9 Things: Lessons Learned from Going Away to College

Published in: Beauty Tips, Just For Fun

Growing up, I didn’t have an older friend, sibling or cousin I could talk to about life after high school, so when it came to figuring out certain kinds of things, like how to solve an argument with a roommate, I usually had to wing it, and most of the time that meant learning things the hard way.


Up until the time I moved away to college, I’d lived a very sheltered life that left me lacking in street smarts. I’d just assumed college would be like high school, except without the annoying curfew, but it turns out there was a little more to it than that…

Whether you’re going away to college or just moving in with friends, here are nine things I learned (most of them the hard way) about living away from home for the first time.

And if you have any wisdom borne of experience, or any cautions or advice, please share them in the comments. I know quite a few of us are leaving home for the first time this fall. Our collective knowledge could help make those first couple years easier.

1. Wash this

I can’t tell you how many times I saw someone cruising campus in a pink shirt that must have started out white. It happens — accidentally washing brights with whites together in hot water. Luckily, laundry was one of the very few real-life skills I took with me when I left home.

If you don’t have someone to show you the ropes, here’s a quickie, condensed version of Laundry 101:

  1. Wash in cold water to keep colors from running
  2. When the washer stops, remove your bras, sweaters and anything with spandex from the machine, and hang them up to dry
  3. Dry the remaining items, in particular clothes, in a machine on its low heat setting to avoid shrinking

2. Learn how to prepare a few quick, healthy meals

Food was so tough for me that first year away. I wasn’t a fan of the dorm’s cafeteria fare (the rice was always soggy or dry), but I lacked even a basic knowledge of cooking beyond boiling water for ramen noodles and warming up frozen Lean Cuisines.

If you can, pick up a cookbook filled with simple recipes that fit on a single page (or thereabouts), and practice making a few dishes at home before you leave. I recommend the Student’s Vegetarian Cookbook, by Carole Raymond. It shows how to make lots of quick, affordable meals, and if you aren’t into veggie dishes, The Healthy College Cookbook looks pretty good.

3. Never fear, the intern is here!

I’m 36 and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. 🙂 If you don’t either, narrow the field (and expand your knowledge) by taking as many internships as you can.

I did quite a few, but looking back, I wish I’d done more. Internships are great ways to 1) get yourself out of stuffy classrooms, 2) get some real world experience in the fields you’re interested in (even if you don’t end up pursuing a particular field), 3) obtain valuable references and letters of recommendation, and 4) meet people and make friends outside of school.

Some internships even lead to regular jobs. The one I did for a small law firm one year led to a part-time job the next summer.

It was actually kinda cool and a little Elle Woods. I got to assist with cases in court (sat with the real defense lawyers and everything!), talked to judges and learned how to function in a fast-paced office.

4. It can get a little lonely sometimes…

I guess after growing up with MTV I had this idea of college being this non-stop cavalcade of close friends and parties. I’m sure it’s like that for some people, but it wasn’t that way for me. I had acquaintances, sure, and roommates, but I didn’t make any lasting friendships for the first few years.

5. Playing well with others

Ultra Soft FTW!

Everyone has quirks — the things we do that drive others crazy. If you can, air out your household differences and pet peeves early, before they’ve had time to fester. Believe you me, my roommates knew better than to leave empty rolls of toilet paper on the reel, and I knew better than to play my music too loud.

6. Take advantage of open office hours

Lecture halls in huge auditoriums filled with 300 students aren’t great places to get one-on-one help, but many professors and teaching assistants make themselves available during open office hours. They can be a great way to go over concepts, discuss homework and prep for tests.

7. Rewrite your notes

Here’s one I wish I figured out sooner. Rewriting the notes I took in class really helped me reinforce the topics from lectures, pinpoint sticky concepts and organize my thoughts. When I started rewriting my notes and attending office hours, my grades even improved.

8. When you go out, know how you’re getting home

I wasn’t a big party person, but I went to my share of random fiestas with friends. And whenever I would go out, I never wanted to be that one person stuck at the end of the night without a safe ride home (like that one time in Berkeley…).

Keep close tabs on your designated driver, and have a backup plan just in case you get separated from your group. Also, learn how to use your local public transpo system (and know its hours of operation), and keep numbers to a few cab companies in your phone.

9. Revel in your newfound freedom!

Because it doesn’t last forever. Soon you’ll be working a swing shift or a standard 9-to-5, and the pressure to perform well in classes feels like nothing compared to the pressure when a paycheck’s on the line. School can have its ups and downs, but try to enjoy your freedom as much as you can. 🙂

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,



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  1. i’ve never gone away to college but i definitely need to make use of tip #2! i always find it’s so much easier to just get take out so i really want to learn how to cool quick, healthy meals…
    dani@callitbeauty recently posted … EcoTools’ Retractable Kabuki Brush Makes Touch-Ups A Breeze!

  2. Denise says:

    I wish I read this before going to college! It would’ve been really helpful for me 🙂
    Denise recently posted … Super-sized Beauty: MAC WW

  3. Megan says:

    I can definitely second the internships! Even if you’re an English major, hardcore medieval lit person, like I was–the last thing you want is to graduate with 2 EN majors and realize you don’t want to teach. Getting internships doesn’t mean you’re suddenly a business student, or that you’re setting yourself up for a cubicle “Office Space” type job. It does mean that if your post-graduation plans don’t work out (or you decide that what you wanted to do isn’t what works at all!), you have a resume and some idea of what you do and don’t enjoy doing.

