I completely dove into my freshman year at UI head first.
The first time I visited my campus, or even went to Iowa, was the day I moved into my residence hall- less than a week before classes began. I was a wide-eyed, 18-year-old private Catholic high school graduate from Austin, Texas who’d gone through life wearing a plaid skirt and a cross close to her heart. I was happy, but I wanted something new. In fact, I wanted everything to be new; and that’s exactly how it was starting my freshman year at the University of Iowa.
Now I see UI as a kind of old friend, I feel like I’ve been there forever. If anything’s new now, it’s me. Of course now it’s the easiest thing for me to make lists upon lists of mistakes I made, or things I could have done differently to avoid messes. Despite that, I’m glad I walked into my first year totally unaware of all the change and challenges that would grip me. If I had known some things, sure, college would have been a bit easier in parts, but it’s the tough stuff that really makes you learn. So, whether you’ll be freshman at UI this August (YAY, CONGRATS!) or a freshman in another university, I do encourage you to take a look at this particular list of ten things I think you’ll find useful to keep in mind. Maybe at the end of your freshman year, you’ll want to add some things too for the next incoming class?
1. You don’t know yourself as well as you think you do.
Everyone has different experiences with “self-discovery” in high school. I can say that I certainly went through a variety of things, so by the time I graduated I felt extremely self-assured. I did know myself quite well at the time, but what I didn’t know was that time at college would bring a storm of new experiences, as well as new questions about myself that I would eventually have to answer.
You are going to change. If not change, then you’ll grow up. Your relationships, opinions, beliefs, habits, passions, appearance; all of these things will be affected by what you experience your freshman year. This is not at all bad, it’s actually really good. You’re going to discover new things about you all through life, but I guarantee your beginning months of college are going to be a real climax.
2. If you’re not in your comfort zone, you’re in a good place.
Don’t let fear separate you from your surroundings. When I first arrived at Iowa City, being a completely fresh face terrified me. I was so reluctant at first to meet people or explore this new place I found myself in. You have to learn to push yourself and to not be controlled by insecurity. Everything’s new! You’re starting all over in many ways. Embrace that. Everyone’s in the exact same position. Once you let go of being scared to step out of your comfort zone, you’ll feel excited and empowered and free. You’ll meet so many great people and say yes to so many wonderful things. Don’t deprive yourself! It’s more than okay to be nervous in the face of unfamiliarity, that’s what makes you human. However, when facing something new, the best response is to smile wide and say hello.
3. You’re going to let go of high school.
Just because you spent a large portion of your life in one place with the same people, that does not mean that’s the whole world. High school is so, so small in the whole scheme of things. Whether this surprises you or not, high school can have little effect on what comes after it. High school is young and often immature, so it will not be bothered to walk behind you when you go off to college. Continuing on comfort zones, do not remain in the zone of high school mentality. Drama’s boring. Whatever your label was or which clique you were or anything like that in has absolutely no meaning now.
I myself loved my years in high school. I had a great group of friends, had awesome relationships with my teachers, and really thrived during that time in my life. Even so, I left so much of it behind me in the end. You are not bound to those past four years. I’m not at all saying to forget good friends or good memories, I’m saying you don’t owe high school anything. What you do owe is giving yourself the chance to experience college as a new adventure. Moving forward doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye. (But don’t be afraid to do that if need be, too.)
4. Learn to make your own agenda.
You’re the boss. It’s your classes, your weekly schedule, your day-to-day life. No one is going to tell you what to do. Everything from what time you eat dinner, to how much money you spend on the weekends, to whether or not you attend your morning classes is completely on you. It’s no one’s job to make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to. That’s all on you. Of course, that has its pros and cons. You have freedom, but you really have responsibility now. That’s why you need to make your freshman year as enjoyable as possible while learning how to manage yourself properly. Take classes you actually have interest in, make a schedule that won’t make you sleep deprived; do whatever you can that limits your stress levels! If you’re productive and do your best, you’ll always be successful in the end.
5. Choose your crowd well.
New friends are the absolute highlight of your freshman year. You’re going to be making new friends all through college; UI in particular has such a collection of so many different kinds of personalities and backgrounds. That’s why you need to be open, yet observing. Use college to advance your people skills; socializing, but also learning how to really know people. Best friends and soulmates don’t just walk out of the restroom door of a club. Good relationships take time, so use it well. Really choose who to surround yourself with. It’s amazing how much influence a crowd will have on you academically, mentally; they can drag you down to places you don’t want to be in. They can also really make this part of your life absolutely remarkable.
6. Make many homes.
Beginning college means building a new home for yourself. Whether that be in a dorm or in an apartment, in a new city or a new state, or even just being on a new campus in your hometown, you’re going to have to find new places for yourself. Discover little niches and hideaways, find new shops and restaurants and hangouts. Use your environment to your advantage. College life is a welcome mat. Make yourself at home! You’re going to be there for a while, so better make the best out of it. I know when I first came to Iowa City, I longed to go home to Austin. But Iowa City actually had a lot of things about it that reminded me of Austin, and things that were totally unlike it. I thrived on what made me feel close to my home city, while also getting to know what I had never been around before. Making a home also has a lot to do with making memories, so by the end of the school year I bet you’ll have quite a few places that are sentimental.
7. Organize yourself.
Going off of learning to make your own agenda, make sure you keep up with that agenda. Stay organized and on track with yourself in all aspects. Communicate often with your professors, stay in touch with your family, make time for friends, keep checklists for papers and projects, keep an eye on your debit account balance. If you work, make sure you’re not falling behind with classes. Don’t stuff yourself with textbooks, either. Fun is a must. Whether than means house parties, or going on dates, or indulging on the simple pleasures of pizza and good movies, DO IT. Don’t make college a chore or just another set of school years. This is your time, so manage it well and make it an experience well-spent.
8. Don’t overthink.
That being said, do not put pressure on yourself. This is your agenda, remember? No one is going to stand above you, glaring down with a list of things you should do your freshman year. Don’t overthink this. Being on your own and having to do a lot of things for yourself is challenging. Just because you have the world at your fingertips, that doesn’t mean you should put it on your shoulders. Define accomplishments. Have goals, passions, pass times, dreams; but don’t wreck your head trying to be the ideal image of a freshman student in college. You’ll miss out. Besides, you’ll still be figuring it all out all through your four years. Be patient with yourself and take all as it comes.
9. Self-care is important.
This one should really be at the top of this list.
You should always come first. Take care of yourself. Find time to relax, enjoy doing nothing in particular. Little things can make big differences. Get enough sleep, treat yourself to frozen yogurt, read lots and lots of books, avoid negativity. Make sure you’re happy. The only person you should worry about, if you want to go to the trouble of worrying at all, is you. Listen to your body, your emotions. College will bring some unexpected things into your life. It’s okay to feel discouraged or confused or exhausted, as long as you respond to that feeling in a healthy way that’s best for your well-being as a student and person. Self-care is vital when going through any kind of challenge. Be kind to yourself.
10. The best things are yet to come.
College is going to be a wild, wild adventure. It’s really going to be better than you thought, actually. You’re going to go through so many fantastic, terrifying, insane things that will totally open up your world on an explosive level. Never close your door. Once you get going, you’re not going to stop anytime soon. Freshman year is just the first few pages of this whole story. You’ll love it. I’ve loved it- and it ain’t over.