With the start of school next week - at least at my university - and the stresses that come with the final first day of school for my undergraduate degree (!!!), I have started reflecting on how my college journey has gone thus far. I’ve had the pleasure the past few days of working with incoming college freshmen. It’s been wonderful seeing the pure excitement they display at the onset of their college experience, and it’s been great helping them navigate the campus and figure out who their professors are. It’s not those things, though, that will leave a lasting impact on them once they’ve made it to their senior year. While knowing where you’re going is important and being excited about the beginning of this new chapter is great, the real lessons and growth that college is all about will come further down the road - and they won’t always be exciting or easy to navigate. Even though college can be hard, it is definitely worth it in the end. I cannot wait to walk across the stage and get my diploma in the spring and be able to say I am a college graduate.
As a way to ring in the new school year, and the class of 2020, I thought I would compile some of my advice to incoming college freshman as they prepare to tackle their first week of classes. Here’s five things I wish someone had told me my first semester:
Be prepared to be overwhelmed.
I think that sometimes this tidbit of college life is ignored or thought to be overly dramatized but I can assure you, it’s not. You may not be overwhelmed your first day of class - you may not be overwhelmed your first semester - and that’s great, but there will come a time when you are so overwhelmed with tests and papers and projects and work and volunteer activities and extracurricular activities that all you want to do when planning your schedule for the next week (maybe even just tomorrow) is cry. It’s okay to be overwhelmed, but it’s also okay to take some things off of your plate when this happens. Sometimes you need to step down from your role in a club so that you can study more, sometimes you need to reduce your hours at work to reduce your stress level, and sometimes that meme about the craziness of finals week is a little bit too relatable. You can handle it, remember that, but also remember that you will probably be extraordinarily overwhelmed at some point - don’t expect everything to be easy.
Communicate with your professors and your fellow classmates.
As a commuter student, I find that sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of showing up to class and then leaving without so much as saying a “hello” to another human being. Don’t do this. Your professors and your fellow students are going to be some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet. Take the time to get to know them. Go to office hours for help, but not always just about class. Professors are great at helping you figure out a career path, pointing you in the right direction for tutoring or other academic help, and even for helping you fix a problem with your roommate. They give great advice about class and life, and most of the time your professors want to talk to you! Always find a buddy in your class, too, as no one else will know what you’re going through quite like they will - and you might just end up with a new best friend for life.
Your friends will shift around a lot your first year or two.
This was one of the hardest realizations I had to come to terms with coming into college. It’s not like high school, where students are often stuck attending whether they like it or not. College isn’t always a good fit for everyone. You’ll make best friends who then leave to go to another university, or who move back home. You may even have friends who decide they’d rather work at McDonald’s for the rest of their lives rather than sit through another organic chemistry lecture. Sometimes you’ll simply grow apart from the friends you were close with your freshman year. Friendships are always worth it, whether they are short term or they last a lifetime, but it will be hard adjusting from spending nearly every waking minute with a person one semester to never seeing them the next. It’s alright to feel confused without your partner in crime, but you’ll find a new group of friends eventually, and maybe you’ll find out a bit more about yourself in the process.
You will hit a wall at some point.
There will come a time when you simply cannot find the motivation to continue with your education. When it seems like it will never all be worth it and that things aren’t going as planned. It may be because of a difficult class, a difficult season when it comes to your social life, or simply because you are tired of constantly running around and trying to keep your schedule straight. It’ll be hard, but you can get over that wall. Remember what you felt like the week before school your freshman year. That nervous energy and utter excitement was there for a reason. Find that reason and let it propel you over the wall and onto your future.
It’s all going to be so, so worth it in the end.
Looking back now on my first days of school from freshman, sophomore, and junior year, I know what I have gotten through to get here. There have been difficult classes, difficult relationships, and just plain difficult days that made me question what I am doing. I still don’t have everything figured out - I don’t know what I will be doing when I graduate in the spring. I don’t know where life will take me or who will be by my side at the end of it all. I do know, though, that every step of this journey has been worth it. That I will be a better person on this side of the last four years than I was coming into this thing, and that college overall has been one of the most amazing experiences I have had so far.