    And, mine:

    Study. Seriously. You don’t have to be Hermione Granger (although you could have worse role models), but one day post-graduation, you may look back and say, “Well, heck, I’d really love to learn about all that stuff now. It’s too bad that I’d have to pay for classes and find the time all over again. I wouldn’t BS my way through class this time!” College is an awesome social time, but remember that you supposedly pick a major because you enjoy learning about it. So learn.

    Find a physical activity you enjoy and DO IT. Whether it’s a varsity or intramural team, running around campus, or hitting the gym or pool, stick to it. I didn’t realize I’d gained, oh, 40 pounds, until I graduated and looked at old high school pictures. The weight creeps up on you, and so do unhealthy habits.

    If your academic adviser sucks, ask your department head for a new one. If you are uncomfortable with them, feel they are giving you no career advice, or seem to not care (as can happen at big universities), stand up for yourself and get another one. That adviser is there to help you navigate your major to a postgraduate education or a decent career.

    And lastly–don’t be hesitant to contact counseling services, ministry services, your RA, a trusted professor, a trusted friend, if you’re feeling depressed or overwhelmed. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, even if “everyone else” seems to be acclimating just fine. Find someone who can help you get and keep yourself on track, especially if you have a history of depression or anxiety. College is a huge change, in ways you may not even realize. Having roommates can be an even bigger one. Know that you’re not alone, and know your resources.

  4. Christina says:

    Awwww, Karen! I love this article! <3 I'm an only child and I've definitely had to figure out all these things the hard way (and still figuring them out!)! One thing I had/have trouble with was people I was living with in the dorms on campus. Unfortunately, there were some "respect" issues that couldn't be completely resolved (plus others' dishes that kept piling up XP) but it makes a great learning experience on dealing with people! I think the rewriting notes is absolutely brilliant (and is what I must do with my current notes right now!). If everything falls into place, I *should* be graduating next June (Eeek! It's like the last four years happened in the blink of an eye!). I'm definitely going to reflect on what lessons I learned, too! 🙂

  5. Brooke says:

    How about how to deal with psycho roommates?! Or when you share a bathroom with 3 other girls and they use like a… um… bedroom. =\ ah. College lol I actually MISS it! haha

    • Karen says:

      LOL… seriously? Did someone sleep in the tub?

    • Britany B. says:

      Don’t feel bad honey. My roommate got drunk, locked herself in the bathroom and puked on the side of the tub. My bar of soap got stuck in it, she didn’t even clean it up. I hated her. Thank GOD I transferred.

    • Deb says:

      I had one of those! She said I chewed too loudly, and she left bowls of ramen broth on her desk for 3 weeks without cleaning them. She sat on my bed (bottom bunk) when watching TV and left used tissues on it! Those weren’t even the worst things she did! But life goes on, as I’m sure you know! 🙂
      Deb recently posted … Wizarding World of Harry Potter Butterbeer

  6. Nena says:

    I wish I had enjoyed college more. For me it was just work. I lived at home because my parents couldn’t pay for my college, but yet still made too much for me to get grants, and violin scholarships were hard to find =/. I worked two jobs, had multiple battles with my parents, but was able to graduate in four years, and because of all that work, I paid off my dream car one year after graduation! Luckily my senior year I landed an internship with the job I wanted and ended up formally accepting a position one week before I walked the stage. A lot of the time I wish I had left and moved away like most of my friends, but I just wasn’t ready, and it took me a while to realize that it was OK. Everything worked out the way I wanted it to and I have few regrets. For those of us who stayed/will be stauing home and went to school, here’s what I learned 🙂

    – Go to as many on campus social gatherings as you can. Just because you still live with your patents doesn’t mean you can’t have a college experience
    – Meet guys, date guys, have relationships, or don’t, but don’t let that be your focus. Otherwise you’ll blink and your college experience will have flown by
    – Learn to cook for yourself, buy your own groceries, and help with the bills. I know it kinda sucks, but one day you will move out and you don’t want to be blindsided! At least this way, you’ll have a learning curve
    – Work hard, play hard. You’ll have the rest of your life to do a keg stand, but if you really wanna go to the party the night before the 9 am exam, get some studying in before you head to the party
    – The calendar/planner is your best friend

    Hope I helped!! Enjoy this time girls, because you won’t believe how fast it comes and goes!!

  7. Mary says:

    Thanks for that recipe book recommendation. I’m going to check it out because I really want to learn how to make more budget-friendly vegetarian dishes.
    Mary recently posted … NYX Jumbo Eye Pencils Swatches & Review – Yogurt, Oyster, Hot Pink & Yellow

    • Karen says:

      You’re welcome, Mary. I think you’ll like it. A few of my faves from the book: Fried Egg Taco, Cabbage Slaw, Crostini with a Bean and a Green, Pete’s Harbor Special and Colcannon. 🙂

  8. thepaigest says:

    Aww man that’s a good idea about the bras I have a front loader now for the first time darn it!!

