All first year college students fear the "freshman fifteen" - the pounds supposedly gained during freshman year. Unfortunately, in a society that values image above all else, we talk less about the positive gained: knowledge. The biggest gain I had during my first year was the lessons I learned and how they helped me hold on for the bumpy ride. Freshman year is a complicated transition period; an emotional rollercoaster full of sudden drops, sharp turns, and too many loops. This is my survival guide.
1. Go full phoenix.
Burn the past and rise up again from the ashes. College gives you an opportunity to leave past embarrassments, fears, and failures in your history where they belong. This is a chance to reinvent yourself - take full advantage of it! You don't have to carry anything with you that doesn't benefit you as you move forward. You can be the best version of yourself.
2. Adapting takes time.
Be patient with yourself! If you don't have the best first week, or two weeks, or month, it might just mean you need more time to adjust. Your whole life has been thrown up in the air and the pieces are still settling. Be as generous and supportive to yourself as you would be to a friend undergoing a major life change.
3. Be a turtle.
I'm not advocating for slowness, I'm telling you to carry your home on your back. Put up a photo collage of your pets on your wall, FaceTime your best friend from home every night, or give your childhood stuffed animal a place of honor on your bed. Being in an unfamiliar environment is lonely. Don't be ashamed to keep your comforts close.
4. You will fail, and it's OK.
One more time for the perfectionists (Iike me) out there: it's OK. Maybe you didn't get the on-campus job you applied for, or didn't make the team you tried out for, or dropped a whole letter grade in a class after a bad final. Maybe you had a breakdown because you couldn't figure out how to use the school washing machine. It feels like the end of the world. It's not. Cry all you need. Let your friends and family lift you back up. I promise: you will survive this and find a new path. You will be OK.
5. Taking classes outside of your major is good for you.
I'm planning to major in Sociology and have never really enjoyed STEM subjects. But general education requirements are non-negotiable, so second semester I took a biology course with an emphasis in ecology... and I absolutely loved it. Not only did I learn something completely new, it gave me a break from my usual subject matter and introduced me to a different crowd of people. I ended up looking forward to this class every Tuesday / Thursday. Your brain will benefit from expanding your interests!
6. Find your niche.
This lesson might be the most important one. During my first semester, I struggled socially. I had a lot of acquaintances but no close friends. It wasn't until I joined a sorority full of brilliant, talented, passionate women that I really felt like I had found a place for myself on campus. Greek Life isn't for everyone. But finding a group of people whom you admire and share your interests is the best way to turn your college experience into a positive one.
7. Guard your shampoo (and other toiletries).
To whomever stole my shampoo out of my bathroom cubby on two separate occasions during my first year of college, thank you for teaching me this expensive and annoying lesson. Keep your items close or accept their potential disappearance.
8. Learn how to be alone.
Finding the joy and peace in spending time with yourself will completely revolutionize your college experience. Stop worrying about what other people think about you eating alone in the dining hall. Go for a long walk off-campus, visit a museum, or spend an hour reading a book in the quad. College is full of stress and interaction with others. Sometimes to recharge you need to step away from all the noise, which is why cultivating and enjoying your alone time is just as important as building your social life.
9. Use your resources.
It's your school's job to support you, and there are so many resources in place to help you through college - you just have to be brave enough to use them. Take advantage of free counseling and professors' office hours. Use the student health center. Form a study group, find a library book, or go to your RA for advice. You're putting your time, money, and energy into your education. Make your college do the same for you.
10. Embrace spontaneity.
Say yes to that last minute party invitation. Go to the club meeting your roommate told you about. Ask someone from class to grab coffee with you later. Inviting fun and spontaneity into your life breaks up the hard work and brings new experiences. Some of your favorite memories or closest friendships might be made because you tried something new. It can be scary to take a risk, but it can also be so worth it.
11. Have a professional outfit ready at all times.
I'm a full supporter of wearing your pajamas to the dining hall every night if you feel like it, but there will be occasions that require professional attire. Make sure you have an outfit fit for a job interview or presentation so you're not searching for a blazer the night before an important event. Being prepared will lift some of your stress and help you feel confident.
12. Create a little luxury.
Indulging in scented lotion, extra fluffy socks, an hour of Netflix, or a mid-afternoon nap will help refresh a burned-out college student. Residence halls aren't luxurious, but treating yourself to something nice will improve your mood. You still have to wear shower shoes and avoid strangers' hairs. You deserve a little something extra.
If you go to class, pay attention, and take good notes... you don't actually have to do 100% of the assigned reading. In most classes, a skim for main ideas and highlights is enough. Don't overburden yourself or you'll end up crying in the library at three AM every night. Academics are important, but so is your well-being.
14. Build yourself an emergency kit.
I quit Girl Scouts after third grade, but I did learn to Be Prepared. Always have a few essentials on you: ibuprofen, headphones, chapstick, etc. Coming down with a headache during class or sitting near loud talkers in the library can ruin your day. Your emergency kit can and will save you (or a friend in need!).
15. Embrace your own growth.
A year full of new experiences means a lot of change. You're going to grow in so many different ways. You will become more independent. You might discover a love for political activism, or a passion for kayaking, or have a revelation about your goals and ambitions for the future. Whatever changes come your way, I encourage you to welcome your personal evolution with open arms. To grow is to survive and thrive.