Let’s be honest: We all know that college isn’t all about books and studying. It’s probably the first time you’ll be living on your own and making decisions as to how to spend your time. Although this freedom certainly feels liberating for first-year students everywhere, it can also be hard to set boundaries for yourself.
That’s why we’ve put together a list of the 10 best ways to keep yourself safe and healthy as you head off to your first year of college. There’s no need to skimp on fun, either; just keep these ideas in mind and you’ll be on your way to an unforgettable freshman year.
Get to Know Your Surroundings
Whether you’re heading back from class or from a late-night party, it’s important to know how to get to your dorm from all different parts of campus. Spend your first few weeks – or the days before you leave – getting as familiar as possible with campus. Perhaps you can take yourself on a few walking tours on a sunny afternoon or try to find different ways to walk back from class to your dorm. The more you know the main and side streets, the easier it will be to navigate.
Travel in Packs
It’s a freshman-year phenomenon, and for good reason: Students seem to travel in packs. As you start meeting people in your dorm, in class or at rush, you’ll all start inviting each other to do things. This is the best way to meet new friends, which will make you feel settled at school. It’s also great for nights when you go out, as you should never do so without a buddy or two.
Before you go out, be sure to discuss your plans and make sure everyone is on board. Get contact information from everyone, too, just in case you can’t seem to find someone in the crowd. And, unless you meet up with someone else you’re all comfortable with, make sure you don’t leave the party alone, or leave any of your friends at the party alone.
Memorize Important Numbers
As trusty as your smartphone is, it’s not always fully charged. Also, thanks to smartphones, many of us don’t memorize any important numbers anymore. We simply search through our contact lists to where they’re saved and hit send. This won’t serve you well if you’re out and need to get in touch with someone after your battery has died. Here are a few important numbers you should keep on hand:
- Campus police
- Campus safe-ride service (if you don’t have one, campus police is usually more than happy to help a sister out)
- Roommate’s phone number
- Parent’s phone numbers
It’s your first year of college, so you’re going to try to socialize and make new friends. Perhaps your quest will bring you to a party or event at which you don’t feel comfortable. Sometimes, these are just new-situation jitters that you’ll get over once you start getting to know the people there. Other times, though, there might be something going on that you don’t like.
In order to remove yourself from a situation that you’re not comfortable with, you’ll probably have to say something. Tell a friend that you want to leave; you don’t even have to give an explanation if you don’t want to. You have to go with your gut, and, if you don’t feel safe, you should remove yourself.
It’s completely natural for you to feel nervous telling a new friend that you aren’t comfortable with a certain party scene. If you’re nervous about telling your new college pals that you want to leave (which would be totally understandable), try using excuses like, “I just got a horrible stomach ache,” or “I think I forgot my ID in my room. Can we go back really quick to get it in case we get separated later?” That way you can easily get out of the situation, and explain to them at a less stressful time that parties like that are totally not your scene.
Learn a Few Self-Defense Tricks
Most college campuses have great lighting, safe rides and round-the-clock security. You shouldn’t get worried or paranoid that something’s going to happen to you while you’re walking around on your own at any time; however, it doesn’t hurt to know a few self-defense tricks in case of an emergency situation. Enroll in a class before you ship out, or take one once you’re on campus. Many schools offer them for this very reason, and you’ll feel comfortable with these tricks up your sleeve.
Pack Your Purse
You’re getting ready for a night out … what should you bring? Packing a purse or clutch is an art form that you won’t be able to perfect until you’re out in the wild. We want to make it easier for you so that your first night on campus will be breezy and fun, as it should be. We suggest getting a cross body purse that zips so you can keep it close to your body, and it’s harder for randos to try and pickpocket you. Always make sure you have the following with you before you head out:
- Keys and access cards to get back into the dorm
- Identification cards
- Credit or debit card
- Cash, in case you lose your card or end up somewhere that’s cash-only
- Phone and external charging device if you think your phone won’t make it all night long
- Flats, if you can fit them in your bag. They’ll make the walk home easier and faster than heels, and trust us, you’ll be happy you have them on hand.
Safety and health go hand-in-hand, which is why we’re including healthy eating as a must-do on your freshman year checklist. It’s easy to fill your plate with pizza or cookies at the dining hall, but you won’t feel your best if you’re not eating nutritious foods. Practicing mindful eating can help you get over this hump. If your school’s dining hall serves only unhealthy fare, try canceling your meal plan and preparing healthy meals in your dorm or apartment kitchen. And if you’re thinking of going out that night, remember that heaving a hearty meal beforehand is a crucial part of responsible drinking.
Exercise should be another safe-and-healthy priority during your first year of college. Exercise has plenty of benefits that range from increased energy to decreased stress, which will serve you well as you start studying for college-level exams. You’ll also lessen your chances of picking up the famed freshman 15 pounds that many students put on the first year they’re away from home.
Get Some Shuteye
Sleep, study or socialize? Popular Internet memes put the three activities on their own corners of a triangle and tell viewers that college students can only pick two. However, we propose that you can strike a nice balance if you’re responsible with your time.
Many students, however, choose to forego sleep when having to decide between sleeping and studying for a big test or heading to a big party. It’s OK every once in a while, but missing out on sleep can cause you to feel heightened anxiety. Shooting for seven to eight hours will keep your stress levels low throughout the day.
Most importantly, you have to remember that college is going to be a much different experience than what you’re used to. You’re in a new place with new people, taking classes at a new level of academic rigor. Give yourself a break if you get a bad grade or don’t understand how to do an assignment. If you take a minute to evaluate why it happened, you might be able to pinpoint preparatory steps that you missed, for example, so you can knock it out of the park next time.