  9. Ricki says:

    I made good use of Tipsy Taxi during my undergrad years. 😉

  10. Claudenka says:

    aaww, Karen 😀 this is perfect since I’ll be going away in August! I always get a rush of varying emotions whenever I think of it- excitement, thrill, nervousness, and of course cluelessness haha

  11. Vijaya says:

    Love these posts! *Is a college student*
    Vijaya recently posted … Disney Inspired Look: Rafiki

  12. Katie says:

    I really love this, Karen. I’m transferring in August after two years at De Anza (you might know it ’cause you’re from the Bay Area). I don’t have older friends or siblings, and my friends already have two years’ experience, so I haven’t communicated to many about how ecstatic and nervous I am. Numbers 2-5 are really helpful. (I’ve been looking for vegetarian book recommendations!)

    • Karen says:

      Hi Katie,

      I do know that school! I knew someone who went to De Anza back in the day. 🙂

      So excited to hear about your big leap. Where are you transferring to? And what will you be studying?

      That cookbook is one of my faves, btw. The recipes are super easy and feature ingredients that you can easily find at any grocery store. They’re also designed to feed one or two people, which is perfect when you’re cooking for yourself.

      • Katie says:

        De Anza’s been really good to me…I got into some amazing colleges I wouldn’t have gotten into straight from HS. I’m transferring to USC, studying communications/journalism. I’d love to eventually develop a unique writing style like yours!

        • glittergirley says:

          So smart to go to deanza first, save yourself a lot of money doing all the pre-req classes! I grew up in cupertino and a lot of my hs classmates also went to deanza but never finished or transfered out, so congratulations! USC will be lots of fun but socal life is very different, so be prepared!

  13. Noeladd says:

    Great tips Karen! I wish I’d know these at the beginning of my college career. That cookbook looks wonderful I may have to pick it up. I’m not a vegetarian but I try to limit my meat intake so cheap veggie recipes are always good to have on hand.

  14. Britany B. says:

    So what happened in Berkeley…..lol

  15. Alex says:

    Thanks so much for this, Karen! I love reading tips for college- I feel like I would be “that guy” to go into it thinking I know everything already when I actually don’t.
    Alex recently posted … Your Skin is the Largest Organ- Treat it as Such

  16. Claudenka says:

    aaww, Karen 😀 I’ll be going away August and always get a rush of varying emotions whenever anyone drops the word “college” around me haha thanks so much for the tips! i’ll most def keep them in mind.

    i am also curious as to what happened in Berkeley hahaha

  17. nekosan says:

    * I’d say, for bras, those are hand-wash only. It’ll keep them in good shape for as long as possible. (A big consideration if the only bras that fit are well over $50 a pop!)

    * Learn to budget! If you only have $20 a week spending money, you can’t go out to eat 4 times a week. It’s okay to say “Sorry, I can’t come”; or to go to dinner and just get a cup of tea, if you really want the company.

  18. Katie says:

    I LOVE this post! especially the laundry one…I learned that the hard way and ended up ruining some favorite clothes!

  19. Alina says:

    Great tips, Karen. I couldn’t go away for college. For starters, it’s pretty expensive. And two, I get homesick A LOT! 🙁
    Alina recently posted … Product Review: Sally Hansen Crackle Overcoat

  20. Kristina says:

    I’d definitely say to pick your battles and to communicate NICELY with your roommates. My roommates and I didn’t figure this out until after a year of living together. Things such as leaving dishes in the sink or noisy guests would built up inside then we would all be really bitter towards each other. Now we communicate and there are never any issues!

  21. Anna says:

    That looks like a UC Davis glass in the picture. Go ags!

  22. glittergirley says:

    Yay go aggies! I loved UCD and college life and was so sure about my major and career goal… but after UCD my life changed, my career “goal” slightly changed and a second bachelor and a masters later I’m pretty sure about where I’m headed in life … maybe. Lol. Did you ever go to the cantina or Sophia’s bar? I loved it there! However I spent a majority of my time studying at the 24 hour study room next to the library…

    I wish we met at UCD (graduated in 2003) … you seem like you’d be so much fun to hang out with… plus we could have gone shopping all day long at Arden mall in sac! Oh well, I will just continue reading your awesome blog and pretend we’re friends in real life, lol.

    • Karen says:

      OMG, CANTINA. I haven’t heard that word in forever.

      “Are you going to Cantina on Thurs?”

      Famous last words…

      Also, maybe this was just me, but have you ever gotten stranded at the Arden Mall in Sac? It happened to me more than once, LOL!

      And the 24-hour room!!! You’re bringing back so many memories, girl. 🙂

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        The sad thing was going through downtown a couple of years ago and realizing Cantina was gone. Not just closed, but the building was torn down and everything! And Fuzio’s moved into that building, then closed. *sigh* Sophia’s is still around, and still good. But Karen, I maintain that the next time you visit your Alma Mater we should go to Dos 🙂 Mmmmm, paella burrito!

        • Karen says:

          NOOOO! Say it ain’t so!!! 🙁 I feel like a part of my youth has been ripped away…

          You know I’m always down for Dos, girl! Let’s do it. 🙂

          How is your mom doing? Are you still at your parents’ house?

