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Maneuvering through your first year of college can often feel synonymous to being tasked with successfully completing a treasure hunt with no map. In your mind, you’ve imagined what you may find, but the path to get there isn’t clear. In fact, you may not even be certain that you’re on the correct path at all. Right now, it might feel like you’re stuck in quicksand. Maybe, you’re on a solid path, but you feel like you’re heading in the wrong location. This is not what you imagined and you just want to abandon your current position and search elsewhere.

Perhaps, there are obstacles in front of you that seem so insurmountable that you just don’t feel it’s worth continuing on. In reality, the treasure may be within your grasp. Sometimes, though, you may just want to give up. You find yourself asking: Is the treasure real or just a dream? Well, I wish I could tell you that I have a one-size-fits-all way to fix all of those feelings. Unfortunately, I do not. But, what I do have is advice that may help you stay on that path that will hopefully lead you to finding your treasure—whatever that may mean for you as an individual.

Tip #1: Ask for help
Let’s get this straight, asking for help is NOT a sign of weakness. I mean this in every facet of your lives. Ask questions about academics, mental health, or questions you feel are so simple that you’re afraid someone will laugh if you ask them. There are truly no dumb questions when it comes to needing help. Let’s face it, college is a new atmosphere, away from your “norms” where you’re surrounded by numerous unknowns. You’re away from most of your friends and living with strangers. You find yourself spending the majority of your time focused on attaining goals that you cannot yet fully imagine.

This is a difficult predicament to be in. What happens when you find yourself struggling? It may seem that questions are no longer leading to answers, but inevitably create more questions. What happens when you’re staring at your math problems and they just don’t make sense to you? You now find yourself listening to your history professor and all you hear is the sound of everyone else’s pens taking notes on their paper, but you don’t know where to even begin. What do you do when you find yourself focusing on all of your issues without formulating solutions? You don’t want to have a negative outlook, but you’re struggling with focusing on the positive aspects of your life.

A former student once told me, “When I was in high school and I fell down (was struggling), someone was always rushing to me and picking me up and pushing me in the right direction. They got me to a counselor, a trusted adult, or somewhere else. They guided me there. But now in college, I feel like when I fall (struggle) I just lay there. And by the time I get myself up, it’s too late.” I remember listening and being taken aback by how much this truth resonated with me. But, it also made me think about how I hear these stories all the time. One that starts with a struggle that a student was aware they were having and ends with the phrase “I didn’t get help until it was too late and I failed the class.”

The missing piece here is ownership. You need to admit that you have an issue and be proactive enough to reach out for help before it becomes unsolvable. Help is available at every post-secondary institution. Campuses have a variety of tools that they offer to support students. When you do “fall,” you need to find it within yourself to get up and seek out the help you need.

Asking for help doesn’t make you weak. In fact, I believe asking for help exhibits strength in one’s character. At the end of the day, who is going to have a better shot at success? Who is going to have a better chance at finding their treasure? The answer is undeniably the person who asks for help. The next time you can’t understand what a professor is teaching, go to their office hours immediately. When you find yourself stuck in a tailspin of negativity, navigate your college’s website and find the building where your campus counseling services are located and make an appointment! Don’t wait until it is “too late.” YOU can do this!

Tip #2: Set reachable and manageable goals
These are two powerful words stacked into one short phrase. I’m sure these are words you have heard time and time again during your senior year of high school and now as you enter your college world. But I think it’s important that every student on a college campus realizes the importance of not only setting goals, but setting them wisely. I’m going to break down each word and then explain how you can use them cohesively to set yourself up for the best chance at success.

Reachable
What does this mean? It means setting a goal that will challenge you, but not defeat you. Set a goal that’s not so easy that you can achieve it with minimal effort, but also not so hard that it’s nearly impossible to accomplish. Be honest with yourself about your limits. Setting an unachievable goal will leave you feeling defeated and unsuccessful. Instead, set small goals, achieve them and then set new, challenging goals. Each time you achieve one of those goals it will help you to push your limits and get you closer to accomplishing a larger, more meaningful goal.

Manageable
Let’s says a student makes a goal to attain a 4.0 GPA and work 30 hours per week at the local convenience store during his first semester in college. Could this be an achievable goal? This might be achievable, however, it’s one that’s not considered practical and is certainly not a good idea for a freshman in college. Setting a goal like this can lead to a variety of issues. Eventually, some aspect of your life, if not all aspects, will suffer.

