Advice to College Freshmen: Don’t Waste It

college

We blinked and summer ended — how did that happen so quickly?! — so for many lucky readers, it’s time to head to college for their freshman year of school. This is an extremely exciting season of transition, one filled with anticipation of the changes that lie ahead.

As a college graduate myself, I look back on my times in school so fondly, but I also remember feeling nervous to embark on my collegiate journey. While I couldn’t wait to start a new chapter in life, I had nothing to compare the experience to, leaving me feeling a little anxious about what steps to take when I arrived on campus.

Based on my own experiences and the feedback and wisdom from friends, here is some advice for freshmen heading to college:

college advice

Strive for Balance

There is a plethora of things to do in college, ranging from cool courses to take to fun extracurricular activities to pursue. You can spend a semester abroad or get an interesting internship; you can find a great job on campus or join a sorority or social club. You can choose a major in a variety of topics like foreign languages or journalism, art history or economics. You’ll meet new classmates, make new friends, go on dates, and find mentors who can guide you through your academic and vocational paths. You’ll take weekend trips and host parties and try new restaurants; you’ll take fitness classes and tailgate during football season and read great books.

In the midst of all of this gloriousness, strive to find balance in your life. It’s especially easy for college freshmen to get overwhelmed by all of the amazing choices at their disposal. By putting too much emphasis on your social life, your schoolwork will suffer, and while life shouldn’t solely be about academia, learning new things and working towards a degree is why you’re at college in the first place. On the other hand, if you lock yourself away in the library and focus only on your grades, then you’ll miss out on the opportunities your university affords you to expand your horizons and widen your worldview. Getting great grades is important, but there is also much to be learned from activities, lectures, trips, and new relationships.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Resist the temptation to compare your experiences to those of your friends from high school. I learned this lesson very acutely when I traveled from my Midwestern hometown to California to attend a small private university. Most of my high school friends attended Big Ten schools within driving distance of home, and while we all had absolutely wonderful college experiences that fit each of our unique personalities so well, initially it was easy (and unhelpful) for me to compare my experience with theirs. I quickly realized that this was like comparing apples to oranges; we had chosen colleges that fit our individual personalities, so naturally our weekends and classes and friend groups wouldn’t look the same. And that was more than okay. It brought a new richness to our lives, and it allowed us to fully develop into the women we were meant to become.

freshmen advice

Work Hard — But Don’t be Too Tough on Yourself

Regardless of the type of high school you attended, the transition to college will be difficult. The schedule itself — attending certain classes on specific days instead of every day — is an adjustment, and the coursework is typically far more time-intensive than the homework we had in high school. Many freshmen remark about the increased intensity of the work they’re assigned, often feeling like they’ll crumble from the weight of the work. Instead of focusing on all that lies ahead, take things day by day. Set aside a few minutes each day to organize your homework, your syllabus for each class, your school supplies, and your daily schedule (including extracurricular activities). Ensuring that you are prepared for each day will help you turn in assignments on time and avoid late-night cramming sessions.

Remember to give yourself grace as you adjust to this rigorous academic tempo, allowing yourself to take a breath and reduce coursework-related stress. This transition takes time, and as long as you are constantly applying yourself and challenging yourself to put forth your best effort, you can rest assured that you will succeed in the long run. Take breaks from homework to do things that give you a burst of energy or make you feel relaxed. Make time to exercise and eat well, too. Get enough sleep (or at least plan for a nap or two!) and find creative hobbies or outlets that complement your studies.

This transition takes time, and as long as you are constantly applying yourself and challenging yourself to put forth your best effort, you can rest assured that you will succeed in the long run.

Enjoy Every Minute

This is certainly clichéd advice, but we couldn’t share our thoughts for college freshmen without including this tidbit: Enjoy every single beautiful moment. College absolutely flies by; it’s crammed with so much goodness that, as Ferris Bueller said, “if you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

Take tons of photos of all of your adventures, but remember to put your device down from time to time, allowing you to soak up these precious years in real time. Embrace the hard experiences along with the good ones, knowing that every bitter moment will be countered by a sweet one. Revel in your travels, your relationships, your classes, and your experiences, practicing gratitude for this wonderfully irreplaceable season in your life.

Fellow college graduates: What insight would you add to this list?

Images via Gabbi Renee

Rachel is the Development Director for the Touch A Life Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to the rescue and rehabilitation of exploited and trafficked children in West Africa and Southeast Asia. She currently lives in Dallas, TX, with her husband, their baby girl Ruby, and their cuddly English mastiff.

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