Dear New First Years,
It’s the beginning of August and the summer after your senior year is coming to a close. It’s time to embark on your next big journey: college. After four years of seasonal sports, SATs, ACTs, exams, report cards and in general the grind that is high school, the next big step of your life is finally here. To some, this means excitement and pure joy, but to others, this can be a nerve-wracking and potentially stressful experience. Whether you are so ready to head off to college, a little weary or have no idea how to feel about it, don’t worry. Here are some things I wish I knew before heading off to college for my freshman year.
On being nervous
You’d be crazy if you weren’t a little nervous. Something important to remember is that you are not the only one who is going to a new place, meeting new people and leaving home for the first time. You are one of an entire incoming freshman class. So, that being said, it’s okay to be nervous since you are certainly not the only one in the incoming freshman class who might be feeling scared or uneasy. You are not alone, and I found that actually telling people I was clueless, nervous and afraid made it all much better. The usual response was: “me too”. Deep breath. You’re going to be fine.
On the first day of class
You’re now on new and unfamiliar terrain. Look up the buildings and locations of your classes to minimize a potentially hectic situation. Is it within walking distance? Do you need to take a bus? Finding the buildings and knowing where you’re going is half the battle. Once you’re sitting in the lecture hall, don’t forget to pay attention to the course requirements and syllabus – most professors don’t cover half the things on the syllabus in class, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be on the test. Gotta have that bell curve work somehow!
On knowing the syllabus
That leads me to my next point. Make sure your classes fit well together work-load wise and that you are not taking too demanding of a schedule for your very first semester at college. Don’t take it too easy on yourself, as you still need to be on time to graduate and start taking the correct classes for your potential major. Use the online rate my professor sites to figure out as much as you can about that calculus or biology class in advance. Then you can make an informed decision.
On dropping/adding classes
Speaking of classes, don’t be afraid to drop a class during syllabus week. If the class seems too rigorous or you simply don’t like it and are not interested, perhaps you should switch it for another? Most semesters I will add and drop around seven classes until I’ve found the most ideal schedule for that semester. College is a game designed to prepare you for life, and playing it well is half the battle.
On professors and office hours
Definitely take advantage of office hours and getting to know your professors, so you make yourself a person and not just a name on the roster. I know this sounds like a broken record, but show up for class. I have found that the more I know my professors, the better I do in their classes and the more I enjoy the experience. The old adage is true: you get out of things exactly what you put into them.
On your major
Some will know wholeheartedly what they want to major in, until they don’t. If this is you and you start to realize a major might not be for you, don’t fret. People are always changing their major. One of my friends changed it three times and is still on time to graduate. Don’t worry! You are figuring things out – not knowing them in advance is normal.
Some people go off for their freshman year of college trying to pack four years of partying into one. You have four years, there will be more parties: pace yourself. Learn how to say no. If your friends are berating you for not partying enough, find different friends. Excess is really never good and that is nowhere more true in that first year of living away from home.
Learn how to stay on a budget early on. Use your meal plan in the dining halls even if you are not the biggest fan of meatloaf. You can always grab bananas, yogurts or other storable foods for your dorm room. Be creative. Again, college is a metaphor for the real world: learning how to use your money and your time wisely will go a long way here.
On finding an on-campus organization
Whether it’s a sorority, student council, the school newspaper, a community service organization, find a group to make college a little smaller for yourself. By doing this, you’re guaranteed to meet new people and make friends from the very beginning. Hopefully, they’ll be people who are different from the people you went to high school with and who can expand your views on the world.
On being different
This is your chance to zig while everyone else is zagging. Were you a jock in high school? How about trying out a thespian group? Were you always in the library in high school? Sign up to be a tour guide for potential students. Find something you wouldn’t normally be involved in, and see where it takes you. Maybe you try a club sport or working at the local college radio station. There are so many great options.
Don’t be afraid to be afraid
No matter who you are, everyone will find themselves afraid, nervous or anxious at times during their college experience. The brains will likely get their first bad grade. The jocks will find out they can’t even make the club team. The homecoming queen won’t get asked to a single formal. Who cares? That is the universe telling you to look around and find out the other parts of your personality that haven’t had time to grow yet. You are not alone in feeling this way. If you’ve read this far and even follow just one of these steps, you will see that it will all be alright in the end.
Most importantly: every good college has counselors, churches and organizations specifically there to help students who are depressed, lonely, overwhelmed or who simply need to talk. Locate the one you need and check it out. Life is about asking for help when you need it, and offering help when you’re able.
And college is simply a dress rehearsal for life. Have fun and learn some new things. Then shine on.