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Shower Shock

OK, so you're almost sure you'll get into the college of your dreams. Now, only one thing frightens you more than the prospect of spending the rest of your adult life on your parents' couch with TV dinners and the Nick at Nite marathon. Just one fate could be worse than staying home, and you're envisioning it in its awful entirety: college showers!

Gym class is bad enough. Undressing in front of complete strangers, revealing your adolescent body in all its imperfection to your classmates, stepping over clumps of Jamie the Jock's and Dana the Debutante's tell-tale ratty hair left behind on the tile. And, you know next year might be even worse. Your fellow students are also going to be your housemates 24-7. One false breach of etiquette, one misplaced mole, one vicious germ, and your year could be ruined!

Need a game plan to cope with shower shock? Well, fear not -- here's how to deal:

Fear # 1: Embarrassment
How does one stay clean without subjecting one's self to ridicule (or offending anyone else)? Before you stress yourself all the way home to mommy's, be assured there are plenty of socially acceptable ways to combat this anxiety. The best strategy is to assert comfort with your body when it has to be seen by others, and modesty when it doesn't.

Step one: Invest in a long robe and a bath sheet, which is larger (and more plush) than a regular bath towel, before you get to school. Wear the robe when making the trek to and from the bathroom. Once inside, when you choose to bare it all will depend on the structure of the facility, as well as reigning etiquette. If there ever was a good time for conforming to peer pressure, this is it! While you should never stare at others, tactfully note their customs. If there is one central area for disrobing, use it!

If you are lucky enough to have individually curtained showers with hangers just outside, it is probably advantageous to wait until a portal is free before becoming completely nude. If not, my best advice is to buck up and act nonchalant. Pretend like you're wearing invisible clothes.

Fear # 2: Hygiene
At home, someone probably made sure the bathroom was clean, and even when it wasn't, you knew whose dirt it was. The good news? At college, your hall may have housekeepers. The bad news? They may not come daily.

Of course, even if they did, it's virtually impossible to get a 20-year-old shower to sparkle, especially when it's being shared by 40 to 60 people a day. The fact is you'll probably never know who's been in the shower before you, and it may never feel or look completely clean to you. On the bright side, you can protect yourself by investing in a $3 pair of rubber beach thongs. They'll at least protect against athlete's foot, or other remnants left by previous users.

The golden rule applies here, too. If you take steps to be considerate to others, they'll do the same. And, if you shed like a banshee, use a paper towel to remove your hair.

Fear # 3: Accessibility
Sharing a bathroom with an average-sized family was hard enough; now your family has multiplied exponentially! It's best to leave extra time so someone else's shower sonata doesn't make you late for Chem 101. While you're initially getting accustomed to your hectic schedule, try to figure out the most congested hour for the shower and avoid it at all costs.

Set your alarm a few minutes ahead of everyone else, and snag the bathroom first, or consider taking a night shower to avoid the hassle completely. The latter is also a good alternative if you're still having difficulty overcoming shyness. If all else fails, showering at 4 a.m. will certainly put you in the best of company -- yourself!