Throughout our lives, we are constantly bombarded by the media, adults, and other students about how college is the absolute best time of your life. We create, and have created for us, an image of what college life should be—all fun all the time. In reality, college is fun; it’s a great experience to learn and grow, as well as have new adventures with new and different people. However, this image of college as constantly fun and perfect can be challenging, and set one up for disappointment, especially for first year students.
College is a big change. It is a transition that may not be similar to anything you have experienced in the past. You’re living in a new place, with new people—who, by the way, do not take care of you in the same way you might be used to—and living a new life! This is exciting and freeing but also terrifying. Being “on your own” for the first time is a big responsibility and it is hard. You will feel defeated at times, you will feel homesick, and you may feel like things aren’t how you expected them to be. And that’s okay. And while at times you may feel like you’re doing college all wrong, you aren’t.
- What You Need to Know About Social Life
YOU’RE FREE! Finally, no one to tell you what time to come home, when to study vs not, when and what to eat. You get to hang out with your friends all the time—life is a constant sleepover, but you get to sleep in your own bed. It’s awesome. But, all that responsibility can be a lot to handle. For me, being extremely extroverted and always getting FOMO (fear of missing out), I wanted to be with people all the time and go to every single thing I could … but you have to study … a lot. Managing your time is one aspect that may not come so easily, but you have so much more free time than in high school. You, not have to, but get to, make your own schedule, not only for classes, but also for what goes on in between—sleeping, eating, studying, hanging out with friends, clubs, and activities.
Friends. Those people—aka my friends—who I love to be around constantly, were not just automatically my friends. I went in, again with this unrealistic picture of what my college experience would be, which included immediately having a great group of best friends. It takes time. You will meet a ton of people those first weeks and people will cling to each other to avoid the dreaded eating alone at meal times, but don’t worry if you don’t feel like you have met your best friends immediately. You will find your people.
Partying. Again with the freedom here; it’s awesome. But make sure you find balance. Going out is fun and can be a great way to meet new people, but if it’s not for you, don’t feel pressure. You also don’t have to go to every single party. Trust me; there will be plenty more. There are tons of other ways to meet people and have fun in college. If you do want to go out, make sure you’re safe. I always say go with a friend or a group. Unfortunately, sexual assault is way too big of a problem on college campuses and while it is not fair at all that it’s something you have to worry about, you do need to be careful. Don’t leave your drink anywhere and don’t drink something that you don’t know what’s in it. Have fun but be safe.
- What You Need to Know About Academics
Wow, college is hard! So, it’s not just a four year party. But … you get to learn about things you love!
Grades. So you made a C… again, college is hard. There may be classes that are just more difficult for you, or you may be struggling with finding balance. Here is something to remember: College is not supposed to be easy; it is meant to be harder than high school; it is meant to challenge you. Getting the hang of things may not happen immediately. First, take a deep breath and remember you will get the hang of things soon. Second, take advantage of your resources—ask your professors for help; they have office hours where you can meet with them or their assistant one on one. Also, most schools have tutors and writing centers. Find out what resources your school has and see if you can get help there. It’s not embarrassing to get help—that's why the resources are there—it’s smart. Act quickly to get the help you need and/or change your study strategies. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
But let's take a step back. Before you are in a class you have to register. This can be stressful. You may not have thought about not getting the classes you want, but unfortunately this is a reality and one I did not expect either. I thought if there were a class I found interesting, I would sign up for it and that would be that. Wrong. It can be frustrating when you don’t get the class you want, but it could be an opportunity to take something you may not have taken otherwise. And remember, just because you don’t get a class first semester doesn’t mean you can’t ever take it. You have seven more!
Choosing a major. Today, as in the past, students think the sole reason they are going to college is to get a job, and a good one at that. And while yes, this is a main focus of college, and yes, we do want you to have a job, if you have the opportunity, try to allow your college experience to be more than transactional. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking, “well I spent all this money on college, so I need to make sure I get a high paying job afterwards”—which for some is necessary—and say, “oh, this major looks like it often makes a lot of money out of school. I’ll just do that.” Don’t “just” do anything that is going to help shape your future. If you are majoring in something solely to make money, chances are you are not going to be excited about what you’re doing and may not be happy. You should explore your interests and major in something you love learning about and doing! Another consideration is, just because you major in one field, does not mean you won’t be able to pursue other areas later. Different majors help develop many different skills (such as writing, critical thinking, and more) that will help you in numerous types of jobs. You won’t be completely tied down. For example, a number of schools now allow pre-med students to major in liberal arts fields. So explore areas that interest you and have your career counseling office help you determine how your interests and strengths can be parlayed into a career.
- What You Need to Know About Mental Health
College can be stressful at times. You may have way too many assignments in a week and feel like you just can’t do it. You may decide it’s best to stay up 30 hours straight writing that paper that you waited a littttlllleee too long to start. You may have personal issues going on at home or right there at school. You may feel so homesick you just want to pack up and leave. You may feel anxious, depressed, overwhelmed. When you feel sick or something is wrong with you physically, what do you do? Go to the doctor. So why, then, when something is wrong mentally or emotionally do we not seek this same help? Your mental health is just as important to your wellbeing as anything else. You are a whole person and being healthy is not limited to being void of physical illness. Taking care of yourself is something that is extremely important anytime, but especially in college. You need to be getting enough sleep; you need to allow yourself time away from your studies; you need to seek help when you are feeling down—if you are stressed about your workload, talk to your professors and advisor. Perhaps you can get an extension. Perhaps you took on too many classes and one can be dropped. Find out your options. If you are feeling depressed or anxious, talk to a counselor. There is such a stigma around mental health, but counseling is not something to be ashamed of. There are student counselors on campus for a reason, and so many students use these resources. All in all, remember, you are not alone; there are people to help and support you. Remember to take care of yourself. If your mental health slips, it won’t be long before other areas in your life do as well.
College is such a unique time. And while your expectations may not be met in every way, you get to make this experience what you want. One thing you need to remember is, though academic success is important, that is not the only area on which you should focus. College is a time to figure out who you are, find your passions, and engage deeply. In the time we live, it is easy to only focus on the grade, but remember, you are not defined by a number, and while of course you want to do your best, make sure you are doing your best in all aspects of life—having a happy, well rounded, and exciting experience.
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