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Attending to the little things

THERE are definitely things I wish I'd known at the start of my first year at the University. I'm not talking about earth-shattering revelations or what the college experience has taught me on some deep level -- that's unique to each individual, and you'll have to make those discoveries for yourself. But getting the heads up early on some little things won't hurt, and could smooth your transition to life in Charlottesville and at the University.

Let's start with classes, since schedules can be a significant source of stress from day one. Chances are, several -- or even all -- of the courses you want to take were full at registration time. Keep checking ISIS, because people are adjusting their schedules all the time -- that's how I got into an 11 a.m. Spanish 101 class that had been full for months, rescuing me from the 8 a.m. section.

Speaking of the wee hours of the morning, don't take classes then, at least not during your first semester. You may think some class is essential, and that not taking it will destroy your schedules for the next four years, but what you don't realize is how rarely you'll manage -- despite your best efforts -- to go to bed early. You'd be better off bumping your language requirement back a semester than missing out on all your hallmates' conversations because you went to bed at 11.

As a word of warning, if you're considering being pre-med, ignore the advice about classes not being essential. Decide now if there's any chance that you want to go to medical school, and if so, take chemistry your first semester. It may not be fun, but it's far easier to stop being pre-med than to start when spring rolls around. Then you'll be forced to take summer school to catch up, and tanning in July loses its relaxation factor when you're studying for an organic chemistry exam.

The final word on classes is this: Try to get into them. E-mail the professor and ask to be put on the waiting list, go to her office hours and let her know how interested you are in her class, and show up on the first day. It usually works out, and if not, at least the professor can recommend another course for you to take or save you a spot for the next semester.

Now to tackle a topic your tummy is grumbling to know about: What are you going to eat? Certainly, the dining halls are lacking -- but don't venture to the eateries at Tech or JMU or you'll just be more depressed about everything we're missing out on.

Instead, make the best of it by following these easy steps: Go to breakfast. Tater tots and omelettes are ARAmark's gourmet dishes. Go to the dining hall for dinner on Sundays, when they have sundaes -- your only break from ice milk and fro yo. Bring a microwave to school, and a hot pot, and 10,000 packs of Ramen Noodles.

Most importantly, get the meal plan with the lowest number of dining hall meals and the most Plus Dollars -- you'll be frequenting the Castle and Treehouse for late night snacks. Finally, don't be too upset at the inconvenience of O-Hill being closed -- it's nicknamed O-Hell for a reason, and it would be impossible for renovation to make it worse.

Now that you're realizing that the dining halls won't satisfy that stomach grumbling, you may be thinking that you can't wait until second semester, when you can bring a car and drive to dinner. But really, it's just not worth the trouble.

First of all, you have to park your car at U. Hall, and by the time you've ridden the bus out there to get it, you're practically at the grocery store, so you might as well keep riding. If you find parking far away inconvenient, just wait until the tickets start piling up. If you forget to put your permit on, if you park over the line of a space at the bookstore garage, or if you leave your car outside your dorm for a few minutes with hazards flashing, you're likely to find a ticket awaiting you. Add that to the current price of gas, and your bank account will thank you for leaving the car behind.

Along the lines of transportation, it's not a bad idea to get to know the bus schedule. Barring blizzards, University Transit Service is pretty reliable and knowing when the bus will arrive sure beats waiting for it for 15 minutes. Be careful experimenting with color-changing buses or those going in the opposite direction you're used to, or heaven knows where you'll end up -- but if you're familiar with the route, you're safe. Buses can take you to classes, out to Rugby and out to eat, for free. Be sure to thank the drivers, and they'll always wish you a nice day.

I'm out of room here for practical advice, but I have to squeeze in a few final tips. Work hard and party hard. Be safe, and walk in groups at night. Join new organizations and get to know your hallmates. Be polite and friendly to all of the University's employees. Rush, even if you think you'd never join a fraternity or sorority. Have a blast, and treasure your time here. The rest is waiting for you to discover.

(Jennifer Schaum is a Cavalier Daily Opinion editor.)

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