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Do's and Don'ts: How to navigate your first year at Rutgers

The first year of college can be challenging, but being attentive to your needs and making smart decisions can help make the transition smoother.  – Photo by Sakina Pervez

College: the proverbial time of our lives. For the upperclassmen who might read this, perhaps this is a debatable statement. But as a rising senior myself, I can safely say that college really is what you make of it. 

There will most definitely be ups and downs and challenges you’ll encounter during your time here, and it can feel daunting to be confronted with adulthood so soon. But if this guide serves any purpose, it’s a testament to the fact that there are people who are more than willing to help you with your transition to college. 

Here’s a short guide of do's and don'ts that I hope will be your torch through the tunnel as you begin your journey at Rutgers: 


Be afraid to let go of people who no longer serve you well

As my mother used to tell me while growing up, “we are the company that we keep.” In an environment as active and social as Rutgers, seeing friends and hanging out with people is core to the college experience. There’s so much to do on campus and so many people to meet, so please, don’t let bad friends get in the way of that. 

Your time here is limited, so don’t let the clock run meaninglessly. Befriend people who add something to your day and remove people who take away from it. You deserve good friendships and people who accept you for who you are. 

Letting go can be difficult and painful, especially if it’s a long-term relationship. But doing so will allow you to make space for new, quality connections. 

Skip lecture unless you have to 

As a first-year, I really underestimated the importance of attending lectures, until I nearly failed a class. 

You might’ve been able to finesse high school by barely paying attention, but college is a different story. The semester system means going through an entire year’s worth of content in a matter of weeks, and trust me when I say time flies. Content piles up quickly, and even missing one lecture can put you a week behind. When midterms and finals sneak up on you, you’ll lose your mind cramming weeks and weeks of information in one night. 

Yes, missing a class here and there isn’t the end of the world, and if you’re allowed some absences, it might be tempting to ditch. But don’t underestimate the ability of deadlines to catch you off guard, especially when they begin to overlap with your other classes. Even if you don’t think you’ll pay attention or you hate what you’re learning, try to go anyway. You might absorb a thing or two that’ll save you hours of studying. 

Take the buses right before your class 

The bane of every Rutgers student's existence: the buses. Delays, drivers that take ridiculously long breaks, inclement weather, rush hour on Route 18 — a 15-minute commute can easily turn into a 35 minute one depending on the day, and most of us can agree that the buses are totally unreliable. 

So plan your day accordingly. Don’t take the last minute bus unless you absolutely have to. Give yourself more time than you think you need to get to class, especially if you’re taking a bus to the College Avenue campus, which is notorious for its daily rush. Make sure you’re factoring in the walk you’ll have to take once you get off, too. The buses are wildly unpredictable, and even after all these years, I’ve yet to see the day that they run smoothly. 

Bite off more than you can chew 

It might seem appealing to pack your schedule with classes and activities, and while I highly recommend keeping busy, you must know your limits. Burnout is a real thing, and in the long run, it can be a major detriment to your academic performance and mental health. 

Work hard and make sure you graduate on time. Be ambitious, but don’t get carried away by potential. You have to be realistic with yourself and you have to make time for self-care. Nobody can take care of you better than you, so be sure you’re acting in your best interest. Remember: as long as you’re doing your best, you’re doing enough. 


Get involved with as many on-campus clubs and organizations as you can

Rutgers has more than 600 (and counting) organizations for you to join, so as corny as it sounds, there truly is something for everyone here. And in the off chance that none of these organizations jump out to you, you can easily start your own. 

Aside from being a great way to begin building your resume with leadership experience, joining clubs allows you to meet like-minded people who share similar interests, which makes it way easier to make new friends!

It’s the easiest way to build your network, both socially and professionally, and you never know what opportunities you’ll get just from putting yourself out there. Plus, if you’re not sure what you’re passionate about, it’s an effective way to experiment and try out new things with no strings attached. 

Branch out from your social circle 

For many of us, the first year of college is a transformative time and the beginning of embarking on the journey of self-discovery. A big part of that evolution involves who we interact with and the experiences we have with them. 

I can promise that who you are when you first come into college and who you will be when you end your first year will not be the same. So don’t be afraid to branch out and seek new people that will help you grow into the person you’re becoming. 

This isn’t to say you can’t keep your friends from high school or to cut everyone off after graduation (unless that’s what you need to do for you). This is just to remind you that, should you grow apart from the friends you have right now, that it’s totally okay to do so and it might even be what’s best for the person you’re meant to become. 

Who are you really? You’ll never know until you give yourself the room to experience every side to you as authentically as possible.  

Take chances 

As I said before, college is truly what you make of it. But to do anything meaningful during your time here, you must take chances and be willing to take the fall that comes with it. 

So go for it. Go to that event on campus and meet new people. Bite the bullet and say hi to that classmate who seems really cool. Go to office hours and befriend your professor. 

And even if you take that chance and it doesn’t go well, remember that it’s okay! There are literally thousands of other people you could meet. One interaction won’t ruin you, and you will never know all that life has in store for you until you let go of fear. 

Seek help when you need it

Admitting when you need help, whether it’s academically or mentally, is incredibly hard. In a world where we are told to be self-sufficient and independent, to admit that we’re struggling can be a big bruise to our sense of self.

But I’m here to tell you right now that you aren’t any less capable if you ask for help. In fact, doing so takes a great deal of courage and self-awareness and is a marker of a person who genuinely wants to improve. 

So seek it if that’s what you need. Talk to someone and share what’s on your mind. Be authentic with yourself. Go to office hours and let your professor know that you don’t understand what’s going on. Ask questions. Seek solutions. You’d be surprised by how many people are willing to support you, all you have to do is ask. 

College can be a daunting experience and change is hard to accept. But once you do, things will get easier. Know that you’re strong enough to get through your first year, and by the end of it, you’ll be a wise sophomore that might just help a first-year who was as lost as you once were. 

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