One of the most intimidating and liberating truths to hit freshmen coming into college is that they are now responsible for every aspect of their lives, whether they accept it or not.
The more you take responsibility for your life, encompassing all of your actions, relationships, finances, fitness, spirituality, social life, academics, ethics and decisions, the more control you will have over the direction of your college experience. Whether or not you assume responsibility, you are responsible for nearly everything that happens to you in the next four years. The failure to assume responsibility only puts you in the position of a driver whose hands are off the wheel. Even with the best wheel alignment and the straightest road, you will eventually land in the ditch.
How can freshmen, ripped from the arms of their parents and thrown into a pit of 5,000 students they don't know, take the wheel? In fact, it's as simple a choice as it would be for a driver. Simply accept everything in your life exactly as it is, including all of your greatest triumphs and defeats, decide where you want to go from that point, and commit to doing whatever it takes to get there. Calling home for moral support or teaming up with friends to get something done is inevitable and valuable in its own right. However, the true mark of success in college is the ability to take control of your life's direction and progress.
Taking responsibility for academics can often be the heaviest weight. Many high school graduates know nothing of taking 24 hours to study for an exam (or even going to the library to do so). Most have perfected the art of writing three to five pages about nothing, but have never stared into the abyss of a research database. Such surprise parties are usually reserved for a couple months into the semester, but freshmen looking to save a gallon of tears may want to prepare in advance. Accept that college academics are fundamentally different than high school academics. Often they're more difficult, and sometimes they're easier, but it is invariably different. Then accept responsibility for making the best papers, grades and relationships with professors that you can.
The responsibility for your own academics doesn't always come in the shape of an attack dog. It often comes in the shape of an alarm clock. The speakers at orientation told you that attending class was the most important part of college. They failed to mention that if you wake up and don't want to go, you don't have to - and nobody will know or care. Just be sure to take as much responsibility for the consequences of that decision as you did for the decision itself.
There are plenty of things that your parents told you not to do that are completely within your power to do. Everything from keg stands to casual sex to overspending to sleeping in on Monday is on your menu. The GOLD Program, LateKnight events, intramural sports and Weeks of Welcome are on there too. You alone are responsible for what goes on your plate. Great restaurants offer the full spectrum of the best-tasting goods and the healthiest foods. Unfortunately, these two rarely match up. Fortunately, you are the one placing the order.
Give yourself permission to fail sometimes. The best drivers will admit to daydreaming on the road, being pulled over, and getting into close calls. The best college graduates will admit to plenty of mistakes. In the words of Fight Club's Tyler Durden, "I don't want to die without any scars." Some turn into funny stories and others remain cringes forever. The key to surviving all of them is to accept responsibility and move on a wiser person than before.