Think of this as a simple math problem. The more hours you work off campus decreases the amount of time you have for your schoolwork. Decreasing the amount of hours you dedicate to working on schoolwork will lead to a lower GPA. This can apply to anything in college, not just hours worked and GPA. Had this goal been manageable, there wouldn’t have been a give and take relationship between work and school. Working fewer hours and making a goal for an admirable GPA would lead to a more manageable goal. Be realistic and take a step back to evaluate all aspects of your goal. Ask yourself questions like: Will I still have time to study? If I work 10 more hours will it get in the way of my sleep routine? Stepping back and asking these questions will help ensure that your goals are not only manageable, but also realistic.

Tip #3: Find balance
Too much of anything can be a bad thing. Burnout, dropout, and bad habits can be the result of not finding a balance in your life. This can be a very hard concept for a young adult to grasp, but it’s essential to living a healthy lifestyle. Make sure that you’re not spending too much time on any one area of your life. This may seem like the opposite of what you think someone would tell you, but don’t spend all of your time on academics! On the flip side, don’t spend too much time in your dorm room playing video games.

If you spend too much of your time on academics, it’s very easy to burn out. If you spend too much time playing video games, you’ll probably not find yourself in college for very long. Work hard, but carve out time for yourself as well.

Back in “my day,” I remember being told a good college balance was like a good cell phone plan. This meant we received “free minutes” on nights and weekends. I still find this to be useful advice. If you spend your days working on academics, then you’ll notice yourself having more free time at night and on weekends. For example, if you have class from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and nothing else until 2 p.m., you should go to the library and do schoolwork during your break instead of taking a nap. The more you prioritize your time, the easier it will be for you to make the right choices.

Creating routines will also help you be more successful in the long run. The best way to make sure this happens is to create a weekly schedule every Sunday. Plug in your classes and build in the time when you’ll hold yourself accountable to study and work on your academics. Be sure to allow free time for yourself as well. When you look at your entire weekly schedule, you’ll be able to easily recognize where you’ve found balance and where you’re overloading yourself.

If you find yourself spending too much time in the library, carve out an hour or two where you relax and do something that you enjoy. On the other hand, if you find yourself with way too much free time, schedule trips to the library or a quiet place to do schoolwork. Even if you don’t have anything that is “due,” you can still work ahead or dive deeper into the many topics you’re currently learning. Let’s be honest, sometimes college can feel like you’re walking a tightrope while juggling several different items in both hands. The good thing is that if you focus on balancing what you’re juggling you’ll have an easier time balancing yourself as you walk across that tightrope.

If you’re reading this, graduating from college is most likely your hypothetical “treasure.” On your trek to find this, there will certainly be twists and turns, paths you can barely see, detours and obstacles that seem like mountains in your way. Just remember, set realistic and manageable goals as you go. A treasure is not something that will be easy to find. It will not always be as easy as “X marks the spot.”

Take a variety of paths to discover which one is the best for you. With every path you successfully navigate you will become stronger, wiser, and closer to finding your treasure. Also remember, don’t attempt to take on more tasks than you can handle. If you exert too much energy and time right away then you may not be able to finish as strong as you would like. This treasure hunt is a marathon and not a race. It’s going to take time and balance. Discover routines and organize yourself in a way that allows you to achieve your goals and not burn out or quit along the way.

Finally, you don’t have to travel this path alone. When you get lost, confused, or encounter that seemingly insurmountable obstacle, just reach out for help. Who knows, you may find someone who traveled this same path and can lead you on new roads along the way. Either way, help is all around you, just look and never be afraid to ask!

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Yes, individuals, departments and organizations still use email to communicate.

In college, you are at risk of missing critical information when you do not open and read email sent to you by professors, the provost, campus organizations, financial aid, or other campus entities.

Having worked in higher education for many years, I was astounded by the fact that many students simply did not read or respond to email. As an academic dean, one of my roles was to handle student complaints. Quite often, students would claim that they weren’t informed about something or no one told them. More often than not, this claim would be refuted when someone (i.e. a faculty member, the registrar, the financial aid office, etc.) produced an email that was previously sent to the student. If the student had opened and read the email, they would not have been in my office filing an erroneous complaint.

