There is a learning curve for your first semester of college. As a soon to be senior I say this not to scare you, but actually to make you feel better. No one is 100% prepared to take on the world after high school.
No matter how much meticulous planning you (freshman year me) have done, how many questions you (freshman year me) pester people with, no matter how much you (freshman year me) daydream about the future, some things are going to take you by surprise.
And that is completely normal.
If you knew everything about everything, there would be no point going to college, grad school, and beyond. You are supposed to be unprepared because that is how learning happens.
However, just because you are unprepared doesn't mean you can't succeed. Each of us will face a unique set of challenges in college, and success can look different for each person. The things you struggle with may not be the same hurdles that your roommate or your best friend have to overcome.
After I got my college acceptance letter, the main thing I worried about was making friends. Would I be interesting and outgoing enough to meet new people? Was I really picking a school that was right for me?
I spared around two seconds to think about academic demands of college, then went right back to wondering about my social life. I did care about getting good grades in college, I cared a lot, but they had come easily in high school so I took for granted that college would be the same way.
When I got to college, I joined a team, and was lucky enough to get to know some amazing people on campus. I had a family and support system at school within just a few months.
Academic life was a different story. I floundered. I was behind on the curriculum and had no clue how to study for an exam. I had never studied for a test in my life because my high school teachers always spelled out exactly what I needed to know. In college classes, professors used phrases like, “This is easy stuff” or the ever-terrifying, “We’ll just go through this quickly because you should remember it from high school.”
I did not remember it from high school. I had never been taught those things in high school. My life as a college student started as an ungainly dog paddle while I frantically tried to keep up with waves of lectures and homework that went over my head.
Things that I stressed about before coming to college ended up being non-issues. I made great friends right away. Homework, which I had thought would be no big deal, stressed me out more than anything. I earned my first C grade in my first semester of college, and I worked harder for that class than I had for any A grade in high school.
In short, my first semester of college was completely the opposite of everything I had predicted.
College is a balancing act of lots of super important and extremely time-consuming things. Academics, friends, extracurriculars, campus organizations, plus the goal of getting solid meals and eight hours of sleep every so often.
All of these things are going to constantly compete for your attention. Some of them will come to you easily, and others will not.
The best advice that I ever received about college was, "You'll have good days and bad days." Simple, but completely true. There are days you feel like you have it all together, and days where you feel overwhelmed by the simplest things.
We put a lot of emphasis on "getting prepared for college" as if someone, somewhere, has these foolproof techniques for leading the perfect college career. All you have to do is follow their instructions step-by-step! Then you're set!
Not so much.
You might fail an exam. You could lose touch with old friends. You will probably join a club or take on an academic major that you later realize isn't the right fit for you.
I am not saying that preparation for college is a useless or bad thing. It is a great thing! You should do whatever you need to in order to feel as informed, prepared, and comfortable as you can before you walk into your freshman dorm for the first time. Talk to people, go to orientation, ask questions. This place is going to be your home for four years and you should have an idea of what opportunities are available to you while you are here.
I am just saying, don't freak out and assume you are doing college wrong on the days you make a mistake. You can prepare for every possible scenario, and there will still be things that take you by surprise.
Being prepared for college isn't about leading a perfect life. You prepare so that when the "uh-oh!" or the "If only I'd known..." moments happen, you can deal with them as well as possible.
In the competitive atmosphere that college acceptances can create, it is important to remember that preparation does not equal perfection. If you have a bad day, you aren't doing anything wrong. You are normal.
The good days and bad days will continue throughout your whole college career. Right now I don't always feel focused enough, smart enough, mature enough, to be starting my senior year of college in a few months. When those uncertainties sneak in, I try to take a step back and realize that being totally prepared is not the point.
Perfection is not the point of college. After the mistakes, the mess-ups, and the awkward moments, come the memories, the laughs, and the lessons. And that is the point.