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Freshman survival: Try being nice

By Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.

Recently I wrote a column where I shared ideas to smooth the transition to college for first-timers ( www.charlotteobserver.com/225). I received a lot of response from parents and students.

Here are some additional suggestions:

• Don’t go home. At least try to make a commitment not to go home until November. I know sticking it out until Thanksgiving sounds like a long time, but staying on campus, even when you don’t want to, will force you to face and likely overcome some of the adjustment challenges.

The most obvious bonus is that staying, hanging out on campus, going to parties and exploring new things with new friends will make you feel more connected to your dorm-mates and your school.

There’s always a few who feel the need to go home or visit their high school boyfriend or girlfriend every other weekend, and then they’re surprised when the invitations to socialize come less frequently. It’s easy to understand why students would be less willing to invest themselves in establishing a relationship with someone who appears invested elsewhere.

• Be careful of “staking claim” on the better bed or the better room if you’re in a suite. Lots of people do it; they arrive super early and seize ownership. Think about how it feels to be the second, third or fourth roommate to arrive and recognize that you got stuck with the worst option.

I think it sets up a better roommate dynamic to either discuss it in advance or wait until everyone has arrived and make a joint decision. If that isn’t a option, then roommates should agree to switch beds/rooms during the year.

• Let Mom make the bed! Most moms will want to; it’s a bit of an uncelebrated milestone – the “last time” Mom will make your bed.

• Eat with your roommates that first night. Even if you have high school friends in other dorms, hold off on getting together with them. The most important thing is to establish solid relationships with your roommates.

• Set the ground rules at the start. Discuss how you will handle altercations; your preferred sleeping schedules; tastes in music; quirks and pet peeves; need (or lack thereof) for cleanliness; preferences for sharing food, clothes, toiletry items, etc.

A roommate anecdote: My son and his freshman roommate were polar opposites. Their differences were across the board: suburban/rural, liberal/conservative, comfortable being away from home/miserable, non-video game player/avid game player. Even their musical interests were miles apart. It started out respectfully, but then the passive-aggressive behavior oozed out of both of them.

One would intentionally play loud music or turn the lights on at a ridiculous hour, and the other felt the need to respond. They spent second semester locked in a nonverbal disagreement. They both chose not to acknowledge each other’s presence and went for 16 weeks with zero communication. It was childish, and no, there was no happy ending. They didn’t become fast friends, they just went their separate ways. Don’t do that.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com
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