Here’s something no one tells you about college: once you’ve decided to go, there’s a lot of changes you’ll need to adapt to. This summer I was a communications intern at a research institute about five miles from my university. During my lunch breaks, I frequently drove through the main campus en route to my desired eatery, and often saw groups of prospective freshmen touring the campus.
Each time I saw these groups, I would think back to all the advice I was given before starting college, some of which was really helpful.
However, the majority of the tips I received came from either my parents’ friends who went to college in the ‘70s and ‘80s, or from Internet listicles that told me to make college “the best four years of my life,” but didn’t explain how.
In an effort to create a better list of what college freshmen should know before move-in day, I cast a net out on social media and asked my friends and followers to tell me about the best college tips they received.
Here is what I found:
1. Decide what is and isn’t important
One thing college will do to you is make you realize there aren’t enough hours in the day. And while everyone is going to tell you to “get involved with as many things as possible,” the truth is that it’s just not feasible.
When it comes to your course load, extracurricular activities, work, new friends you’re meeting, and old friends you want to keep, you’re going to have to decide where each falls on your priority list.
“The best advice someone ever gave me as a freshman was … that is was okay to be selfish and to make decisions that are going to make me the best version of myself, so that I can then be there for other people.” – Hannah Currens, junior geography major at Macalester College.
2. Make your own decisions, and live by them
Aside from a few meetings with your academic advisor, there isn’t anyone in college telling you what decisions to make. That means nobody from your high school will be pressuring you to take the same classes as them and definitely no parents to answer to about each and every grade you receive (though, if Mom and Dad are paying for your college, it’s probably a bad idea to anger them by getting Ds in your GenEds). That said, it’s up to you to decide if it’s a good idea to go to the frat party instead of study, or to skip your weekend readings and risk being unprepared for class. Again, mistakes are going to happen, but they’re forgivable as long as you can learn from them.
“It’s important to have fun in college, if you don’t you’ll go insane, but I’ve seen way too many people fail classes simply because they never go.” – Karie Langowski, junior biology and philosophy double major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
3. Lose yourself
Mahatma Gandhi once said “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” And, in classic college fashion, I’m going to ignore part of this quote to emphasize the point I’m trying to make. College is one of most useful, if not the most useful experience in determining who you are. In college you discover what you enjoy learning, what people you want to surround yourself with, what values and morals you have, what world views you believe in, and what you stand for.
Do things you never thought you would and lose yourself in things that make you happy.
“Before coming to college I never saw myself joining Greek life. But after seeing how close-knit, involved and welcoming the Greek community was, I joined and would never go back on my decision.” – Greg Donitzen, sophomore pre-middle school education major at Towson University.
4. You’re going to fail
Remember in high school how, if you didn’t do so hot on a test, it wasn’t the end of the world because there were always more exams, projects and assignments to rebound your grade? Well, spoiler alert: college isn’t like that. There isn’t much, if any, classwork, the homework is five times harder and longer than it ever was in high school, and, honestly, neither projects nor homework assignments really matter when tests count for 70 percent of your final grade (and there’s only three throughout the semester).
So whether it’s organic chemistry, calculus or the token freshman writing class, there’s going to be a time when you’re not doing well and your grades reflect that. Such a setback doesn’t mean you’re stupid or that the professor’s a jerk (though the latter might be true). Take from this one of the truest things you can learn in college: you’re going to fail, but you’re going to be okay. Pick yourself up, ask for help, and kick the crap out of the next assignment.
“I’m still learning how to fail gracefully, but I have realized failure is one thing for which high school never prepared me.” – Litty Cutchin, junior aerospace engineering major at University of Maryland.
5. You are unique, but you’re not alone
Have you ever been talking to a close friend and divulged a world view or experience that you think is completely out of the ordinary or totally unique to you and your life, only to find that your friend shares the exact same view or experience? That’s how being a college freshman is. Do you really think you’re the only one apprehensive to use the communal showers? You’re not. Do you think you’re the only one who doesn’t like the mean girls at the end of the hall? Nope, they’re rude to everyone.
The bottom line is this: while you are new, so is everyone else, and you and your fellow newbies have much more in common than you think. Don’t be afraid to talk to people about your interests and secret hobbies or how much you hate icebreakers—you may be surprised at the results.
“… Even though you may feel alone, just know everyone else is facing the same struggles whether it’s apparent or not.” – Dani Skinner, sophomore communication studies major at Grove City College.