Eight things I wish I knew before college

I hate surprises. I loathe them. Not a fan whatsoever.

I'm a planner. I like to know the who, what, when, where, why and how ahead of time. I like to pick a date, set reminders on my phone and pretty much over analyze anything and everything.

When I was applying to colleges, it was no different. I made card stock pro and con lists for every college (decorated by the school's colors, of course) that I was considering and watched the columns grow day by day.

Nothing could truly prepare me for college, though. I don't think anything really can ... but what I've learned is that's part of the fun. Sure, I'm still an avid planner, but even I know you can't account for every second of your life. Everyone's college experience is unique and it's their job to make sure they live it to the fullest and get the most out of it.

While there's no way to predict the future, there are some things I wish I knew before my undergraduate adventure. Here are eight:

1. Shop around for books

The popular choice for your textbook purchases will likely be the campus bookstore. But it shouldn't be! Sure, it's right there on campus for you, but the odds of finding a better deal elsewhere are high. Check Amazon, Chegg or even with friends. If they've already taken the course, I'm sure they'd be willing to let you borrow the required books or heck, even sell them to you. You can also try renting the books online at a lowered rate.

 Make sure to explore all your options when ordering textbooks. Try borrowing them from a friend, buying from places like Chegg or Amazon and even renting them at a lower cost.

Make sure to explore all your options when ordering textbooks. Try borrowing them from a friend, buying from places like Chegg or Amazon and even renting them at a lower cost.

2. Look into student discounts

Little did I know, a lot of stores offer discounts for college students. One that particularly intrigued me? Apple. The company offers students discounts on various MacBooks with a student ID. That was huge for me when I looked into getting a laptop for college. Adobe even offers lowered pricing on its products (Hello, Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator). Here's a big list of companies offering student discounts.

3. Pack light

Pack light! Pack light! Pack light! When you're stocking up on dorm essentials, make sure you're actually sticking to the essentials. It's easy to overdo it and spend on everything to decorate your dorm, but that doesn't mean you should. You're likely going to be moving four times (at least) every summer. That means you'll have to pack and unpack any and everything you've purchased through the year. Pack lightly and stick to the essentials. You'll be thankful come June.

4. No car, no problem

I didn't have a car the first 2.5 years of my college career and I lived to tell the tale. If you don't have a car, don't worry. Most college towns offer discounted (or free!) bus fares. On top of that, companies like Uber and Lyft are on the rise. And if you move to a college town where biking is popular, there's yet another way to decrease your transportation footprint. Plus, just think of all the money you'll save on gas and parking permits. Ka-ching!

5. Making friends can be hard, but it doesn't have to be

As a self-proclaimed introvert, I was terrified of not having friends when I went to college. None of my best friends from high school were attending the same school, so I knew I had to force myself to open up. In all honesty, I didn't start to enjoy college until I joined clubs and organizations that I was interested in. Doing so introduced me to like-minded people who shared the same interests and hobbies. In fact ...

6. Get involved ASAP

When you're researching your school, look into the clubs, sports and organizations your university offers. Find what interests you and sign up! This is a surefire way to meet people right off the bat and participate in activities that make you happy. It's also worth noting that time management is important — especially as a college freshman. While you should get involved in new activities, don't over extend yourself. Find a good balance between your study time and social activities.

 Get involved in sports, organizations and clubs on campus. Pictured above is Alex G. Spanos Stadium at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Get involved in sports, organizations and clubs on campus. Pictured above is Alex G. Spanos Stadium at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

7. The food isn't as bad as it seems

Many dorms come furnished with mini fridges — use this to your advantage. Stock up on spices, seasoning, nuts — any little things to kick your meals up a notch. Utilize every last cent of your meal plan. Make your own trail mix with leftover pretzels, nuts and candy. Create various kinds of quesadillas, veggie sandwiches and spice up that mushy cafeteria soup with things from the salad bar. Go crazy! The possibilities are endless if you put enough thought into it.

Also, not everything microwaveable is bad. In fact, many of my favorite meals from Trader Joe's are microwave-friendly. Bean and cheese burritos and taquitos? Microwaveable. Their frozen rice? Microwaveable. Kung Pao chicken? Microwaveable. Throw that chicken over the rice and you have a delicious meal that'll make Panda Express jealous. The taquitos and burritos? Slap on some guacamole or salsa. You don't have to be a chef to create new recipes, but you certainly don't have to suffer from bland food, either.

Another helpful tip: Near the end of your meal plan allotment, use the remaining amount for fruit, bagels, chips, vegetables — basically any items that can be eaten later. This allows you to maximize your plan dollars and give you snacks for later.

8. Make connections and get internships

One of my biggest regrets during college was not having an internship each and every summer. Think about it: when you graduate, you'll be competing with all of your fellow classmates in an already saturated job market. Be the one that stands out to hiring managers — make sure your resume is alive and well by the time graduation day comes. Some degrees require you to have one internship under your belt, but don't stop there. Apply for more! Get to know your professors. Go to job fairs. Network. Make connections in your field that'll help you in your future endeavors. You'll thank yourself later.

 Making friends isn't the only important connection you should make. Get to know your other classmates and professors, as well. Don't be afraid to start networking early.

Making friends isn't the only important connection you should make. Get to know your other classmates and professors, as well. Don't be afraid to start networking early.

As an added bonus, here's one more thing I wish I knew beforehand:

ENJOY IT ALL. Every last second. Because it goes by WAY too fast.

What's something you wish you told yourself before college?

 
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