The college journey is overwhelming. In the beginning you have the tours, the applications and essays, the tuition costs, and—finally—the important decision of where you’re actually going to go. Then you start another journey as a real-life college student, on a real-life college campus, that forces you into a lot of unknown territory. It’s a lot, I know!
Even as a current student in college with only two semesters left until graduation (scary!), my journey isn’t over. Every day I learn something new, things I wish I’d known my freshman year. But as a senior who knows these things now, and who has experience working with younger students, I feel a responsibility to share my cumulative wisdom. So here I am now with three things I wish I knew during my freshman year of college.
1. There are more housing options than you’re led to believe
…and all of them are equally valid depending on the kind of student you are.
The college dorm is hyped up in movies, books, TV, etc.—especially the double-occupancy rooms. But depending on your personality, a roommate might be the best or worst thing ever. If it’s the latter, I’ve got some good news for you. I had no idea there were other housing options other than a double-occupancy dorm room. But there are—and a lot of them! It’s important to consider which option works best for you (and possibly for the one who is paying for housing, like a parent or guardian).
Be sure to scope out a university’s housing page. They all look a bit different, but the information should be available to you somewhere online. Keywords to look for include: on-campus housing (like dorms), off-campus housing (such as apartments), and single, double and/or triple occupancy (no roommate, one roommate, two roommates, etc.). The pros and cons of having roommates is a whole other article though [which you can read right here!].
Also be aware of the bathroom situation, because they can vary a lot. Some dorms will have a communal bathroom (Pitch Perfect style), while others may have a semi-private bathroom. During my freshman year, I lived in a double-occupancy with a roommate (I’ll call her Blaire—cool name for a cool girl), and we shared a bathroom with the room next door.
Four girls, one bathroom—I expected a nightmare scenario of rushed mornings and a line to use the toilet. But surprisingly, a balance of different routines worked out perfectly, and it was rarely an inconvenience. Also, I didn’t have to walk down the hall just to use the bathroom, so that was nice.
Related: A Handy Guide to Surviving Dorm Life
2. You don’t have to be best friends with your roommate or hallmates
…or anyone you don’t want to, for that matter!
I’m going to be honest with you all—I struggle with social anxiety and always have. But one of my resolutions as a new and improved college freshman was that I wasn’t going to let it prevent me from meeting new people and trying new things. An honorable goal, I thought.
However, it was a thin, double-edged sword. I forced myself into things that I didn’t enjoy with people I didn’t like because I thought not doing so was letting my anxiety hold me back. I don’t mean partying or anything like that—I’m still a huge introverted bookworm. More like forcing myself to join my new hallmates in a game of Cards Against Humanity at midnight when I had classes early the next morning, just because I believed my not wanting to join them was due to anxiety.
In reality, I simply didn’t mesh well with them; we had nothing in common, our senses of humor were very different, and frankly, I didn’t (and still don’t) like staying up late due to chronic migraines in the morning. All in all, it was a bad time and I didn’t end up feeling like I’d overcome my anxiety at all. I’d only felt some weird obligation to do things I didn’t like and felt miserable because of it.
The lesson here is, freshman year is a fresh start for many people, and odds are you have similar goals in mind to make new friends and try new things. But a word from the wise, if I may: let freshman year be a year of self-discovery. Say yes to the things you like and allow yourself to accept the things you don’t. If you need permission to say no, I give it to you. Say no and let yourself go to bed. (I wish I had.)
3. There are a lot of campus resources available to you
…and you should take advantage of them!
I’m currently employed at my University’s Writing Center, a resource I didn’t even know existed until I saw the hiring signs the end of my sophomore year. I’ve been a student at the University of North Texas for three years now, yet I never knew there was help available for essays, new citation formats, and more. Not to mention the fact these tutors are paid through tuition payments, so the service is completely free to enrolled students. Crazy, right?
I have no idea how my grades these last three years may have been impacted by such a resource. As an incoming or a current freshman, you should take the time to learn about the campus resources available to you. If you’re lucky, tour guides may point them out to you on campus visits, and/or orientation leaders will give you packets of information about them.
Helpful resources I can’t emphasize enough include (though names may vary from campus to campus): the Writing Center, Math Labs (like the Writing Center, but for math), the Career Center (specific help for building résumés, CVs, interview practice, etc.), and whatever department your university has for helping students build financial responsibility. Our Money Management team helps students learn how to budget, for example, which can really be helpful depending on your current financial outlook!
On a more personal level, also check if your campus has a Student Wellness Center, which may include free mental health counseling. This has been undeniably valuable during my time in college, helping me learn how to manage stress and anxiety levels, and I’m a big advocate for helping students balance academic and personal well-being!
Your school will have a home page dedicated to all sorts of resources like these, so take a couple of minutes to check them out. And when you find yourself with an essay you just can’t figure out, schedule an appointment with your campus Writing Center.
We hope these insider tips help you conquer your freshman year of college! And for even more first-year advice, check out our Student Life section.