What to Bring to College

Based on my own experiences as a freshman in college, I would like to share with you my best advice about college and how to prepare for it. At this point, some of the information may seem unnecessary or useless, but I can safely say that it will make sense of the things you are soon going to be facing. . . .
It’s very useful to know what you should bring with you to college, so I’ve made a list of the top 10 things I think you should have with you and what to bring to college:

  1. A computer
  2. A writer’s reference book and office supplies
  3. An alarm clock and a watch
  4. A variety of clothes for all weather conditions
  5. A shower caddy, to carry all your bathroom supplies back and forth
  6. Medicine for every kind of illness and a first aid kit for emergencies
  7. A refrigerator
  8. Lamps and plants (to brighten up the room)
  9. Quarters for your laundry
  10. A good attitude

Now let me tell you what to expect when you get to college. Expect anything and everything! Let me be more specific.

Don’t expect to have the privacy you do at home. In college, you have to share a room with a roommate and a bathroom with a lot of other people. You also get to share your phone calls and a variety of other things you’re used to having all to yourself. Get used to it.

Expect to deal with all kinds of people. There is a greater diversity of people in college than there was in high school. Among them will be people smarter than you, people who can’t deal with their freedom, and people like yourself. For example, when I was in high school, I was in the group that always felt smarter than everyone else, and we were in competition even with each other. When I came to college, I suddenly met a lot of people who were a lot smarter than I ever was, and, at first, it was a little scary. But college isn’t like high school, and one of the main ways it’s not is that cliques are just not cool anymore. In college, you can have whatever friends you want, as many friends as you want; you don’t have to deal with the same people every day. There are more people you can relate to and share your interests with. In high school, I felt like I was the only one in my class that didn’t drink or do drugs. Now, in college, I know a lot of people who feel the same way, and it makes me feel a lot more comfortable.

The people who can’t deal with their freedom are usually the ones running around in the halls when you’re trying to sleep or study, the people who hardly ever show up to class and then try to copy other people’s work, and the ones who end up “majoring” in something other than an academic area. Try to avoid them, so that when they go down, you don’t go down with them.

Don’t expect to get everything done in one night. It’s hard enough to get everything done even if you budget your time. It’s impossible if you put things off.

Don’t expect to get all the sleep you’re used to. There are two main reasons that you’ll get less sleep in college. First, you’re going to have a lot more work to do in college than you had in high school. Especially a lot more reading, which takes a lot of your time. Second, there’s a lot more going on at night in a dorm than in your own house. There are countless things to do in the dorm and on campus, and you’ll want to be involved in many of them. Get involved, leave plenty of time for studying, and expect to get less sleep.

And expect diminishing health. You’re going to be doing a lot more work, you’re going to be getting less sleep, you’re going to be running to and from classes in all kinds of weather, and as a result you’re going to be getting sick a lot more often. So, my advice to you is to organize your time, get as much sleep as you can, and dress appropriately for the weather.

Not only are you going to have more work, but it’s going to require a lot more thought on your part. In college you will still have classes that require memorization, but most of your classes will require you to think and to analyze. That doesn’t mean that these classes are necessarily harder, but you may find them harder if you’ve never really had to think for yourself before. So, expect to study and learn differently.

You know all those college fees you’ve paid? Well, don’t expect that they always guarantee you anything. Even if you paid a parking fee, don’t expect that there will always be a parking space available. Also, don’t expect that the student activity fee covers all student activities. And expect to stand in line a lot. The key is to check out wherever you’re going ahead of time, get there early, and be ready when they are. You can expect to stand in line for books, loan approvals, meals, and anything else that applies to a lot of students at the same time.

Another thing you can expect is that being home won’t be the same anymore. Once you have your freedom and can use it responsibly, you’ll want to use it all the time. Your parents know you as their child; you know yourself as an independent person. The two sets of expectations don’t always coincide. You need to make a distinction between what you can and can’t do at home on the one hand, and what you can and can’t do in college on the other. Expect that there will come a time when it’s really nice to go home for a while, but you don’t want to stay any longer than you have to.

Now, I would like to share with you some things you should and shouldn’t do in college. Nothing here is too complicated, and once you read it you’ll realize that it’s merely common sense.

The first thing you should do, as soon as you get the opportunity, is walk through your schedule. It will be a lot easier and safer if you go with someone else. Perhaps you could go with your roommate and spend some time getting to know each other. What I mean by walking through your schedule is taking your schedule and walking around campus to find the locations of the buildings you are going to have classes in. It will give you a feel for the campus, it will make you a little more comfortable, and it will be one less thing to worry about at the beginning of the semester.

Make an effort to get to know and communicate with your roommate. As with any relationship, the key is communication. Tell your roommate as soon as possible some things that bother you and allow him or her to do the same. Share your feelings about what you like to do, what you expect, what you want out of college, and so on. There is no way to be the perfect roommate or have the perfect roommate; the most you can do is try to respect him or her and hope that he or she does that for you. And if roommate problems persist, see your hall directory right away.

Thoroughly read each course syllabus you receive. Any question you have about a course is usually answered in the syllabus. A syllabus tells you about your professor’s expectations for the course, the attendance policy, what books you are going to need, the grading policy, the assignments and when they are to be handed in, and when the exams will be. Take care of your syllabuses, because they’re hard to replace and you’ll be lost without them. For some classes, you will need to refer to your syllabus every day. For other classes, you will only need to refer to it periodically.