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            I got back to Davis yesterday. My mom is doing very well, actually 🙂 We’re still proceeding like she’s going to get a lung transplant, but she may not need to. Her lungs aren’t getting better, per se, but she will probably have more health problems WITH the transplant than if we can simply arrest the lung disease at this point. She’s got just under 50% capacity in her lungs, and there are many people who lead normal lives with a 50% capacity. I could definitely go for Dos, it’s hard to find good mexican/burritos in WA. My parents say it’s getting easier, but they still haven’t taken me to any of their “good burrito” places . . . I wonder if they’re just trying to convince themselves . . . 🙂

  23. Amy says:

    Wow this makes me think of all the fun times, and even the times I think about that make me cringe! I wish I was young enough to go back and do a whole other college experience again…. really!

  24. Kate & Zena says:

    Luckily, I go to community college near home (and no dorms), so some of these don’t apply. The office hours one is one I use a lot though.

    Here are a few others:

    1. Utilize the way of communication your teacher says they prefer. Most today prefer e-mail, but some still prefer the telephone. Aside from office hours, it’s a great way to get one-on-one time with your professor to have ALL of your questions answered, especially questions for tests and essays. Some professors will even look over your essays through e-mail!

    2. Ask questions and defend your work. Women are taught over the years through socialization to not be active in the classroom and to be passive about our work, but in college you need to be. If you think you deserve a better grade on an essay, you should plead your case to your teacher. If you don’t understand something, speak up!

    3. If they give you a study guide, DO IT. Seriously. I know a lot of people who didn’t do them and flunked the tests even though everything on the study guide was on the test. DO THOU STUDY GUIDES!!!!

    4. Find a note taking system that works for you! It doesn’t have to be as exacting and as color-coded as mine (yes, mine’s color-coded with highlighters), but find a system of taking notes where you can read the notes and recall the lecture when you study. Your notes become your study guide in college, so a good note-taking system is a must. If you can, see if you can use an audio recorder. At my school you need a notation of a disability to have an audio recorder, but some don’t.

    5. Take a feel-good class (i.e. the “easy A” class) or a club. For me, that’s choir. Choir is my chilling class; the one class where I don’t have to think. It’s a place to relax and have fun. I have some stressful days there, but overall, it’s a relaxing class! It’s one thing to party, but it’s another to join a school function that’s safe and fun! You get to see the same people every week and build a camaraderie you don’t get when you party. Plus, there’s no hangovers, unless it’s coming down from a high from getting that high note finally!

  25. Eli says:

    N.8 – So many times I have ended up sleeping on crowded beds (yeah, I know how it sounds:D), but actually I so loved the cozy atmosphere of the next morning – someone making coffee, cleaning up… One can make friends this way 🙂
    Eli recently posted … Balea Young Splashy Watermelon Lip Balm

  26. Sally says:

    Great list! I’m currently going to a CC right now so this doesn’t really apply to me so far but I’ll be sure to keep this list in mind when I transfer to a higher university. =D Where did you go to college, Karen?!

  27. Advah says:

    Excellent advice! Re the recipes, I also recommend asking your parents for 10 or so easy, go to recipes that will probably save your life (and lots of money) the first year. It’s good to have basics that remind you of home.

    And I couldn’t agree more about the internships: they can be really fun, interesting, and really really useful. Having a look office life before you graduate will help you score a job later, and they’re a great way to help you figure out (sort of) what sort of jobs you might like (or not). Not to mention people are generally really happy to chat about studies, life and career!

  28. Lia says:

    Loved the tips. I still sort of feel like I’m still in school because I work at one. But without the homework!

  29. Stephanie says:

    Thanks Karen! I’m actually going to boarding school in the fall… similar enough to university, except I’m 3 years younger 🙂

    • snoopysteph says:

      Boarding school was my only “college dorm” and “away from home” experience and I loved every second of it. 🙂 What school are you going to?

  30. Sheivy says:

    It was such a joy reading this list! 🙂 This upcoming fall will be my last year at an out of state college in Illinois and I know this sounds so nerdy, but I’m so excited to come back for my last year! Like you, I didn’t have the privilege of older relatives who had gone to college, so everything from applying for the SATs, learning how to write a personal statement, and tackling the financial aid forms was something I HAD to learn if I wanted to even get into college. lol.
    It was hard for me to leave sunny Southern California but here are some lessons I learned while away from the nest:

    1) Go to class and be absent only on the days that really matter. It’s extremely annoying when you get five different responses of what happened in class from three different people. At the end of the day, it’s your responsibility so bring your butt to class. 🙂
    2) I was a little shy coming to college but once I realized that saying hello to someone helped in getting to know people, I kept doing it and to this day, I still do it. A lot of people will be nice enough to have a little chat with and if they’re not, then just smile and walk away.
    3) Don’t forget your please and thank yous, your yes ma’ams and yes sirs. Trust me, these work like magic especially if your wanting another piece of peach pie from the cafeteria ladies.
    4) When you call the financial aid office or any office for that matter, use phone courtesy. Secretaries are also working hard to make sure the college rungs smoothly.
    5) Make friends but be cognizant of who you surround yourself with. I was lucky enough to find friends with similar backgrounds, moral values, and hobbies. Surround yourself with positive, diligent, genuinely good people to make the college experience worthwhile.
    6) A friend from California advised me before I left that if I didn’t like Illinois that I could always come back to California. The main thing is that you try. You may never know if you’ll like it or not but understand that there are always other opportunities out there.
    7) At the end of the day, college life is what you make of it. So, if you want to have a good social life and grades, then you gotta work for it. Work hard but also balance things out.
    8) Give yourself some time to get to know the college town. My college is located in a small town and even though this took a little getting used to, I find the small shops charming and downtown cute.
    9) Don’t forget to keep in touch with loved ones back home. 🙂

