University life affords students a variety of new freedoms, including the opportunity to eat what they want. Many freshmen opt for on-campus meal plans that allow them to eat in dining halls where food is in abundance. Thrown into this environment, freshmen often struggle to make healthy choices. As a result, some new college students gain weight, a phenomenon known as the Freshman 15. The number 15 refers to the number of pounds a typical student gains during his or her freshmen year. Fortunately, there are strategies to help you avoid the Freshman 15.

Practice Portion Control

In many dining halls, some or most of the food is self-serve. That means you can plop as many fries as you want on your plate, a habit that’s sure to lead to the Freshman 15. Instead of grabbing large quantities of food because it’s available to you, learn to use your hand as a guide to giving yourself proper portions. For example, your palm is about the same size as 3 ounces of meat, which is the ideal serving size for adults. If the meat on your plate is bigger than your palm, the portion is too large.

Eat Three Meals a Day

Even though classes, study groups, a job, and social events monopolize your time, get in the habit of eating three meals every day. If you skip a meal, you’re more likely to give yourself permission to overindulge when you finally do sit down to eat. If you absolutely have to skip a meal, at least eat a healthy snack such as fresh fruit or Greek yogurt to hold you until you can have a full meal.

Remember That Liquid Calories Add Up Quickly

For many college students, the soda fountain in the dining hall is very tempting, but an endless supply of sugary soft drinks quickly packs on the pounds. While you chat and laugh with your new friends, it’s easy to lose track of how much soda you’re drinking. If you want soda, limit yourself to one 8-ounce serving per day. Otherwise, grab water, sparkling water, coffee, or tea. Just don’t load up your tea or coffee with sugar.

Build Exercise Into Your Routine

You may notice that a week goes by and you haven’t gone for a jog or visited the gym. Put time in your schedule for exercise, just as you plan time for all your other activities. By being intentional, you can work in time to exercise three to four times a week.

Keep Healthy Snacks on Hand

Create a stash of healthy snacks to keep in your dorm room and backpack. When you have nutritious food on hand, you’re less likely to buy something impulsively and scarf it down. As you browse potential snacks, check for sugar content. You may be surprised by the amount of sugar in common “healthy” treats such as granola bars, freeze-dried fruit, and trail mix. Opt for low-sugar nut bars, cheese sticks, apples, bananas, and jerky.

Through careful planning, portion control, and regular exercise, you can fend off the Freshman 15 and maintain a healthy weight during your first year on campus.

Feeling a little down? Sometimes a health issue is as simple as a mild cold, allowing you to get by with using over-the-counter medicines and extra rest. At other times, though, you may need to see a medical professional. When is it time to make an appointment at your campus health center?

When You’re Ill

The pressures from your classes and your job can make you feel as if you don’t have the right to take a break from your routine so that you can care for your health. However, if a cold or influenza becomes serious enough, it can lead to other, more worrisome problems. You also don’t want to go to class if you’re contagious and then become the reason why half the people in your class get sick.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, it’s time to make an appointment at the campus clinic:

  • Inability to keep food down
  • Painful swallowing
  • Cold and flu symptoms that last longer than a week
  • Earache
  • Coughing that lasts longer than a couple weeks

When You’re Injured

Sports are a great way to blow off steam on the weekends, but what if you take a fall and find yourself limping afterward? You might be tempted to avoid the clinic and tough it out, but doing so can exacerbate an injury. The following are some signs that you should get a professional opinion on your injury:

  • The pain becomes progressively worse.
  • Your joints are swollen.
  • You have pain even when you are resting at night.
  • You have bruises that do not heal.
  • Your knees, elbows, or other joints lock up or are otherwise unstable.

Ask whether anyone who works at the campus health center is an expert in sports medicine. Sometimes regular physicians do not have the training necessary to address sports injuries in the best way.

When You’re Stressed or Depressed

Your mental health is just as important as, if not more important than, your physical health. Why, then, do so many college students ignore obvious signs of depression or severe stress? According to one survey, only about 10 percent of students take advantage of campus mental health services even though these services are often free or low-cost.

If any of the following is true of you, you may benefit from a trip to your campus counselor:

  • You don’t feel like yourself. You’re inexplicably sad or angry.
  • You’re abusing substances to cope with trauma or stress. You may be overindulging in food, alcohol, sex, or drugs.
  • You’ve experienced a loss. Everyone deals with grief in different ways, and counseling may be what you need to weather the death of a loved one.
  • You’ve lost interest in things you normally enjoy.

Too many college students avoid taking advantage of therapy because they feel ashamed. However, there is no shame in getting needed help. The sooner you can get your life back on track, the better.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” Indeed, your health is one of your most valuable possessions. Take care of it by heading to the campus health center when you experience a serious illness, injury, or mental health issue.

