It wasn’t until I had a conversation with an old friend yesterday that I realized I’m going into my second year of college— I’m not a freshman anymore. To look back on the beginning of college last year, it’s odd to think of myself as two different people; the me then and the me now. But things have changed, I can’t deny that, and the first year of college was a big one. Would things have been more different had I known a few more things going into the year? Maybe. Because I was terrified, I remember that much, in a new school with new classes and new strangers, with this thing called a major I had to work to get a degree in for the next 4 years.
Talk about daunting.
So as a college sophomore, this is my open letter you about what to expect, not expect, and what you need to remember going into your first year of college.
Here’s to you.
Dear College Freshmen,
Well would you look that, 12 years of mandatory schooling has led you up to this— your first year of college. I’m sure you’ve got some expectations, maybe crazy frat parties or super cool lab classes you get to take part in. Like I said last week, try to let go of those expectations and just live your life for a little bit, do whatever you think feels right. But don’t you worry, both activities are nice options to add to the great college experience, there’s plenty of time to do it all. Because people might say “welcome to college, best four years of your life.” And maybe it can be, but only if you make that happen for yourself. No one else will.
First things first, college is an education. Amidst the weekend parties or the late night food runs, remember that you’re there for school first. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as an AP class to get your grades up when they’re lower than you want them to be. Instead you have two choices: retake the class, or simply do well enough the first time that your GPA doesn’t take a hit in the process. That means going to office hours, asking for help or a tutor (when I got a tutor for Calc 2, I realized that I’m actually pretty good at math, I just needed some help), and stick to a study schedule. Whether you’re on the quarter system or the semester system, assignments and tests come up quickly, you definitely don’t want to be caught by surprise. And not the good kind. Speaking of AP, it may mean something completely different in college, but there are just as many students it applies to. Academic probation is a very common place for college students to find themselves, especially in the first year, because things happen and adjusting takes a little time. So if it happens, don’t freak out, but do your best to avoid it. Trust me, it’s just easier if you do.
So, you know how I mentioned that college is an education first? Well it is, always remember that, but also remember that this is about to be your life for 4 years… You can’t spend all your time studying or working that you have nothing to look forward to but good grades. Don’t get me wrong, good grades are fantastic. But they aren’t everything. I’m not a big party person, never have been, yet I tried going to a few college parties because you never know what you’re going to like doing in a new place. That doesn’t mean you have to do anything you aren’t comfortable with, know your own boundaries, but try to have a little fun too. Still not that into parties? Try a kick-back or a movie night instead, go to the market one day or take a trip downtown. There are so many ways to get out there and meet new people, you just have to give yourself a chance. Check out a few clubs you’re interested in, join a gaming group, go to a few monthly lectures/seminars, just find a place to fit in and enjoy being a college student while it lasts. Just one year goes by pretty fast.
Now we’ve talked about the education part and the fun part, but what about everything you still don’t know? There are a lot of things that happen throughout freshman year, but the beginning can be a bit scary, maybe lonely, and definitely an adjustment. And that’s okay. Even while going to the same school as my brother, the first night was still a lonely one. Big new school surrounded by people I didn’t know, stuck in a major I didn’t like, and a whole year I just walked into not quite sure who would be walking out. I had a lot of questions going through my head: Am I going to make my parents proud, will I even find friends who like me, how am I supposed to start over again, what do I do if… That’s when the what if’s started. And those never really ended. But I can tell you a few things to hold onto, ready? First of all, you will find your people. Maybe you will have a whole group of people that matter to you by the end of the year, or some greek brothers/sisters to hold onto, maybe you’ll find some nerds that like the same things you do, and maybe you’ll fall in with a crowd that likes things you never really cared for yet somehow you’re at home there. Just know that you will find a place to call home, even that place is just one or two people. As for the classes and figuring out where you’re headed academically, there are counselors around for that exact reason. No matter your area of study, there are people who are paid to help you map out your classes and find a little security in your future. And if you’re switching majors? They help with that too. All you have to do is ask.
Last but not least, let’s talk about you. College is a lot of pressure, from the grades to finding a place to belong, it can all seem pretty daunting at first. It’s a process, one that you learn and adjust to throughout your college career. But whether you’re just starting out or getting back into the swing of things, you’re not alone in this. You’ll make new friends and keep in touch with your old ones, none of this means you have to leave people behind if you don’t want to. Just make sure you don’t leave yourself behind in the process. And if you’re like me, you might get a little lost freshman year. Or a lot lost. With all these questions and things to think about, it can get pretty overwhelming pretty quickly. The good thing is, just like there are counselors there to help you map out your classes, there are counselors there to help you through the rest of it too. I know a lot of students struggle with the anxiety of starting over and the pressure of getting things right, but you don’t have to do it alone. Most college campuses have health and counseling centers, if you ever feel the need, there’s nothing wrong with going to find some extra help. We all need a little help from time to time, and that’s okay. Like I said, all you need to do is ask.
From new friends and old ones to handling classes and balancing a social life, the first year of college comes with a lot of adjustment. In the beginning, you might have a hard time finding solid ground under your feet. All I can say is give yourself time. If I’m being honest, I didn’t find my feet until the end of my freshman year and at that point, I realize I had been building the foundation for it all year. I just never tried testing the weight. And speaking of weight, the freshman 15 may not be as big a problem as they say, but just because there’s a Chick-fil-A on campus doesn’t mean you need to eat it every day. Pay attention to what your body is telling you and go to the gym every once in awhile; just be healthy (stock up on Dayquil/nyquil now), get enough sleep, and that’s all that matters. It’s going to be a year of firsts, new people, new stories, and a whole lot of learning. So buckle up and get ready for one of the most life-changing years of your lives. Make it count, go live your life, and good luck!
A College Sophomore