There is a reason that you are provided a college email address. The college wants to communicate with you via email! If you are prudent, you will check your college email account regularly and respond to requests for information.
What information could you possibly be ignoring?

• Financial Aid information specific to you
• Your semester bill and when it is due
• Bookstore information, such as when your rentals are due
• Advisor appointment availability and scheduling information
• Information from your professors about your classes and assignments
• Job opportunities on campus
• Tutoring opportunities
• Social events and activities on campus
• And much more!

Advice:
• Check your college email, at least, once daily
• Read important emails thoroughly—don’t just skim them
• Delete the emails that aren’t relevant or no longer needed
• If you can’t respond right away to an email, keep it as “unread” so you know to read and respond to it later
• Always be professional in your email response

Email provides an additional means to stay connected and informed in college. It may seem “old school,” but email is still a very relevant and important form of communication. Check your email!

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It’s safe to assume that I’m not the only one who has been in a new place and felt like I totally didn’t belong or wasn’t qualified to be in. Welcome to the phenomenon called “imposter syndrome.” According to an article from the Harvard Business Review, imposter syndrome can be understood as, “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” In other words, this feeling comes when a person has earned their way into a new position, but believes that everyone around them is smarter, better, more qualified, and actually deserves to be there. As the self-doubt creeps further into the mind of one of these ‘imposters,’ they begin feeling like they are a fake; like they don’t truly deserve to be there or are incapable of performing in their new position.

Often times, college is the first time someone experiences imposter syndrome. It can be very tempting to step onto a college campus and feel like everyone around you actually knows what they are doing when in reality, were all kind of figuring it out as we go along. But there’s good reason to feel like everyone else is better or smarter than you when you’re starting college. You’ll meet students who got higher grades in high school, have wealthier families and more expensive clothes, took more AP classes, or just seem more confident and prepared.

Now here’s the part where most will tell you that all those people who seem to have things more together than you are just acting like it and they’re really freaking out as much as you. But I’m here to tell you that sometimes, those who seem smarter, more confident, and under control actually ARE! Of course most are just putting on an act, but there’s so many who are as they appear and that’s okay! It baffles me how often people are encouraged to believe that no one is smarter than them and everyone else feels just as out of place and everyone is on the same level of experience and confidence when that is not how reality is in the slightest.

Let’s talk about comfort zones.

The reason it’s so reassuring when people tell us that everyone feels the same imposter syndrome is because it convinces us that we are actually in our comfort zone. And a comfort zone in the midst of all the chaotic change of entering college is like a security blanket but not a very useful one. The reality is, starting college is far, far away from most people’s comfort zones and requires a lot of self-improvement to manage effectively.

Imposter syndrome is NOT a bad thing to feel. In fact, I’ve given a speech at the University of San Francisco on why imposter syndrome is something students should seek out and embrace. I encourage you to seek out experiences that make you feel like an imposter because it likely means you’re around people who are smarter and more experienced than you. It doesn’t mean you’re not capable of doing well in that environment, but it does mean you’ve got a lot of learning and growing opportunities.

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It was my sophomore year of college and everyone enrolled as a psychology major at my institution was required to stand in a circle to begin yet another “ice breaker” activity. We were asked to introduce ourselves by sharing our name, college year, and what we wanted to do with our degree. I immediately witnessed a variety of responses due to students being put on the spot. A spectrum of body language from confidence to fear. For the next twenty minutes, each of my classmates shared their name, year, and searched for the words to explain why they were pursuing a degree in psychology, some certainly more confident than others.

That experience was a milestone in my college career. This was an “aha” moment in my college career – everyone around that circle was working toward the same degree as me. On the day of graduation, we’d walk across the stage and receive the same sheet of embossed paper regardless of our grade point average, number of hours studied, or nights we didn’t sleep. What was going to make the difference was our ability to determine our personal passion within a major and the network and experiences we built to prove our proficiency within that field of study. That day, my college scope widened from completing classes like tasks, to a self-assigned mission to figure out my passions and develop the skills necessary for my field of work. And so it began, Operation: What’s Next.

