If you’re anything like the 16-year-old version of me, going to college would seem like a dream come true to you. Meeting new people, living in a dorm, and experiencing freedom for the first time were adventures I couldn’t wait to embark on. But fast forward a little more than a year later, the second day of my life at Ursuline College. I was locked in a bathroom stall crying as I fought feelings of desperation, anxiety, and confusion. The second day, mind you. If you had asked 16-year-old me what I thought I was going to be doing on my second day of college, I would respond with something like, “Having the time of my life and building friendships that will last a lifetime. What else?”
Not that I wasn’t doing those things too. After my crying jag, I went back to my dorm room and bonded over a three-hour-long conversation with my new roommate. She revealed that she was as nervous as I was. You see, these feelings are completely natural to have. College is an awesome, priceless experience. It’s also a stressful one. There’s the stress of leaving home and being stuck in a totally foreign environment. And before you even get used to that, you’re boggled down with assignments and activities. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed, even only into the first week. Luckily, with my roommate’s and a few other students’ help, I survived my first month at school and learned some valuable lessons. If you’re preparing to attend college, read on. These lessons are useful to any incoming freshman.
1. Feeling emotional is natural
About the breakdown in the bathroom stall at my new dorm? It’s not pretty, but it’s normal. Leaving your old home and moving into a dorm where Dad isn’t around to hug or Mom can’t kiss you may not seem like a big deal when you’re still in high school. But trust me, after the excitement of college wears away, you start to feel homesick and are surprised at how much you miss your family and old friends. You may also feel nervous about making new friends and worry that you won’t be able to complete assignments on time. Because of these doubts, you may even start to believe college isn’t for you. My suggestion? Talk these feelings out with other students, freshmen like you or more seasoned upperclassmen. You will be shocked to find out how many kids are experiencing the same things you’re going through. I know I was.
2. Find balance
College isn’t all about academics. Schools, even small ones like the one I attend, offer a dizzying amount of activities and clubs to sign up for. Just two weeks into my semester, I was enrolled in my dorm’s Residents’ Hall Council and First Year to Career club. I also signed up for volunteer days and mystery tour buses, with yoga classes and movie nights also on my to-do list. Last but first on my list of priorities is my schoolwork. Fun fact: I’m taking 17 credit hours this semester. When you go to college, you’re most likely going to be as busy as I am, and that’s great! Like one of the seniors at Ursuline told me, employers don’t just look at GPA but also what else you did with your life. That being said, it’s crucial that you manage your school work, extracurricular activities, and, of course, social life so that you are still healthy and happy. Also, do not be afraid to skip an event or even drop a club if you need to study more. Which brings me to my next point . . .
3. Don’t be ashamed to study
I’m going to admit something: I’m a bit of a nerd. I love to spend hours at the library poring over my textbooks. Some of the people I hang out with notice this and make snarky jokes about the library being my second home. I don’t listen to them, and neither should you, even if you are the furthest thing from a nerd. You can go to parties and have fun, but when it’s time to study, give it your best effort. Your “friends” may try to distract you by arguing that the assignment you’re working on is not due for a long time. They may even promise that you can get passing grades without reading any textbooks. Ignore this advice. You’re here at college to get an education, not to find reasons to put off studying. And believe me, once you have completed all your homework and papers, you’ll feel so much better.
4. The syllabus is your guide to academic success
College courses are a level higher than high school ones. Many of my classmates, most of whom had above average GPAs in high school, are struggling to maintain a 3.0 here at Ursuline. One reason is that they are overwhelmed with assignments and don’t keep track of the deadlines well enough. These problems are why the syllabus exists. You can’t always rely on the professors to tell you what days exams are on or when papers are due, but checking the syllabus daily is an easy way to keep up on these course requirements. I survived my classes by reading each syllabus and underlining the deadlines for all upcoming assignments. In one particular class, I keep getting perfect grades on pop quizzes. This is because I always look at the course schedule to find out which readings are due and come to class prepared to discuss and write about them.
5. Make mistakes, but don’t accept failure
“Become comfortable with failure,” one of my new friends overheard a mentor say. I strongly oppose this statement. I have only been here at Ursuline for a little over a month, but I have already learned that college is the biggest challenge in my life so far. I am putting my time, effort, and money into succeeding at it. I will make mistakes, but if I become comfortable with failure, I risk allowing it to define me. This applies to all college students. You may come to college and think you’re doing everything wrong. You may make big mistakes, like missing classes and failing tests. Don’t give up! Accept that you were wrong and find ways to improve the situation. It may take a long time and a considerable amount of effort, but one day you and I will be exiting that stage with a diploma in hand.
Fellow freshmen: how has your first month of college been going? Tell us on Twitter!