Going to college can be a scary thing- leaving your friends and family behind to embark on a new chapter in your life. How do you prepare for something that seemed so far away less than a year ago? Some people search the web for vlogs of students who have been in their shoes, others refer to stories that they have heard from friends and family. Regardless of how they get the information, most people have some type of idea of what to expect from college. Well, I am here to tell you that you can throw all those ideas out of the window. The college experience is different for each person and although some experiences are universal, the path YOU will take in college will differ from that of your classmates. This is not necessarily a bad or a good thing, it just is what it is. When you come to college you are going to meet people with different lived experiences, whether it be: race, religion, or economic status. College is the one place where despite the common goal of obtaining a degree, there are different paths to take to get there. So, to alleviate some of the anxiety that comes with the first year of college, I am going to list 5 things that I wish I knew my freshman year.
- Not everyone has the same background as you.
I come from a place where the demographic of people is similar throughout the entire town. I did not live in a small town, but no matter where I went the people looked like me and we had similar struggles. In college, there are all types of people coming together in an academic environment. Some people come from more privileged backgrounds than others, some come from a different country all together. Regardless of this, you have to be open to learning from others. No matter how uncomfortable you may feel, learning from others is an invaluable experience.
- Take advantage of the services your school offers.
College is expensive but you are paying for a lot more than just classes and living. Your school probably offers a lot of free services that come included with your tuition fee. From the gym for health nuts, to tutors and the career center, there are a lot of services that your school may offer you. It took me until my sophomore year to realize that it was okay to use these and there was no extra cost. There are so many people who work in your school who like their jobs and are willing to help you with anything you need. My school, for example, offers mental health services, nutritionists, tutors, career advice and so much more. Do not be afraid to use these, technically, you already paid for it.
- Find mentors & network!
I put these two together because college is a hub for networking so any relationship you build is technically you “networking.” Create a LinkedIn page, it is kind of like Facebook for professionals. Here you will be able to see all the amazing things your classmates are doing and might even find some cool opportunities. Now, finding mentors is super important. Your school is going to assign some advisors to you whether it be a major advisor, or an advisor based on your last name. However, this does not mean you only have to use assigned advisors. You can have a mentor for any aspect of your life: a mentor for your future career, a mentor for classes you want to take, a peer mentor to help you navigate student life. Life is complex so do not be afraid to get some guidance from those who already went through the process.
- Go to office hours. Ask for help.
This goes hand in hand with finding mentors. Like I said earlier, there are a lot of people who work at your school that like their job, so do not feel like you are being annoying by asking questions. Seriously, do not wander around confused because you felt like you had a “dumb” question. Remember the money you pay to be at school. And going to office hours is very beneficial. Not only are you going to understand the class material and pass the class, but you are also creating a relationship with your professor. Think about how good that is for letters of recommendations in the future. A professor is more likely to write you a strong letter of rec if they know who you are. If for some reason you cannot make it to their scheduled office hours, do not be afraid to reach out and ask for a modified appointment. More often than not, they will agree and if by chance they do not, ask for other options.
- Do NOT feel like you are falling behind because your classmates are doing “better” things than you.
This is the reason I stressed that every path will be different in college. A lot of students get in the toxic mindset of comparing themselves to other people they see on campus. This is a terrible thing to do because it makes you feel like you are falling behind when, in reality, you are probably just not celebrating your own accomplishments in the same way. Do not ever feel like you are not doing enough because some people you see seem to be doing the most. Your mental health is very important and constantly comparing yourself is not beneficial. Even if someone you know happened to find the cure for cancer, it does not mean that the work you are doing is any less important. Surround yourself with people who will celebrate your accomplishments and not make everything a competition.
These are just a couple of highlights from the gazillions of things I wish I had known my freshman year. I am a big believer of everyone has to make their own mistakes to learn. However, when you do make those mistakes, do not be so hard on yourself. College is hard, and you have made it this far. The next couple of years of your life will be a rollercoaster of emotions. Embrace the struggle and have fun. College is the time to learn more about yourself. So, do not stay cooped up in your room, go and make some memories.