Starting your first year in college? Here are some freshman tips to help you get off on the right foot!
Last year I did a series that was really popular and still gets me a lot of visits every month, The Freshman’s Guide to College, but I wanted to expand a bit from that this year. I’m currently finishing my last course of my undergrad, and I’ve been very introspective lately, just remembering all of the things I did right and I did wrong from the years I’ve been in university.
University is really scary, let’s be honest. You’re thrown into a group of thousands of people all doing this adulthood thing for the first time with no idea where they’re going to be at the end of their 4-year degrees. Freshman year, although one of the most exciting, is one of the scariest, in my opinion. So I thought that I’d start with giving some freshman tips to help you get through this year a little more prepared than I was. Complete with pictures from my first year in university, so you can get a glimpse of my life back then.
Freshman Tips #1: You have a chance to start over
This is really not emphasized enough. I went to a big university in my nation’s capital after being a small-town homeschooled kid for my entire life. University allowed me to completely switch how people saw me–instead of being that weird homeschooled kid, I got to be Rebecca, a college woman who’s funny, hard working, and a go-getter.
You don’t need to hold on to what you were in high school. This is your chance to become the person that you’ve always dreamed of being–because no one knows who you are! That anonymity is honestly the best gift you can be given, because it allows you to have choice. So embrace it.
Freshman Tips #2: Make time for fun
I tweeted out that I was writing this blog post and opened it up to other people’s ideas, since I actually did online school for my first year of college. And I got this gem of a reply that I thought was so incredibly true:
Freshman year was a little overwhelming with classes and living on my own. It took a bit for me to realize that it’s okay (and healthy!) to take breaks and to make time for non-school related things that were important to me (like writing). – Danika @Danika_Ivy
Students often have a real feeling of guilt it we take a minute to breathe, and that makes me sad. I cannot tell you how many times I have felt the same way that Danika did, and I can assure you–you’ll get there as you start college for the first time. You can go in with all the best intentions to continue to take good care of your mental health but it gets really hard when you’re there. College can be really overwhelming, and it can be so tempting to just pull all-nighters multiple times a week.
The funny thing is, when you take time to care for your mental well-being your marks actually tend to improve–a lot of this is because with less stress, your brain is able to focus better, stay engaged and enthusiastic, and you’ll be in a better place overall.
Remember, your marks aren’t the only things that matter–don’t sacrifice your mental health for that extra 5% in the course. It’s just not worth it.
Freshman Tips #3: Start looking for next year’s roommates SOON
Freshman tips never really talk about looking into the future, I’ve noticed. But this is something that I know a lot of my friends wish they had been told earlier on in the year.
If you’re living in res this year, or are looking to move into an apartment or house with some roommates next year, start looking in January for potential housemates. It makes life so much less stressful when you’ve got it sorted earlier, you can make sure you have roommates you get along with since you’ve had a whole 4 months to get to know them at that point, and you can rest easy knowing that you’ll have a place to live with people you like next year!
And you never know–maybe those girls you live with will end up becoming bridesmaids at your wedding (mine did!).
Freshman Tips #4: You’re going to hate your classes
The biggest lie that people tell freshmen is that in university they finally get to study what they’re really passionate about! No more of these broad, irrelevant courses you had to suffer through in high school!
That is such BS. I’m sorry, but it is.
First year courses are terrible. So are most second year courses. In psychology at least, the courses don’t get interesting and specialized until third year. As well, this is the first time you’ve had to deal with having five courses at once that all have an insane amount of readings. First year is often used to weed out people, and the courses aren’t meant to prepare you for your future career. They’re meant to prepare you for the courses that will prepare you for your future career. So just take a deep breath, grab a cup of tea, and settle in. You might find something interesting along the way–you never know!
Side note: I also know this is very different across majors. English majors often enjoy their courses from start to finish, from my experience, but in a lot of majors it just doesn’t get very interesting until later. So if you find your courses really dull, take heart! Or ask yourself these questions to see if you actually should change your major.
