Whether you’ve just stepped foot on campus or you’re entering your final year, one senior has advice for tackling the first week of classes.

For many people, it can be intimidating to get into the swing of balancing coursework, a social life, a sleep schedule, and your budget. Add navigating a new city to that if you’re a first year, and it’s a lot to juggle during the first week of classes. As a senior, I’ve compiled some tips to make that introduction (or re-introduction) to college classes smoother.

Be cute but comfy

Everyone who’s ever been to middle school knows the importance of the first day of school drip. However, not enough people are talking about the real back-to-school drip, which is the profuse sweating that you will do in a lot of these old-ass buildings. Last year, I had so many classes in buildings with janky air conditioning, making me sweat buckets in lecture halls from Milbank to Mudd. In the worst offender, I ended up walking out mid-class and watching the lecture later because the heat was so bad.

These temperature problems usually resolve themselves in the first week or two though, so don’t sweat it too much. For this first week though, do yourself a favor and try to wear short sleeves, shorts, and breathable fabrics. Bring a water bottle to sip on—especially since a lot of buildings don’t have operating fountains, just water bottle fillers. If you have long hair, bring something to tie your hair up, and if all else fails, you can always fold your syllabus into a paper fan. 

Set up your calendar

Even if you’re a pro at navigating campus and you think you’ll remember your schedule, it’s always a good idea to set up a Google Calendar with reminders for your class times just until you get in the swing of things.

I like to add recurring “events” in Google Calendar for each class and make sure to set each class to repeat every Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday. I also like to add the building location in with the events, and I write the room number of the class in the “Notes” section, just in case I get turned around in Schermerhorn for the millionth time.

Along with your classes, consider adding in calendar events for things like meeting times for clubs you’re interested in joining, campus-wide happenings like Activities Day, or even just scheduling some time to call your mom. You think you’re going to remember all this, but with everything going on this week, you can depend on those Google Cal notifications more than your own brain.

Write down *all* the due dates

In the same vein of “you think you’re going to remember all this but you won’t,” write your damn assignments down! Whether you prefer Notion, Excel, or an agenda, make a list of the assignments you get as they are given—preferably whenever you receive your syllabi of readings, assignments, and exams. It’s just nice to have everything in one organized area and this way you can look at each week in advance and figure out when in the semester you’ll be slammed with problem sets or essays.

Plan ahead with meals

For whatever reason, the first couple weeks of class often feel like the busiest ones at the dining hall. The dining halls are getting back into the swing of serving thousands of students a day, and there’s a new influx of students unfamiliar with college dining halls. (Hi first-years.) If you want to avoid the frustration of waiting in a huge line for Ferris grilled cheese or a Chef Mike’s Grandma Special, consider timing your entrance to the dining hall.

Columbia Dining in the past has defaulted to telling students to eat at off-peak hours to avoid the lines—while it’s imperfect advice, it’ll at least ensure you don’t have a stressful lunch experience. On weekdays, people generally enter the dining hall five to 10 minutes after their class ends. The most popular times for classes to end during lunch are 11:25 am and 12:55 pm. Therefore, the 15 minutes following the end of a class tend to be the busiest in any given dining hall.

The most ideal times to eat lunch are before 11:30 am or after 2 pm—this skips over the whole problem of avoiding the post-class rush. However, if these hours feel a bit odd, just consider eating in the middle of a popular class time, like heading to the dining hall at 12:30 or 1:30. Dinner doesn’t follow the exact same rules for class timing as lunch, but it’s best to eat before 5:30 pm or after 7:30 pm if you want the best chance of finding a chair in the dining hall (which is a genuine struggle). For a more comprehensive look at getting the most out of the dining halls, we have a detailed guide on the experience.

If you’re planning to do some of your own cooking, try to hit up inexpensive grocery stores like Garden of Eden on 107th Street or make a trip to Trader Joe’s on 93rd Street to stock up on essentials. Since you’ll probably be too slammed later in the semester to do meal prep research, try to make a list of dinner recipes that you know you can throw together quickly and cheaply. This way, you can have a solid lineup of recipes to go at any point whether you’re off the meal plan or if the dining hall just sounds too draining. 

Make time to enjoy the start of the semester

As bleak as it sounds, you will never be as free as you are in the first couple weeks of class. Since assignments haven’t started to gear up yet, most people have ample free time, especially on the weekend. In other words, you and your 6000+ new friends have all the time in the world to explore campus, Morningside Heights, and New York City. So take advantage of it!

Some of my top suggestions are to:

  • Sit in Riverside Park or Central Park and watch the dogs
  • Cook/bake something and share it with people on your floor
  • Get bubble tea or drinks with your friends
  • Do some thrifting in the East Village (I swear by AuH20 on 7th Street)
  • Check out a museum (here are museums you can enter for free with your Columbia ID!)
  • Visit another borough! After all, New York City is so much more than just Manhattan

There will inevitably be a point in the semester where your life exists between 72nd Street and 120th Street, so go explore now when you have free time. After all, the city is probably what drew you to apply here. Go make your younger self proud and eat some amazing dim sum in Queens or make chocolate chip cookies for your suitemates. 

Barnard Hall via Bwog Archives

Google Calendar via Author