  31. Here’s a big one I think is helpful:

    Get involved!! There are hundreds of organizations on most campuses, so join at least one. If you are not sure what you want to do, go to the first few meetings for 2-3 clubs and see how the vibe is, and stick to 1. It really helps keeping you excited about something, is a great way to make more friends who are interested in something you are interested in (especially if you transfer or are a commuter), and is one more thing you can put on your resume after college.

  32. Julia says:

    One of the things I would add to the list is always having some cash and change available. Those laundry machines really eat up a lot of quarters. And if you’re going out, then you need to have a little bit of cash just in case you need to take a cab or bus home.

  33. Nina says:

    i didnt go away to college, but it was a huge adjustment for me. i was sheltered all through grade and high school, and hung out with the same bunch of people all throughout. i was the only one who went to the university i went to … and it was tough.

    what i learned:

    1. its OK to talk to new people, and make new friends. its not easy, but its well worth the effort.

    2. that university is filled with people who are smarter, more competitive and worked harder that i ever had to. the time for coasting along was over, and i had to work my butt off to make it.

    3. to take power catnaps in buses, libraries and even classrooms. it helped keep my mind awake.

    4. i needed to be able to study anytime, anywhere. that meant studying in the bus, while waiting for my next class, at lunch, etc.

    5. its OK to take a break.

    6. choose a major, and stick to it — that i had to learn the hard way.

    7. to have an opinion, and to not be afraid to speak it out.

    8. have a stash of snacks in my bag. long days = hungry student.

    9. its OK to be proud of what i achieved.

    all these – helped me w/ grad school. it was somehow easier because of all these things ive realized.

  34. Elle says:

    I loved reading this. I loved my college years but definitely would have benefitted from reading these tips back in ’00 when I started! Word on times being lonely (’til you find your good friends – and even if you don’t have a big group of friends it’s still good to remember that you WILL make friends later in life…especially at work) and knowing how you’re getting home.

  35. Sri says:

    ooh…I missed my college-time… and I really wish I could intern at university/local library, here I back to my own country, no local library built in my city/ neighbor city… :'(

  36. Kim says:

    Definitely great tips, Karen. We have the same clothes basket, btw. 🙂

    I’ll also add that if you’re someone who never had to study or take notes in high school and still got all As, just by listening in class, that will NOT be the case in college. Particularly in a lecture hall with hundreds of other students. Be prepared to take notes and study or your first semester will be an unpleasant surprise.

    Do not party on weeknights. You will feel sleep-deprived as it is, you don’t want to add being hungover to that equation. Plus, it can quickly turn into “I’ll just skip my morning classes…”.

    You know the best friends that you’ve had since grade school or high school? The parents and/or other family members that you’ve argued with, snapped at, always been yourself with because they love you and will always forgive you? You are no longer surrounded by these people. Some of these new people will grow to be great friends, but some of them will have nothing in common with you, will disappoint you or you’ll downright not like each other. Remember these things before you pour out your heart, tell your deepest/darkest secrets or depend on them to help you in a tough situation. It takes time to get to know people and you won’t know who you can rely on and who you can’t just because you’re getting along great for a week when times are good. Also, remember that if you do have the worst roommate ever, you only have to make it through one semester. And you can do it. 🙂

  37. Amy says:

    Thank you for these tips! I’m moving in 12 days to Tallahassee (going to FSU and being in Marching Chiefs!), and I am definitely going to look for those cookbooks. Going to another city will be such a drastic change, but I feel like I’m ready! 😀 I also totally agree about the re-writing notes thing. There’s been many times when I wrote my notes in class, and when I got my notes out to review them, I couldn’t read my shorthand or handwriting when I was writing quickly. I learned to take time and re-write my notes, spell out full words, make my handwriting neat, etc. Being able to actually read my notes helped me out so much. You’re getting the information in your brain a second time, and you have a great set of notes to study by!

  38. NeenaJ says:

    Even though my college years are long behind me, that Student Veg cookbook looks pretty darn interesting!

    I would add:

    College is an opportunity to expose yourself to new ideas. To continue the Legally Blonde references, “What if you’re trying to be someone you ARE?”
    ~Remember that you’re going to a school where not many people know who you are or what your reputation was in high school. Always wanted to embrace a tree-hugger philosophy? Go for it! Too embarrassed to join the Debate Team in high school? There’s a club for that! Bottom Line: It’s time to break yourself free from those high school stereotypes because no one at college knows that you’re not the person you’re trying to be.
    ~Use your electives (especially the first 2 years) to take a lot of different classes. Especially ones that are the polar opposite of your intended major. Who knows, you might uncover a deep-seeded love for sculpting that you never knew existed. Do this often and early because something might inspire you to change your major and it’s a lot less painful to do it early. (Trust me, as I changed the 2nd semester of my junior year. Ouch!) Also, it exposes you to a whole new groups of people (read potential friends). Who doesn’t need more friends?
    ~This may be the only time in your life that you can have the pink/green/purple hair you always wanted and it won’t cost you credibility or get you fired. Enjoy!!

