A truck passed me on my Saturday-morning bike ride - clearly a college student (a freshman, I imagined, given the trailer they were hauling) off to new adventures. And I started thinking about my first pass at college - the one that didn't stick. And my second one, that did.
I could wax philosophical for you all on the dramatic difference in both my physical and mental states as I started and restarted my college path, but I'm going to keep it to a few simple points:
Go to class. Every time. This is what all that money was for.
If you scheduled an early class, WAKE UP. You are a responsible person now.
Participate. That's part of your job in school. Don't be selfish. When they accepted you, they thought you were going to be a cool student who would make the college better. Live up to that.
If you decide a class is waste of your time, see if you can drop it. Bad classes and boring professors are a waste of money. You can usually get into another class in the first few weeks without being too far behind. Take charge of your education the way you take charge of the things that matter. If you need the class to graduate, see if you can switch to a different class.
Take classes outside your major - they are going to give you much-needed perspective.
If it's hard to get classes outside your major, audit them. Or better yet, write the professor an essay on why you'd like to take the class. You might not get in, but it's good practice to write papers to get things you want. You'll have to do it for funding someday. Practice now.
You will never again have such a concentrated environment of ideas and expertise in one place.
Unless you go to grad school.
Get enough sleep. So you can wake up for, and pay attention in CLASS (above).
People can not live on ramen alone.
If you feel sick, go see the nurse. Don't try to drink your way through it.
Make friends. Go out. Blow off studying sometimes. (Studying, not class.)
Do stuff other than partying.
In my opinion and experience, rushing a fraternity is a mistake as a freshman.
It's a huge distraction from your education. You are just starting to exercise your ability to make your own decisions. Abdicating those decision-making skills is counter-productive.
Pledging is relentless and while it may "build character", it may also get you sick, arrested or killed. I can point to several examples of each.
If you do choose to give Greek life a shot, choose your fraternity wisely. Do some research. Reflect on the character of the men you're going to pay to call your friends for four years.
If you get a bid, and then find out you hate it, quit. Plenty of people quit. No shame there.
I made some good friends pledging a fraternity, but I also made mistakes that could have cost me everything. Tread carefully.
Drink beer in college if you want to. As far as I'm concerned, you can start drinking the day you get there. I'm not a police officer or a lawyer but I'm pretty sure they don't care either, as long as it's within reason:
Don't drink beer for breakfast. Even on a Saturday. It's just a bad idea.
Don't drink beer instead of going to class. See classes.
Don't drink beer from a tube, upside down, on a railing. Don't do that.
Just because other people do it doesn't mean it's right.
Girls: don't drink anything you didn't pour yourself or watch somebody pour for you. And watch your friends' backs.
MAKE A PLAN
College is about figuring stuff out.
College is about changing your mind.
College is about building a rounded knowledge base that will help you be a more informed citizen, not just the world's leading Neurosurgeon.
Start picturing your long view so you can start making decisions about which things will get you there and which ones are distracting you from getting there.
Good luck. Be safe out there.