10 Things to Learn Before Freshman Year of College

Leaving for college was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. I only knew what to expect from the hazy study/party/sleep montages I’d seen in the movies I’d been binge-watching all summer, but college… It sort of defies explanation. Because while moments my life might resemble the scattered images from movies, they’re just moments. The day-to-day, weary trudge of college life is the real challenge. And that’s the part that took me off guard when I arrived here at the University of Illinois. There are just some things you need to learn before freshman year.

10 Things to Learn Before Freshman Year of College

Your college will give you a whole information packet of things to know before you get to campus - but here are the 10 things you need to learn before you arrive that often get left out.

1. How to eat alone

In high school, you had a cafeteria full of people you at least sort of knew. And going out to eat is usually a group activity. So until you hit college, you may never have to eat alone in public. But if you only have a little while between classes, you’re not always going to be able to find someone to come to the dining hall with you. No one’s going to judge you for eating alone (we’ve all done it plenty of times), but it’s best for you to get comfortable with it before hand.

2. How to save money

Having money in the bank is such a good feeling. Arguably the best feeling. Knowing I could buy something ridiculously overpriced is oddly satisfying. Living in a dorm is great in that your rent, utilities, and groceries are all essentially prepaid, so any income you have is yours to spend as you will. Shopping sprees are always tempting, but when you get on campus, try to save money wherever you can. Eventually, you’re going to have to leave the dorms, and the “real world” of apartment life is a lot less scary when you have some money saved up to fall back on.

3. Basic transportation maintenance

There’s nothing worse than being stranded somewhere unfamiliar in your first few weeks of school. If you’re lucky enough to be bringing a car to school, learn some basic maintenance like checking your oil and changing a flat. Bikes are hugely popular on campuses everywhere, and if you’re bringing one, know the solutions to common problems like slipping chains and stuck brakes. If you’re leaning towards a more novel form of transportation (longboard, motorbike, whatever), do some preemptive Googling and find a few shops in your college town that can help you out in case something goes wrong.

4. How to do laundry (the right way)

Yeah, we all know college kids aren’t going to do four separate loads of laundry for whites, darks, knits, and delicates. But ruining half your wardrobe is going to be more expensive than an extra load here or there. Learn to read laundry labels (there are tons of infographics out there to help!) and try to wash similar clothes in similar loads. Admittedly, it won’t be the end of the world if that trendy piece you got for $7 at Forever 21 gets ruined, but college is the time when you’ll likely start building your grown-up wardrobe, so treat your more expensive pieces with care

5. How to study for a final

In my most recent finals post, I mentioned that my high school didn’t always require people to take finals. Even if yours did, finals in college are usually a lot more comprehensive and difficult, not to mention stressful. If you coasted through high school, college-level finals are going to be a slap in the face, so learn how you study best and keep it in mind for the end of your first semester – it’ll make your life a lot easier.

I wish I'd known how to mind-map like this before I got to college!

I wish I’d known how to mind-map like this before I got to college!

6. What you want from college

A degree and a job, obviously. But let’s get existential here for a second. Do you want to reinvent yourself? Do you want the world to accept you for who you’ve always been? Do you want to write for the paper? Get the best research position? Write a senior thesis? College is weird. There’s so much happening all the time, and if you’re not sure what you’re looking for, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Anyone who thinks they have their entire college career planned to the minute before they get to campus is going to be proved wrong very quickly, but there’s something to be said for going into the experience with some concrete goals in mind. If you need some help doing what you love in college, I have a guide.

7. Your limits

Spectacularly drunk 18-year-olds who don’t know where their dorm is anymore are a common sight during welcome week. I can’t condone underage drinking, obviously, but there are a lot of limits no one thinks about before they get to campus. Whether that’s how many all-nighters you can reasonably pull in a week, how many curly fries you can eat without throwing up, or how many times you can hear your roommate’s favorite song before you hate it, give your limits some thought before you get to school, and then respect them.

8. Who your real friends are

You know all your high school besties who promise they’ll stay in touch? Not all of them will. Distance is a terrible, terrible obstacle in friendships, and you’re not going to be able to maintain that closeness with two dozen people. Everyone narrows down their circle after high school, and you’re not cruel or callous for doing so consciously. Arguably, it’s nicer to say “Actually, I don’t want to get lunch this summer.” now than promise to get together for the next year and a half and never follow through. Take this time to make a conscious choice about who you want in your life – usually, those are the same people who will choose you right back.

9. How to cook one signature meal

Okay, dorm kitchens suck. But being able to make a perfect steak or Leslie Knope-level waffles or the best chicken marsala is going to give you a sense of pride you never had before. Whether you’re trying to impress that special someone, or even just some friends, a good meal can bring you a long way – I can think of a group of friends who I’m pretty sure only put up with me because I made them chocolate chip pancakes on the regular. And if you ever have to cook for someone, now you know you can bring your A game.

10. How to communicate with your future roomie

Even if you’re lucky enough to have a single at first, you’re probably going to have to live with someone who’s not family and not an SO at some point in your life. Talk to this person in advance, don’t be afraid to be clear about what you need. Obviously, there’s a whole lot you’re going to learn about that you can’t anticipate, but if you know you can’t sleep with the TV on, let them know that upfront, so at least one of you can invest in a good pair of earphones. Or if someone’s a night owl, make sure they have a small light of their own so the early bird doesn’t have to deal with the overheads being on until 3 AM. If you have a specific dorm aesthetic in mind, talk to your roomie about it in advance – and look to my dorm style guide for inspiration. Little things like this are going to keep you from hating each other.

Your college will give you a whole information packet of things to know before you get to campus - but here are the 10 things you need to learn before you arrive that often get left out.

If you’re headed into college, what are some of the things you’re learning before you get to campus? For those who have already started (or finished!), what do you wish you’d known going into college?

  • It’s a really unfortunate reality! The first few weeks of summer can be crazy, though – hopefully some of them get back into touch soon.

  • I’m starting university here in the UK in September and I’ve found these tips very useful! I’ve just left high school and all my friends and I have promised to keep in touch but I haven’t seen them in weeks haha! xx


  • Also a good idea! It’s too easy to blow off all your homework, or become a hermit.

  • These are all definitely things I wish I did know before I went to college–I think I luckily discovered most of them early on! It’s also important to learn how to sort out your social life and academics and create a balance.