Looking back now, what I did on the first few days of classes determined quite a bit about my first semester. For example, my naïve freshman self was late to chem lab on the first day and ended up partner-less all semester—truly tragic—but the dress I wore struck up a conversation with my now best friend.
Choosing where to sit, who to talk to or even small things like what to bring to class all play a crucial role on that first day. Navigating your way through your university’s crowded campus may seem daunting, but believe it or not, there are some easy things you can do to make your first day go as smoothly as possible.
Map out your class schedule
For starters, your new home is probably bigger than your high school. During the academic week, campus is crowded and hot and people—although also hot—are pushy. In between classes people walk in every direction imaginable: on the sidewalks, across the lawn and through the flowerbeds. Everyone looks like they know exactly where they’re going—either that or they’re too preoccupied high-fiving their friends to be bothered to ask where Devlin Hall is. So, if like me you never attended a large high school or you just don’t know where your classes are, get a good idea of the general campus layout the day before classes start. Walk around and find your classes. This way you’ll feel more prepared and confident. There’s almost always that person who walks in 10 minutes late on the first day drenched in sweat—don’t be that person.
Don’t be afraid to poke fun at your professor
Talking to people on the first day of class (talking to people at all, to be honest) can be pretty intimidating. But remember, everyone’s nervous, and usually pretty sweaty, too. Talk to the person next to you so at least you’ll have someone to ask about homework. You don’t have to do the old-fashioned, “Hi I’m Lily, what’s your name?” My go-to move is to make a snide comment under my breath— for example, crack a joke about how your teacher can’t figure out how to turn off Autoplay on YouTube. If he laughs, you’ve just made a friend. If he looks away and rolls his eyes, you don’t want to be friends with him anyway.
Buddy up to the professor ASAP
As if talking to your classmates wasn’t terrifying enough, introducing yourself to your professor after class is the stuff of nightmares. If you’re still feeling jittery after class, you don’t need introduce yourself on the very first day, but if you’re in a large class, it’s a good idea. Professors love to put a face to a name. Or if you’re a little shy, shoot an email asking a question about the lecture to show you’re serious about the course and want to do well. It’s never too early to get on the professor’s good side.
Brainstorm an entertaining personal tidbit
This advice will save you a moment of panic in nearly every class: Prepare a fun fact. On my first day as the rounds of ice-breakers reached me, I simply said, “This is my first time living in a city.” The professor called me out for it neither being fun nor a fact. Don’t be lame; bring attention to something interesting about yourself, where you’re from or what you’re good at—but don’t get braggy. For example, “I turned down Brown to come here” isn’t fun at all. Yes, you’ve given a fact, but you’ve also given yourself a compliment in the process. Not a good first impression.
Prepare your mind as much as you do your face
Now all you have to do is actually go to class; make sure you know what to bring, and know that “It’s on the syllabus” is probably the most important phrase you’ll need to know in college. After all this “isn’t high school anymore” and professors won’t tell you when stuff is due. Surprise, they assume you’ve (actually) read the syllabus and understand every single detail about the course. So before the first day of class, read the syllabus and bring some pens, a notebook and your laptop along with you. And yes, if you’ve been assigned a reading, make sure you do it.
In all honesty, the first day of class is important. You’re setting the stage for the semester and it’s always good to make a good first impression. But lastly, and most importantly, relax. Everyone is nervous—no matter what put-together façade they’re portraying. Follow all guidelines to feel prepared and confident on your first day. But remember not to put too much pressure on the first 24 hours. After all, you do have four more years.