The Ultimate List of Life Hacks for Future First-Years
A quick update on my life right now: After a long and much-needed respite from schoolwork, stress, exams, and papers–pretty much everything, really–I’m BACK on Vanderbilt’s campus to be a counselor at Camp Vandy, which is a summer program for elementary-age kids put on by the Rec. The best part is that I get to stay in Kissam (one of the nicer, newer dorms) in a 5-person suite for FREE! Woo-hoo! If you’d like me to share more about my experience, let me know, and I’d be glad to write a post about it. Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled programming.
Your freshman year can be super scary because you don’t really know what to expect, and you kind of have to learn things as you go. There’s a lot of generic college advice available online, but I’ve learned a few Vandy-specific life hacks, tips and tricks that I think will come in handy for you incoming first-years and transfer students out there. Consider it a gift of sorts, from me to you. So here is a list of inside information, organized in categorical and bullet-point form for your convenience! This post is going to be a long one, so get ready.
- Your first year of college is a great opportunity to start spending habits that will (hopefully) stick with you for the rest of your life! With that said, textbooks are a great way to save money. My advice is to rent used, and rent early. Last year, my strategy was to wait to get books until I had verbal confirmation from my professors that we would actually be using them. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but I would always end up waiting to get them at the last possible second–like the procrastinator I am–and then consistently paid more because all of the used rental books were gone. Don’t be like me! If a book is on your syllabus, chances are you’ll be using it. And you’ll almost never need a book after a course is over (who’d want to flip back through their Gen Chem textbook to reminisce about all the good times they had?) so renting is the way to go. Also, if you and a friend are taking the same class, split the cost and share the book! You can study together and it will be more fun that way.
- Take advantage of free stuff. In need of some Vandy gear (or just, well, clothes in general?) The amount of T-shirts, fanny packs, onesies, hats, and water bottles that Vanderbilt Athletics gives away is INSANE. Just by showing up and supporting the ‘Dores at different events, you can get a variety of normally-expensive things for free. I suggest downloading the Dore Rewards app, which sends you notifications about upcoming games and what you’ll receive if you show up. There’s also a rewards system where if you ‘check in’ via the app, you’ll receive points that you can save up to cash in for really nice prizes, like Nike gear and opportunities for unique experiences.
- Make some extra cash on the side by becoming a guinea pig. Okay, not literally, but if you want a little spending money but don’t want to commit to an on-campus job, participating in psychology research studies is the way to go. Although the amount you’ll receive varies, usually it’s about $25 for 1-2 hours of your time. Not too bad! Go here to register for an account and see the available studies.
Using Your Resources
- Vanderbilt is quite literally my favorite place on Earth. I wouldn’t be staying here over the summer if that wasn’t the case. So what makes Vandy so great? The super-supportive environment! There is so, so much professional help available for almost any difficult situation you could possibly have as a first-year. The University Counseling Center, an arm of Vanderbilt’s Student Care Network, is an amazing resource that has really helped a ton of my friends through tough times. In fact, it’s so great that other universities are modeling their counseling centers off our model! How cool is that? Anyway, all it takes is a phone call, email, or office visit to get in touch with one of the most supportive, helpful resources on campus.
- I highly recommend checking out the free massages offered at the Center for Student Well-being on Monday afternoons. They also have yoga and meditation throughout the week!
- Use Anchor Link for everything! Want some free food? (Not that you’d need it… it’s pretty impossible for freshmen to go hungry on campus due to the overly generous meal plans you’re given.) Use the ‘Free Food’ filter under ‘Perks’ to find events that will serve you light refreshments, catered meals, or even multi-course affairs. Obviously, make sure that you’re going to events that you’re genuinely interested in and you think you would enjoy. You can also use Anchor Link to find registered parties by using the ‘Fraternity’ filter under ‘Categories’.
