Learning the ropes

Graphic by Astrid Hernandez | Mercury Staff

What every freshman should do their first year

Kicking off freshman year can be a major adjustment for anyone. As you learn to call a university your home, all too often you might find yourself overwhelmed with campus events. With every quintessential freshman experience waiting for you, here are some of the things I wish I’d taken part in my freshman year.

  1. Explore other majors and schools.

Freshmen have the unique advantage of having an effectively blank slate. Don’t marry your major: go see what other schools have to offer. Most professors and advisors are very open to discuss your potential interests. Attend seminars and special talks, take advantage of staff accessibility in elective and in-major classes and make a more informed decision about what you want to study.

  1. Get to know your neighbors.

Before you leave the nest that is student housing, talk to your neighbors and fully appreciate the experience of living with your peers. Everyone around you is similarly new to campus and feelings of uncertainty and loneliness are more common than you think. Don’t feel discouraged from making friends; the strangers around you might become your best friends.

  1. Learn how to manage your money.

For some freshmen, moving to college means the first taste of uninhibited financial freedom. As you learn to live independently, take some time to consider your spending and start budgeting. Minor costs add up quickly, and bad spending habits will only get harder to break later on. It may also help to avoid using a card for most situations, as relying on a cash-based budget may encourage a little more frugality in your life.

  1. Balance your diet early on.

Whether it’s coming from the buffet-style dining hall or the nearby Walmart, the food you eat is going to be mostly under your control. It’s easier to avoid gaining weight through a good diet than it is to lose that weight later on. Finding and sticking to a eating schedule should help manage your calories and your spending while you’re at it.

  1. Attend campus events.

From organization fairs to local seminars, there’s always going to be something going on at UTD. Check postings around campus, the Comet Calendar, UTD social media accounts or visit the university website and figure out what might interest you. Whether you’re learning something new or just having a good time, you usually won’t regret getting yourself out there.

  1. Join as many clubs as you can.

There’s a club for just about everything at UTD, and for every one that you might be interested in, there’ll be plenty more that you won’t be. Join them anyway, find what sticks and make some friends along the way.

  1. Learn how to study well in college.

College can turn your academic self-perception upside down. Paying attention in class and taking quality notes (not transcribing or just copying down the PowerPoints) will be equally useful, but talking to your professors may help you figure out what’s important for each class and save you a lot of headaches.

  1. Be picky.

From roommates, to dorms, to classes, there’s a lot of choices to be made, none of which should be on a whim. The people you surround yourself with, such as your roommates, friends and professors can make or break your experience, so learn to be particularly picky early on.

  1. Meet your professors.

UTD is smaller than you might think, and there’s a decent chance you’ll see familiar faces on the podium over time. Take some time to build relationships with your professors, inside or outside the classroom. Whether you go to office hours to ask questions or speak up during class, most professors encourage communication and will be glad to see you interested in their teaching. Not only will you learn to do better in their courses, but you’ll likely get the long-term benefits of letters of recommendation.

  1. Stop procrastinating.

With classes being much more spaced out compared to high school — some only meeting once a week — the university workload can seem much lighter at a cursory glance. Don’t underestimate what you have on your plate and understand that quality often replaces quantity at the college level. Building up the habit of starting on assignments early usually sticks, leaving you much better off for the rest of your time at UTD.

  1. Learn how to control yourself around others.

Even as you take your first steps of independence, try to remember some of the wisdom in the rules back home. Whether you’re avoiding an assignment you need to finish or trying something illicit, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to shirk responsibility around your peers. Remember that your friends will be there tomorrow and learn to prioritize what you need over what they want.

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