Some real advice for incoming college freshmen

The first year can be rough. Here's how to survive — and thrive — on campus.

Fear not, freshmen!
(Image credit: Getty Images)

May and June offered America a great season of commencement speeches, and I've binge-watched every one of them. They're heartfelt, they're funny, and they offer great advice for kids going off to college. Dare to dream, be a disruptor, be kind, be resilient. By all means, grads, do those things. But just in case you need some tips for getting through the first few months before you drop out and start an internet company, here's some advice you can actually use, from someone who's been there, done that.

Avoid the 8 a.m. class. When you go to register for your classes and decide to sign up for Psych 101 at 8 a.m., it's important that you know that you have just committed to a fail. You will never go to this class, not once. You will try. You will set multiple alarms, but you are about five years away from ever showing up anywhere, dressed, at 8 a.m., on your own accord. If you are a person who can sleep through 30 solid minutes of an alarm that wakes up the rest of your family in neighboring rooms, if you are a person whose mom has to physically rouse you from bed more than three times between 7 and 8 a.m., you are never ever going to make that class. If it's the only time it's offered, change your major.

Start slow. Remember that essay you wrote about all the things you wanted to do to get involved on campus in the fall? You know, the school chorus, the environmental club, and the geology society? Skip it. During the first semester of school, you will be fully engaged in getting from point A to point B. You'll be sharing a room with a total stranger, and you'll be making more new friends in a concentrated amount of time than you've ever made in your life. You'll be procuring your own food and learning why you don't wash your white laundry with your red pajamas. You and your pink socks have a lot of adjusting to do. A friend described her first semester of college as "drinking water from a firehouse." It can be a little overwhelming. You don't need to run for class president just yet.

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Check in. Not just with your family, but with yourself. Are you getting enough sleep? Have you had a vegetable since move-in day? Have you picked up a bad habit that's eating away at your health? Are you overwhelmed in an exhilarating way, or are you overwhelmed in an I-can't-move kind of way? Are you convinced that you are the only one in your class who was admitted by mistake?

Bring with you to college the phone number of an extra adult you can talk to if you're not feeling great and don't feel like talking to your parents. Maybe it's your aunt or your coach or a favorite teacher. Little known fact: Teaching has never been a great get-rich-quick strategy. The only reason people go into teaching is because they want to help kids. I can say with confidence that your teachers are literally waiting by the phone.

Exercise. When I graduated from college 25 years ago we had one gym, and I'm pretty sure it was just for the basketball players. The rest of us were directed to the mall where we could buy bigger pants. I visit today and am overwhelmed by how many gorgeous places there are to exercise. Take advantage. It will clear your head and manage your stress. Also, it's good for you.

Branch out. Take a class that you think has nothing to do with anything. This is your chance. Yes, we want you to learn practical things so you can graduate and get a job, but also take an art class, study ancient religions, learn how to weave a basket. You'll be 65 before you have this many options and this much free time again.

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