Ultimate College Survival Guide – How to Survive in College

How to Survive College

The idea of college can be quite daunting; especially if you don’t know what to expect. I mean, we often see portrayals of college in popular culture, but they usually showcase the extremes (it’s just more entertaining); either it’s throwing epic college parties and being a part of the ‘in crowd’ or being a total outcast – they never really seem to get it right. Here’s the truth, college can be a rewarding experience, both socially and educationally, but it’s all about balance; financial responsibilities, dorm life, social life and school work will all need to be managed. Oh – and sleep, don’t forget that you’ll need to sleep, at least occasionally.

Don’t be too anxious navigating your way through this new experience – most people adapt quickly. However, if you want hit the ground running or you feel like you might have difficulty adapting to college life, you’ve hit the jackpot – we put together this guide just for you! Here are some vital things to keep in mind if you want to survive college.

Preparation is Key

Your first tip is to, ‘just be cool.’ We’re not talking about Ryan-Gosling-or-Emma-Stone-type-cool. We mean cool as in ‘don’t have a nervous breakdown’ cool. Freshmen tend to stand out like sore thumbs as they wander around campus looking lost, anxious, frightened. Avoid this initial anxiety and fear by following that old scout’s motto – Be Prepared. Before you start your first day, explore the campus and find out where the essential places are; know where your classes are, know where the dining hall is, and get familiar with your dorm (if you’re in one). A lot of the initial anxiety comes from being in an unfamiliar place – so take a little time to familiarize yourself before you get thrown in the deep in with classes.

Also, try to get your class syllabuses beforehand and purchase the required textbooks so that you can acquaint yourself with the material before classes. We get that textbooks are expensive, and later on, chances are you might pick up textbooks from friends or borrow them from people, but in your first semester, it might make more sense to buy everything early so you have a chance to get ahead. The same philosophy applies to everyday necessities – chances are, this is the first time you’re living independently, so get used to buying your own stuff. If you’re not sure what you need and what you don’t need, make a checklist – you can start of with stuff like toiletries, kitchen and household items, laundry supplies, electronics and all the other essentials. The more prepared you are, you more in control you will feel, and the less likely you’ll feel overwhelmed by all the new stuff you need to do and learn. The last thing you want is a “I don’t have toilet paper” crisis piling on top of a “I have no idea how to write this essay” crisis.

Utilize Time-Management Skills

Time has a way of moving incredibly quickly in your first semester, and before you know it, the semester is winding down and you’re desperately trying to catch up in your classes and improve your grades. While you may be enamored with your new surroundings, you need to snap out of it real fast. Your parents won’t be there to tell you when to do homework assignments or when to go to bed, and your lecturers won’t have time to handhold you through your classes. You have to learn how to properly manage your time if you want to be able to fit in all the experiences that come with being in college.

Parties will occur throughout the year; you don’t need to attend every single one! Go out and enjoy yourself, but when it’s time to buckle down and study, don’t get sidetracked. Know when you need to be working hard, and when it’s OK to slack off a bit and blow off some steam (here’s a tip – schedule your time around large assignments, midterms, and exams).

Living in a Dorm

Oh the dreaded college dorm; you’ve probably already heard a bunch of horror stories about dorm life. Living in a dorm can be a unique experience, so if you’ve never ventured beyond your parents’ house this might take some getting used to. You will probably have to share a small space with a roommate who may be your complete opposite; take it in stride. No matter what, try to establish some kind of relationship; it will just make things easier for you both. It’s not the end of the world if you’re not besties with your roommate, but at minimum you want to try your absolute best to keep things friendly.

Make sure you bring all the things you will need to be comfortable in your space; sheets, clothes hangers, pots and plates, and bathroom items. You and your roomie need to get together and decide who will buy/provide large appliances like microwaves,  TVs, kettles, etc – by extension, you’ll both need to decide what items you consider essential. It’s best not to pool money together to buy stuff – each of you should know exactly what you own in the room, so that at the end of the year, you know what’s yours and what’s not if you choose not to live together anymore. Due to lack of space, you’ll probably both have to make compromises about what you have in the room – be considerate about it, and try not to get into a pattern where you’re each marking your territory and approaching your roommate like he/she is the competition.

It makes sense to keep a basic first aid kit in your room – include items like pain killers, band aids, alcoholic cleansing wipes and other basic stuff. You might think it’s over the top, but accidents aren’t exactly infrequent when you live in a building composed of a bunch of college-age young adults.

Here are some additional tips to consider for dorm living:

  • Set up rules and guidelines from the start, and be sure to discuss even topics that are uncomfortable to talk about – things like sex, alcohol (and maybe even drugs), and so on.  The only thing worst than having an awkward conversation with your new roommate about sex is walking in on your new roommate in the middle of it.
  • Frequent communication is the key to an amicable living situation. If you want to add a flat screen TV or a new armchair to room, don’t be inconsiderate – consult with your roommate before you make any large decisions about your shared living space.
  • Don’t be passive aggressive. This is a sure way to kill your chances of having a good roommate relationship. IF something is bothering you, speak up. If you’re willing to let something slide, let it slide – and don’t save it as ammo, only to bring it up a month later when you’re having a disagreement over something entirely different.
  • Discuss the cleaning responsibilities and other chores that need to be done and set up a schedule so that you both know when it’s each person’s turn to clean the room/bathroom (if you have one) and do the other stuff that needs to be done.
  • Have a general agreement in place about ‘quiet times’ and ‘guest times’ – e.g, on weekdays, you need to put on earphones after 12am, on weekends, 3am. Guests are allowed on weekends but not on weekdays. This could save you from disagreements in the future.