Wait to buy your books until after you go to class and get the syllabus. The bookstore has a list of the books you will need for each class, but that list is not definitive. Believe me, the last thing you want to do is stand in line to buy books and then stand in line to return the books you didn’t need. As I said before, the entire student body is buying books the first week of classes, so be prepared to stand in line. Before you go to the book store, get all your syllabuses together and write down a list of all the books you need, including the author, publisher, and edition. Have this list ready when you get into the bookstore and your search will be a lot easier. Try to buy used books if you can, because they’re cheaper. However, make sure they are in good shape and that they are the right edition.

Learn how to use the campus computer system and learn how to send and receive e-mail. You don’t need to know how the computer works or how to program it, but at least you should know how to use it for word processing. If you don’t know how to use a computer, you can always get help in one of the computer labs on campus. If you don’t get the help you need, try to find a friend or classmate who knows a little about computers; often, the help they give you will work best for you. Sometimes, the college offers free computer instruction during the year. If you can can get it, take it, because what you learn will be a great asset to you. You will spend a lot of time on the computer, no matter what your major is.

E-mail (electronic mail) is a fast and inexpensive way to communicate with almost everybody these days. E-mail is great for chatting with others about assignments, for talking with your friends at other colleges, for speaking with your family, and for communicating with your professors. Just be careful not to get so involved with e-mail that it leads to a lack of attention to your studies.

Get into your classes before you start joining organizations or looking for a job. Your classes, and the work associated with them, will take up a significant amount of your time. It is hard to make commitments to other things without really knowing how much time your class work and studying will take. My advice is to explore your opportunities your first semester and then start getting involved in your second semester. For example, I joined the College Biology Club the first chance I got, and now I wish I hadn’t joined so soon, because I haven’t been able to make the commitment to it that I wanted to.

One small thing you can do that I have found to be very helpful is to set your clock ahead. Even if you only set it ahead five minutes, you have that much more time to get to class. I know it sounds weird, but it works.

Don’t give in to peer pressure. Whatever you may think, you are not in college to drink and party. Using your weekends for the sole purpose of getting wasted is not only sad, it’s stupid. Did you or your parents really take out all those loans and pay all that money so that you could spend the next four years with your head in the clouds, failing out of school? And to those of you who answered “Yes,” I say “Grow up!” Have fun, but remember why you’re supposed to be in college.

Record all the grades you get as you go along during the semester. It will help you evaluate your performance and study habits for each course.

Sit in the front of lecture halls. Sitting in front makes it easier to pay attention and see whatever is on the overhead projector. It is also easier to understand the point the professor is trying to make if you can see him or her. The people who sit in the back tend to fool around more and do worse in the course.

There are going to be a lot of people you have to deal with. Remember, it is your right to get a good education, but you are only one of thousands of students at this college. There are no special privileges that come with being a college student, so, when you have to deal with all those other people, be assertive, not arrogant, persistent, not pushy. Most important, be nice.

These are the core rules of college: organize your time, don’t procrastinate, go to class, be punctual, be alert, follow the rules, and, if someone offers you help, take it! The most important rule is: THINK. Trust your instincts; if you think it’s wrong, don’t do it. If you think it”s right, stick to it no matter what. You’re on your own now, and that means that no one is there to think for you; now it is your turn to think for yourself. You’ll be a lot better off if you take the time periodically to ask yourself what you’re here. Although people will have a lot of different answers to that question, it seems to me that the most important answer is: because you’ve made it your job. It’s your job to get up every morning, to go to class, to do your work, to do your best, and to do it all again the next morning.

And while you’re in college, remember to have fun. You are going to find that there are times when, if you don’t let go, you are going to lose your mind. There are tons of things you can do on and off campus to have fun. Just don’t go overboard and let your fun interfere with your main purpose: to do your job.

Lastly, I want to share a poem I received through e-mail. I don’t know who the author is, but I think it says a lot about what you will learn in college.

Before I came to college, I wish I had known . . .

That it didn’t matter how late I scheduled my first class; I’d still sleep through it.
That I could change so much and barely realize it.
That you can love a lot of different people in a lot of different ways.
That if you wear polyester, everyone will ask you why you’re so dressed up.
That every clock on campus shows a different time.
That if you were smart in high school, so what?
That I would go to a party the night before a final.
That labs take up more time than all my other classes put together.
That you can know everything and still fail a test.
That I could get used to anything I found out about my roommate.
That home is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
That a lot of my education would be obtained outside of class.
That friendship is more important than getting drunk together.
That I would become one of those people my parents warned me about.
That free food until 10 really closes at 9:50.
That Sunday is a figment of the world’s imagination.
That psychology is really biology.
That biology is really chemistry.
That chemistry is really physics.
That physics is really math.
That my parents would get smarter as I got older.
That it is possible to be alone, even when you are surrounded by friends.
That friends are what make this place worthwhile.
That a goodbye is necessary before we can meet again.
That meeting again is certain among friends.

Author: Jean Rinaldi

Honors Progam of the State University of New York, College at Oswego
Copyright © (1996-2004) SUNY Oswego Honors Program