8 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Freshman Year of College

They say that hindsight is 20/20, and I guess that’s a phrase for a reason. Especially when it comes to your freshman year of college. There are definitely a few pieces of advice that we all wish we got before stepping onto campus for the first time for our first year of college.  College is a brand new experience and along with it comes lots of new situations. It’s normal to make mistakes and these mistakes absolutely help us grow. The following is a selection of some of the things I wish I knew that might be helpful for you!

In a few weeks, high school seniors all over will be making final decisions about what college or university they will attend in the fall so now seems like a good time to share some of what I’ve learned. While some things you just have to learn from experience (and that’s the fun part), here are eight things I wish I knew before I started my freshman year of college.

1. You don’t have to join everything: I’m guilty of being that girl. I was the one wandering around the activities fair on the second day of school adding my name to (not even exaggerating) every club and extracurricular activity’s email list. I signed-up for every group that looked even remotely interesting or like a good resume builder. Free food was also a plus. It didn’t take long at all for me to realize that there was no way I was going to be able to balance college life while making 15 club meetings every week. So, one by one, I made choices.  I took a long, hard look at what clubs were available to me and really considered which I’d enjoy the most.  I was able to narrow down my club list to those that I felt I’d get the most out of.  My final list consisted of some clubs that were closely related to my field of study and others that involved some of my hobbies.  I have no doubt that my college experience was shaped by these clubs and the opportunities they afforded me.  If I hadn’t taken the time to be selective about which clubs I’d join, it’s likely that I wouldn’t have gotten much at all out of any of them.

College isn’t like high school; you don’t need to flood your resume trying to participate in every extracurricular activity–in fact, I’d argue that you don’t need to do that in high school, either. Rather, pick two or three activities that you really enjoy and can invest yourself in. You’ll get far more out of them, guaranteed.  Think quality over quantity.

2. Your friend group may change a lot: For me, one of the biggest surprises about college was that, unlike high school friends, sometimes new friends in college only last for a few days, weeks, months, or a semester. I’ll be honest and say that at first, this felt really odd and uncomfortable for me. The fact that circumstances and classes change every semester means that your best friend or entire social circle may change right along with it and that’s okay. In fact, that’s normal. Of course, you’ll end up with a core group of friends eventually, but if they aren’t the people you met at orientation or your freshman year roommate, don’t worry– that’s totally normal. More than likely, your group of new friends will become more consistent during your second year in college.  Use your freshman year as an opportunity to get to know as many different groups of people as possible.

3. Don’t go home every weekend: I saw so many of my new friends and high school friends go home every weekend to hang out with their BFFs from home, high school boyfriends/girlfriends, etc. This caused them to miss out on some pretty fabulous bonding time while they were gone. Being on campus helps you to become familiar with your new “home”.  Lots of fun experiences happen during the weekend on college campuses. The first few weeks of college are crucial for finding your place and really acclimating to campus. So if you can help it, stick around even if you’re feeling homesick. Remember, it’s very likely that all of your new college friends are also feeling pretty homesick.  Stick around and allow yourself to feel uncomfortable.  Soon, college will feel like home and home-home will still be there at Thanksgiving, I promise.

4. You don’t need to buy all of your textbooks: I cannot even begin to tell you how much money I wasted freshman year by buying all of my textbooks brand new. Even while holding a part-time job, I could barely afford all of the books I needed for freshman year. Unless you have an assignment due before the first day of class, wait until classes begin to find out from professors if you really need to invest in a copy of the reading material to be successful with the course work.

On a similar note: don’t be fooled into thinking you need to buy new textbooks. Ninety-nine percent of the time, used textbooks suffice just fine and allow you to complete your schoolwork. You can even look into purchasing older editions of the textbook/s required and save SO MUCH MONEY! Some students even find it perfectly reasonable to share a textbook with a friend who happens to be taking the same class. After all, you were probably going to highlight the same stuff anyway.  Bottom line: don’t run up your credit card bill for textbooks–it’s not necessary.  There are lots of creative ways to save money.

5. Even when it seems optional, go anyway: Often in college, things aren’t mandatory. Attending classes, lectures, recitation, office hours, etc. are considered to be completely optional. Don’t be fooled though. Professors will remember who shows up to office hours when they’re assigning final grades.  Along the same lines, skipping class frequently is a bad habit that can end up having some pretty serious repercussions. Attending every class will definitely boost your overall comprehension of a subject (and your GPA). Paying attention, taking notes in lectures or online classes, and great time management will help you far more than a night of cramming. (It’s not rocket science people!)Study groups are also a great idea! Your school’s library likely has designated rooms for group study.

6. Sleep: It sounds like common sense–I know–but between classes, clubs, friends, and having a social life, usually sleep is the first thing to go for college students. While it’s tempting to only get four hours of shut-eye a night, don’t get sucked into that pattern. Remember to get enough sleep. It’s super important when it comes to getting the most out of your college experience. Being well-rested for class is just as important as actually going to it and getting enough sleep can also help reduce your chances of getting sick (which will inevitably happen anyways but sleep will still help!)

7. Enjoy the convenience of the dining hall: Because after you move into your off-campus apartment, I assure you that you will miss the dining hall. Keep in mind that the dining hall food plan is typically a prepaid plan.  This means that you “use it or lose it”, so take advantage of what’s available. Just take my word for it and embrace it while you can.  Attend every theme night (Italian night and hibachi night are my favorites!) and Sunday brunch possible and take advantage of bottomless pancakes.  Some of my best memories are from the dining hall. You won’t be sorry.

8. Go to free events on campus: There will be tons of free concerts, speakers, comedians, plays, EVERYTHING on campus first semester. Make a point of going to as many of them as you can with new friends (without, like, flunking out of school or something.) Keeping busy is a great way to prevent homesickness and missing high school friends. How many chances in your life will you get to hear Maya Angelou speak or be front row for a concert…FOR FREE? Attending these events will help you to feel at home on campus.  A bonus is all of the really cool memories that you’ll create with all of your new friends. Trust me, when you leave college, you will long for the days of free food, music and the chance to see super famous people free of charge.

As you probably already know, these are just some basic tips that will help you to make the most out of your freshman year of college.  Your own experiences will likely teach you lots as well.  Be sure to remember to keep your mind open when you embark on your college journey.  The years you spend in college will likely be some of your most formative years, so make the most of them!  I also guarantee that your years as a college student will be some of the best of your life.

Sigh, I love college.

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