I remember move-in day like it was yesterday: unpacking my stuff, chatting with my roommate's family, and partying out on the lawn with my new suitemates as we celebrated our first night on our own. Welcome Week afterward was, ironically, the equivalent of summer camp; now that we're 'adults', we could stay out late and eat as much junk food as we wanted, living it up before our education came back to remind us why we were here in the first place.
The first four months of my college experience felt like a lifetime, yet also no time at all. I live in an eight-person suite, four rooms of two people with two private bathrooms and a small common area. I'm lucky enough to be great friends with my suitemates and my incredible roommate, who have helped me find my footing in our new environment. Together, along with friends from other parts of our residential building, we strike a balance among partying, going on day trips, and studying, which have knit us together as a pretty solid squad.
Here are a few things that I've learned:
#1: Independence is sweet
As the weeks went by, I began to think of myself as an independent adult. The feeling was brought on by the biggest difference I've noticed between college and high school: the amount of freedom college gives me. My suitemates and I can decide one evening to go out together without worrying about asking our parent's permission or keeping curfew. This freedom has led to mild evening dinners and late night adventures through the sketchier parts of town, but most of all it has taught me that I am responsible for myself completely - for better or for worse.
Alongside this, it's taught me that I'm ready to be responsible for myself; that I can do my own laundry, make my own schedule, and have my own fun without needing someone to hold my hand through it all. I'm young and ready to explore the world, and now I've been given the opportunity to do that.
#2 - Easier than A, B, C
All of the rumors about college being easier than high school are true. Not only do I get to choose my classes and when I take them (unless they fill up quickly - register early!), but the classes themselves are ones that I'm interested in. From my university experience, it's been refreshing to learn in classrooms filled with students who actually care about their education (or at least act like they do to keep their parents paying their tuition). I love to learn, and I'm enjoying choosing classes that interest me versus suffering through Pre-Calculus for an hour every day in high school.
With only a few classes per day and classes taken every other day, this leaves a lot of free time. I found that the best use for this time could be exercise, homework, or even sleep. Finding ways to keep myself productive, yet also to give myself personal time, was the key to balancing the new workload and the new experiences.
That isn't to say I made the perfect use of my time at first, however. The worst experience I had with homework this semester was having two 6-8 page essays and a midterm exam due over the same weekend, and since I hadn't worked on the essays that much over the week, I ended up having to write both of them the day before they were due - with a head cold pounding against my skull the whole time.
I powered through and passed all of the assignments, but the experience of stress over that weekend was enough for me to change my ways. I decided to start planning my essays ahead of time and working on any assignment way before the deadline, so that if a pileup ever happens again I can relax and know that I can finish on time.
#3 - Activity is key
The social scene on a college campus has its differences from high school, as well; mostly in the realm of lots of young people having lots of freedom and who are eager to have new experiences. This has led me to have some crazy, sitcom-like adventures with my friends that I could never imagine having in high school, and they've been rewarding and frustrating at various moments. However, I wouldn't trade any of my adventures in this first semester for anything; I've learned so many lessons about myself and met so many great people, and I'm incredibly grateful. While I was lucky enough to be friends with the people in my general vicinity, I'm eager to explore what clubs and organizations my university has to offer for me to connect with even more people on campus and contribute in future years.
#4 - There's no place like home
I've had the advantage of going to school in my home city, but I've seen how homesick my friends have gotten being so far from the familiar feeling of home. Even though I got to see my parents at least once a month, I still longed for a warm hug from my mom when I felt under the weather or overwhelmed, especially when I knew I couldn't see her. That feeling must be compounded for people coming from out of state, which is why I think it's important to surround yourself with good friends and find a support system - such as free therapy from your school's health center or a trusted professor - to help guide you through the painful moments. The transition to adulthood is hard, and coupled with the added pressures of higher education, it can be downright unbearable sometimes.
But you are not alone. More than likely, you're entire building is made up of freshman just like you who don't know what they're doing and are looking for friends. Reach out to your school community and find people who share your passions, and pretty soon you'll feel right at home.
#5 - Overall, it's fantastic
I know it sounds cliché, but college is unlike any other life experience you'll ever have. It's a healthy combination of independence, fear, and responsibility, followed by a (not always) welcome dose of reality. I've realized it's a time for me to find myself, a time to figure out how I might attempt to navigate the rest of my life, and a time to let loose and enjoy my youth while I can.
On this first day of the new year, I'm prepared to start my second semester with as much grace and grit as I can muster, conquering it and hopefully learning a secret or two about how to survive the rest of college. Staying positive and keeping on task with assignments is key, but don't forget to explore everything you're college has to offer. You're only there for four years, after all, and look how fast high school went by!
P.S. Here's a helpful link I found to an article that describes 25 tips to assist with freshman year of college, written by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D. I can attest to all of these tips as helpful to my college experience so far.
Have a memorable college experience and/or helpful tip for incoming freshman? Leave a comment below!