Welcome to Montana State University! If you’re a freshman living in the residence halls on campus, you’ve already read at least one note from your Resident Advisor (RA) telling you that this is your new “home away from home.” But what do you do when your cramped, cinder block dorm room feels like more of a prison? I survived my freshman year, and I’m here to teach you how to do the same.

Academic Planning

College is all about cool parties, joining a sorority or fraternity, and awesome puns on President Cruzado’s name, right? Not so much. As much as the Exponent staff and I love Wadaddy Cruzaddy, the most important part of the college experience is the academics. The best way to get started off on the right foot is to get organized.

First, make sure that you have all the supplies you need. I like to take notes the old-fashioned way, so I stock up on pencils and notebooks before each semester. If you prefer to take notes on a computer, set up folders on your drive or desktop with files for each class. Even if you live exclusively in the digital age, keep a few pencils around for those pesky teachers that require paper quizzes or exams. 

Next, keep it organized. The key to academic success is to buy a planner or use a website like My Study Life to set up your semester. As soon as you have the dates for each test, quiz, homework assignment and paper in your classes, add the information to your organizer. It will save you the sheer panic of realizing that you have a paper due two days before the deadline. You can even track club meetings, campus events, or hang-outs with friends to fill your planner with more than just assignments.

Third, do your homework and go to class. While this may seem obvious, you’d be surprised at the myriad of temptations that can keep you away from attending classes and completing work. Don’t give into the sexiness of the ski hill, though. Attendance and homework points can make a letter grade or more’s worth of difference in your classes. 

Lastly, talk with your professors! Every professor that I’ve had has been happy to talk with me during their office hours or even after class. Even if they look scary, most of them don’t bite, and they are glad to help you with any difficult parts of a class. Professors can provide outside benefits as well. I’ve not only gotten job offers and internships based on the strength of my relationships with my professors, but also made strong mentorship connections that have helped me through much of college.

Joining Clubs and Making Friends

As a socially inept person, I constantly struggle with making new friends. I am currently in my usual state of panic regarding the new semester. The best advice that I have is to put yourself out there. Yes, it is painful, and no, you will not enjoy it at first. Trust me, though: binging all of Parks and Recreation is no substitute for making new and fantastic college friends.

First, take advantage of MSU Debut. The schedule of events is online at http://www.montana.edu/msudebut/. Whether you’re interested in magic or enjoy the American cinematic classic Shrek, there’s something for everyone. Talking to your RA and coordinating MSU Debut events with the rest of your hall or floor can bring you much closer to the people that you live with.

The best event for any freshman to attend is Catapalooza. There’s free food and free stuff, and clubs all over campus staff booths (including yours truly, the Exponent)! Catapalooza is an awesome place to explore your interests and find a group of people who are passionate about the same things that you love. I got a job working in Special Collections at the Renne Library and locked down my position at the Exponent because of Catapalooza. 

Next, reach out to your RA. This is an especially great choice for introverts or shy people among us. They can help you connect with other people on your floor and give you great suggestions for making new friends on campus that are geared toward your interests. Most importantly, a good RA can ensure that you are always included in floor events, which provides a great opportunity to meet new people.

Lastly, talk to people. This is both the easiest and the hardest thing to do, but a simple “hello” and question about a cool t-shirt or hairstyle can break the ice faster than an overweight polar bear. Leaving your door open during the first week or two of classes encourages others to come into your room and strike up a conversation. Turning to the person sitting next to you in class  and asking about the homework or their hometown brings up some common ground. Remember that everyone around you is just as nervous as you are and take plenty of deep breaths.

Exercise and Diet

It can be incredibly tempting to stay up late, sleep in, and stuff yourself with carbs and sugar every day. If you do this, you will regret everything about your life. Instead, prioritize a healthy diet and get at least a little bit of exercise, as painful as it may be. 

Despite the doomsday gym collapse of last semester, there are plenty of places to work up a sweat on campus. There are pop-up gyms in Shroyer, Norm Asbjornson, and Romney Halls, and Hannon Hall has a year-round gym in the basement that’s restricted to Hannon/Quads residents. The Marga Hoseaus gym opens up a whole new world of possibilities for exercise, and more facilities will open over the next few weeks and into October. Stay tuned at www.montana.edu/getfit/ for more information. 

If you’re an exercise newbie, the MSU gym can guide you through a number of exercise programs. Intramural sports and GX exercises are great choices if you struggle to keep up motivation, since group exercise provides a sense of accountability to a team. Outdoor programs and personal fitness training are good options for those who prefer to keep their exercise more private. 

As for diet, MSU provides a wide range of options for healthy eating. The Cat Counter program at catcounter.montana.edu/ allows you to check out the food choices at each dining hall, including portion sizes, calories, and allergens, to create a full nutrition summary. MSU also has a registered dietician on staff to create more specialized diet plans. Tara Jones, RDN, can be reached at 406.994.7097 or tara.jones5@montana.edu, and she is happy to help with any and all nutrition questions. 

Be Yourself

Making Montana State University into your new home can seem terrifyingly difficult, but you can do this. As a wise RA once told me, all you need to do is tear up your cool card. Put yourself out there, work hard, and don’t worry too much about what other people think of you.