Rotunda, check. Newcomb Hall, check. First-year dorms, check. You've been all over Grounds, and you seem to know your way around all the major tourist attractions. But at the heart of the college experience is a wealth of information passed on from year to year that will arrive a little earlier this year. So before you put your foam mattress pad in the trunk and throw your drying rack on top, get out a pen and paper and take down some vital wisdom from your elders.
Prior to making the trek from home to the great unknown of Charlottesville, the wide-eyed student needs to come prepared with more than some sharpened pencils and enough TLC from Mom and Dad to last an entire school year.
While central Virginia is not notorious for climate extremes specific to areas such as Texas or Alaska, some out-of-staters such as second-year College student Abbie Wilson found the weather a bit harsher than predicted, especially during the first few months of school.
"I am from Houston, and I thought that Virginia would be much cooler, so I didn't pack many shorts or t-shirts," Wilson said. "It definitely is much hotter than I expected, and I had to buy lots of fans."
On the other side of the spectrum, 2000 College graduate Mary Elizabeth Rushing places snow shoes high on her list of essential dorm items, wedged between fans and a Brita water filter. Duck boots are also an important addition, since Charlottesville receives an unusual amount of rain, especially noticeable for those without vehicles.
Along with leaving home comes saying farewell to plush, clean floor coverings. Rather than sliding around for nine months on tiled bedroom floors, most students find a rug or carpet on top of the linoleum instantly adds to the homey feel of a dorm room. This illustrates another situation that requires advanced planning.
"I would definitely recommend you order a rug and have it in your room when you arrive," said second-year College student Pender Elliet. "Last year my roommate and I spent an hour in the heat picking out a rug, and then we had to set it up after all our luggage was in our room. It was a nightmare."
With your rug and the rest of your room in place, the next point of business is getting connected. No more than a few hours can pass in college without some computer usage. You may not even need a computer at all. Your roommate will most likely have a computer, and there are ample computer labs open around the clock. Don't let the people in ITC scare you into thinking that you have to get a computer through Cavalier Computers. Also, realize that there are a plethora of computer retailers around every corner, and most also carry ethernet cards compatible with the University system. While ITC will not specifically tell you what brands work with the school's intranet, they will tell you what types will work. Get ready for a fast connection.
One of the first things you can check online is the Course Offering Directory. Many first years waste the entire first semester fumbling through the printed version, not realizing the benefits of the frequently-updated online COD. Often first years get discouraged when they see all their classes filled up in the COD, but many, such as second-year College student Amanda Swim take, a more optimistic approach.
"Don't stress about getting into a class you want, even if the professor won't take a course action form," Swim said. "People drop out all the time, and most classes open up."
Simple persistence and putting in a little extra effort to check the enrollment figures on a regular basis usually results in a schedule you can at least live with. Remember, however, that creating the ideal schedule is more complicated than just getting the class you want, as second-year College student Jenny Kennedy quickly discovered.
"Going into first semester, I thought that little one-hour breaks between classes seemed like a great idea, but later realized that they're more of a pain than anything else," Kennedy said. "An hour is too short to go back to the dorms to chill or work, and too long to do absolutely nothing, so it's just wasted time."
Once the perfect schedule has been secured, many upperclassmen rank going to office hours and getting to know their professors as a top priority.
"Visiting office hours will make your education better," Rushing said. "The teacher will know you, you learn more, and often you will make a much-needed friend and a connection for down the road."
Second-year College student Matt Axelrod reminds rising first years that by visiting office hours "not only will you get to know the person that will be deciding your fate, you now have an in on the grading process. Get cracking!"
When it comes to studying, everyone has their favorite locale, as many students find dorm rooms particularly distracting for engaging in serious studying. Rushing claims "Alderman stacks, 1B New, is best for exam studying," while second-year College student Dalainna Fralick is loyal to the Psychology Library. Remember, too, that when it gets down to the wire, Clemons maintains 24-hour final exam hours, and littlejohn's, a sandwich shop on the Corner, is open 24 hours year-round to satisfy the weary student's stomach.
littlejohn's is, in fact, the only 24-hour eatery within walking distance to first-year dorms. Gumby's Pizza on the Corner offers cheap eats relatively late at night, and they also deliver. It doesn't take long for many Rugby- Road bound first years to discover the wonder of Arch's, a frozen yogurt shop on the Corner which blends the cold concoction with any ingredient. The Corner also is home to some lesser-known restaurants, such as Martha's Cafe, a quaint blue house Elliewood Avenue to an affordable and unique menu. Axelrod was most impressed by the restaurant's bathroom, which "has fish in the bathtub."
When it comes to food actually on-Grounds, first-years are often more limited in selection. But don't think that Pavilion XI and Observatory Hill Dining Hall are the end-all-be-all of the underclassmen eating experience. Check out the Bakery at Newcomb Hall, the Poolside Cafe at the AFC, or even the vegetarian bar in the Backroom Cafe. All of these places offer an alternative to the typical burgers and fries, and they accept Plus Dollars. The Treehouse is home to the Root Cellar, a small convenience store with milk and other useful food staples, and it also takes Plus Dollars. Remember, though, that it doesn't open until 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
Rushing reminds first years of another choice many opt to take. Since first years must choose from the unlimited, Plus 15 or Plus 13 meal plans their first semester, after a semester of wasted food, many look for a better deal.
"You can decrease your meal plan [to Plus 10] after the first semester!" Rushing said.
Now that your meals are set for the next year, the smart first year will remember to plan even further into the future.
"Out-of-staters need to know that the majority of people go out of town for fall break and Thanksgiving, so you need to buy your plane tickets early," Wilson said.
But don't leave Charlottesville too quickly, especially if you're planning on living off-Grounds during your second year. Many students begin the search for an apartment of house only a couple months into their first year. "Get housing for second year early if you are living off-Grounds," Rushing said. "The good ones go fast"