12 Tips for Surviving College From a Perpetual Undergrad


"What Now?" Collage by Reba Hayes
“What Now?” Collage by Reba Hayes (Featuring Rory Gilmore, HSM3, Boy Meets World, The OC and The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

It’s graduation time and another group of fresh faced youths are out of high school and off on their next adventure.  Facebook is full of smiling faces of friends and family clutching flower bouquets and diplomas. So naturally, I am reminded that I have been officially out of high school for five years. While many of  my peers went off to university and have already graduated,  I took a more circuitous route to higher education which resulted in quite a few changes to my goals. So at 23 years old, I am still an undergrad. I used to spend a good amount of time ingesting over this fact but my journey is important and I needed some time to work through my obstacles.  I often think back to my 18-year-old self and marvel at the sheltered girl I once was.  There are a lot of things I now know that I didn’t then, and I wish someone would have told me.  You can get a lot of practical information on how to apply to school, how to choose a major, how to set up a schedule; but nobody mentions how to navigate, survive or thrive in the brand new atmosphere you find yourself in.  Here is my list for the 18-year-old me, for any 18-year-old really, who may need some direction, some solace or some commiseration.


“12 Tips for Surviving College From a Perpetual Undergrad”

1. You’ve graduated!  Congratulations! It is an achievement that is impressive.  But what next? Perhaps you have chosen a school to continue on to, maybe you are at your “safety” school, or didn’t get in anywhere or, hey, didn’t even apply. No matter what decision you make remember, all education is valid.  Whether it be from a vocational school, an ivy league university or your on site supervisor. Be proud of the path you’re on.

2. If you are not a morning person, do NOT sign up for any classes earlier than 10am. Sometimes scheduling sucks and that one Gen-ed class is only available at 8am. If that is the case, go to sleep as early as possible and wear your favorite sweater to class and treat your self to a coffee or pastry to make it bearable.

3.Go to parties, but if you are ever in a party situation where you don’t know many people and are getting weird vibes, leave.   If you are ever in a place where you truly feel unsafe, call campus police or  your roommate or a friend. Don’t drink or do drugs ( if you don’t want to) especially not in a place you’re not familiar.  Look out for yourself and others. Keep your space positive. Don’t feel pressure to live up to a “crazy college party” ideal.

4.The social landscape is ever-changing and can be hard to navigate. Remember that everyone there is just as nervous as you are AND just as eager to make new friends. While it can be hard to put yourself out there, it is easier to meet people when you become involved in campus life. Join clubs or look into Greek life. Talk to people in your major or at the library (people are oddly very friendly when they are writing a paper on three hours of sleep.) Making friends does not get easier, practice now.

5. Ask for what you need. Go to professor office hours! Even when you don’t need help, chat with your teacher about the lecture that day. They  will appreciate your interest and it helps to have a relationship with a professor as they are often the people you will need for a letter of recommendation or a good word with the department secretary. Don’t be afraid to let them know if things in your life are making it hard for you to complete any assignments but be professional and sincere. Most of the time, they are understanding (but they will also know when you are lying.)

6. Sometimes you might wake up and don’t feel able to go to class. Breathe. It’s okay to miss a day to take care of yourself. You come first! Sleep in if you need to. Dropping a class or taking a W is not defeat.

7. Never say no to free food and when you can, buy as many fruits and veggies as possible. Look up creative ways to use ramen and invest in a George Foreman grill. Many campuses have information on food pantries or certain days where free food is handed out. It might feel shameful or embarrassing, but your health and nourishment is extremely important!

8. For the most part, most college students live in the land of shared living. Roommates in dorms or apartments can bring on a whole set of new stresses for you. Living with people is about compromise and communication – things we all struggle with. Make sure your roommates know your boundaries and let them know when they’ve crossed them. It can be hard to confront people, but it makes for a more positive living situation when you do (as opposed to letting things fester.) Sit down together and talk about your expectations for your house/dorm/room or apartment. Your living space should be a safe place and somewhere you all feel comfortable and supported. Experience is your friend – take every negative and learn from it.

9. Allow yourself to expand your horizons. College is a time for experimentation, but also keep in mind your personal comfort zone. Remember that you are still growing and changing and will continue to do so. Everything you feel is valid;never be ashamed of seeking information or testing the waters. Learning is lifelong.

10. Along with your required classes, allow yourself some freedom to take courses not related to your major or area of study. You might find a passion for something you’d never thought of before or you might just be happy you took astronomy and can recognize orion’s belt.

11. Investigate your campus health center. Go to them when you are sick at most schools they provide free check ups and free medicine for an annual fee included in your tuition. This is a good resource for sexual health as well,  so you know where to go if you need birth control or condoms. You have a lot more freedom to control and expand your sex life so make sure you stay educated about it and always practice safe sex.

12. Education is a gift. Enjoy it.   It exists solely for the betterment of you and your life. If you ever feel you aren’t getting out of it what you hoped, do not despair!  Grades are important, but they shouldn’t rule your existence. Higher education is about cultivation so breathe deep and remember: You’ll make it through at your own pace!

Hopefully this list eases your mind, helps you get the courage to change something in your college life or just makes you laugh a little. I send you positive vibes for all your endeavors and welcome any of your tips/survival tactics in the comments section!

One thought on “12 Tips for Surviving College From a Perpetual Undergrad”

  1. Great advice Reba. I never went to college, so I missed out on much of what you speak of and do sometimes feel cheated. I lived with my insufferable Aunt Ava after mom died when I was 15, and went right to work after graduating from High School. I met your Uncle Floyd on a blind date and two and a half years later married, at 21, and lived “Happily Ever After” nurturing Floyd, my three children and my community. You are a strong, sensitive (caring), and smart woman and I wish you well as you journey through life. I’m proud to be your Aunt.

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