Greek life means instant friends, instant support, and instant gratification, but it’s not right for every matriculating student. As soon as you arrive at your college campus this fall, you’ll likely receive dozens of invitations to pledge a fraternity or sorority, but don’t make an instant decision. Instead, carefully consider your personality and goals to determine whether you’ll benefit from Greek life.

Are You an Introvert or Extrovert?

Introverts like to spend time by themselves and they often feel overwhelmed in social situations. Extroverts, meanwhile, derive energy from social engagement and enjoy sitting in the spotlight. If you fall into the latter category, you might love Greek life.

Introverts, however, might feel uncomfortable with the social obligations inherent in sorority and fraternity activities. Your fellow members will expect you to take part in these activities, and you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you might regret your decision.

Do You Have Extra Cash?

You won’t find this detail in any of the invitation handouts, but Greek life costs money. Writing for U.S. News and World Report, Julie and Lindsey Mayfield report that Lindsey’s first year of Greek life cost $3,258. You’ll have to pay for your pin, for instance, and your recruitment fee. Ongoing costs can include event contributions and wardrobe extensions.

Many college students arrive on campus with very little money in their bank accounts. They don’t always have financial support from Mom and Dad, so they have to get creative. From getting great deals on textbooks to foregoing restaurants, these students don’t have the extra cash to spend on Greek life.

If, however, you have the dough, you might consider joining a sorority or fraternity. As long as you’ve thought through the decision, you can accept the invitation with a clear conscience.

Do You Have Extra Time?

First-year college students sometimes struggle to keep up with their school work, so adding Greek obligations can prove even more overwhelming. You’re at college to get an education — preferably with respectable marks from your professors — so make sure you can handle the extra time a fraternity or sorority will demand.

What Are Your Goals?

While Greek life might have a few drawbacks, it can also open doors. It’s an excellent networking opportunity and a way to prepare yourself for life outside college. Samantha Reid of USA Today College reveals that, in a 2014 study, “When asked about whether or not they felt prepared for life after college, fraternity and sorority members reported that they felt prepared at a 10 [percent] higher rate than their non-Greek peers.”

You’ll also take part in philanthropy projects and help raise money for your school. These activities can add bulk to your resume, which is often rather thin for the recent grad. Plus, you can use these connections for the rest of your personal life to find new job opportunities, start businesses, and reach other goals.

Greek life isn’t for everyone, but it offers many advantages. Before you start decorating your dorm room, give all the facts some thought so you know whether you want to join a fraternity or sorority.

Whether you’re a freshman or a transfer student, you face a major challenge as a new person on campus: meeting people and developing friendships. Connecting with those around you is one of the best ways to fend off homesickness. Fortunately, most colleges and universities make it easy to meet people and cultivate friendships. Check out these tips for meeting new people when you’re the fresh face on campus.

Attend Orientation on Campus

On-campus orientation is a great way to meet other freshmen or new students, many of whom have the same concerns as you do about making friends. During the days your group is together, join people you don’t know very well for meals. Ask them questions about their hometowns, what they plan to study, and any groups they plan to join. Not only will you learn more about each person, but you may find out about communities and activities on campus you hadn’t previously discovered. To cultivate these new friendships, set a time and place during the first couple of weeks of school when you can hang out with the people you meet during orientation. Choose to meet someplace fun that lends itself to conversation, such as a restaurant or a park.

Join a Group or Club

Campuses are the ideal setting for groups of people with common interest to come together, form friendships, and engage in meaningful activities. Look for groups supporting people who have the same major as you because you may end up having classes with some of these students. You may also find clubs that are for students who share your religious beliefs or interest in a particular hobby.

Create a Study Group

Ask some of the students in one of your most-challenging classes if they’d like to form a study group. You can set a time to meet during the week to discuss questions and assignments. In addition to helping you form new friendships, a study group enables you to perform better in your class. It’s a win-win for all those involved. If you click with your group, propose that you all grab coffee after a session.

Work Up a Sweat

Attending an on-campus fitness class is a great way to get acquainted with people who also enjoy working out. Yoga, aerobics, Zumba, and spinning are exciting exercise classes that not only improve your body but may enhance your social life. These activities tend to attract students of all ages and backgrounds. After class, invite a couple of people to go to a juice bar for a smoothie. Remember that studies show that both exercise and friendships lower stress levels.

Be a Friendly Neighbor

If you live on campus, make it a point to get to know other students who live in your dorm. If your floor of the dorm offers community-building activities, that’s a prime opportunity to become acquainted with your neighbors. Resident assistants, who usually are older college students, often arrange for their floor to have dinner together one night a week.

Regardless of how you choose to meet new people, you have to be intentional about doing it. Otherwise, it’s easy to spend your free time studying or doing other solitary activities in your dorm room instead of putting yourself out there to form friendships that could last a lifetime. Remember to take chances on people and activities that may require you to stretch a little. This is how some of the best friendships (and memories) are made.