College: a prospect that once seemed like a distant, unreachable dream is now a reality that is right before your eyes! This thought may make you feel excited, anxious, scared, relieved, dismayed, or a confusing mixture of all these emotions. Personally, I remember holding tightly onto every last moment of the only life that I had ever known, dreading the day when I would have to start my unfamiliar new life as a college student and panicking when it finally came. Some of my friends, however, couldn’t wait for the semester to start and seemed to adjust quite quickly once it did! Everyone feels differently about their new adventure, and similarly, everyone’s college experience is unique. This was one of the major realizations that I made throughout my freshman year. Unfortunately, the college experience, like nearly everything else in society, is stereotyped, and the variety is rarely acknowledged. Thus, advice for new students can often feel one-sided and may not be relatable for some individuals. I would therefore like to offer a simple tip that will be beneficial for all college freshmen. To do this, I'm going to tell you a little bit about my own freshman year of college.
The transition to college life was extremely difficult for me. I am very close to my family, and being an hour and a half away from them was painful. I was in a completely unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers, and I was terribly homesick for the first few months. In fact, even though it got much better as the year went on, I still went home almost every weekend because I missed my family and the comfort of home. In addition to my homesickness, my need for structure and stability was not met by this new environment, and my introverted personality was overwhelmed by all of the social opportunities available. All of this only added to my adjustment struggles.
When I was dealing with the transition to college, I remember thinking about how my emotions and experiences were nothing like what I had been told. My family and friends had always claimed that "college was the best 4 years of their lives" or that "I would absolutely love college and the independence" or that "I would make lifelong friends there." They told me about pranking their roommates, talking for hours with good friends, campus activities, crazy fraternity/sorority requirements, meeting their spouses in class, exciting football games, and the friendly atmosphere of the dorms. Instead, I was having trouble making close friends, I was spending most of my time doing homework, I felt completely out of place and lost, and I was unable to relax. This contrasted not only with what my loved ones were telling me about their college experiences, but it also contrasted greatly with the stereotypical portrayals of college life in the media, which usually involve crazy parties, alcohol, and completely redefining oneself.
Because my initial college experience was so different than society's "norm," I started to wonder if something was wrong with me. I compared myself with the students around me who appeared to be living the ideal college life, and their happiness and comfort only added to my self-doubt. Eventually, this led to feelings of guilt and disgust with myself for my reaction to this supposedly wonderful new part of my life. Why couldn't I just stay at college for the weekend without feeling panicked and depressed? Why couldn't I just stop being such a perfectionist on my homework and go have some fun with friends? These thoughts circled my mind constantly, and it didn't help that some people (with the best of intentions) would give me advice that simply confirmed my guilt. For example, many well-meaning individuals would tell me, "You shouldn't go home every weekend because you're missing out on campus life and the opportunity to make new friends." I understood them and their logic, but to me, this sounded like, "It is your fault that you don't have good friends and aren't adjusting to college." You see, I desperately wanted to be able to take their advice, but I just felt like I couldn't, and this realization made me feel even more inadequate.
My college experience started to turn around after I truly started to believe one statement: Your college experience has to be right for you, and you won't gain anything from comparing yourself to others or trying to meet someone else's expectations. Living your college life with this statement in mind is my number one tip for new students. It is simple, but it helped me tremendously. Once I recognized this, I stopped feeling so guilty and upset with myself, and as a result, I relaxed and started to be myself more. If I had to go home every weekend for the sake of my emotional health, that was completely alright! If I spent more time studying than most people, I tried not to worry! If I took more time to make friends and feel comfortable in social situations, it was ok. I embraced my love for my family, my commitment to doing my best in school, and my introversion as unique parts of my identity. Accepting and thus being myself helped me to make friends, enjoy the little joys of college life more, and feel comfortable in my own skin at college. I ended second semester feeling happy and as if I belonged at my college.You may think that this tip doesn't pertain to you because you aren't experiencing the same problems that I did upon coming to college. However, as I said earlier, this tip can help all freshmen. If you are super outgoing and want to join a fraternity or sorority, don't let the negative stigma of these groups influence your decision at all. Create study groups, stay up late talking with friends, and get really involved around campus. If you aren't close with your family, try to make a new family at college and respectfully spread your wings as you leave the nest. If you want to pursue a new career path or activity, don't let others' opinions sway your decision too much. If you can't afford to live on campus or to go to a 4-year college, make the most of your situation and don't let anyone shame you. If you feel like you need to transfer school in order to be successful and happy, then go for it without feeling like you "failed" at your first college. If you don't like to party or aren't interested in drinking, then find other ways to have fun! I'm not saying that you should never go out of your comfort zone. I'm simply saying that you know yourself best. You know your limitations, interests, life experiences, and personality, and thus, you need to make decisions based on this knowledge and not based on anyone else's opinions or expectations. Nobody has the right to judge you because they haven't walked your journey. I wish all freshmen the best in this new chapter of life. Remember, do what is right for you, and don't compare yourself to others or try to live up to their expectations. This is a helpful tip not only for college, but also for many other aspects of life.