So, as the title states, I am almost done with my freshman year in college. I attend a top private university and have learned a couple of things that I wish I had considered before. I also include some tips for living at school:
1. Do NOT underestimate the importance of an attractive campus. This is where visiting helps. While other aspects of the school may appeal to you more, when it comes to day-to-day living, ugly brick buildings get old fast. It's really nice if your campus has nice landscaping and lots of grass - it's much nicer to look at and it makes activities like Frisbee much more enjoyable.
2. SERIOUSLY consider the financial toll that private schools will take on you and your family. I thought about this before when I was deciding between a few excellent in-state schools and my current university, but the dramatic difference in cost didn't really hit me until I had to give every penny I ever saved just for one semester's tuition. Be absolutely certain that expensive schools are right for you (unless money is no problem, in which case you should ignore this completely). If grad school is in your future, you may want to reconsider. All the hidden costs like books and snacks add up fast, and colleges also tend to up the tuition from year to year.
3. Small colleges often advertise their small courses and one-on-one contact with the professors. My university is small, and we do get excellent contact with the professors, but there's one thing I didn't realize - going to a small school (especially a private one with a limited endowment) means that classes are not offered as much as they would be elsewhere. There is often only one section or one professor teaching a course, and many courses are only offered every other year or once every three years. It really makes it hard to choose the best possible schedule when the course offerings are limited, so if flexibility is really important to you, be aware that bigger universities may be able to offer many more class times and options.
4. Decide on living guidelines with your roommate before becoming friends. It's much easier to set rules when you're still getting used to each other as opposed to when you might be good friends and feelings could get hurt.
5. The quality of food is more important than you realize. At least as a freshman, you'll likely eat most of your meals during the week on campus, and limited offerings can be really frustrating. When you tour a campus, eat a meal there and scope out the options to make sure you'll be satisfied. Make sure your campus has a variety of different places to choose from. I cannot stress this enough!
6. My campus is ten miles away from a major city, and it is REALLY nice to be able to get off-campus on weekends. I came from a rural area, and it's great to be able to experience semi-urban living. If you are looking at similarly located schools, ask about public transportation and off-campus options. Believe me, there is nothing nicer than getting a change of pace on weekends. Rural schools may not have such options, so be aware of this when you apply.
7. I came from California to the East Coast, and everyone warned me about the cold. They should've warned me about the humidity for the first few months of school! It was ridiculously hot and I only brought a few summer-ish clothes, so I suffered for weeks until the weather finally cooled. Be aware of the weather in your college's area at all times of the year well in advance and pack appropriately.
8. I joined my school's ski team, and it's great to have a sport to break up the long winter. Even if you're not athletic, find something to do - theater, dance, pottery, etc., anything to keep you busy in the winter months when not much else is going on.
9. Take advantage of any event with free food on campus. They're usually fun and it's a great way to score a non-dining-services meal.
10. Last but not least, it's easy to avoid the freshman 15 with a little effort. I've found that working out with friends is much more fun, and playing intramurals is a great way to keep in shape without any serious time commitment. There are also good options at salad bars (usually), so take advantage when the lettuce is fresh.
Hope this helps...if anyone has any questions, feel free to ask.