10 Things to Learn When Starting College

When you first start college, things can seem overwhelming. There is so much to do, learn, see, and figure out that just trying to make it through your to-do list can be a challenge in and of itself. Fortunately, however, if you figure out some particular locations and resources in advance, life can quickly become a lot easier.

1. The names of buildings.

This includes, of course, the formal names of buildings (e.g., “The Albert T. Johnson Building for the Arts”); it also includes what everyone actually calls the buildings (e.g., “Johnson”). This can be helpful not only for learning where your classes are, but also for knowing what people are talking about when they plan on meeting later (e.g., your friends saying, “Let’s all meet at 4:00 outside Johnson”) or when administrative offices send you somewhere (e.g., your professor saying, “You can get this form from the department office in Johnson”). That way, when someone mentions a place you need to go, you can instantly know what they’re talking about instead of pretending to know or, even worse, trying to remember and then forgetting later.

2. The unofficial name of unofficial places.

While the names of buildings are on a campus map, there are lots of places that aren’t. For example, everyone might always talk about hanging out in the quad — but what exactly counts as “the quad”? And is there more than one? Additionally, there might be places people refer to by names that aren’t listed anyway — a silly name for the dining hall, for example, or a restaurant near campus that everyone just calls “Bernie’s” even though that’s not its official name. The best way to learn these kinds of names is to keep your ears tuned and ask if someone mentions a place you don’t know.

3. The health center.

When you’re first starting in college, you likely (and hopefully!) aren’t too concerned with the health center. But in 2 months when you wake up with an awful sinus infection or stomach flu, you’ll definitely want to know where to head. And, most likely, you won’t want to ask around or get online to look at a campus map. Spend a few extra minutes one day finding the health center, maybe grabbing a flyer about their office hours and services, and figuring out how to get there from your residence hall or apartment.

4. The financial aid office.

Even if your financial aid is all set to go, you’ll undoubtedly have to stop by this office at some point or another during the academic year. Whether it’s submitting a copy of a form or for an official appointment, knowing where this office is in advance can save some trouble later.

5. The registrar.

Ideally, you can submit most of your paperwork around registration online. In cases when you can’t, however, you’ll need to know where this office is. And since countless other students will likely need to be dropping paperwork off when you also need to (hello, deadlines!), it’s good to know in advance where the registrar is located and where, exactly, the best place is to submit things inside the office (e.g., a drop box on a certain countertop).

6. Your academic adviser’s office.

You likely have to interact with your academic adviser when you first arrive on campus. During this meeting, however, it’s important to also figure out how to best get in touch with your adviser later (email? phone? office hours?) and if, for example, he or she is going to be on sabbatical anytime soon. You most often have to touch base with your adviser when you’re facing a deadline (registration, add/drop deadline, etc.), so knowing how to get in touch with this person quickly can really come in handy when time matters.

7. The campus safety/public safety office.

Hopefully, the only interactions you’ll have with these folks is in passing. But if something ever happens, it’s good to know where their office is as well as how to reach them quickly during your time in school (e.g., pushing *5 from any campus phone). One extra tip: program their number into your cell phone; you never know when you might need it.

8. Where to eat.

There are likely a few places you figure out when you first arrive on campus. And for good or bad, students often get stuck using these places time after time as the semester and year progress. There are often, however, a ton of other dining options. Walk around campus checking out where you can eat so that you don’t get stuck only going to one or two places. Additionally, try walking around the perimeter of campus and seeing what kinds of restaurants and coffee shops might technically be considered off-campus but are still close enough to keep in mind.

9. Exercise options.

On a small campus, there might be one campus rec. center; even if you feel like a dork, sign up for a tour. In one small building, there can be a lot of options! And on larger campuses, there are likely a variety of places for you to work out and take exercise classes. Spend an afternoon checking them all out so that you can find a place that feels most comfortable for you.

10. Secret places to study.

It can actually be kinda fun to find places to study, as it’s pretty much just an excuse to snoop around your campus. Throw some headphones in and walk around your campus for a while, keeping an eye out for little nooks and secret spots that would work great if and when you need a quiet space to study for a while.