Undeclared (The Real Freshman Rule Book)

Know what makes me feel old? When kids i knew when they were LITTLE kids go to college. I started teaching dance when i was 16, and i was a student minister/camp counselor about 10 years ago. Also, I have a brother-in-law and sister-in-law who were 6 and 8 when I started dating their big brother–they are now 16 and 18. Like many of the “kids” I’ve known, they are turning out to be sharp, interesting and impressive adults.

I’m noticing on facebook that many of the “kids” from various venues of my life are starting their freshman year of college this week–or going back for their 2nd or 3rd year. So i thought I’d share some insights/advice for college kids, from the perspective of an old, wise person. (Knowing full well that, 15 or so years from now, 33 will sound really young to me…)

1-Stop worrying about your grades; show up to class. ask good questions. write complete sentences. when you have interesting ideas, say them out loud.  you will be fine.

2-the magic word is “undeclared.” Don’t feel like you have to have a major starting out. The whole point is to try some different things and see where you fit. And if the time comes to declare and you still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, major in something you love and the rest will fall into place. Most careers will probably require some further training and education anyway. And unless you want to be a doctor or scientist or something equally nerdy and impressive, that future trainking does not really rely on your undergrad major. Also, majoring in something you love will open doors to other things that you love, and connect you to people with whom you share lots in common.

3- and speaking of sharing things in common…also branch out. college can be overwhelming and it is far too easy to stick with the people in your hall, your greek group, your major…Get out of Gryffindor every now and then. Seek out interesting people who are different from you. it will make you better at whatever you are going to be when you grow up. One of my best in the world friends went to (a tiny little) college with me for 4 years and lived one hall away, but we did not know each other until about 3 years after graduation. I kind of think she would have been good for my life sooner. Although, timing is everything for relationships. That in mind, you might need to:

4-lose the high school boyfriend/girlfriend. ok, maybe some of these are a little too rooted in my own experience. however, if you are going away to school and you have a residual bf or gf connection who is either staying home or going to school in another state, it is just not going to work. The nostalgia will wear off pretty quickly and won’t come back until around your 20 year reunion (so I hear) and there’s a looooong space of time in there in which to be miserable with someone. Also, don’t break up with them because there might be someone cuter at college (there will be). Break up with them because you will be too busy (and broke) to spend hours on the phone with them every night, and because you otherwise won’t see them until Christmas.

4-and speaking of being broke, watch your Credit Card Debt. Now, again from experience…i did not run up a ridiculous bill like some of the horror stories you hear on dateline, but i was pretty loose with it thinking “oh, i’ll have a great job when i get out of here, i can pay it off in 6 months.” (that noise you hear is riotous laughter from all the over-21 people who are reading this along with you). Even though i did not have a crazy-bad bill, it was high enough that, in my first out-of-school job, i could only afford the interest payment every month. And after that was grad school, and you know.. it’s just a vicious cycle. Don’t start. If you can’t pay off the balance every month, don’t use it. Bum free beer from friends who have money, or make friends with creepy hacker burn-outs who live near campus. They will have lots of beer but no friends, so it’s a win-win.

4-and speaking of beer…Don’t be stupid. Don’t act stupid when you drink it; don’t get in cars with stupid people who drank even more than you. Don’t take pictures of all that stupid, and whatever you do,

5 Don’t put anything on Facebook that you would not want your mom to see. Or your minister. Or your future employer. And don’t make a “seperate account” through which to post all your shenanigans. If you don’t want your mama to see it, you probably should not take a picture of it to begin with. (See #4 on being stupid…)

6. Watch what you eat. The Freshman 15 is for real. And maybe you could stand to gain 15 pounds but what nobody tells you  is, it’s the year-after-college-30 that’ll kill you, so do some damage control right now. I mean, the campus nurse does not need one more eating disorder to deal with, so do EAT. just don’t make a midnight taco bell run more than once a week, and don’t eat dessert every day just because it’s there. (yeah, i still do that, but you’re the freshmen and i’m a grown-up…) Some rules of moderation apply to every other area of life (see #4), and the dining hall is a great place to learn them.

7. Abandon worry. it is not productive. This is one of the most stressful times of your life, even though it is the funnest. If you start a pattern of worry right now, it is a vicous one to break. Kind of like weight gain. Or credit card debt. Or bad boyfriends. You get the idea… You are learning a balancing act that is an art, not an exact science. See number 1 again, and repeat. You will be fine.

No, you will be more than fine. You will be extraordinary. And that, you can put on facebook for your mama and all to see…

p.s. would somebody please save this list and give it to my kids in a few years? Because it will still be true, but Lord knows, they will not want to hear it from me…

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About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • http://jeynagrace.wordpress.com Jeyna Grace

    You would worry about grades if you were on scholarship wont you? haha.. but great tips!

    • http://www.azfoothillscc.org irreverins

      good point, jenya. But, i think there is a way to work hard and do your best without worrying and being stressed all the time. I hope you find the balance. (if you have a scholarship, you must be a smart young lady!) Good luck!

  • http://azdisciplenc.wordpress.com azdisciplenc

    It sure would’ve been nice to have somebody around to tell me all this when I was starting my freshman year… but alas, eleven years ago, you were yourself just starting at LTS. Oh well.

  • Bridget

    A corollary to #2: You may have had a static answer at 6 years old of what you wanted “to be.” Finding a different career path or profession from what that 6 year old thought does not make you a failure. Learn who you are and live it. That makes you even better than a superhero or a firefighter.

    • http://www.azfoothillscc.org irreverins

      preach it, dr. bridget. that lyme disease is making you even smarter! let me know if you start seeing God, like joan of arcadia…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=649265392 Elisabeth Gawne

    Man, I really wish someone had given me this advice before I went off to college. Well, plenty of people probably did, I just wasnt ready to listen. Had to learn all of these the hard way. But, now that I am in my last semester of college…still good advice!


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