It seems like a long time ago, but just last year, I was getting ready for my freshman year of college, and everyone was asking, “Are you excited?”
The answer wasn’t a simple yes. Of course I was excited, but I was also nervous to go somewhere where I didn’t know anyone after being in a place where I had known everyone for years or even a decade. I had no idea what to expect and going into the unknown was nerve-wracking.
But because I was supposed to be completely excited, I didn’t let anyone know how nervous I was, and so I didn’t ask anyone for advice on how to navigate the adjustment to college. This year, I was excited to come back to school, but also more confident, and here’s what I want all of you just starting out to know.
- Make a few friends your priority. When you first get to school, it seems like everyone is making more friends than you, but the number of friends doesn’t matter. What will matter is having a couple of close friends and developing those friendships. You’ll also have other friends from classes, clubs, or your dorm, but don’t try to be the “most popular.” Focus on finding a few good people who can be your family away from home, and then branch out from there..
- Join one club or extracurricular activity. Speaking of branching out, one way to feel like you’re part of this new campus is to get involved with an activity that you’re interested in. Even if you have no experience, now’s the time to try it out. Most people are trying new things, and it’s a great way to have different communities of people and also discover your interests. So make it your goal to join at least one club your first semester.
- Get to know your academic advisor. I went to a big high school where I didn’t have a lot of contact with my academic advisor. But in college, the requirements for graduation (and for your eventual major) can be complicated to understand, so definitely go at the beginning of freshman year to talk about your classes not just for freshman year, but for the coming years too. They might change, but at least you have a game plan and know that you’ll graduate on time. I also go to my advisor when I have questions about internships, which professors to take, and what classes I might not know about but that would be a good match for my interests, even if they’re not required. I feel like I have a mentor to guide me through the confusion, and I can’t imagine doing this without her.
- Know where the health center is. As far as I was concerned, the gym was my school’s health center. I wanted to take care of my health, and that’s where I did it. But when my roommate got really sick last year, we had no idea how to get her to a doctor in a city we’re not from. Find out as soon as you get on campus where the health center is, what the hours are, and where you can go if they’re closed. This isn’t something you can ask your parents, because they don’t know either!
- Manage your time by using your calendar. You’ll have a lot of free time in college but you’ll also feel like you’re always behind. That’s because in high school, our days were more structured, but now, we have to manage our own time. Make a schedule of everything you have due for the month, and schedule time onto your calendar for studying or getting a paper done. You might think you have a lot of time, but we tend to underestimate how long something will take, so if there’s one piece of advice that would have changed my entire first semester, it would be: use your calendar and schedule your entire day (including going to the gym, seeing friends, eating meals). And along those lines: don’t forget to schedule sleep. Make time to eat actual meals, exercise, and sleep.
- Don’t Overspend. I had no idea how quickly meals, activities, clothes, and even coffee add up when you’re in college, on top of tuition, books, and all the required expenses. My parents helped me make a budget that felt realistic without feeling like I couldn’t splurge on something occasionally. It was helpful to know exactly how much I had in my account and to make choices based on that number. Don’t feel pressure to spend what other people spend. It’s okay to suggest another place to go or not buy as many clothes or expensive coffees as someone else. I’d rather have money saved up than be in more debt or have bad credit when I graduate.
- Stay In Touch With Your Friends and Family. Just because you moved away doesn’t mean friendships end or you’re too grown up to talk to your family. These connections with home and people who know you well are important to hold onto, especially when you get lonely at school. Because guaranteed, you’ll feel lonely at times. That’s normal. Remember that you’re not alone, and people who care are on the other end of your phone 24/7.
- Get help early from your TAs, professors, or campus tutoring center. College is harder than high school.The papers are harder, the tests are harder, the amount of reading is much more and more challenging. It’s not that classes are impossible. It’s just that they’re different from the way high school classes were, especially the AP classes that followed a consistent structure. My big mistake was trying to fake doing well without getting help, until I was drowning. Finally, I went to my TA, and also the campus tutoring center, and that saved me. I wish I had gotten help earlier, and now, whenever I’m struggling or just want something explained better, I get help immediately. Don’t wait!
- Stick to your own priorities and be a good person. This is probably the most important. You’re going to meet a lot of different people and you’ll want to be liked. But that doesn’t mean you should do things or act in ways that go against your values. Don’t gossip, exclude people, be cliquey, use drugs or drink so much you’re not in control of yourself. As a high school senior, I thought I was done with peer pressure, but a lot of college freshmen feel it all over again. Don’t lose yourself. College is a place to grow into the person you want to be.
- College might not be the best years of your life. I’m really liking college, but are these four years the best I’ll have in my life? I have no idea. We have so much life ahead of us that will be equally great and equally hard. College is just a part of life, not the best part of it. Just like people used to ask, “Are you excited to go to college?” now they ask, “Are you loving college?” I don’t feel pressure to say, “Yeah, it’s amazing!” Instead of saying yes, I say, “Sometimes I love it. And sometimes it’s hard. And that’s what makes it a great experience. I’m really glad I’m here.”