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Words from the wise // The big time: learn to be responsible

COLLEGE

When I went off to college at Florida State, I didn't exactly know what I was getting into. Being one face in a sea of 30,000 was intimidating _ to say the least.

Through trial and error (thankfully not much error), I got the hang of things. Being an incoming freshman can be particularly difficult because you don't know what to expect. There's no way anyone can tell you everything to expect, but here are some things to keep in mind:

It's up to you. Unless you go to a teeny-tiny university, your classes are going to be huge. Some of your smaller classes may have close to 100, and your largest could have more than 1,000 (my Biology class had 1,200).

Big or small, college is not as personal as high school. Most classes are held in lecture halls. In many cases, instructors don't take attendance, don't give daily homework, and grades might be decided on two or three exams.

It's your responsibility to go to class (mom won't be there to wake you up), take notes, and keep up with all of your studies. Instructors provide times when you can meet with them if you need assistance _ take advantage of it. It's up to you; no one babies you, and they definitely have no sympathy when you fail.

Everything costs too much money. When it's your money that's being spent, you find that out quickly. Food, clothing, shelter and class all cost money. It's your responsibility to manage your cash.

No matter what anyone says, credit cards and check books are not your friends. Resist temptation, and stay out of debt. Leave them at home unless you absolutely, positively need something for an emergency (buying that Alanis Morisette CD doesn't count). Treating yourself once in a while for making an "A" on a Calculus test is fine, but careless shopping sprees are always a no-no. When you're hungry and money is scarce, you'll wish you kept in mind whether or not you could eat that compact disc when you bought it.

Hot tip: write your relatives, they write back (and send money).

There's no place like home. Being independent is lonely at times, and it won't take long until you miss the 'rents. Being homesick is something just about everyone goes through at one time or another during their first months at college. Separation anxiety happens, I fought through mine eventually.

There are lots of things you can do, write friends and relatives, get involved in school activities, and of course meet new people. Everyone else at school is alone too, and making friends isn't as hard as it may seem.

Dorms: Don't expect the Hilton. Not to frighten anyone, but a dorm won't always be the cleanest, quietest, or most spacious place on Earth. It sounds scary, but living in a dorm is far from a nightmare. You'll probably meet your closest friends and have some of the most fun in the dorms.

After a week of dorm life, you'll get used to it and find out it's not so bad. You'll never be lonely and it beats not having a place to stay. Remember, the dorm is your home, if you do something to it, you have to live in it. Make it a happy place.

Two's company. If things were perfect, everyone would have fun roommates like the kids on the show Friends. Who needs advice on getting along with someone you like? What to do if you're the unlucky one who gets psycho roommate from you-know-where? If you just can't get along with them, then it's possible to be assigned to a new room. It'll save a lot of unnecessary drama, and is a better solution than ending up in a slug-fest with them.

If you're going to school with a close friend, you may try to room together (if that won't ruin your friendship). My next best advice would be to have patience and bring an open mind. Part of life is learning how to co-exist with others. It takes a while to get to know someone but in the end, you may be glad that you did.

Beer is not one of the four basic food groups. Despite what anyone says, you can have fun without drugs and alcohol. Most incoming freshman major in "partying" first semester, and will have a lot of opportunities to take these substances.

Don't do it, serious consequences may follow. I've seen people drop out of school, get arrested, get sick, and I even saw an alcohol-related death.

A bright future isn't worth going down the drain with a few beers. Do something else to have fun, there's other stuff out there, plus (I hear) beer tastes really bad. Besides, Kool-Aid makes some really good flavors these days.

Just be smart, you're in college.

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