5 Tips for Your First 5 Weeks of College

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The interior of one of Tulane’s 13 temporary classrooms.

Jeff Schiffman

The following is a recent blog post by Jeff Schiffman, republished with permission. It was first published on the “Tulane University Admission Blog.” 

Hard to believe it, but our first year students will begin their phased arrival at Tulane next week! You can check out all of our return plans here. Before I get into my specific tips for our incoming first year students, I wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts on Tulane’s reopening. Personally, I am someone who believes very deeply that we have taken every single possible step to protect the health of our students, faculty and staff. You might have read on various social media channels that “your university does not care about you.” Or maybe you’ve seen the buzzword “hygiene theater.” Perhaps you saw somewhere that “colleges are getting ready to blame their students.” The fact is, what Tulane “is getting ready” to do is everything we possibly and humanly can to promote the safe return to campus here in New Orleans. We are “getting ready to” make sure we can provide our students with the mental health and academic resources they so desperately need right now. We are getting ready to ensure that we can still pay our most vulnerable employees, including our food service and custodial staff. We are getting ready to support our first generation students through the Center for Academic Equity. We are getting ready to make sure that every single student has the physical and mental space to be happy, successful and safe here in New Orleans. I’ve personally witnessed thousands of Tulane folks, from the Registrars’ Office to Campus Services to Student Affairs, literally get on their hands and knees (desks are all six feet apart!) to make sure we are doing every single thing we can to promote safe behavior and succeed as an institution of higher ed. We take guidance from experts like Anthony Fauci who recommend opening schools because “students need the psychological and nutritional benefits of being in school.” Wait until you see our campus these days—it’s a seen an incredible transformation. For us here at Tulane, a school that was completely shuttered in the wake of Katrina fifteen years ago, we’ve got some of the best minds in the business working on a whole new type of re-opening. For you students, I know you already know that your actions and responsibilities are paramount to our success as we reopen.

Now, back to our first year students. For you incoming class of 2024ers, all your hard work is about to pay off. College is finally here! There’s no doubt that this rite of passage will be different than anyone has experienced before. Before you read this blog, take a moment to watch our webinar College: Disrupted. The webinar features four Tulane graduates who began college in the devastating wake of Hurricane Katrina. The alumni—now in their 30s—discuss maximizing the freshman experience when it doesn’t go as imagined.

For me, freshman move-in is the best day of the year.  In the Office of Admission, we’ve established great relationships with both you and your family as you navigated the college admission process and selected Tulane. I love my role because I got to play some small part in that selection. So, with that said, I’d like to impart my closing advice to you as you officially begin your career here at Tulane.
Again, much of what I am sharing with you is candid and straightforward; I’ve been through the experience you’re about to have and I have seen thousands of students make this rite of passage as well. I’m also halfway in between the age of our students who are starting classes next week and your parents. So I write this blog with equal parts student and parent mindset.

Here goes nothin’:

You’re not going to meet your best friends in the first five weeks.  This is a true fact, global pandemic aside. In fact, you might not even meet them in the first five months. If you ask Tulane graduates this question, many will share the same advice. Most will tell you they didn’t fall into their “crew” until well into sophomore year. Tulane is big enough that you’ll still be meeting new friends well into your four years here. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your friends or roommate to be super tight as soon as you arrive at college, and don’t feel dismayed if you aren’t able to replicate your high school crew in college. You’ll get there eventually. Trust me.

Stop comparing yourself to others on social media. All at once, your friends from home are going to head to colleges around the world. And all at once, it will become a contest to see who can show how incredibly epic their first few weeks are. It can be so easy to fall down the rabbit hole of looking at everyone else’s experiences and comparing them to your own. The reality is that everyone has ups and downs in the first five weeks, especially these days. There will be times of loneliness, homesickness and anxiety, even at a school ranked #4 for the happiest students. Also, be humble about your experiences here. Some of your best friends just learned they will be going to college virtually for the fall semester—be respectful of their experiences, try not to show off your own, and be aware of the direct links between social media and mental health. When you look at Instagram, you are comparing your worst moments to everyone else’s best moments. So, next time you experience the natural low points that everyone experiences when they arrive at college: put down the phone. Go for a run. Work out at the Reily Center. Meditate. Just don’t compare yourself to others.

Find out what sexual consent really means. This is a big one. We are driven to make a real change regarding the disturbing rate of sexual assault at Tulane and on college campuses across the country. You will really want to spend some time learning what it means to give and get sexual consent. Here’s a big one: if someone is drunk, or incapacitated in any way, they are not able to give sexual consent. Here’s what I mean in black and white terms: if you don’t put a stop to something where you know the other person is unable to give consent, you have no idea what kind of world you might be waking up to in the morning. Take a rain check instead. This is something that Tulane takes very very seriously. Read up on it and get to know your resources and you’ll be in good shape.  At Tulane, we are committed to ending all sexual and gender-based harassment in our community. Any college that tells you they have no issues with sexual assault is not being truthful with you.

Don’t mess up your Tulane career in the first five weeks. The first few weeks at Tulane are going to be different than we have ever had before. It’s super simple- your actions, now more than ever will have a dramatic impact on this campus and community. The more you abide by Tulane’s student expectations, the better chance we have at staying open. So, here’s my tip: Take it easy in your first five weeks. Don’t make a mistake as soon as you arrive here that will have negative implications for the rest of your career. I graduated from Tulane over fifteen years ago and I can still recall, by name, the kids who acted like total jackasses during our orientation. I know college can be a big adjustment, especially here at Tulane where our average class of 2024’er will arrive from over 900 miles away during Coronavirus. Pace yourself, don’t overdo it, and ease your way into your social life.

Call your parents: Ugh I can’t believe I am sharing the same advice I rolled my eyes at my freshman year. But seriously, your parents and guardians love you and are going to miss you like hell. They also likely helped you get here and will support you as you spend these four years here in NOLA. Text them photos, keep them posted with how your classes are going and if you’re so inclined, even tell them you love them from time to time.

There you have it, soon-to-be first-years. I’m hoping you view this blog as genuine and honest advice that I am offering you with the true intention to make your first five weeks the best they can be. See you at the Hyatt!

Read the original blog post on Tulane University Admission Blog. 

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