I happened to get my finals done early (I was fortunate enough to have mostly essays), so I thought it only appropriate to have a closing post to end a year's worth of blogging.
I don't have any years to compare this one with (not yet, anyway), so I can only say this: it's tough. A lot of things will be new to you, and you'll have a lot of responsibilities to shoulder. You have tough classes to contend with in addition to being thrown into a completely new environment with a bunch of strangers. Essentially, a lot more pressure and stress than high school.
But just as quickly as this change occurs, so too does every day you're in college go through a change. It's amazing how unstable things can be. One day you could be on top of the world, and the next you could sink no lower. That adds stress onto the already stressful atmosphere of succeeding in college. Yes, Macalester has quite a few stress freaks, as does any college. As much as this school and its students might claim there to be a "laid-back atmosphere" (and there ARE students who are like that), there is a vast quantity of people who flip out if they get anything less than an A-.
There's only a bit of advice I can give you, and I hope it helps as you enter into your first year.
1. Remember what I said: everyday is different and things change quickly. Your identity especially. I've seen people declare themselves economists or mathematicians one day, and the next day they'll be swearing off the subject altogether. Be ready for this by having something stable, be it your job, a sport, a daily walk, etc. College is a process of discovering who you are and who you want to become, so there are bound to be bumps along the way.
2. Don't let stress be your fuel. You may have heard how some people thrive on stress, and that may be true. However it's also an unpleasant way to go through college (and life). And it's not just a burden on you. Your friends here go through a lot of grief as well. I know, having been in a lot of situations where I've been unable to console a friend as they broke down from stress. It's hard, and does no one any good. College is supposed to be hard work, but there's an enormous difference between hard work and misery.
3. At the Student Organization Fair that is held at the beginning of every fall semester, sign up on EVERY club e-mail list. You're not signing yourself up for the club. You're just getting info on meeting times/places and upcoming activities. None of the things that you sign up for will (or can) obligate you to do anything.
4. Be disciplined. This is maybe the hardest part for a lot of people. You want to hang out with friends, maybe go see a show, or just sleep for 12 hours. Then the deadlines are on your ass for a whole bunch of essays and exams. If you put things off, then you'll end up doing them last minute. If you do things early, then you can sail on past the deadline without a care in the world. I did this for my final essays this semester and it was wonderful. Just work hard early on, when there are no due dates to worry about, and pretty soon you'll be playing Halo or going to Mall of America while everyone else is cramming.
5. Don't walk past the cafeteria card-swiper, Harold, without stowing your backpack first. He's really a nice guy, but people don't seem to think so because he's always stopping them and telling them to store their backpacks. Students seem to conveniently overlook that they're really annoyed just because they couldn't steal extra food. Always get to know a person, be they student, faculty, or regular employee.
6. Get to know your professors. There are plenty of nice ones, and they're wonderful people. Some will invite you to their house for dinner, or enjoy chit-chatting with you. Others are helpful with class work and projects and give great advice. Probably one of the best persons I've gotten to know here is a professor.
7. All-in-all, just BE YOURSELF! Don't cave into any crap about re-inventing yourself or your "image." Macalester and its students cater to a broad array of personalities, despite being a small school. If you try to act in a way other than who you really are to try and make friends or find a romantic partner, odds are you're going to end up unhappy. Embrace who you are, and also be open to developing yourself and trying new things. Always wanted to learn to use a katana? Join the Martial Arts Club. Curious about Hmong culture? Join Ua Ke. Feeling ambitious? Do an internship, or maybe volunteer somewhere.
In the end there are more possibilities than anyone can ever hope to grasp. But don't limit yourself. This is the "college experience" for crap's sake! Take advantage of this 4-year opportunity and take the world by storm. A chance to use that cliche "once in a lifetime" doesn't come often, but I know for a fact that it has a place here, at Macalester College.
I'll see you soon, my friends. =)