Step Away from the Microwave

Growing up, including while you were in high school, you likely had the luxury of a parent cooking for you on a regular basis. Each morning, you had breakfast ready to go before school, a lunch packed (or lunch money ready), and dinner waiting for you when you returned home. If you’re at all like me, you completely took this for granted.

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Even during my first year of college, I didn’t realize how nice it was to never have to cook for myself. I lived in my college’s dorms, so I had a meal plan, meaning that anytime I wanted to go to the cafeteria, I knew there would be a variety of options waiting for me when I arrived. My sophomore year, when I lived in my sorority house, we had a chef who cooked all of our meals. Again, I never appreciated how nice it was to have hot meals available 24/7.

That is, until my junior year. That is the year I moved into a house, and I had to start grocery shopping, cooking for myself, and cleaning my own dishes. This was not something I was prepared for. At first, I did what many people do the first time they grocery shop for themselves — I bought all junk food, which was awesome for about two weeks until I started to feel sick.

Even after I put down the Cheez Its and mint chocolate chip ice cream, I noticed something: I began to buy food that required either no or very little preparation. I bought food like cans of soup or frozen chicken nuggets, which I could just throw into the microwave, or yogurt, which I could simply grab and go.

This food, while not as bad for me as the junk food I had been eating, was not providing me with proper nutrients. Home cooking is important for overall health, and can save you money in the long-run. Nothing brings out the nutrients in food like freshly preparing a meal, and frozen meals (often packed with chemicals, salts, and other preservatives) do not count as healthy substitutes! In addition, if you believe you can get the same benefits of home cooking by eating out, I implore you to add up how much all of those $5 meal deals cost you.

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I, of all people, understand that life gets in the way. We get busy and don’t have the time or energy to prepare meals for ourselves at home. So don’t worry, because there is nothing wrong from grabbing a salad or sandwich from your on-campus deli every once in a while, nor is there anything wrong with the occasional Lean Cuisine — so long as neither of these become your go-to routine.

Instead, spend some time each week meal-prepping or learning a new recipe. Once you learn the basics of cooking, the task doesn’t seem so daunting. Planning out your meals ahead of time, and putting time and energy into preparing your own food can incentivize you to eat healthier. As an added bonus, preparing a home-cooked dinner can be a super romantic date. And let’s not forget that all the money you save can be applied to your weekend shenanigans!

What will be the next meal you learn to cook? Tell me on Twitter and I might retweet you!

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Dos and Don’ts: Freshman Year

Do: Break out of your comfort zone and say “yes” to each new opportunity that presents itself. You never know what amazing friendships and memories are waiting to be made. If you’re afraid, remember that everyone else is new, too. Let loose and have a good time. After all, you are in college.

Will Ferrell

Don’t: Let partying get the best of you. Drinking, partying, hooking up, and generally shirking your responsibilities can lead you down a slippery slope to dropping out. Especially in the era of social media, this type of behavior can really come back to haunt you. Keep track of your online reputation, and manage your time well so that you can graduate with both a meaningful degree and an abundance of incredible memories.

Do: Feel a sense of accomplishment for being a part of the small percentage of the population that is actually partaking in higher education right now. Speak up on campus and stand by your convictions. Not only were you selected out of thousands of applicants, but you then elected to further your education, and that is seriously something to be proud of.

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Don’t: Think that makes you better than the people actually surrounding you right now. You’re all at the same school, no matter how or why you arrived there. Oh, you were your student body president in high school? Cool, bro, good for you. Oh, you were the homecoming king, too? No one cares, dude — not your peers, and certainly not your professors.

Do: Take the time to make your new dorm or apartment into a little home. Now that you’re no longer living under your parents’ roof, it’s important to have a little sanctuary that’s functional and makes you feel happy. Surround yourself with inspirational quotes and old photos, and make the space truly yours.

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Don’t: Waste precious time and money going overboard on decorations. Sure, right now you probably think that your new Bob Marley posters or sorority letters basically sum up your entire personality, but you might feel a lot differently one year from now.

Do: Participate in Greek rush. Even if you decide not to join a house, you’ll end up meetings tons of people who are friendly and have great advice. Who knows? You might even fall in love with one house that ends up changing your life.

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Don’t: Pretend as if you’re too cool for anything, that’s a thing of the past. The most successful college students are the ones who aren’t afraid to let their guards down and get involved.

Do: Be yourself and build relationships with the people around you — roommates, hall mates, pledge sisters or brothers, classmates, teammates, RAs, TAs, professors, advisors, coaches, baristas, the chefs in your cafeteria, and even the people standing next to you in line at the bookstore — they’ve all either been where you are or are going through the same things as you right now. People are generally very receptive to sincerity and politeness, and love to share their stories and wisdom with others, so this is no time to be shy. You never know what small connection could help you out down the road.

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Don’t: Be closed-minded. College is about exploring the world beyond your high school bubble. Listen to what others, even those who are completely different from you, have to say — you might actually learn something. In addition, people can usually tell when someone isn’t being genuine, so don’t try to be someone you’re not.

Do: Remember that you’re actually in college to get a degree. Go to class, use on-campus resources, become friends with your professors, and set aside time each week to study and do homework. Do what works best for you.

