Talk to most students who've just arrived at college, and you'll hear stress-filled transition stories: homesickness, problems fitting in, the roommate from hell. That's why I created UniversityChic.com, a website to help young women succeed in college and beyond. Both the website and my new book, U Chic (details below), feature the voices of college students from across the country. Working with them has inspired these four tips for making the big transition with confidence:
Try letting the school pick. Don't even think about living with a best friend from home. It's time to expand yourself, your experiences, and your circle of friends.
What about social networking sites? Like an online dating service, Facebook has become the go-to place for the perfect roomie "match." What's easier than hopping online from the comfort of your home to find someone whose interests are similar to yours? But what Facebook ignores is an important college rite: living with someone who has nothing in common with you. Not only do you learn to tolerate differences, but you also come to appreciate the things that make you unique, such as a love of Broadway musicals or waking up at 5 a.m. for a daily run in the park. Take a chance. If worst comes to worst, you won't be the first college student to switch roommates.
Your roomie isn't meant to be a BFF. Sharing a tiny room with another human being is no easy feat. Expect differ-ent tastes in everything, from undying love of the Jonas Brothers to pungent Indian takeout to what time he or she hits the sack. Live and learn, and eventually you'll appreciate a person who's entirely different from you.
The key? Communication, says Anna Prestek, University of Washington: "Start by speaking up or even laying down some ground rules for living before anything comes up. Trust me: It'll usually go better if you speak your mind from the beginning, rather than suffering in silence."
You can't take it with you. Home, that is. Here's what Allison Davis, Barnard College, has to say: "It is probably not a good idea to bring all of your yearbooks from high school, your collection of sweatshirts from old boyfriends, or that sweater you haven't worn since you were 7 but swear you can still smell your first-grade teacher's perfume on it. You're in college to make new memories and develop into a well-rounded person. So make sure your 8-by-10-foot cell of a dorm room has space for your new life. It will fill up before you know it."
But she adds: "Sure, bring a few pictures of your friends and family, your favorite stuffed animal, and maybe even a special tchotchke. They are even good conversation starters."
Academic success is important, but not as important as you might think. From Day 1, I knew I wanted to go to law school. So, my grades were going to be important. But what I didn't realize then was that my grades weren't the only piece in the admissions puzzle for grad school.
Extracurrics, campus leadership, community service, time with friends: Each is essential, and you need to embrace them all. If you let the quest for good grades dictate your life at college, you'll miss out on the college experience. And by the way, grad school is not an extension of college, where you have tons of free time to play and explore.
Emily Kaplan, University of California-Davis, agrees: "Listen to your own instincts, and trust yourself; do things because they feel right to you. At the end of the day, it's your life, and you're the one who should be proud when you look in the mirror."
Christie Garton is the author of U Chic: The College Girl's Guide to Everything, which was published in April (Sourcebooks, $14.99).
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