Go forth and Socialize

College Survival Guide - How to Survive in College

You don’t have to be the big man/woman on campus (honestly, we’re not sure that this is actually a real thing), but college life will be much easier and a whole lot more fun if you have a good group of  friends. We all need ‘alone time’ sometimes, but there is no better time to get out of your shell than when you’re in college. It’s really easy to get into the bad habit of just staying in your room and living like a hermit, but realistically, is that really what you want to be doing for the next four years? If not, you need to try and get to know people as early as possible, before social circles are solidified. The first semester is the best opportunity you’ll have to make friends – everybody is new and trying to meet new people.

If you’re not someone who can just go up and talk to people, join a club. Most colleges literally have hundreds of clubs that you can join, and there’ll be clubs built around almost every hobby, culture, or interest you can think of. Joining a club and society will give you a structured way to meet new people.

Subscribe to your campus journal or newspaper – this way, you’ll receive updated information about interesting organizations and events throughout the year.Don’t be afraid to try new things – after all, this might be the only time in your life where you have the chance to learn how to play quidditch or to really learn how to appreciate crust.

Surviving your Classes

One of your biggest challenges will be passing your exams; failing is not an option! The point of attending college is to do well, get a degree and ultimately a job – don’t ever lose sight of this! If you attend classes regularly you’re already a step ahead – we all know the slackers out there who don’t even bother showing up. In some cases, attendance will be a part of your grade, so make sure you know which classes are 100% un-skippable. Also, know how much assignments and quizzes contribute towards your final grade – the more important they are to your grades, the more time and effort you should devote to working on/studying for them.

The next hurdle is studying for exams and midterms; whether you choose a quiet place like a library or park, or you opt for study groups, try to figure out early on what works best for you. If you realize that your grades are not up-to-par, speak to your lecturer and see if there’s any extra work you can do or any extra effort you can make to earn extra credit. Take advantage of the resources provided by your institution – whether it’s office hours, tutoring, lab time, etc. After all, you’re probably paying quite a lot of money for those resources – there’s no reason not to use them.

Financial Responsibility

If you have endless amounts of cash, then good for you. For the majority of college students, money is often a major issue –  there’s just never enough of it. This is where your money management skills will come into play. Find ways to cut down on some of your expenses. For example, instead of buying new text books you can buy used books or even rent your textbooks. Learn how to eat on the cheap – work out some cheap, simple recipes if you have access to a stove – if not, find out where the best deals are on campus for meals.

Here are some additional guidelines to keep your finances in order:

Make a Budget and Stick to It – Make a list of your weekly/monthly expenses and include every single item, from the most important to the least.  Always opt for the ‘needs’ first (cellphone bills, food, basic necessities), and if there’s extra cash at the end of the month, then you can consider buying a few of the ‘wants.’

Save Emergency Cash – Buying the latest version of the iPhone is not an ’emergency expense’ . Save a little money up for real emergencies. Make sure to put away some extra money for a rainy day, because at some point, it’s likely to rain.

Get a Part Time Job – A part time job can be a major help with your finances, just make sure it doesn’t affect your school work. Your institution may have on-campus jobs available – if not, try local cafes/restaurants or try to find freelance work with local businesses or online.

Take Safety Precautions

The key to surviving college is literally SURVIVING! Whether you’re living on or off campus, take your safety seriously. Most college campuses are relatively safe, but there are basic precautions you can take that don’t take much time and could save you from real danger. Don’t go out alone at night if you can avoid it – always have a friend with you if possible. This is doubly true if you’re leaving a party and you’re under the influence of alcohol. Most campuses have some kind of service that you can call to get walked home, or to get a ride home. Have the campus police/security number on your phone, and if your campus has emergency telephones, keep an eye out for them if you’re out late. Most importantly, always be aware of your surroundings; don’t walk around with your eyes glued to your phone.

Other Tips

Work hard and have fun in college, but don’t miss out on sleep. The body works at optimal level when you take care of it, so eat healthy, keep active and get some rest. Whenever you feel overwhelmed with college life; don’t be afraid to call (or if possible, visit) home; familiar faces can do wonders to lift your spirit. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but be sensible and recognize risks – for example, if you’re going to drink, make sure you have good friends around who will have your back in case something goes wrong.

Your first year of college might seem overwhelming in the beginning; you should know that most of your classmates feel the same way. Take a deep breath and just remember that things will get better once you’ve gotten into a routine. College is an experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life, and for most people, it’s a formative experience, both educationally and socially. Don’t just try to survive it; try your best to enjoy it!


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