Recently, I was talking to a young woman who will be starting her freshman year of college in August. She didn't ask for my advice, but I gave it anyway. I tend to do that sometimes--blame my desire to help other people succeed as best as I can, I guess. Anyway, that got me thinking, what would I write if I were completely honest and vulnerable with incoming college freshman? What would I tell them that no one else seems to tell them? My freshman year was only 5 years ago, so my memories are still fresh. I came up with a list of things I found out to be true my freshman year. They may not all be true for you, but I hope and pray you gain some insight out of the lessons I learned.
1. Join a church and get plugged in to a small group. This should be your first order of business the minute you step on campus. Besides, you know, finding your dorm room and where all your classes are. Getting in a small group was literally the best thing I did freshman year. Not only did I start forming friends, but I also grew in my faith from the beginning of college and I didn't have much of a lag time between my old church and my new church. Those guys and girls in my connection group freshman year truly shaped my year, and looking back I see what a huge impact they made on getting through my first year of college.
2. It's okay to feel lonely. My second semester of my freshman year, I felt like everyone had already formed their friend groups, and I missed out somehow. I would NEVER (dramatized here) find friends in college, and my social life was doomed. Obviously, that was not the case. On the contrary, many people felt exactly like I did. Trust me, everyone is still searching that second semester. I didn't really start hanging out with my now best friends until junior year, really. If you're still trying to figure out where to get involved or feel like you missed out on making friends, breathe. I promise you, you will be okay.
3. You're going to feel homesick. People feel homesick at varying degrees and with varying intensities, but we all feel it. It would be weird not to. You're making a huge life transition, and your parents aren't around 24/7 anymore, and you're wayyyyyyyyy out of the familiar zone you've grown to know and love. It's okay to feel homesick. It's how you deal with it that shows your strength and resilience. Hear me out: there will be times when you need to go home. Sometimes, that means going home once a month. Sometimes, that means only going home at Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, if you go home every single time you start feeling homesick, you won't know how strong you are. Sometimes, you need to fight the urge to go home and instead invite people over for a movie night or to go get pizza. Build in purposeful distracters that will make your evening fun and will help you forget the feeling of wanting to hop in your car and drive home. The homesickness will get easier, but that first year of college, it can be overwhelming. You have to trust me that you can do it. It also helps to schedule your visits home in advance. I went home about once a month freshman year. I had it all planned out when I would go home ahead of time so on those hard days, I could look at the calendar and see how close I was to seeing my family again. When you pencil trips in to your planner, it makes the time back at school dealing with homesickness much more manageable.
4. If a fire alarm goes off when you're dead asleep and you have to roll out of bed and get outside, don't forget your ID. That thing should be glued to your side at all times! If you forget it and your access to your rooms are by your ID like mine was, you will then spend the next hour wandering looking for someone to help you get back in your room, and you will be all riled up and have trouble going back to sleep. Seriously, ID-->glued to your hand.
5. The whole "college is the best time of your life" thing is not true. Yes, college is the time you will have the most freedom and the least responsibility in your life (for most people). But to say it's the best time of your life is so sad, because it means the last 60 years of your life are all downhill. What about marriage and starting a family and succeeding at your chosen career path? What about seeing your own kids succeed and having grandbabies? What about making an impact on the world and leaving your lasting legacy? Each stage of life has its perks, and college is definitely a unique time of life, but don't go into it thinking that the next four years will be your absolute best. Go into it knowing you have more freedom and less responsibility than you will ever have, and enjoy that. Enjoy late nights with friends and random board game nights and not having to worry about budgeting and exploring new restaurants and being spontaneous. Cherish your college years, because it's true you will never get them back.
6. STUDY. I know that doesn't sound as fun as everything I just told you to enjoy, but you need to do it. Your job while in college is being a full time student, and you should make sure the money being spent on your education is being spent wisely. I never once pulled an all nighter in college because I was already ready for my tests or I had finished my project. If you're a procrastinator, fight the urge to wait until the last minute. You will be so happy you got even a few hours of sleep and didn't have to stay up all night if you manage your time wisely.
7. Check out lots of different clubs and activities. Sometimes you'll find where you belong the first one you visit, but other times it might take awhile. See what the club is all about and evaluate if it's something you might be interested then. Then, go to the interest meeting! You'll usually figure out what the group is all about from the interest meeting, and you can make an informed decision.
8. Rush if you want to rush, but if you don't, don't get pressured into it. Greek life is a huge part of many people's college lives, but there are groups outside of sororities and fraternities. If you want to rush, do it, and go forward confidently. If you don't, don't feel like you'll never find a group to belong. Greek life is not the only option.
9. Do your laundry. Just do it.
10. You don't have to go into college knowing what you want to do the rest of your life. I went in and didn't declare a major because I knew I had way too many interests and couldn't pick something randomly. I think that was a great decision for me. I went to career counseling and took some tests to give me an idea of what I would be best at, and then I researched those careers like crazy. I decided to take the intro to speech pathology class, and the rest is history. It's okay if you don't declare a major! So many people are going to end up changing their majors, anyway. It's much less of a hassle to take different intro classes without the pressure of having a major declared. You obviously have to pick a major eventually, but take your time figuring out what you really what to do with your life that first year.
Now you've heard some of my advice! Take it with a grain of salt, but I hope you gleaned something from my experience. Share with any incoming freshman you know if you feel like it will help them!