Know How to Study

Don’t: Freak out over one bad grade — it isn’t a death sentence. If it’s one test or paper, politely approach your professor about improving your grade; they’re usually more understanding than you might assume. If it’s one class, remember that you can always retake it later. If you do retake a class, don’t fall into the same habits as before. Only you know your personal learning style, so play to your own strengths.

Do: Spend time on campus. It’s where all of your friends are, and you (or your parents) are paying a lot of money for you to be here. You only have four(ish) years before you have to give it all up and join the real world. College has so much to offer, and none of it can be experienced by staying holed up inside a dorm room eating Cocoa Puffs and playing Grand Theft Auto.

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Don’t: Forget to take some downtime in between your crazy schedule. Suddenly spending so much time around others can be a bit overwhelming, and even the best of us have to spend some time alone. If you really need it, don’t be afraid to ask your roommates for a little bit of privacy.

Do: Check in with your parents every once in a while. They miss you a lot and want to know that you’re doing alright. Whether it’s a simple call to say that you love them, a Sunday dinner, or a weekend at home, you’ll find that making time to really connect with your parents will make you feel whole again. You’ll probably even notice yourself bonding with them in different ways than you previously imagined possible.

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Don’t: Visit home each and every weekend in college. The closer your parents live, the more tempting this can be. It’s important to feel that distance, though, as it will help you become a stronger person in the end. It’s natural to feel homesick, especially in the beginning, but it will become easier with time. Home will always be there when you need it, but remember that you’re also making a new home at school.

Do: Take advantage of the student health center. Get free flu shots, hand sanitizer, birth control, and check-ups. College campuses, especially dormitories, are teeming with germs and diseases.

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Don’t: Forget to take extra precautions, like wearing flip flops in communal showers.

Do: Go out of your way to be a good roommate! Clean up after yourself and take time to get to know the person or people you’re living with. You may even end up becoming life-long friends.

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Don’t: Be passive aggressive. If you make a mistake, apologize. If you have a problem with your roommate, or the two of you have a disagreement, acknowledge it immediately and honestly; it will save you a lot of pain in the end. If an issue with a roommate persists, talk to your RA before a bad situation escalates into a serious problem.

Do: Use up each and every swipe into the cafeteria and food buck possible, even if it means helping out a starving upperclassman. I can’t stress enough how much money you or your parents pay for your college experience, so take advantage of it fully!

Don’t: Fall into the cafeteria trap. It’s too easy to put large-portioned, unbalanced meals onto your plate, go back for seconds, or even thirds, and then get dessert. Don’t think that all those bowls of cereal in between classes, sugary cranberry vodkas, and late-night Jack in the Box runs don’t add up. Oh, what, you’ll go to the gym “tomorrow?” Isn’t that the same thing you’ve been saying since August 21st? Ever heard of the “Freshman 15?”

Do: Date around in college, even if you date someone you know is wrong for you.

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Don’t: Go into college with the mindset of finding your future husband or wife — you’ll probably miss out on a lot of fun, and more likely than not, you’ll be utterly disappointed. Also, don’t go into college with the mindset of sleeping with everyone you meet. Nobody likes a person with a bad reputation, and the risks involved are simply not worth it.

Do: Take advantage of student discounts on events, gyms, travel, electronics, clothing, food, textbooks, and more. This article has a list of hundreds of brands, like Apple, Chipotle, Amazon, and Kate Spade, all of which offer discounts to college students. Register with UNiDAYS to verify your student ID and receive promotions in your email inbox. Keep in mind that many local businesses may also offer specific discounts to students at your university, so check on campus for promotions and deals.

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Don’t: Forget that, in order to save money, you have to spend money. Discounts may be great, but in the end, you don’t want to buy so much discounted merchandise that you end up breaking the bank and having to call Daddy to beg for more money.

Do: Take pride in your university, even if it wasn’t your first choice of school. This is your new home for the next few years, and its name will one day be written on your license plate frame as you drop your future children off at soccer practice. The sooner you come to embrace it, the happier you will be. Love your school; you are now a part of its legacy.

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Don’t: Bash other schools. Sure, rivalry football games are fun and you get to tease your opponent. The moment you cross the line from classy to trashy, however, is the moment everyone loses respect for you and your university. Wearing your school’s name comes with the responsibility of upholding its reputation, so don’t be a bad sporting fan and don’t act pretentious about how great your school is. If it’s truly that great, others will know so without you having to spell it out for them.

Do: Keep this all in mind as you embark on your journey through college.

You're Welcome

Don’t: Sweat the small stuff. We all make mistakes; it’s whether we learn from them that really matters.

Throughout your time in college, you’ll come to find that you learn just as much outside of the classroom, if not more, as you do in it. You’ll discover things that you could not have possibly understood before, and you’ll come to realize why you wouldn’t have understood them then. You’ll learn so much about yourself, others, the world, and your place in it. You’ll laugh, cry, dance, sweat, hate, love, learn, try, and dream, and you’ll discover first-hand why everyone says that these are the best years of your life.

Have an embarrassing freshman year story? Tweet it to me and I might retweet you!

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