Freshman Tips #5: Your health is worth the investment
This is something I really didn’t realize I had let slip until my third year of school (same old story, I know). I definitely put on the freshman 15, and it took a lot of work to get them off again.
Staying healthy in college is even more important than it was in high school for most of us. You’re sitting at a desk all day, in front of a laptop, and then sitting in class listening to lectures when you finally get to venture out from behind your desk.
You don’t need to do much–but even if you start small by eating healthy lunches and breakfasts instead of just having pancakes and heavy pastas. When you’re doing a bunch of readings you don’t really need to take notes on, why not try to do some of them while walking on an incline on the treadmill? This year you have a chance to decide who you will become, so please take steps to make sure that you become a healthy person. Maybe not a crazy health nut, but at least stay in shape.
Freshman Tips #6: You’re allowed to be homesick
When my parents dropped me off at the condo where I would be living for the next two years, I bawled. Like, big, ugly, gut-wrenching sobs. It just hit me all at once that my entire life was changing and it would never go back. All of the big things I had done before I knew that I could just stop and things would go back to normal. But not now. And I definitely didn’t have any freshman tips telling me that that feeling was perfectly normal. I felt like a complete wimp.
But it’s a big deal, moving out for the first time! If you’re living at home, you’re not excluded from this. Even though you haven’t moved out, you can be homesick for high school again–if your friends left to different cities, or you just miss how things used to be, take heart–it’s normal. We all feel that way. And sooner than you think, this life you’re in right now will become those fond memories you look back on later and say “man, I wish I could go back” the way you do with high school now!
Freshman Tips #7: Your professors aren’t going to seek you out
Let me be clear: college is a place where you are being tested to see if you have what it takes. No one is going to hold your hand.
In high school, if you fail a test your teacher often pulls you aside and says “hey, I’m worried about you. Is everything OK, do you need some extra help?” In college, you fail a test and the prof thinks “Well serves him/her right for not studying hard enough,” even if that’s not the case at all. It’s a very different feel.
Note: I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone at a huge university, not a private college. It may be different in small schools, but if you’re going somewhere like the University of Ottawa it really won’t be in your first year.
But believe it or not, that anonymity with your professors is actually very nice! It gives you a choice–do you want your prof to know you or not? If you don’t, then great! You can just stay quiet in class and pass the class without much of a fuss. But if you really love the course material and you want to better understand it, or to network with your professor, you can talk to your professor and become one of the few kids whose names she or he knows! Then they take a personal interest in your academic success and it’s really fantastic. But you don’t have to be friends with all your profs! Personally, I loved that choice.
Freshman Tips #8: Your grades might fall
Scratch that: your grades WILL fall.
I’m a writer. I blog, and have been blogging since I was 10 years old. I even have a book contract now. I can write. It’s my thing.
But you know what I got on my very first university essay? A 72 percent. Yep, a B- grade. I’m just so lucky that this is one of the freshman tips I had already heard from my mom, so I wasn’t expecting a very good grade on that first essay even though I had started to write university-style essays when I was 12 years old (woot woot homeschooling).
Some of the smartest people I know failed their first labs, midterms, and assignments in university. But you know what? We’re all doing well now and we all had great averages by the time that we graduated! So don’t sweat the first couple of assignments–treat your first semester as a real test-run where you learn what does and doesn’t work for university because it’s a completely different ball game from high school.
Freshman Tips #9: No one else knows what they’re doing, either
One of the things I found most stressful about moving to Ottawa was that I seemed to be the only one that was floundering for the first month or so. But about halfway through the second month I realized something:
No one has any freaking clue what they’re doing.
Seriously! It’s so freeing when you realize this–everyone’s stressed about trying to find an internet plan for the first time, paying their hydro bills, figuring out how to set up automatic transactions for rent–it’s a lot to learn and a very small time to learn it in!
Overall, freshmen, just relax, and realize that everyone’s feeling the same way you are right now. And this year is going to be one of the best of your life, just you wait.
What are some freshman tips you wish you had known when you started college? Tell me in the comments below or tweet me @LifeAsADare!
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