My first year away at university is finally winding down, and I can now take a step back and measure my personal growth. The massive change of leaving my hometown and moving to Chicago forced me to evolve and taught me some important life lessons that I think would be beneficial to share with incoming freshmen.
1. Self-reliance is a great virtue
If you're living on campus, it might be the first time you've been truly independent. I'm thankful that my parents taught me how to be self-reliant at an early age, but I know many of my friends were absolutely shell-shocked by this newfound independence. The freedom of self expression, like wearing whatever I want without the pressure of my high school peers, was by far my favorite form of freedom I experienced my freshman year. The freedom to go and do whatever I want (within reason) was equally thrilling. I remember leaving my dorm at 1 am to stand outside, just because I could.
2. The future feels really far away
In high school, my future at college seemed to loom around every corner. During my senior year, I knew where I was going to attend university, who my roommate was, and what I wanted to study. But now that I'm in college, the future is a hazy, intangible concept that I feel the need to ignore. That could be specific to my major or school, as many students don't begin stepping into their fields until junior or senior year, but I definitely feel as if my "future" is something that I don't need to be worrying about just yet.
3. Your plans and goals will change
You may enter into your freshman year with big goals and expectations, which is great! However, be lenient and flexible with these goals. Certain things may take longer to pan out that you have anticipated. For example, I was hellbent on becoming a writer for my school newspaper my first year at college. After some trial and error, I realized that I just didn't have the time or knowledge to jump into such an endeavor and that I needed to allow myself a bit more time to grow as a journalist. Being patient and understanding of yourself with goals that don't need to have a deadline will save you a lot of grief.
4. Invest in stable relationships
College kids have a way of dating that isn't actually dating. Many people I know have significant others that they aren't exactly dating but also are definitely more than friends with. I'm guilty of attempting this my freshman year, and I can tell you that it's just going to end badly. Casual dating seems exciting and fool-proof, but almost every "no label" relationship everyone enters into falls apart before the year ends. I would suggest investing in durable friendships your first year and leaving fickle flings for the summer time. Additionally, if your high-school partner and you have been on and off during high school, I would highly discourage trying to make long-distance work.
5. Get plugged in to the community around you
If you want to be involved in extracurriculars, you need to seek them out yourself. As a journalism student, I realized very quickly that I need to be hyper-aware of what's going on at my university if I want to have anything to write about. Additionally, by staying in touch with events and offers, you can jump on fantastic opportunities. By staying in the loop at my university, I was able to join a volunteering program and work with adults seeking US Citizenship.
6. Befriend an upperclassman
Making a couple of connections with people in the years above you is a great way to pick up extra tips. Upperclassmen can help recommend professors, classes, or activities to get involved in at the university. Obviously, don't just befriend someone for the purpose of gaining knowledge, but don't be intimidated by making connections with older students.
7. Breaking out of cliques will only benefit you
Me with some friends at university.
Photo by Nika Schoonover
Clique culture, while not nearly as prominent as most high schools, still exists in college. At my school, there are two large cliques that dominant social life. There are the artsy kids, who go to art house rap concerts and have photoshoots underneath the El, and there are the preppy kids, who typically get involved with Greek life or athletic clubs. I've managed to branch out and make friends with both groups, which has only helped expand my horizons and introduce me to amazing new friends. People will typically surround themselves with those they can relate to, which shouldn't be demonized, but by breaking out of this comfort zone will always be beneficial.
8. This is the time to self-experiment
Do something wild that you never would do in high school. For some people, that may mean going on a blind date or completely changing the way they dress. My big leap out of my comfort zone was shaving my head in January. I knew I wanted to do it for years but knew that I would be ostracized by my peers in high school if I did it then. Although it was an unnerving experience for me, no one around me was upset or offended by my shaved head, and many people actually really liked it. Once you're in college and you find friends who truly accept you, it helps give you that extra push to do something really experimental.
9. It's okay to be alone
No one wanted to be alone in high school. You would eat lunch, walk to class, go to the bathroom, and work in class with friends. Now, there are many more instances when you have to do these things alone. Learning to be ok with spending the day by yourself can actually be very healthy. It's hard to fathom being happy alone, especially having just left high school, but once you get to college, you'll notice that so many people are ok being by themselves.
10. Hard work leaves the best impression
Giving your all in your classes and only turning in your best efforts is going to earn you a spot on your professor's good side. Of course, there are some classes that you should prioritize than others, but you never know when a certain professor could be the perfect recommender for an internship, job, or scholarship. For example, I gave my Communications professor my best work in class, and when the time came, asked her for a recommendation for an on-campus job. Now, I have a job secured for my sophomore year. So, just try to show all of your professors how capable and enthusiastic you are.