Throughout my senior year of high school, I answered the, “What are you going to major in when you go to college?” question enough times to wish I had an audio recording of my answer. What many people failed to ask me was what I wanted to do with that major after it was earned. It wasn’t until I got to college that I fully understood the vast array of opportunities in the field of psychology. As the study of the human brain and behavior, majoring in psychology ultimately meant that I was preparing for most any job that relied on human interaction. The skills that I would acquire could serve me in so many ways, but what did I want to do with it and how could I prove to an employer that I had a specific set of skills that would make me a good fit for a position?

College is the perfect time to figure out what felt like a good fit. It is a time where students can try on many different hats in terms of self-presentation, and interests to figure out who they are and where they fit. The most valuable moments were when I figured out what I didn’t like. With each discovery of things I didn’t like, I was able to more quickly make decisions about where and with whom I wanted to invest my time. I began reflecting on interactions with professors, classes, extracurricular groups, and jobs to sift through what components of those experiences I wanted to maintain in my future career.

My “What’s Next” mission required me to seek out opportunities outside of what was within my assigned credits of study each semester. Though classroom learning was imperative to my development, it could not be the sole provider of insight for my passion quest. I began joining organizations like student government, got on-campus jobs in the counseling center, campus security, and became an RA. These opportunities armed me with tools including new skills, connections, ideas, and ultimately a learning lab to discover likes and dislikes. My classroom learning provided me a set of tools, but I found that I pulled the same ones out of my toolkit each day. By my senior year, my comfort zone had tripled in size as I was piloting a campus-wide leadership program and running a small support group for students who struggled to navigate social environments predominately attended by our autistic population. I not only found my passion for student development, but I honed my craft before even receiving that embossed piece of paper.

Tasks to complete your own Operation: What’s Next

  1. Determine your passion within your major – Keep in mind that your diploma is the tool that will lead you to the door, but your skills and experiences are the keys to open that door
  2. Engage with people and activities that help you figure out what you DO and more importantly DON’T like
  3. Build your toolkit by getting outside of your comfort zone to try new things – join clubs, apply for jobs, network, etc.
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The Freshman Survival Guide is pleased to have The Milton Hershey School’s (MHS) Graduate Programs for Success (GPS) come on board as part of our Interactive RA team. Founded in 1909, by Hershey Chocolate founder Milton Hershey and his wife, Catherine, MHS is a private philanthropic (pre-K through 12) boarding school. The school currently serves more than 2,000 students and is the largest residential education program in the US.

The school’s Graduate Programs for Success is an initiative that helps their students make the transition from high school to their next steps in life–college or other postsecondary education, the workforce or the military. We are honored that MHS has used the Freshman Survival Guide as part of their GPS curriculum for several years. In many ways their program is like a laboratory during 11th and 12th grade in which students, teachers, counselors and administrators can discover what has the most impact on making the transition out of high school–particularly for first generation college students–as successful as possible.

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Looking back, you probably thought this day would never come, alas, the season is upon us. We are now in the final weeks of your senior year. The time seems to come so slow, but the final weeks will pass quickly. Before the time passes there are things that you should do before you say good bye to high school and embark on the new challenges of life. Here is a list of things to accomplish:

o Go to Prom. Prom is one of those once in a lifetime events that you cannot go back and redo. Some may not be into the primping, pomp, and presentation that comes with Prom, but you should still go. Be yourself, go with a friend if you do not have a date, and if you are not enjoying your time there you can leave.

o Do not skip graduation. Again, this is another once in a lifetime event. You will only graduate from high school once. This is the time to celebrate you and your successes, you may not believe it, but not everyone makes it to this point in their life and it truly is an accomplishment that you should celebrate.

o Get a yearbook. Again, one of those things that you may not care about now, but 5, 10, or 20 years from now it will be nearly impossible to get your hands on a copy. You tuck it away and bring it out later, because there is almost always a time that you will reminisce on high school and having a yearbook is necessary for memory lane.

o Connect with people you would like to stay in contact with after high school. Get their phone number, email, and social media handles. The friends you know in high school, will not be the same people you know after high school. There could be people at college that you meet from high school that you never knew, but you now have two thing in common; you are from the same town and went to the same school and have now ended up at the same school.

