Survive Your Freshman Year At UM Missoula
Well, you made it to Missoula. You've unloaded your boxes and grocery bags full of clothes, moved what furniture you have into your new living space (hope you remembered to lift with your knees!) and now you're standing at the crossroads of adulthood, thinking about where to put your bed with no frame and regretting taking most of this stuff with you to your new pad:
Step 1: unpack. Step 2: garage sale
It can be scary living on your own for the first time ever. You have no road map, no "load saved game" option if you mess up, and no one to rely on except yourself. Luckily, I have the not-so-unique experience of having done exactly what you've done. I moved away from home, lived in an apartment near campus, and survived on a steady diet of mac & cheese, instant noodles, cans of beans and my trusty AP textbooks.
To help you through your first year of college as a Griz, here's some things I wish someone had told me [redacted] years ago:
The Freshman Fifteen
It's highly likely that during your high school days, you were involved in at least one school sport. Track, football, volleyball, soccer, cheer, whatever. It was pretty much a given that a few times a week you were participating in activities that kept your waistline from looking like an inflated tube on the Clark Fork River.
The "freshman 15" is the weight you're likely to put on during your first year in college. The school days start early, go long, and are followed by hours of reading and studying which is downright exhausting and stressful. You're going to be spending way less time moving around and a lot more time sitting down; sometimes the Greco-Roman wrestling match between the button on your pants and the thread holding it in place can get tense (pun intended)
Don't worry, it happens to even the best of college students. You're not the first and you won't be the last to suffer this. The good news is that gaining 15 pounds in a year is nowhere near cause for alarm; the safe standard for weight gain / weight loss is about 1-2 pounds per week (source)
The best advice I have is to avoid sugary energy drinks and dessert coffees, and resist the temptation to get fast food whenever possible. Getting enough exercise isn't hard in Missoula; most streets have bicycle paths and there's so many hiking trails nearby. The University of Montana campus isn't huge, so you can walk or bike from end to end fairly quickly and burn off some of those calories. You'll get better at managing your health and stress levels once you get used to it.
Attendance Is Now A "You Problem"
How many times have you been tempted to play hooky from school just because you woke up tired? Whether you blame early school start times, your friend Kyle (who for some reason insists that Taco Bell gorditas taste best at 1am) or simply because it snowed last night, we're gonna guess you've done it a time or two.
SHOWN: Kyle, probably, when he did show up to class
You're going to be tempted to hit the snooze button in college too. But now, instead of begging mom or dad to call the school for you and hoping to pull off faking being "just sick enough" for a whole day, you can decide to just...not go. And get away with it.
But your college instructors could not care less about why you're not in class, as their paychecks aren't tied to your tired butt being in a chair on a Tuesday morning. They'll just mark you as absent without blinking an eye. And absenteeism has serious consequences; putting your precious GPA at risk. HERE is UM's official Attendance Policy.
Set a schedule for the day and stick to it. Give yourself enough time to get at least six hours of sleep a night and GO TO CLASS. Hey, speaking of excuses for not being in class...
Dress For The Montana Weather
You may have heard that it snows in Montana...
...and native Montanans are used to it. We have snow tires, snow boots, rain gear.. we have entire closets dedicated to winter coats. The point is: from November to mid-March, be prepared to slog your way through the stupid snow getting to class. You're going to need snow weather gear, especially if you're going to be doing all the walking we mentioned earlier.
Don't let the weather dictate whether you pass or fail any class.
The Advising Center Is Your Best Friend
While you're going to make friends living in Missoula, none of them is going to help you graduate quite like your academic advisor.
The UM Undergraduate Advising Center has an advisor that will be assigned to you, and they'll help you with everything: planning your academic calendar, declaring your major, and even helping you apply for graduation when it comes time.
The Advising Center is also your hub for the Four Bear program, which will help guide you from orientation to graduation.
I didn't even meet with my advisor until I was in my 2nd year, and that's when I discovered that out of my entire freshman credit load, only three of my classes were going to count towards the degree I was going for. Your academic advisor is a resource that you shouldn't ignore.
Learn To Deal With Being Homesick
If you're like most college freshmen, this is your first time living away from home. Granted, its easier to stay in touch with social media these days but there's going to be moments when you miss your family and your friends even if you couldn't wait to get out of the house.
Being lonely and homesick sucks
The good news is that by working things out on your own, you'll cherish those precious times when you do get to go home (perhaps during the holiday break?) or when your family comes to visit. If neither of those things happen anytime soon, what will keep you sane is staying focused in your studies.
Spend as much time as possible on campus and you'll get familiar with your surroundings. In time, you'll feel more at home. The Mansfield Library is a great place to study and most of the computers have the programs you'll need for assignments. Get to know it well.
No One Is Coming To Save You
You're an adult now. Gone are the days when you could come home after school to homecooked meals with no prep on your part. The lights and heat stayed on for free. Hell, what did you really have to worry about besides how many people were following you on social media?
This time in your life is lovingly described as a "reality check." You have only one person to blame for your mistakes and only one person to pat on the back when you do stuff right.
If you're going to survive your first year on campus, you have to assume accountability for everything you do. Teachers aren't going to hold your hand, the boss at your part-time job isn't going to either. You're expected to be an adult and get by on your own merits, and it's a downright necessary life skill you're going to need once you graduate.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. Managing your stress levels, keeping yourself spiritually healthy, and making friends are sure to help anyone who moves to a new state or tries something new. While your first year of college as a Griz is a daunting task, it will only be as difficult to swallow as you allow it to be. Savor the taste and take it one bite at a time, just like eating an ̶e̶l̶e̶p̶h̶a̶n̶t̶ bobcat.
You're gonna be fine. And by the way, welcome to Missoula.