

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