How to be a good freshman

As my baby sister moves into her dorm for her freshman year, and as I skim social media, I’m thrilled to see so many bright and eager freshman starting their college journey. I’ve tried to throw bits and pieces of senior wisdom around, little tips and tricks I wish someone had told me as a new student, but there’s too much to say at once. But to start:

You can never be overdressed or overeducated

Wear a suit to job interviews. Take yourself and your employer seriously enough to dress respectfully. Doesn’t matter if you’re interviewing for a coveted internship, food service job, or lab-rat-poop-scooper position. Just wear the suit.

Forever21 cotton/spandex blend pencil skirts are not business wear

Yes, they make suits for women. Yes, you can wear a skirt suit. Spent 10 minutes looking up professional attire and hit the clearance rack at Target or Marshals. Wear a damn suit, people.

Sleep. Eat. Bathe.

There will be students who brag about how little sleep they get, or how they “haven’t had time to eat or shower since Thursday.” Don’t listen to their noise. Neglecting your health and personal care is not a badge of honor or courage – it’s a sign of poor time management skills, procrastination, and disordered priorities. You’re not a machine, so take time to take care of yourself.

Buy textbooks with discretion

Buy them for your first semester, and then readjust (unless you like blowing up to $1000 on paper, in which case, go for it). If you can handle reading off computers, go for the cheaper ebook. For many courses, the textbook will be available at campus libraries or learning centers, so don’t bother buying those. Ask around and learn if the textbook is even necessary or helpful for the class (just because the professor listed it as “required” doesn’t mean you’ll ever use it)Compare prices and buy online. Better yet, forget buying and just rent.

Wear your university gear with pride

I once lived with a girl who made fun of students for wearing Michigan apparel because they “looked like lame freshman.” Let me tell you, kids: being proud of your school isn’t lame. Take it from a jaded senior. The excitement you’re feeling comes once in a lifetime, so enjoy it. Live it to the extreme. Wear that blue hair extension to football games and your Michigan crewneck home for fall break. Remember that “ohmygodididit” feeling when you got your acceptance email? You worked damn hard to be here, so be proud.

…but don’t wear a lanyard

You have pockets for a reason. Just don’t.

If/when you drink, don’t be stupid

I’m not your mom, so I’m not going to give you a “no underage drinking” speech. And I’m not a cop, so I won’t give you another “roar roar MIP” lecture. You own your body and your decisions, so if you’re drinking:

Watch your cup. Watch your drink being made. Don’t accept drinks from strangers. DO NOT PULL FROM THE HANDLE (do you really want mono that badly?). If you’re new, don’t get drunk at your first party. Instead, start somewhere safe with people you trust so you can learn your limits and what it all feels like. Don’t leave alone. Don’t let strangers walk you home (take an Uber instead). Keep your phone, keys, and cash with you. Keep track of your friends. Stay safe, and don’t be stupid.

Don’t eat alone for the first few weeks

Easiest way to meet people is to hit the dining hall in groups. You’re all new and lost and awkward and scared and confused, so roll with it.

After that, don’t be afraid of eating alone

I did all my studying for Bio 173 during meals in the dining hall. Use it as quick study time or down time.

Use a planner

You have no idea how busy you’re about to get. Start writing things down. Assignments, due dates, meetings, appointments, your grocery list.

Learn and use proper email etiquette

Use appropriate salutations, farewells, and signatures. Include your course number and section in the subject line and body of the email. Write appropriate and informative subjects. Reply to emails within 24 hours, and check several times a day. Always be the last to speak in correspondence with a superior – if you email a professor or GSI for something, always acknowledge their email and thank them for their time and help.

Have an umbrella with you at all times

Unless you want a surprise free shower, be prepared. Most lecture halls don’t have windows, so you won’t know that it went from sunny and 75 to monsoon season.

Write thank you notes

A month or so into your first semester, take time to write a thank you note to people who helped you get to where you are now. Your favorite teachers, coaches, family, friends, etc. Especially those teachers and coaches. So many people shaped you, so thank them for doing a good job.

Know your resources (university and otherwise)

Where do you go when you’re sick? If there’s a weather emergency? Where is the nearest bank, ATM, Secretary of State office, 24 hour convenience store, pharmacy? See if your university offer free tutoring or study groups. Identify who to call to report disturbances, sexual assaults, mental health concerns.

Check your ego

Once upon a time, you were in the top 5% of your high school. But now you’re at a school where every other person was also the best in their class. Work that out statistically, and you’re now hovering around “average.” Sink or swim, kid. Don’t let that break you. Keep your perspective honest and work hard.

Ask for help

Math lab, physics help room, Science Learning Center, free tutoring, university run study groups, office hours. Asking for help doesn’t make you stupid. It means you’re smart enough to know you don’t understand the entire picture, and courageous enough to accept that.


It goes fast.


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