Public safety officials at major universities advise new students that a university campus is just like any other major city—except more dangerous. Academic advisers tantalize new students with the promise of greater freedom than they ever before have known, sometimes forgetting the part about “more responsibility, too.” Residential advisers grow weary of reminding “dormies” that their mommies aren’t there to protect or clean-up after them. In the endless string of orientations and advising sessions, new students’ eyes naturally glaze-over, and much of the vital information floats out into the galaxy. Even if you have forgotten most of the faculty’s and staff’s sage advice, remember these four serious cautions:
• Beware “the freshman fifteen.” The phenomenon has become so common it appears with its own special term in The Urban Dictionary: “The Freshman Fifteen” refers to the 15 pounds most women gain during their first semester on campus. They pack-on weight because institutional food is fatty and starchy, and they hold the weight because they become sedentary, spending far more time studying and far less time exercising than they did during their senior years of high school. The phenomenon comes with a paradox built-in: During your freshman year of college, you have far more time to exercise than you did in high school, yet you probably exercise 95 percent less than you did in twelfth grade. The secret, then, lives in the obvious place: If you want to preserve your high school weight and jeans size, exercise as much as you did while played high school sports. Your college did, after all, build that big recreation center just for you.
• Eeeew, contagion. You probably had to get more shots for college than for kindergarten, and the folks in the dorm probably would not allow you to claim your room until you showed proof that you were properly immunized. These requirements kicked-in in the mid-1990s after many large colleges experienced epidemics of “childhood diseases,” especially measles. People who live in close quarters naturally pass their bacteria and viruses among their roommates, especially when their systems are depleted from a little too much studying and way too much partying. You will note that everyone gets seriously sick right after mid-terms, recovering just barely in time for final exams. Therefore, just as your elementary school teachers insisted, cover your coughs and sneezes, and wash your hands often. Eat well, sleep well, exercise, and maintain your immunity. Although contagion thrives all around you, you need not succumb.
• Work hard. Play hard. You, your parents, and the federal government are paying big bucks for your privilege of attending college; you really ought to get your money’s worth. Therefore, attend class, participate, and do your homework just as “work hard” implies. Naturally, your college, like all colleges, has long-standing, well-honored traditions for football, basketball, and parties. At the finest schools, the weekend begins on Thursday night and ends on Tuesday morning, and freshmen frequently remember very little of what happens in-between. The more prestigious the university, the harder the students play. Just a fact. You must, therefore, learn how to pace yourself, protect yourself, and maintain healthy respect for everything that can go wrong. Freshmen especially are cautioned: Binge drinking is more dangerous than drinking every day, because it allows for periods of “functionality,” and it leaves ample room for denial. When in doubt, work prevails over play like a full house beats a pair of deuces.
• Make friends. “Alienation and depersonalization” lead the list of causes for college attrition. In other words, students either fail or flee because they feel no connection with any among the thousands of students all around them, and they feel they have lost their distinction. Looking a little deeper, psychologists find many freshmen have trouble understanding their classmates are as smart and talented as they; and they internalize the sameness as inferiority, because high school taught them to regard themselves as exceptional. Depression naturally follows, ultimately claiming students’ careers. You easily can prevent these problems: Make friends with people who share your gifts.
College women especially must protect their personal safety, using every defensive tactic every other woman ever has taught. Although a freshman girl is six times more likely to graduate than the boy sitting next to her, one in three will be stalked before she graduates, and one in ten will become a victim of date or acquaintance rape. One in four among those freshman women will contract Chlamydia, and most who do contract an STD will transmit it to another partner before they seek diagnosis and treatment. Of course, alcohol influences every one of these frightening statistics; and one in every twelve first-year women will seek treatment for alcoholism. Hamlet, home from his own university studies, may have issued wise caution to his former girlfriend Ophelia, when he instructed, “Get thee to a nunnery!” College is a dangerous place.
George Franklin is a writer and student earning his masters in project management to further his career.