    Congrats to all you incoming freshman out there!

  39. Phoebe says:

    Oh, how I wish I had better treasured my college days! Gawd, even though you aren’t free at all (hello, my parents still funded everything…) it sure feels like the headiest brew of new personhood.
    1. Go to class. Do your homework. Speaking from experience here – there are many a C, D, or the rarer F in classes I was well capable of an A in. I coasted, with good grades, too, in highschool. Trust me, you cannot coast in college!
    2. Leave off the sugar. Twelve years and stones of weight later, my slide into obesity began with the excitement of unfettered access to junk food.
    3. You will always be who you truly are and now is the time to uncover your adult self. I was too chicken to go the gym. I didn’t let my artistic self fly on the paper. And I wasn’t nearly as homesick as I pretended to be.

    No matter what happens, you will be fine. And if you know that going in, you will be better than fine – you’ll be outstanding. Happy new days!

  40. shiny says:

    Life experience, eh? Here goes:


    1. How you get along with your significant other’s parents is quite important in the happiness of a long relationship. Yes, it’s been said that how he treats his mother is how he will treat you; I say, in addition to that, how she / he / they (the other person’s family, in general) thinks and feels of you does affect the relationship. Whether the person supports you, or that person is still tied to the family apron-strings, it puts a strain on the relationship.
    From personal experience, the person who is too tied to other people’s opinions will not consider your opinion as important or worth listening to. This should be a *major* red flag (learned the VERY hard way).

    2. Spray bottles are fantastic! They help in wiping up, and in targeting spot-cleaning. I cannot live without ém.

    3. White vinegar and baking soda are your friends. Keep them by your side, they will serve you well.

    4. Choose your pans with *great* care. It doesn’t matter if they are used – good quality only gets better with age.


    4. Choose hope over fear. ( I didn’t, and had mild depression for 10 years)

    5. Understand the principle (of anything), and you will cut through a lot of bs.

    And THANKS to everyone else! All the advice here is so true!

  41. Chiara says:

    I think the best advice I have for college or for life is that it’s all temporary.

    I had terrible roommates but I got through it because I knew that one day soon, they wouldn’t be my roommates anymore.

  42. mela says:

    roommate ground rules are probably the most important thing to getting off to a good start your first year. don’t hold things in that are bothering you – my roommate and i got along just fine until one day in march where we started screaming at each other about how much we hated each other’s boyfriends, music, and i was too messy, she was too neat, she brought a snake and a tv into our room without asking ….i’m sure i’d done a lot more bad stuff too.

    the point is i had no idea having my boyfriend around really bugged her or my music etc. and we’d just talked about those things when they came up, we’d have been fine and not had a blowout. i ended up moving out, which was totally ridiculous – we made up and were still friends the rest of college.

    also, watch out for boys! college can be like a boy buffet filled with all kinds of foreign delicacies you’ve never seen before and its very easy to get caught up in it, but when i started college 7 years ago, i had to learn the really hard way that most guys are really just looking to play the field.

    oh! and a steamer! a mini-steamer is a must-have. i used to spend hours ironing and it got to the point where all the boys came to me asking me to iron their shirts for our big college prom. what am i, your mom?!

    bottom line: be honest with those around you about your feelings and things will go much more smoothly! study hard because you’re not in high school anymore and above all, have fun! college is one of the best times of your life!

  43. Sarah says:

    These are all wonderful suggestions! I would add that you should try one new thing a week! I did and it’s how I ended up in my current field – teaching. You never know what you’ll end up enjoying!

  44. Daya says:

    First, Congrats to all the incoming freshmen!

    One of the biggest lessons I learned in college was- don’t let someone else do your homework or take your notes for you. Learned the hard way that “if you want something done, do it yourself.”
    -Highlighters are your best friend. It was easier to read and study my notes when it came to test time
    -Order or get to the bookstore as soon as you have your booklist for classes. I went through an Ethics course once with no books halfway through the semester. I flunked out and had to re-take the course.

    Above all, have fun and enjoy the new experiences.

  45. Krista says:

    The list of things I found useful and thought you might too! 😛 Also known as no regrets about university except my parents aren’t there to feed me, checklist!
    (NOTE!! DON”T DO anything violent that is mentioned in fun. )***********

    1) Shower shoes! You are going to be sharing a bathroom for the next four years at least guys. And sometimes you’ll have no idea what the heck was in that shower before you. My last shower curtain had its own flock of mould. You do not want that on your feet. So when looking for shower shoes make sure your feet are not going to slip out of them when wet to touch the floor, as well as drain easy. I also recommend a shoe that dries quickly! Shower shoes are great to slip on to jot down the hall to visit someone, heat up something in the microwave, or in the middle of an assignment leave quick to the vending machine, instead of getting on your running shoes. And as ugly as they are, I highly recommend Crocs for the job. They dry in half an hour flat and your feet are comfy standing in them for quite awhile. Just remember, Crocs are not to be worn out of Residence!