o Thank your teachers. Wrap up the year with a quick thank you note, graduation picture and even a gift. Your teachers have been there from the beginning with the goal of getting you to this point, so why not thank them and let them know how much you appreciate them helping you, developing you, encouraging you, and pushing you to this point. Don’t think about just this year or semester or even school. Think back to elementary and middle school. If there were teachers (coaches, guidance counselors, or principals) who impacted you, let them know. Teachers do not hear it enough and everyone love to be appreciated. Lastly, you think this may be the last time you will see them, but it may not be. You may need a letter of recommendation, complete internship hours, or need help with an assignment in college. The relationship is not ending, it is evolving.

o Let people know where you are going and what you are doing. Be sure to let your guidance counselor know where you are going and what your plans are after school. Again, the relationship is not ending it is evolving. There may be an opportunity for you to mentor students in the years to come if they are interested in a similar career path, or attending the same school, or are following in your footsteps. You may be asked to come and talk with a class and share your story, but if you do not share your story then no one will know.

o Work if you can. The best thing you can do is work and save money for your first semester. You will need books, supplies for school and your room, spending money for activities, and of course food. Have as much money saved as possible, because emergencies occur, and you want to be as prepared as possible. Avoiding work your first semester is ideal, because it allows you to get acclimated to school and the demands that it will bring. After first semester then you can consider a job.

o Get prepared for your next chapter. You do not want to wait until the last minute to gather the tings you need for the next chapter after high school. You can start to gather items for your room on campus, save money for textbooks, connect with your new roommate prior to arrival, and if available look at your syllabus so you can purchase books as soon as they are available.

o Celebrate your accomplishment. Go somewhere, do something, buy something memorable. Do something that YOU would like to do. Talk to your parents and figure out affordable, feasible, and approved ways that you can celebrate your accomplishment. For some it may be a trip, it may be a car, a spa date, a laptop/gadget, or it could simply be dinner at YOUR favorite place, or your favorite meal prepared by grandma. It does not have to be anything extravagant; it should simply be about you celebrating what you have worked for 12+ years to do.

o Spend the last few weeks with family, friends, and significant others. Taking the time to spend with important people in your life is critical. Your graduating affects everyone around you and anxiety levels are pretty high. Your siblings are nervous about you leaving home and what the family dynamic will look like without you. Your parents are nervous about you leaving the nest with all the information, skills, and tools that they tried to provide to you over the years. Your significant other is nervous about what the future will hold for you two. Lastly, your friends are nervous about what the new chapter brings, if you will still be friends, and how you will stay connected. This is a lot of anxiety to manage and navigate. Your role is critical to provide as smooth of a transition as possible. You do this by simply giving everyone some of your time before you leave. Allowing one group to monopolize your time will have a negative impact on the others. So, figure out a way to give some time to everyone before your next chapter begins.

o Thank your parents and grandparents. Your success has making it to this moment has truly been a investment. Find a special way to thank your parents and grandparents for te investment they have made in your success.

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Dating in college can be one of the most challenging aspects of the college experience. For some it will be easy; they may have come to college with their high school sweetheart and some may meet their “soulmate”. While for others it may be a bit challenging as they attempt to discover who they are and what they want or maintain a long-distance relationship. Regardless of your status there are a few things that you can do to safely navigate dating, love and everything in between.

There are three rules to take note of when it comes to dating:
1. Be comfortable with who you are. Before you start dating, you want to be comfortable in your own skin, confident in who you are, and know what you have to offer someone. Lacking confidence could make you susceptible to potentially harmful relationships.

2. Healthy relationships do not hurt. If you are in a situation where you are being physically, verbally, emotionally, or mentally abused…LEAVE!! This is a nonnegotiable component of dating! If you are being harmed in any way, you need to remove yourself immediately. Talk to a counselor about your concerns and remember who you are and what you bring to a relationship.

3. Know your intentions and find out theirs. No one wants to be led on, develop an emotional attachment and later find out that their feelings/intentions were not reciprocated. Be honest and up front about what you want and do not want. Just want to be friends; say that. Looking to be in a relationship; say that. Not looking to date anyone; say that.

Dating on campus can be challenging and difficult to navigate, below are a few tips.
1. Find out more about the person. Like their major, extracurricular activities, and friends that have on campus. See if you have things in common.

