With my first year of college now behind me, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on a year that has admittedly been the most challenging, overwhelming, and memorable in my past 19years of existence. A lot of my fellow first-years (now turned sophomores) can probably relate to these sentiments as well. Moving to a new country and assimilating to a completely different environment while withstanding the many trials and tribulations of “adulting” have been nothing short of interesting—a far cry from the rather cushioned existence of my high school years. Even though there are more experiences to come and I’ve only tested the waters, the following are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my first year of college.
1. Manage your expectations
There’s a certain kind of novelty associated with college, especially when we’re in high school, because we see it as an escape from the confines of childhood. As a result, we’re often eager to live out the idea of college rather than the true experience. This conflated view leaves when you finish your first few weeks and realize the true scope of the situation. I believe it’s essential to enter your first year with a clear mind so you’re more open to all the different obstacles and experiences that await you. Be sure to set aside everything you’ve heard from your friends, as your journey will be totally different.
2. Find a work-life balance
We’re told to find a work-life balance starting in middle and high school, but it’s more crucial once you enter college, as it becomes your responsibility to manage your work and stress levels. You’re finally on your own, and it’s up to you to stay on top of it all. College life isn’t limited to your academics and classes; it encompasses the initiatives and experiences you embark on through the course of your undergraduate years. Campus life tends to be vibrant, as college is a community of different talents, cultures, and ideas. Try taking on different extracurriculars and take the initiative from the beginning so you have a balanced and stable life on campus. This is the perfect time to make memories and meet fascinating people.
3. Value your independence
Looking back, I realize how we perceive college as representational of hedonism and freedom, especially when we’re in high school. But the true value of independence is so much deeper and more complex than that. It encompasses so many different things you usually learn in your first full year on campus. College life teaches you hard lessons, particularly how to look out for yourself and manage your finances and responsibilities, but it doesn’t exactly give you independence in the way you expected. Your choices and decisions—academically and socially—are the focal points of your new independence, as you have the ability, wisdom, and resolve to undertake and execute them.
4. Understand the complexities of relationships
The people you meet on your first day or eat lunch with for the first time aren’t necessarily the people you’ll call your “college friends,” because everyone tends to change (even in those first few weeks, let alone the whole year). We look for those special social connections and groups to not only redefine ourselves but to adjust to the strains of a big life change. Your friendships and relationships will evolve when you enter this new world. They say the friends and connections you make at college usually last a lifetime, but that can be untrue at times. Some of these friendships may be the most valuable, while others may turn toxic.
Some relationships may tend to be more professional and hierarchical in nature because, as first-years, we literally start our way from the bottom to the top. You may need to interact with seniors and teaching assistants in different settings and for different purposes. With the complications of the real world and the combined impacts of individual and group politics, relations often tend to focus on other complexities like power and pride, and it becomes convoluted when you’re forced to navigate both.
5. Find your identity
Even though college is the best time to reinvent yourself completely as an individual, it’s imperative that you stay true to yourself and your ideals in the process. We often get caught in a frenzy to live up to an ideal version of ourselves or a warped sense of reality. Defining and understanding yourself in the context of a new realm is complicated and overwhelming. Personally, I struggled a lot with this—I got trapped in the throes of moving to a completely different country on top of already being an immigrant in my home country. While adjusting to all the changes, try to attain a new understanding of the world around you.
Even though everyone’s first-year story is different, most of them tend to have a lot to do with different combinations and variations of these factors. As your world grows bigger and more chaotic, you’ll learn those important life lessons and hard truths that you’ll carry with you for life and will soon wear like armor. Your first year is that first but essential steppingstone.
If you're still nervous going into your first semester, check out the advice in our blog 5 Ways to Prepare for Freshman Year of College!