- Sign up for CityVU events and Commodore Cruises. CityVU and Commodore Cruise are programs through the Vanderbilt Programming Board and The Office of Housing and Residential Education, respectively. They both have the same basic idea, though: they send Vanderbilt students on adventures throughout Nashville, for free! Last year, my roommate and I were randomly selected to go on a tour of the Holiday Lights at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, one of my friends won free tickets to a Nashville Predators game, and another one of my friends got to explore the ropes course at an adventure park! Whenever you get an email offering you the chance to sign up for the raffle, definitely do it. You won’t win 100% of the time, but if you throw your name in there, it’s worth a shot.
- Get outside the Vandy bubble and explore the neighborhoods around you! Broadway, West End, Hillsboro Village, Edgehill, 12 South, The Gulch… Nashville has so much to offer. If you can’t get there on foot, you can definitely get there for free with your Commodore card on the Metro bus system. My personal favorite is Hillsboro Village. It’s a literal 5-minute walk from Commons, and it’s got awesome restaurants, murals, and adorable boutique shops. The crown jewel is the Belcourt Theatre, which regularly shows indie/critically acclaimed films. It’s a great weekend (or even after class) outing, and you’ll walk out feeling so much more cultured than you were when you walked in!
Suggestions for Your Social Life
- Develop relationships with your Faculty Head of House, RA, the security guards, and the maintenance staff assigned to your building. It helps them–and you–feel more welcome, and does a lot to develop a cohesive community in your Commons House! My friends and I got really close with the Head Resident in our house this year, and he’s basically one of us now. We have our own jokes, hang out in the basement and the lobby all the time, and feel comfortable having deep discussions with him. Also, by introducing ourselves by name to the security guards, we’ve been able to strike up friendships with a few of them, too! It helped me have some peace of mind to know who was keeping our building secure at night. Basically, be as friendly as you can to everyone who’s helping you stay safe, happy and comfortable (as long as you’re not distracting them from their jobs).
- Try to have a super open, honest conversation with your roommate ASAP after move-in so that both of you have some rules and expectations laid down for the future. Even if you’re best friends and you think nothing could possibly crop up, it’s still good to have a direct conversation in order to avoid awkward confrontations down the line.
- You probably aren’t going to make solid friendships by “going out” during the first few weeks of school. Good friendships are made over deep late-night talks in your house’s common area. Hang around in the lobby or basement, and start a conversation with whoever walks by. You could also leave your door open and wait for people to pop in and say hi! Regardless, there is a time and a place for partying, and (in my opinion) the first few weeks of your freshman year are not that time. Allow yourself to ease slowly into college life, and find a group you’re truly comfortable with first.
- Get a spikeball net. Just trust me on this one. Spikeball is a quintessential aspect of college life, and the sooner you can learn to play, the better. You don’t have to be great at it, but it’s a casual way to meet people. Plus, it can be played rain or shine, indoors or outside (at least, according to the guys in my friend group). Here’s a joke video that encompasses my friends’ intense love for spikeball:
Generic Pieces of Advice
- I’m sure you’ve heard this one before but try everything. Seriously! Just do it, even if it might be out of your comfort zone or not something you normally do. College is one of the rare times in your life where the world is your oyster and you get to dive deep into discovering who you really are and what you want the rest of your life to look like. I touched on this a little bit in my last post, but attending a religious service that you would never have thought to go to or going to see a speaker from the other side of the political aisle is part of becoming a mature, well-balanced citizen of the world.
- If you would’ve asked my roommate Ellie for advice, she would tell you to do two things: “Drink water and get sleep.” Pretty simple, but very often glossed over. If getting a sufficient amount of sleep at night isn’t your forte (it’s certainly not mine), then take naps during the day! College schedules will allow you to do that sometimes. Also, I suggest investing in a large, insulated water bottle, like a Hydro Flask. It’s pretty hot in Nashville during the first few months of the school year, so it’s always nice to have cold water to drink during your long walk from Commons to main campus.
So, I think that’s about it! I can honestly say that my first year at Vanderbilt has been the best year of my life, and I absolutely can’t wait to be a sophomore. I miss all of my friends that I made this year, but I’m so blessed to be living in Nashville and getting to experience the magic of this campus all year round. Stay tuned for my next post…
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at email@example.com. I really want to hear what’s on your mind!!