This past week back at the U of A, I've been noticing how college freshmen are so obviously college freshmen. They wear lanyards, spend hours picking out their first day of school outfit, and cheer out wrong names of players at football games. While I find all this amusing, I also totally remember the excitement, anxiousness and remarkable amount of cluelessness that comes with being a brand spankin' new college freshman.
My first semester of college was certainly an experience. And I use the word "experience" in the way that Randy Pausch used it in his famous Last Lecture, where he said that "Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted." The first semester of my freshman year of college was a whole bunch of not getting what I wanted. Not getting things that I applied for. Not fitting into the group of people that I wanted to be friends with. Not having any of the guys that I was interested in be interested back. Not achieving the grades I wanted (and kind of assumed I would get). That's just a whole lot of experience right there. But as Randy Pausch also said about experience in his Last Lecture, "experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer." I was able to learn from my first semester of frosh year, and have a very successful and enjoyable second semester -- and I'm hoping to keep using my experiences to improve and grow as a student and person.
And since experience is probably the most valuable thing to offer college freshmen (except for free food because free food always wins), here are some things I learned/wished I would have realized during my first semester of college.
Just stop with this whole lanyard business.
Lanyards aren't even that convenient when it comes down to it. There are actually wallets with little key holders and clasps on them, which are infinitely more convenient than lanyards will ever be.
Stop trying so hard to be part of a group that you don't even truly fit in with.
Yeah, that group of people that you met at orientation just seems super awesome and cool! But give it a couple of weeks, and you'll see that you don't have much to relate to them over. Yet you still try so hard to be a part of the group. You feel left out when you see Facebook photos of events that they had that you weren't invited to. You try to make conversation with them, but you realize that you don't have too much in common except for loving One Direction. And as impossible as it seems, talking about Zayn's hair or Harry's tattoos all day every day gets old. Instead of being hell-bent on being BFFs with the first people you meet, try to branch out to new people, or remember to keep in contact with friends you had in high school.
During my first semester of college, I spent a lot time trying to get myself motivated, listening to inspirational music and reading articles on study tips. But I actually spent very little time being motivated and working hard. I didn't want to start studying or doing homework until I felt fully inspired. Which meant that very little work actually got done. During my second semester, I learned that you just have to dive right into working hard. You can't wait till you feel fully ready. Because when do you ever feel fully ready for anything? Like basically never. I'm pretty sure I leave my apartment every morning rushing and feeling like I must have forgotten something.
Second semester, you'll come to love doing work in coffee shops and libraries. You'll learn to love working hard. You don't need any outside sources to convince you to want to work hard; you'll want to work hard for yourself.
It'll get better.
The campus won't feel so unfamiliar. Your homework will feel much doable and even possibly enjoyable. Your time management skills will get better. It just takes some time. You want to just be able to hit the ground running. But you'll first have to learn to walk. Yeah, the first semester is a struggle, but a worthwhile one that teaches you a whole lot about yourself.
During the first semester, it feels like you should be excited to be in college, but you're just not. You're constantly confused by people who say "I love college" and "College is the best time of your life." But give it a few months. You'll come to really love where you're at. You'll believe that your campus is beautiful, and you'll constantly refer to the University of Arizona as the best university EVER. You'll find a group of friends who you can really talk to and not stress about fitting in with. And you'll hate the thought of being away from college and its endless opportunities and freedom.
So, even though my first semester of my frosh year was just four months straight of not getting what I wanted, it was an experience I wouldn't trade. And it's an experience that I offer to current college freshmen to learn from. But, even more valuable than my lessons learned, is your own experience. Everyone has a different adjustment to college. Maybe you're the one who can and will hit the ground running. Or maybe you're like me, and you just need to learn to be patient. So, even if you feel like you're not getting what you want out of college, just realize that it is an experience for you to learn and grow from. Because this is just the beginning.
Those of us who are college veterans will never forget our freshman year at college. Some of us may like to forget our freshman year, but in general it is a time filled with anticipation, some anxiety, and wonderful discoveries.
College is a lot different than high school. You may decide to commute from your home to a local campus. Your freshman experience will definitely make an impression on you. Without doubt, though, the most dramatic freshman year is for those living away from home. What can you expect as you head off into the wonderful world of higher education?
The first thing you’ll notice is the workload. It will be heavier and more intense than you ever experienced before. The major challenges of college work are the large volume of reading, the short deadlines, and the writing, writing, writing. A related effect that can be brought on by the workload is doubt, frustration, and possibly loneliness. You’ll be away from the comforts and friendships your home provided for you over the previous years.
On some of those long, seemingly endless nights of studying and writing, it will be only natural for you to long for the good old days. Hang in there. These down periods will pass. Whatever you do, don’t make major decisions about your major, your courses, or even your roommate during one of these blue periods. Things always look better in the morning.
You’ll be making a lot of new friends. Continue to be yourself. Don’t strike a pose or play the role of someone you’re not. Select your friends with the same care and patience you have always used. Believe it or not, your college friendships will be among the most satisfying and long-term of your life. It’s always exciting to discover how wonderfully diverse college relationships can be.
You’ll also be on your own, your own boss (more or less) 24 hours a day. Be careful here. Don’t go flying off the end of the pier. Enjoy your newfound freedom. Stay up until dawn talking about your ideals and ambitions with your dorm’s regular bull session buddies. Sleep in until the afternoon on a light class day. Explore the local town or suburbs with one or two of your new friends. Remember, though, with freedom comes responsibility. Even though your parents won’t be around to follow up on your loose ends, you shouldn’t let things go completely. Just find your own style.
You may even start to think about your future. Be on the lookout for role models. Maybe a certain professor is especially inspiring. Perhaps your school has some ground-breaking research going on. Be sensitive to your own gravity. If some area of study attracts you, find out all you can about it. It might be the beginning of your self-definition process. Going to college is as much about finding out who you really are as it is about getting that degree.