The Freshman Experience: Final Thoughts

A college freshman shares the lessons she learned during her first year of college, from how to decide on a major to dealing with homesickness.
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Journal and coffee

Grades are posted. I'm back in Minnesota. The book lists for next semester are up. It's official - I'm done with my first semester of college! 

It's hard to wrap my mind around how much has changed since I first started this column back in July. I began as an eager high school graduate excited to decorate dorm rooms, pack for college, and finish the summer in style. I didn't know what struggles I would encounter in the next four months or who I would meet along the way. I was about to embark on the greatest adventure of my life and I had no idea what would happen!

Today, as I reflect back on my entire first semester experience, I'm grateful for every second at Northeastern. I'm thankful for the chance encounters that lead to new friendships, the wild weekends, the academic challenges, and all of my mistakes. Each moment at school has defined who I am today and I wouldn't change a thing.

For my final post, I want to share all the miscellaneous pieces of advice that didn't make it into any of my past posts. From changing a major to choosing laundry bin, here are my final thoughts on my Freshman Experience.

1. It's Okay to Change Your Major

In high school, I tended to jump from activity to activity, and interest to interest. I would become absolutely dedicated to, say, music, and then the next moment I would be devoted to lacrosse. For my last two years of high school, I was dead set on becoming a CEO after graduating college with a business degree.

Halfway through my first college semester, however, I came to a frightening realization: business wasn't the right major for me. I hated my calculus class, couldn't stand microeconomics, loathed discussing supply chain management, and was sick of hearing about maximizing profits. I missed writing and creating and I was losing my mind!

I talked to friends, visited career services, and discussed my problem with my academic advisor. After a few weeks, many breakdowns, and a lot of chocolate, I finally decided to switch to communications studies. Next semester I'm taking classes that I find fascinating! It's been a rough transition, but I'm glad that I made my decision.

2. Reinventing Yourself is Harder Than it Seems

I, like many girls, was all ready to go to college and eliminate all of my faults. I wanted to be the fun, outgoing, smooth, confident, organized girl. I figured that if I tried hard enough to erase my past, I could easily reinvent my whole personality.

I was wrong: You can't just reinvent yourself overnight. After starting college, I found myself blending in and not acting like myself. For the first few weeks of school I felt as if very few people knew who I actually was. I felt like I was having an identity crisis! If I didn't know who I was or who I wanted to be, how could other people even start to know me?

Over the past six weeks, I've become more settled. I've stopped trying to be someone I'm not; as a result, I've made new friends and found amazing, like-minded people. It's tempting to go into college with the mindset that it will be completely different from high school. However, by staying true to yourself and embracing your character, the transition from high school to college will be easier, happier, and much more natural.

3. You'll Get Homesick

This summer, I was so ready to go to college. My best friends had already finished their freshman years at school, and I felt so prepared for university life. I didn't worry about being homesick or missing high school - I was just ready to leave.

Not surprisingly, I did get homesick. I ended up coming home on a long weekend before Thanksgiving because I just needed to see my family. I visited my high school and found myself getting nostalgic.

No matter how ready you are to leave, you're going to miss home. You'll miss the familiarity and the stability, home-cooked meals and pets. It's natural and it happens to everyone. One of my remedies was to get together with some friends and just talk about home. We opened Google Maps, toured our hometowns, and gushed about where we grew up. It helped, as did the realization that my family is always just a phone call away.

Miscellaneous Freshman Year Lessons Learned:

  • Laundry bin or fold-up hamper? I'd go with the bin (or buy backup hampers). My collapsible hamper broke halfway through the semester and now doing laundry is a pain.
  • Small notebooks work best. This semester I've carried around multiple 5-subject notebooks. Truth be told, you don't need that much paper. One small notebook per class will do fine.
  • Make a budget. The first semester of college is incredibly expensive. It's hard to get used to having that much freedom; be careful with your money.
  • Carry around a flash drive. It's super convenient; whether for printing emergencies or music sharing, a USB is a lifesaver.
  • Try to develop a routine. Staying busy and having a regular schedule will help prevent homesickness.
  • Get involved in activities outside of your major. I'm currently living in a dorm that houses mostly business students, and I had the same people in the majority of my classes. So I always get excited when I meet students outside of the College of Business Administration. College is about getting outside your comfort zone, so try to branch out and get involved.
  • It's okay to be undeclared. A part of me wishes that I had started out undeclared so that I got my generals out of the way. Unfortunately, my switch from business to communications means that I wasted credits this semester.
  • Do the readings, use the study guides, and go to study groups. Professors want you to succeed; stay on top of schoolwork and utilize all your resources.
  • Buying textbooks is expensive. This semester I'm going to rent mine from school and save some cash. I already regret buying all of my first-semester textbooks - when will I ever need Principles of Microeconomics or Calculus for Business and Economics again?
  • Don't try to compare your experience with your friends' experiences. Looking at Facebook pictures and stalking ex-classmates will only create unhealthy competition. After all, it's easy to assume that everybody is having the time of their lives when you only see their most flattering snapshots and glowing wall posts.
  • Know that you'll change. I came back from school and I already saw a difference in myself. This change is natural; just try to make sure that you're changing in a positive manner.
  • Stay positive. Being a positive influence on those around you will only draw people closer to you. Although it can be hard sometimes, staying optimistic is key to having a fun experience.
  • Try new things! College is a time to experiment and learn about yourself. Don't be afraid to audition for a play or pick up a new sport.
  • Explore locations away from campus. Whether that means exploring a small college town or a big city, it can be exciting to get to know your surroundings. One of my goals for next semester is to explore Boston even more.
  • Don't rush into a relationship. You have four years to date as much as you want - make sure you take the time to embrace your freedom and really get to know people before making any hasty decisions.
  • On the weekends, always go out with someone you trust. In a new place with new people, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle and potentially put yourself in an unsafe situation. Develop a system or a set of guidelines before you go out with your friends.

I could go on for pages about what I have learned and how I have changed over the past four months, but I'll leave it at this: I've been so grateful to have the opportunity to share my first semester of college with so many amazing readers. I want to thank you all for your encouraging comments, words of advice, and personal experiences that you have shared with me since July. Good luck to all of you, and I wish you the best in all your future endeavors!

More Freshman Year Tips & Tricks

This article is part of our Freshman Experience series. For more, see: 8 Week Countdown, College Orientation, Tips & Tricks for Meeting the Roommate, Dorm Room Shopping Tips, First Semester Goals, College Packing List, Getting Involved on Campus, 4 Ways to Ease Midterm Stress, College Misconceptions & Ask a Freshman, Freshman Year Questions - Answered, Thanksgiving Break Essentials, Tackling Holiday Shopping in College, and First Semester Goals Revisited.

You Turn!

The end of the semester is here and we're done for a few weeks. Time to relax, unwind, and reflect back on the past few months. For me, it has been an amazing experience and I can't wait to see what the future has in store.

College girls, how did the semester end for you? Grades, activities, accomplished goals....I want to hear about it all! Do you have any final thoughts on your experience? Any other questions for me? Make sure to leave your thoughts in a comment!

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