2. Learn more about the person’s dating history. Do they have a dating history with others the campus, do they have a reputation when it comes to dating on campus, or do they bring any drama to dating?

3. Have fun. Dating should be fun. Go out, spend time together, and enjoy each other’s company. Go out together and as a group to experience each other in both settings.

4. Stay focused. Your goal while in college is to ultimately graduate. Do not allow dating to interfere with that goal. The same goes for working, completing internships, and shadowing. Dating should never impact the factors that dictate your ability to graduate. Your school assignments should not be jeopardized, arrive late or missing classes, and simply not studying (enough) should not be a result of you dating. You want a partner that will encourage you to be your best self and accomplish the goals you have.

Long distance relationships require communication, trust, and patience. Below are a few tips:

1. Set expectations in the beginning. Let your partner know what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. If you can only call once a day or visit once a month or want to video chat each night vocalize those requirements in the beginning. Come to an agreement with your partner, so you both have an understanding. Be sure to communication any new expectations should your needs change.

2. You will need to trust your partner. This may be the hardest part of the long-distance relationship. You will not always know where your partner is or what they are doing, but you must trust that they are being honest and doing what they say they are doing.

3. Long distance relationships also require a lot of patience. You will not always get to see your partner. Travelling can be expensive, so the face-to-face interactions will not always be feasible. With technology today, you can make the most of video and phone capabilities and it helps to make the time apart more bearable.

4. Do not let jealousy or loneliness ruin the foundation you have built with your partner. It is hard to see other couples having fun and doing things that you desire to do with your partner. Find other ways and thoughts to occupy your time and mind. Go out with friends, study with classmates, join organizations, get a job, or even volunteer. Do other things to occupy your time until you can reunite with your partner once again.

Dating in general can be very complex, now add in college and possibly long distance. You can imagine all the work that will be needed for relationships to flourish and grow. Use the tips above as a foundation as you explore dating on campus or navigating a long-distance relationship. Talk to family, friends, and professionals as needed as you navigate through the dating world.

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For many of freshmen, their first real-life exposure to Greek Life is when we step onto campus. Until stepping onto campus, you may have referenced Greek life through movies and television. There are reasonably some stereotypes, expectations, and possibly fears or hesitation about joining a Greek organization. Below are things to consider when thinking about joining a Greek organization.

1. Learn about the organizations that are available on your campus (and organizations not on your campus) and see what options you have.
a. You should become familiar with each organization on campus. Learn where they started, what they stand for, and what they offer to their members.

2. Make the decision for yourself. You want to make sure that you are joining the organization, because it is something you want to do and not due to peer pressure or someone else’s passion. You very well could be selected to become a member and your friend may not.

3. Get to know members of the organization. Invite them to lunch, get to know them, who they are and determine if it is someone you would like to spend more time with and develop a relationship with.

4. Think about the commitment. There is a certain time commitment and joining and being a member will be time consuming. Determine if you are able to balance the commitment with your other commitments i.e. school, work, extracurricular.

5. Factor in financial obligations. Greek life will require a certain amount of money. You will need money to join and money for events, activities, and service projects.

Once you make the decision on becoming Greek, there are certain stereotypes that may be true. You will need to work to determine the “type” of Greek you would like to be. Consider assuming a leadership role, determine how you want to service the community, and how you want to make an impact on the campus.

Unfortunately, partying can be negatively associated with Greek Life. You want to be aware of safe partying tips and ensure you and your friends are safe at all times. Below are a few tips if you choose to party.
1. Go with a friend and leave with the same friend. Stay together and be aware of each other’s location at all times.

2. Discuss a plan prior to attending. Have a general idea of when you want to arrive and leave. Ensure you are on the same page with your friend. As the evening progresses, check in and see if there has been a change in plans.

3. Only partake in alcohol if you are of age and if you want to. Do not allow pee pressure to force you into ingesting things you do not want. Moderation is key, binge drinking should be avoided.

4. Only drink or eat items things from people that you know and trust. Pouring your own drink and eating before arriving, will help reduce your chances of someone giving you someone you are unaware of.

5. Make sure you have a fully charged phone. You will want to make sure you have plenty of battery like in case of emergency. You should be able to call your friends, request an Uber, or alert emergency personnel of needed. If you see something, be sure to say something.