Everyone wants to give you advice about your first year of college. It’s exhausting, I know; I’ve been in your shoes. The truth is that there are some valuable lessons to learn from others so you don’t make the same mistakes. There are many things I wish I’d known in my first year of college and that I learned along the way. When I look back, I wish someone had told me these things before my first year of college came rolling around the corner; it would have made those four years a lot smoother.
College is when you really start to learn more about what you stand for. You get to make decisions, learn about what you’re passionate about and begin to develop your identity outside of your family. It is also a time to learn about the world around you and make your own philosophical and political views. Here are my tips for finding making the most of your first year of college.
What I Wish I’d Known My First Year of College
It’s OK to date that person. Maybe it was just one date. Maybe it was a few. That’s okay. College is about finding out who you are and what you like. Going out on that date may teach you that you don’t like A Type personalities, or you prefer specific character traits. Don’t be afraid to hang out with someone that doesn’t seem like your type: he/she might be the best thing that ever happened to you. Or you might learn they are exactly what you don’t want. Either way, you learned something new about yourself and what you want in a partner.
You can never join too many clubs. Clubs in high school may not have been your thing. College is very different. Clubs and organizations are a great way to meet friends that have similar interests, and help you learn what you’re passionate about. Join the French Club. Join Habitat for Humanity. Join the Chocolate Lovers Club (or make this one if your school doesn’t have it. I’m sure it will be popular!). Join whatever you want. Want to be an activist? Do that. There’s a club for everything. It’s all there, and they’re all open for you. Take advantage of all these organizations to learn more about the world and yourself. Check out your school’s websites for a list of clubs, or go to Club Day held at the beginning of every semester.
No one else knows what they’re doing either. You know that carefree girl whose entire existence seems effortless? That girl who always looks flawless even without makeup, who walks as if she’s floating on air and who happens to have everything figured out? She doesn’t. Neither does anyone else around you. Not the pre-med student cramming for finals, not the president of the Student Government Association (SGA). You aren’t the only one that doesn’t have everything figured out; everyone else is there with you. I had friends that changed their major three times. It’s okay: you are learning about who you are and what you want to do with your life.
It isn’t the end of the world if you miss ONE night. You’re exhausted but it’s Wednesday night, and it seems everyone is going out. The FOMO is already starting to creep in, and you’re trying to gain the energy to meet up with friends. I have crazy news for you: nothing will happen if you miss that one dinner, movie night, get-together or party. I know in the first year of college, missing one night can seem like the end of the world, but it isn’t. Taking a day for yourself is vital. Crack open a book for pleasure, bust out the playlist from last summer or get started on the Pinterest DIY you haven’t had time to work on. Taking time for yourself is important to having a positive college experience. If you aren’t rested, your grades and performance will suffer. This me time is paramount. You’ve got to make sure to get some rest time in so that you can be at the top of your game.
If there’s a dream, there’s a way. You will never regret studying abroad or going on a trip while in college. I had so many opportunities to travel to another country for a semester or a year, and I turned them down to stay with my friends. DON’T DO THIS. The people you love will still be there when you return. Studying abroad teaches you about other cultures, opens your mind to new ideas and introduces you to people you’d never meet otherwise.
If money is an issue, try to find a solution; there are plenty. Apply to as many scholarships and grants as you can. You won’t have another opportunity in your youth to experience a different culture this way. Almost every major offers some type of study abroad program. Find your counselor or the head of a study abroad department and apply. School, friends and family will all be there when you return and want you to experience as much as you can. If you think money is an issue, don’t. There are so many grants, fellowships and scholarships out there for you. Don’t be afraid, you just have to apply.
Wear whatever the Fu&% want. You are allowed to dress however you want starting in college. You can choose to wear makeup, or not. You can choose to wear all black, or every color on the rainbow at the same time. You can walk around barefoot if that’s what you feel like (although I can’t be sure you won’t get something from the ground), or wear heels to school every day. There are professional settings that call for appropriate attire, but if you aren’t in one of those setting, wear and present yourself however you wish. This is a period of time designed for you to find out about yourself, and one part of that is your personal style.
Being young and bright doesn’t mean you’re invincible. There are bad ideas what will present themselves. Getting in the car once with a drunk driver or going out with people you barely know may not seem like bad ideas, but they are. You know those stories of people who black out and forget what happened? They are more common than you think. Take care of yourself, watch when someone pours your drinks AND makes your food. If you go to the bathroom, take your food and drinks with you. If someone feels a little creepy, don’t brush off the weird feelings they give you. This is serious stuff; it happens way more than you think.
Living an exciting life is not the same a living a dangerous life. College is your first taste of autonomy, and with that comes learning to take care of yourself. Do not do anything dangerous with friends or experiment without knowing. If you feel sick, go to the school clinic. Make sure to eat three meals a day. Get yourself checked frequently; many colleges have free testing. Do not put yourself in situations that can become dangerous. One of the things you learn as you become an adult is that you are not invincible. You sooner you learn this, the safer you will be.
Try to incorporate some of the lessons I learned so your college years can go smoother. Take advantage of this time and learn to see yourself as a strong, confident individual with your own likes, hopes and aspirations.
Good luck out there,