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    The Beginner's Guide to College Life

    What you need to know to start off right.

    Christy Heitger-Casbon

    9 tips for starting college off on the right footstepThere are some things about college life you'll just learn on your own. For example, perhaps after a few meals at the cafeteria you'll find it best to avoid the unique cafeteria gravy. Or, after your pants shrink two sizes you'll realize the dryer in the corner of your dorm's laundry room runs way hot. But getting a "heads up" on a few things before you even step foot on campus can actually be quite helpful. Here are nine things I wish I'd known before heading off to school:

    1) Don't let your fears keep you from meeting people. During orientation week (the week before classes start), I looked out my dorm window and saw students spiking volleyballs, jammin' to music, and scarfing down free nachos and sodas. A part of me wanted to run outside and join in the fun. But I hesitated.

    What if nobody wants to hang out with me? I worried. What if I can't think of anything to talk about? What if they think I'm boring?

    While I was still trying hard to hide from just about everybody, I spotted a poster that read: "Welcome, Freshmen." It reminded me that I wasn't the only new one there—and I probably wasn't the only one who was scared to mingle. Still, I couldn't muster the nerve to step outside. I continued watching the other students for another half-hour until finally, I asked God for a little courage. With his help, I marched into the hallway, introduced myself to the first girl I saw, and invited her outside for a plate of nachos.

    That same week I left my dorm door wide open during the day to encourage girls to pop their heads in and gab. By the time classes started, I knew everyone on my floor.

    2) There are only 24 hours in a day—even at college. I had always heard the best way to approach a new situation was to dive in. I "dove in," all right. I registered for five classes and two labs, scored a part-time job at the movie theater, and oh, yes—I also decided this would be the ideal time to start training for my first marathon. Two C's, many headaches and one stress fracture later, I decided I might have over-committed myself just a tad.

    I wasn't the only one pushing myself too hard. At the beginning of the semester I heard kids brag about how many credit hours they were taking. But weeks later those same students often complained that they were drowning in a sea of tests, projects, presentations and papers. General rule of thumb: Striking a balance between work and play is best.

    3) Skipping class is a bad idea. Spring semester of my freshman year was a scheduling nightmare. My Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes were horribly spread out across the day, starting at 8 a.m. and not finishing until after 7. I had short breaks between classes, but not enough time to return to the dorm or get any studying done.

    Three weeks into the semester, I trimmed my day by skipping a class here and there. I soon learned that ditching classes is like eating potato chips. You can't skip just one. Before long I was blowing off several classes a week. I quickly grew accustomed to my abbreviated schedule and didn't want to go back to the painfully long one. When I got my final grades, I discovered something more painful than a loaded schedule. My grades proved that attending class really does matter.

    4) Sharing textbooks doesn't always work. With the average price of a new book hovering around $50, I decided to split the cost of some of my textbooks with friends who were taking the same courses. It seemed like a brilliant idea. But after only two weeks of classes my "share-sies plan" began to unravel. Between our various school, work and social schedules, my friends and I had a hard time connecting, which made book swapping difficult. Plus, sometimes we wanted to use the book at the same time, but there was only one copy to go around. Not surprisingly, my GPA took a hit that semester as well. From then on I decided that investing in textbooks was worth the money—and not just for the sake of convenience. Often my old textbooks were great sources of reference for classes I took in subsequent semesters.

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