My first year of college was hard... really hard. It was full of great moments and super-painful moments, and I was absolutely unprepared for any of it. That’s okay! I learned how to live with someone, how to work on group projects, how to navigate public transportation, and how to be apart from my family, whom I am very close.
I prepare for big life events by reading about other people’s experiences, but nothing will ever prepare you for your own experience.
That being said, you can go in knowing what’s worked, or not, for others, then try it out for yourself. Thousands of people have been through college, and you are surrounded by tons of others in your class who have never done this either! So relax and try to remember to enjoy the ride.
Here are five things I learned my freshman year:
1. The friends you have during the first couple months of college might not be your friends at the end of the school year. (And that’s okay!)
When you step onto campus for the first time you’ll probably be nervous. You don’t really know where anything is; you may have made friends at orientation, or this could be the first time you've ever seen campus, and you may or may not know anyone. If you know people, you cling to their sides, trying not to drown in a wave of people’s names.
I get it, because that’s what I did. That’s what most people do. You make friends with people within the first couple weeks on your floor, in your classes, or sitting at their table in the cafeteria. You are so focused on making friends and not being alone that those friends might not actually be a good fit for you.
The people you know now might still be your best friends at the end of the year, or they may be people you get coffee with occasionally after you found your group in a club or class. If you focus too much on the friends you make right away you could miss out on amazing friendships right next to you. This is a time to be brave and say "hi" to everyone, even if it's scary.
2. Your roommate could be your best friend, or they might not.
It's much more likely you’ll be friends or acquaintances, equally liking their company and annoyed by their habits. It's exciting and incredibly nerve-wracking to be sharing a space with a complete stranger. If you've shared a room before, you might at least go in knowing your sleep patterns with others and what habits annoy you the most, but I didn't. I never had any sisters to share a room with, so I was scared how it would go.
Turns out, it's not bad. I know some people who managed to be best friends with their roommates, but most people just like theirs. It's hard living in a small space with another person, so don't beat yourself up if you don't love your roommate 100% of the time. You don't have to. We all hear roommate horror stories, but most people's experiences are in-between, so don't worry.
3. This is the time to figure it all out, all four years, so don’t panic when it seems like everyone else knows what’s going on.
About three-quarters of the way through the year I realized "OMG I'm in college, I have to figure out my life and career plan now! Everyone else is already doing it. I'm so behind!" News Flash: I'm fine. It's so hard to feel like you're doing enough when everyone else around you seems to have it all together.
I walked in knowing the majors and minors I wanted to do, but my actual career? Very blurry. Most people don't know and neither do I. That's what college is for! Worrying about all the things I need to do now isn't going to help me enjoy these fast four years, or let myself make mistakes and try new things. You have four years, don't try to cram your whole life into one.
4. It’s OK to take breaks.
I am not the kind of person who rests well. I am always doing something, usually heavily multitasking, and am very restless. Taking breaks during the school year made me feel so guilty at first. There was studying I could be doing, and club meetings to go to, and events I was missing!
An attitude like that is exhausting. You've got to give yourself a break. It could be a nap in-between classes, or showering if you need it, or remembering to eat while cramming for an exam; it's all important. If you push yourself too hard you won't be able to focus on the things in front of you. Occasionally blowing off your responsibilities and taking a day for yourself goes so far for your mental health.
5. You think you know how to study. You don’t.
Boy, did I realize my study habits were useless. Most of your assignments in college are done on your own, even more so than in high school. If you're confused by something, not every professor gives you the opportunity to ask in class. Going to the professors' office hours is an underused resource that I highly recommend you use.
What I failed to realize during the first half of my year? Just because I was studying, didn't mean I was using my time wisely. Four hours studying is only two if I'm not using that time wisely. Studying more often in shorter sections, and being effective with your time is a hard lesson to learn, so take it from me.
What are the lessons you learned during your first year?
Are any of you starting college? What are you nervous about? Let us know in the comments below!