    2) Towels. Full towels as well as face towels and hand towels. Choose something colourful, and soft. Showers can be stress reducers and soft towels are nice in the cold washrooms. Also my washroom didn’t have anything to dry your hands with, so hand towels (if you have enough foresight to bring it with you instead of using your pants all the time) are useful.

    3) Shower gel. You want something that isn’t going to get mushy, stay wet, be easy to drop… All the things soap isn’t to keep off that disgusting floor. Hence the miracle of shower gel in an easy to squirt (like one handed) bottle! Wow the miracles of today! (In fruity scents)

    4) Hand Soap. This is something you can get once you’ve settled in if you need it. I know my residence only had hand sanitizer and that can leave you feeling like your hands aren’t really clean.

    5) Scissors. Yep, to cut things. Open things. Or to stab roommates with. Whatever you preference, you’ll need them, over and over and over again.

    6) Laptop Computer and a printer. Initiate the parental shudder. It’s a new age, and all my notes were online, updates, due dates, library search, it’s all online. You need a computer, a laptop is even more useful as if it is small enough you can take it to class and take notes with it (sometimes even on the notes themselves with programs such as One Note.) Having all your info in something that weighs just as much as a textbook, to go studying. NEEDED.

    7) Throw Blanket, Chair like prop-up pillow for the bed. Dorm rooms hold two things a bed and a desk, there is room for little else. You desk is a study area, you eat and relax on your bed. And a snuggle nest-type thing that you can build on your bed is a nice thing to have. Used it all year long.

    8) Electric Kettle. Mr. Noodles. Microwave Macoroni. Tea. The list is endless. (Make sure it has automatic shut-off, if it doesn’t and you leave it, it can start a fire.)

    9) Stapler. I didn’t have one and the number of things I ran around trying to find a stapler to staple with to hand in the things (I.e. labs, essays, etc.) Let’s just say once I had one I was a much saner, happier woman.

    10) Decorative items/ Pictures. The walls are ugly, drab, and damn depressing. Add colour to the walls, they need it. Or die before the end of the year from white wall paint burning its way through your retinas to your brain making it like the wall. A blank slate with imperfections all over it. So get some tape a poster or two, and the hooks that come off the wall, and go crazy with a decorative style all your own. (Or I suppose you could steal someone elses if desired.)

    11) A full supply of household Medicine. You’re there for a year, a stressful year at that, you will get sick. You will feel crappy. You will need aspirin, stomach relief, etc. Or be prepared or suffer. I love you so don’t suffer. 😀

    12) A mini Fridge. You’ll want to keep a supply of food in the room with you, if you’re not with a roommate that has one, look into it. (I suggest walmart to look at). Sometimes you’re just too tired to go get food, or in the middle of something, its nice to have what you need close by.

    13) A shower cart. A plastic carry open air container with holes in the bottom to drain well, w=and easy to carry everything you’ll need for a shower. See my description of the muck you won’t want on your bottles of stuff, and juggling bottles is a skill for circus people. Not the rest of us, in a water slicked area.

    14) Dishes. To eat the food you have in your fridge. Or to keep the water from running out of your plant you didn’t know had holes in the bottom, all over the counter. Oh the uses. (In fact I once heard that a bowl over a smoke detector was used in our ‘arts house’ at Guelph, lets just say it wasn’t normal cigarettes they were smoking…)

    15) Highlighters. That’s right, the wonderful colourful things we use to make important points (or draw bright flowers with). When reading textbooks (you will be) and making study notes coloured pens and highlighters will be your best friends. After me of course, but friends all the same.

    16) Lined Paper. For hand written notes and for making study notes before exams, and mid-terms.

    17) Post-it Notes! Useful for text book marking. Where you left off reading, questions for the professor, what to go over again, where a completely useless diagram is, or a page with something you can make fun of…. (That I found was a great learning tool in really boring classes, make fun of the learning material, the professor. You’re still gonna listen for the most part, yet it makes it way more bareable.)

    18) Throw Rug. Optional. My carpet looked like a blind and tasteless person picked it out. I covered it up for the year, because looking at dusty magenta/maroon all year may have destroyed me where high-school failed.

    19) Music device. You’ll be doing a lot of walking around campus, music makes the walk that much faster. And when you are moving, moving, moving, alllll day long walks need to go by faster. Music is also useful for study time, inviting people over to your itiy, bity dorm room, and for dancing to, to help you to get up in the morning.

    20) Organisational Unit. You may get a planner from the school, you may not but to pass you need to be organized. Take that into major account during your first week especially. My saving grace last year was my colour coded timetable of my week. All my extra curriculars were on it, all my classes, everything from mon. to fri. Even time to myself and time to do work. I’m not saying you have to go as far as I did, but knowing where and what I was supposed to be doing, gave me major piece of mind. Especially with so much to do.
    So These are the TOP 20 THINGS to get for university! Hehe In other words I can’t think of anything else. Lol. Remember University is for learning but you need to have fun too. As someone once told me, Work hard, Play Harder.

  46. Maya says:

    Great article and advice!

    Not to scare the crap out of any new students, but my freshman year was awful. No one in my family went to college, I had no clue how things worked, and had some bad experiences. BUT it was truly one of the most important learning experiences of my life and I wouldn’t trade it for a second!

