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Surprise! You're in college!

"I never knew living with a roommate was so hard."
"I can't believe the amount of reading required for just one class."

No matter how hard or how long you plan for college, it's filled with surprises, from dorm conflicts and academic rigors to the relationship maze and campus logistics. Students at Northwestern College in Saint Paul, Minn., share surprises they encountered to give freshmen a "heads up" on what to expect when entering the ivy-covered walls this fall.

Dorm Life    (Back to Top)
Adjusting to a roommate's music preferences, sleeping times and tastes in dťcor was a surprise to Emily Carlson, a communication major. "I was an only child used to my own room, so it was a challenge adjusting to roommates."

"At first it felt like being at summer camp," recalls Kristy Lindquist, a cross-cultural ministry major. "Eventually one becomes accustomed to it, after growing from both good and bad experiences."

At the beginning of her freshman year, Amber White, a music major, thought she'd get close to one roommate in particular, but it wasn't the case. "I thought I'd get along better with my roommates, but overall the friends I made in the first weeks were not the friends I actually kept."

The housekeeping aspects of the sexes surprised senior Ben Hemmila, president of the Northwestern Student Association. "Guys dorms smell bad no matter what happens! Girls dorms are generally messier than guys, but smell better."

Academics   (Back to Top)
Need to study for a mid-term exam or finish a term paper? Get ready to burn the midnight oil -- and the early-morning oil! "Late in college means 3-4 a.m. not 10-11 p.m." says Hemmila.

Carlson agrees. "With other obligations, like work and social things, studying until 3 a.m. is not unusual." Yet she was surprised at her stamina. "I've stayed up 48, even 72 hours studying -- thanks to coffee and willpower. Staying up isn't that hard. The difficult part is keeping everything in your brain."

Another common surprise is the vast amount of reading college requires: 50-60 pages a night -- per class! Hemmila was surprised he didn't get a detention when he skipped a class. But he still paid the tuition for that skipped class.

The number of distractions that keep students from their studies catches many off guard, explains Nathan Seibel, a resident director. Thus students are surprised to realize their education needs to include personal discipline and time management.

"There is never enough time," realizes Katie Dean, a business major. "I can't be involved in everything like in high school, and even a part-time job is hard with a full load."

Paul Bradley, dean of residence life at Northwestern College, says freshmen usually find they have more homework than expected and finals are more difficult. "They're surprised because they get fewer directives from professors on how to study and what to study."

Relationships   (Back to Top)  Check out Love & Dating
While marriage has its surprises, so do the relationships forged in college. And those surprises usually start in the dorm room. "I had to adjust to the personalities of roommates. I realized they are different than me and have different perspectives," Carlson explains.

Hemmila found that most good, soul-searching, cleansing conversations with his roommates happened once the lights were out." College is the best experience of your life and you make really close friends," he adds. "I was surprised how much I grew up."

Relationships between the sexes can also take students by surprise especially the way they sometimes wreak havoc with studies, friends and roommates. "Many students are not surprised by how much they enjoy their new social life," says Deanna Murphy, associate dean of student life at Northwestern, "but they are surprised by the difficulty of saying 'no' to social times even when the demands of school are obvious."

Hemmila's view is more to the point: "Don't just sit around talking to the man you're going to marry. Fact is, you probably just met him and he'll be just as dreamy tomorrow so you don't have to bask in his charming glow every waking second. Get involved! If there's a concert or ball game, go!"

Murphy sees students surprised by homesickness. "It's the loneliness they didn't expect. Even though they are busy building new friendships, there's a feeling of loneliness because they are not as well known as they were before they came to college. I've seen students greatly surprised by feelings of inadequacy even though they have always been very confident."

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Logistics   (Back to Top)
The logistics of a college campus provide another set of surprises. Parking is a universal issue on college campuses. The pecking order usually gives upper classmen the choice lots while freshmen and sophomores are left in the remote lots, trudging through rain and snow -- provided they are assigned a parking space in the first place!

Carlson was surprised that the basics of keeping track of room keys, college ID and financial issues became significant. "There's an assumed level of responsibility that you don't think about. It's up to you to clean your own room; no one's going to do it for you. It's up to you to keep track of your checking account."

As for that Freshman 20, Murphy hears from many students who were amazed how quickly they gained weight. "It's the reality of inactivity -- sitting in class, studying, then eating pizza."

Advice   (Back to Top)
In light of these surprises, here's some advice to the incoming freshman class of 2002.
* Discipline and patience are good things to learn.
* Read or review class notes at least weekly.
* Don't expect your roommates to become your best friends.
* It's usually not a good idea to room with your best friend as you may not be best friends for long!
* Watch your diet and find time to exercise regularly.
* Realize that you are not alone in feelings of loneliness, homesickness or inadequacy. Seek out a resident director or friend for counsel.
* Don't worry about your appearance or try to impress everyone you meet.
* No matter how much you think you have everything figured out for the next four years -- major, career, relationships -- it's difficult to predict and stick with the original plan. It's bound to change as your horizons broaden.

A college education offers a 100 percent guarantee that you'll encounter plenty of surprises -- positive and negative -- and a once-in-a-lifetime maturing experience.

Courtesy of ARA Content

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