By Michael Smith
Going into my first week at the University of Alabama, I was nervous, excited, and ready for a fresh start after high school.
I not only wanted to meet as many new people as possible, but I wanted to join as many friend groups as possible to expand my horizons.
The first year of college, especially at the University of Alabama, was a time for me and countless other current students to grab independent life by the horns.
While I classify my first year as a success, there are a few things I wish someone told me beforehand.
So, going into my sophomore year, I thought I would share with the incoming class a few warnings about life on Alabama’s campus.
This is not an advice column, but rather an (incomplete) list of things to avoid.
1) Don’t Label People Immediately
This is the single biggest trap I and many other new-to-college students fell into our first week being on campus.
In college, especially at one as large and tightly knit as Alabama, the first few weeks of freshman year are filled to the brim with new names and faces.
The only comparable situation is being a high school student who moved to a new school, having to restart with a whole new group of peers.
Typically, the new student is labeled quickly as “the girl from California” or “the quiet boy.” Now imagine this scenario, but everyone is the new kid.
Naturally, with so many people and so much information to process, the good-ole brain likes to just assign people one or two characteristics by whatever the first impression of them was.
Don’t let this stick.
Sure, it might be easy to write people off as the guy who is always late or that girl that made brownies.
But in reality, people in college are just as complex and dynamic as they were back in high school, if not more so.
Putting people immediately into a box is unfair and limits potential opportunities and friendships.
2) Don’t Get Involved In The Machine
This is strictly an issue at the University of Alabama.
The Machine, also known as Theta Nu Epsilon, is an underground group of fraternity and sorority members that work to control the Student Government Association, or SGA.
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with the way The Machine is designed.
Theta Nu Epsilon had the potential to just be a political caucus meant to keep Greek issues in mind of the student government, which is actually admirable.
However, there is a BIG but.
While the structure of The Machine is perfectly legitimate, the way it operates is horrifying. The Machine uses voter intimidation, bribes, and, in some cases, death threats to accomplish its goals.
Theta Nu Epsilon works to keep black and non-Greek students out of the SGA and does whatever it takes to win.
I am not saying don’t join Greek life.
Fraternities and sororities provide invaluable bonds through brotherhood and sisterhood and give back to our community in so many ways.
However, if you are in a Machine-controlled house, don’t let someone intimidate you to voting a certain way, don’t ignore racist, sexist, or homophobic sentiment from Machine candidates, and dear god don’t go into the “basement.”
If that doesn’t apply to you, don’t fall into an even worse trap: apathy.
Sadly, many on our campus have given up on and have stopped voting entirely.
A common sentiment on campus is that SGA elections don’t matter.
Don’t fall for it.
The Machine wouldn’t spend tens of thousands of dollars, countless of hours of labor, and months of meticulous planning if the SGA didn’t matter.
3)Don’t Sit In The Back Of Class
Moving onto academics, one of the most unexpected features of my freshman year was how much my GPA changed from high school.
While applying to colleges, I barely hung onto a 3.0 GPA, which was mostly padded by good grades at the beginning of high school.
Senior year, I was lazy, barely turned in work, and played games on my iPad during class.
I knew I needed to change going into college, so I made myself to sit in the front row of every class I took.
Because sitting in the front forces you to pay attention.
The professor is right there, almost hovering over you.
You can’t play games, you can’t take a nap, and you have to turn in every assignment out of fear that your professor will scold you.
This may have not been an issue in high school, but in lecture classes of 200, you can get away with a lot hiding in the back.
Sometimes fear is a good motivator.
Now, of course, when I was tired, already knew the material, or needed to leave early, I would sit in the last row and try not to disturb those around me.
Overall, the system works.
I went from barely scrapping by in high school with a 3.0 to finishing freshman year with a 4.3 out of a possible 4.33 at Alabama.
4)Don’t Forget The Necessities
One of the dumbest mistakes I made my freshman year was believing that I would get by with some clothes, some sheets, a computer, and a printer.
I under-packed so much that I’m surprised that I even survived dorm life last year.
It is a common and simple mistake.
Little knick-knacks that are only used sparingly are easily forgettable.
I even made a conscious decision not to bring them.
However, they are quite essential when living independently.
For examples, you really can’t get away with not having a pizza cutter, or nail clippers, or oven mitts, or an umbrella.
You might think you can, but you can’t.
I know, I tried life without all of these things last year.
Now, don’t take this cautionary tale as an excuse to pack everything and the kitchen sink.
Pack what you are going to pack and buy all the little things at Tuscaloosa’s SuperTarget the first week of class.
Also, share with your roommates.
Don’t buy four pizza cutters when you only need one.
For the rest of the year, simply keep a list of things you need from the store and take Alabama’s shopping bus route on Sunday every week or two.
Then, you won’t be asking your neighbors for a printer cable constantly like I did.
In conclusion, I know that it is stressful uprooting your entire life in the matter days.
But, even when you miss your old life, always remember to take in the fact that our campus is filled with brilliant educators, kind people, and extraordinary football.
My freshman year at the University of Alabama was the best year of my life, only to be matched by the next three.
I know the incoming freshman class is going to be even better than the last.
Be excited, because you are attending the best university in the world.
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Cover Photo Credit: The University of Alabama/ Facebook.