    I’d say:
    First and foremost, ASK QUESTIONS. Great lesson in life. Don’t ever feel clueless, college has so many people to assist you. Speaking of which:
    Take advantage of the help around you. You mentioned professors/office hours, but also advisors, research mentors, friends, previous grads, whatever you can get! It’ll make life SO much easier!
    Just be honest and respectful with your roommates and pick who you live with wisely. Don’t go in on a lease with a friend you know doesn’t pay bills on time or who is one of the dirtiest people you’ve ever met. Save the friendship and your sanity and explore other options.
    Have fun and meet as many new people as you can! Try new things! College can open up so many new doors.
    And lastly, the faster you can learn to balance your work and social life, the happier you will be. Studying 24/7 or partying every night is not the way to go. Having a little bit of each really creates nice balance in your life!

    Congratulations, everyone! I truly believe that feshman year is one of the most significant years of your life. Enjoy it!

  47. Maya says:

    Oh, and I forgot an important one: GO TO CLASS!

    Seriously, you’ll skip one, think it’s ok, tell yourself you can study the material later (and then you won’t), and it becomes a downward spiral. Teachers often test topics discussed in class, or have textbooks with crappy explanations that won’t help you. (If you really are sick, few professors have sympathy and give you notes, even with a letter from the doctor. This is just another reason to make friends and meet people, especially in lecture. Not only do you have a new buddy, but you have someone to study with and help out if you need it! Even better if they’re in your major and you can take several courses together!) Aside from all that, you really do get more by being there in lecture. I promise. Lol that is all

  48. Connie says:

    Thanks for the amazing post Karen! I have a lot of friends going to UCD and I’m about to show them this post 🙂

    And thank you to everyone who has posted such helpful comments! I’m heading off to college this fall too and these tips are SO nice to have.

  49. Lauren says:

    This is a great blog post, Karen! I wish it was around when i was starting college. I have a few tips as well…

    1. Don’t keep junk food in your room, one night it will be your fourth straight hour working on a project and you will want to stress eat!
    2. Buy a humidifier… those old dorm buildings are so dry!
    3. Wear flip flops in the shower… duh!
    4. Try the fun aerobics classes at the gym, that is how I met a bunch of my friends.
    5. Bring snacks to the library!


  50. Zeadelle says:

    Thanks Karen! The timing’s perfect! I’m a newbie in college, I find it really helpful. Thanks! =)

  51. Deb says:

    This was fun to read, as were the comments! College was such a great time in my life, and even though my big sis was a great help at easing into the transition, I wish someone had sat me down and told me to enjoy it while it lasted! Now that I’ve been in the working world for 5 years, I miss the instant gratification of grades and how easy it was to make friends with similar interests.

    I really miss going out for dancing and cheap drinks on a Monday night (80s night!) because my first class on Tuesday was at 2PM!

    So, my advice is no matter how hard your classes are or how awful your roommate is (I know all about that one), enjoy it! There’s no other time in your life quite like college! Don’t get me wrong, I love my post-grad life, but I do miss my college life….

    Oh, and if you’re at all considering studying abroad, DO IT! You will have the time of your life and it looks great on a resume, no matter what field you want to get into!

  52. Emma says:

    This is a great article! I am in college right now and have used some of these tips already. #6 is a great tip. Especially if you go to a college in a city, it is really important to learn how to get around on the bus, subway etc.

    Another thing I might add is take advantage of your school’s career office to get your resume looked at or for figuring out what you want to do with your major.

    The second suggestion I would add is take a writing class. Whatever career you go into, you will need writing.

  53. Kristina says:

    Don’t major in frat boys 101. It is not healthy for your GPA. Trust me on this.

  54. Jessica says:

    SUCH GREAT ADVICE! I wish I had read this when I went away to college for the first time. I’m now in my 6th year of college (yikes!) and a 2nd year Master’s student. I’d say my best advice is to do whatever you can to feel comfortable in your living situation and find good roomies. You’d be surprised how much a terrible roommate can really mess with your head (speaking from experience)! Whether it’s lighting nice smelling candles, putting favorite photos up, etc. find a way to make your space (however small) a home. After a long day of classes and tests it’s nice to come home to a haven instead of hell! Try and get to know your roomies before you move in and iron out differences early. Ask them about their personalities, likes/dislikes as well. If they’re the quiet type and you’re a party animal, it’d be good to know beforehand. Above all though, ENJOY IT! I’m a teaching assistant as well as a Master’s student and my undergrad years were wonderful (I miss them!). Life gets harder after that diploma and responsibilites do stack up before you know it. OHH and enjoy that free meal when Mom and Dad come to visit too 😉

  55. Aimey says:

    I definitely agree with #6, and my madre tells me #9 all the time!

  56. Megan says:

    Great post!
    I just finished my first year of college and took some courses over the summer. Tip #7 is so true! I’ve always recopied my notes, it’s a great way of studying that doesn’t really feel like studying 🙂

  57. Jess says:

    Hi Karen, just wondering, is beauty blogging a job for you? or more of a hobby? I’ve always wondered that about beauty bloggers, since you guys seem to put so much effort into your blogs. Also, any advice on choosing a major quickly? There is a lot of pressure from my parents to do just that :S. My friends who have been through college all advise that I choose as quickly as possible…but they also said the first few years of undergrad don’t help much X_x. It’s left me pretty confused.


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