I’ve reached that depressing, tragic moment at which my college experience is nearing an end. No sarcasm – it really is tragic. Sometimes I think the best way to cope is to think of all the silly mistakes I’ve made and how far I’ve come since I was that magical thing called a freshman. Maybe some of you #blessed freshmen or soon-to-be freshmen can also take something away from this.
1. Freshman year is different. Everything is new and exciting your first year in college. You make a new friend about every other day and, conveniently, you don’t have the toughest class schedule so you actually have time to hang out with those friends. The next few years will not be like that and I had no idea how easy and carefree it was until it was over.
I specifically remember going home for Christmas break freshman year and realizing just how much I LOVED college and Fayetteville and could not wait to go back. Although I always loved college, I never really got that feeling again when I went back home for breaks – instead, I was relieved to have a break from the stress, homework and teachers. With that being said, I wish I’d kept in mind that…
2. Freshman year does end. It will seem like it is never going to end but it will, and faster than you’re prepared for it to. I know it’s kind of an obvious tip but: Take in everything and try to really make the most of it. It is the only time you will be brand new on campus and everyone will be obsessed with 1) meeting new people, 2) turning those people into best friends and 3) trying new things every week. So don’t fall for that feeling that it won’t end.
Also, about those friends you make: You may not realize it when these relationships are just beginning but some of the people you meet in college are likely going to be friends you have the rest of your life. It might be corny but it is also true…they are likely going to be in your wedding party. Or at least will be attending your wedding. Or celebrating your first child with you. Or living in a house or apartment with you. Don’t let those friendships slip away.
3. Spoiler alert: this will not be a fun one. Thinking about your major and long-term goals early on is really important. A lot of people say you have no reason to worry too much about what major to choose or what your career goals are when you’re only a freshman. But if you don’t worry at least a little bit about what you want to do, you could end up wasting time (and money) on classes that won’t help you with your future. Put thought into your major freshman year and avoid worrying about it later.
4. Studying abroad is probably not something you’ll think about immediately, but anyone that can do it SHOULD do it. I never thought I would study abroad and it ended up being one of the best decisions of my years in college. Do it as soon as you can. You’ll never have another time in your life when you can get a scholarship or financial aid to TRAVEL and see the world. It is intimidating but it is more than worth it.
5. Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is a great way to find out what you’re capable of doing. This will mean something different for everyone. Whatever that might mean for you, do it. Join a sorority/fraternity. Most of my greatest memories in college are with people I met in Kappa Delta. Become president of a club even if you’ve never done anything like it. Try something new. Get plugged into a local church or bible study, go to a yoga class, join an intramural sports team. Be willing to meet new people and be open to strengthening those relationships. I wish I’d learned this lesson a lot earlier.
With that being said, don’t let any one thing define you. No matter what you are involved in, it is important to remember life is bigger than all of it. Don’t underestimate or limit yourself.
6. Get over your FOMO. Although going out is something you shouldn’t miss, staying in can make for the best nights. We all experience FOMO (fear of missing out) at some point during college and for some people it is every weekend. But trust me, your closest moments with your new or old friends will come on those nights you decide to stay in and watch a movie or play a game or just sit around and challenge each other at Quizup. Don’t be afraid to miss out every once in a while.
7. Care about your grades. It’ll make life easier later on if you take advantage of your easiest classes and don’t let your GPA slip your first year. Plus, if you seriously try to ace the tests the whole semester, you won’t be scrambling at the end of the semester to figure out what you have to make on the final for an A in the class.
Tip: Learn how to prioritize your interests. Budget your time and learn how to keep your grades up and not let your social life suffer. You will not look back and remember the nights you stayed in and studied when you could have been hanging out with everyone. But you (and your GPA) will regret it if you go out every night and never do your homework. Find a balance.
8. Don’t take things too seriously. Learn to laugh at yourself. Laugh about the bad decisions, laugh about the good times. Just laugh and try not to let the small things ruin the best time of your life.
9. Learn how to budget your $$$$ and not blow it all in a semester on Chick-fil-A or other real food that you’ll miss when you eat at the dining halls.
Tip: Find student discounts. THERE ARE TONS. Businesses love college students because you bring in business by traveling in packs of 15-20 constantly. Take advantage of it.
10. Buy rain boots and a rain jacket. You will have class even if it is raining. And it sucks to be that person in flip-flops who falls or just looks like a mess.
11. Know your living situation early on. Don’t put this off too long or you’ll be stressed and (possibly) stranded.
12. Get to know your teachers. When you need a thesis advisor or a letter of recommendation from someone, you will need connections with your teachers. And some of them are actually pretty cool. Plus, a teacher that knows you is much more likely to help you out when your grades are struggling.
13. Don’t get a job freshman year, if you can avoid it. You will have the most free time in college your first year. Use that time for friends, class and other things that will go away.
14. Take a trip with your friends. Whether it is spring break or a ski trip or going to NOLA when your team makes it to the Sugar Bowl, taking a trip will create more unforgettable memories and friendships. Don’t just talk about it. Make it happen.
15. Be a good roommate. Make ground rules. Don’t be inconsiderate. If there are irreconcilable differences, you can technically get a roommate divorce and move on. But sometimes all you need to do is talk and things can easily be fixed.
16. Don’t be afraid to branch out from high school friends. Make new friends while you keep up with the old ones. Some high school friends you’ll just naturally grow apart from. But if you stay home every night to Skype them or your parents, you’ll be missing out on the new friends and experiences you can have.
17. Live around a lot of people as long as you can. I lived in my sorority house one year and I realized later I should have stayed there as long as I could. I was too excited about getting a real place. Of course, living in a house has its perks too and I loved it. But there is nothing quite like living in a place where you can just walk down the hall to a room full of friends and go do something fun. Or just go downstairs and watch TV. So whether it is a sorority house or a dorm or an apartment, live there as long as you can.
18. Take random classes you’ll never need but you find interesting. Some of the most interesting classes I’ve ever taken had nothing to do with what I actually needed to learn. And trust me, there are so many options. Examples: I didn’t take it, but the U of A offers a course all about Harry Potter. And I know for a fact a college in the U.S. is starting a class about Beyoncé. What more do I need to say?
19. It will be the best four-year minute ever. Sure, it’s not all Beyoncé and butterflies. It can be tough sometimes. But trust me, when you look back on the past few years and then look ahead to what’s in store (getting a job, paying taxes, whatever), you’ll see just how good you really have it.
College is basically an extension of your pre-adulthood period. So you’re bound to miss it. And don’t act like a real adult until you actually have to.
20. Don’t be afraid of getting older. If you constantly look backward wishing you could turn back time, you won’t enjoy what you’re being blessed with this very moment. This is something I still need to tell myself every day. Sometimes all you need is to embrace the maturity and the different kinds of fun and excitement that come with “growing up”. Do what you want. Don’t force anything. Stay in and watch Gossip Girl on Netflix with your roommates. Take a spontaneous road trip. Figure out what you want to do with your life. Travel Europe. Whatever it is, just don’t think twice before you jump in and give it your all.
As I’ve gotten older and tried new things, I’ve come to believe that you really can do anything you want if you are willing to try hard enough and if you are able to let go of your fears. So don’t limit yourself by thinking otherwise. New can be exciting. After your freshman year has passed, don’t be sad you aren’t a freshman anymore or that you’re about to graduate.Be excited for what is next! Maybe it won’t be more exciting. Maybe you won’t make as many friends. Maybe you won’t eat awful dining hall food or share a dorm bathroom with a ton of people. But you never know…it could be even better.
So don’t be afraid of college ending. There is more out there. But don’t let these four short years get away from you without some great memories.