What I Wish I’d Known as a Freshman

College student smiling
By Christine H.

College is exciting. It’s the time when you decide who you’re going to be and what you’re going to do. It’s the first time that you’re away from your family and able to do things completely independently. It can also be completely and utterly overwhelming.

Here are a few things that I wish I’d known my first year of college, to get the most out of my experience:

1: Take classes that will challenge you

Don’t go for the easy A. This college thing is expensive, and you want to really make the most of the opportunities you have here. Sure, don’t overload yourself. But don’t slide through, either. Take classes that pique your interest at the beginning, even if they’re not perfectly on the path of your graduation plan. Take time to try new things, and challenge yourself.

2: Get involved in the fun side

It’s easy to get bogged down with the pressure of grades and finals. But the majority of your treasured college memories are going to come from outside of the classroom. Show some school spirit in your dress and activity, go to games, and join in on rivalries in good-natured fun. Make time for extracurricular activities, and practice saying yes to things that you’re nervous about.

3: Take the opportunity to travel

College guys at football game Student visas are pretty much the easiest method of traveling, and traveling deeply. I mean, the kind of travel where you’re not just a tourist, but a participant in the country that you visit. It gets a lot more difficult when you’re done with school. So, even though you don’t have money for it right now, seize opportunities to study abroad, or to backpack Europe during summer vacation.

4: Be friends with people from different backgrounds

Something about being away from home will make you gravitate towards anything familiar. That’s fine, at first, but the truth is that here at college is one of your biggest opportunities to understand people from completely different walks of life. Embrace that! Don’t think that you have to agree on everything in order to get along. In order to understand who you are and who you want to be, you’ll probably want to be exposed to a lot of different ways of living.

5: There are cheap grocery options besides ramen!

Seriously, if you can live off of rice, bananas, and potatoes, you can eat for under 100$ per month, easily. Your thriving young body might be able to run off of red bull and nothing else for right now, but you’ll see a marked improvement if you differentiate your diet with something a little more substantial. So learn how to cook for yourself. It really is possible to eat well without sacrificing too much money or time.

6: Your major doesn’t matter as much as you think

Girl who fell asleep studyingThere’s a lot of pressure attached to finding your major. It’s terrifying! But what’s important to remember is that in the long run, WHAT your degree is in won’t matter near as much as the fact that you actually have one. Which major you pick right now doesn’t necessarily have to dictate the rest of your life. It can just be career #1 in a world where people change careers (yes, careers, not jobs) three times or more in their lifetime. You can still change your mind later down the road, and you’re guaranteed to learn and evolve a lot while you’re out there in the workforce. Remember, it doesn’t all have to happen right now.

7: Work

A lot of people are critical of working while studying, thinking that it will compromise your focus on academics. But the truth is, you’re going to learn just as much in the jobs that you find as you do in your classes. Taking full-time jobs during the off-semester can help you gain more direction about where you want to work and what you want to learn while you’re in school. Working a part-time job during the semester can help you be exposed to fascinating experiences, since work-study programs often give you a chance to work in different areas, with different mentors. In my personal experience, it also forces you to manage your time better.

8: Friends come and go

You probably hear that “during college you make friends that you’ll keep with you your whole life!” Well, that’s true. But it’s also true that you meet a LOT of people during college. Some will become great friends, others won’t. You might feel like you’re a rotating door of friend-groups and relationships sometimes. Don’t get too discouraged by this. The reason that college friends last is because you find people who truly share your values and interests, and because you share experiences that bond you together forever. Those friends and relationships with shine through over time, and even over moves. Don’t get anxious because someone gets wrapped up in a relationship for a little while, or because another friend transfers to another school. Learn to roll with the fluctuations and keep in touch where you can.

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