10 Things Every Freshman Should Know About College

By Dee Rene

A bit of nostalgia always crosses my mind when I think back on my college career. There were late nights spent dance battling in the living room with my roommates and even longer nights spent in the library preparing for finals. Experience is an exceptional teacher and looking back, I wish I knew a few things before I took those first few steps on campus.

1. You will fail and be rejected.

Nobody prepared me for failure in college. After being celebrated as an amazing writer in high school, even passed the English AP exams with the highest scores, I failed my first English paper in college. I tried out for various groups that were college-versions of clubs I’d led in high school and was rejected...more than once.

And I lived.

You might fail your first paper or test. Get up and find help. Many colleges offer free tutoring services, writing centers and mentors to help you succeed. There is no shame in getting help. When you are rejected from something, learn and get better. Try again or find something new you never even knew that you would love.

2. You can say no.

Say no to the party when you have a test. Say no to the super cute boo who doesn’t have your best interest at heart. Say no when you feel pressured for sex. Say no to the next shot of alcohol. Say no to taking on too much and feeling burnt out.

There’s this temptation to do everything and be everything in college. You can’t do it all your first year and you shouldn’t. Find a rhythm that works for you and say no to anything that doesn’t serve your greatest good. Remember to balance fun with focus.

3. When the opportunity comes up to study abroad, take it.

I regret not studying abroad. With work, family ties and post-grad financial strain, the idea of spending six months in another country is highly unlikely. I let fear of being so far away, the potential cost, and my own insecurities stop me from taking that leap.

If you have a chance to go, leave and don’t look back. Campus will be there when you return. You’ll never get those student perks again once you graduate so take advantage.

4. It’s harder being independent than you thought .

I could not wait to get out of my mother’s house. The thought of independence and freedom was exhilarating. Then it was time to pick out classes, figure out financial aid, meals, and how to budget this very small paycheck.

College doesn’t teach you life skills like budgeting and health insurance. Nobody is going to do anything for you and you are pretty much left to find the resources and figure it out on your own. It’s up to you to ask for whatever you need which is very different than high school where people tend to guide you a lot more. There is nobody there to tell you to eat right, get some sleep, work out or punish you for not being on time to class. In fact, there’s temptation to do everything else but go to class.

It’s time to grow up and be responsible, which is not always easy. There will be some tough lessons to learn and a few tears but you will survive.

5. Mental health services are available.

Maybe you’ll start to feel like the world is on your shoulders and the pressures of being away from family, friends and others are too much. It is okay to get help. If many people didn’t use campus mental health services, they wouldn’t exist. It can help to talk to someone about the pressures you are facing and get some insight. Don’t battle alone.

6. Freshman year grades count A LOT.

Focus on your classes. This will be HARD because there are many distractions. But it’s easier to start with a very high GPA your freshman year and maintain it than to try to bring up a low GPA the next three years. Your GPA will be averages of all your grades. As you add more grades into that average, it moves up or down in smaller increments. Start off on the right foot.

7. There are still scholarships available.

I walked into my academic office on a whim and asked about scholarships for current students. They handed me a list and I won $2,000 dollars each semester for the next three years. Loans will bite you in the butt later on in life. Do all you can to keep finding scholarship money throughout your college career.

Also keep in mind that refund checks (or excess money that is returned to you once your tuition and fees are paid) from loan money is not free money. It all goes into the balance you have to pay back. So don’t blow those checks. Keep what you absolutely need and return the rest.

8. Choose your friends wisely.

Your friends will make or break your college career. Many friends I met my first week on campus are still my friends now. However, there were a few I had to get far, far away from before that first semester ended.

Having friends who are fun, motivated, caring, honest and focused is important. If you surround yourself with people who are negative, dramatic, or not focused on finishing school, they will begin to influence you.

It’s not like high school where you get to go home at 3 p.m. and not deal with those people anymore. You live on the same campus and eat at the same places. You will be around them all the time. Take advantage of spending this time with good friends and be sure to separate yourself from bad influences.

9. It might take you 5 years, not 4.

Although this wasn’t my personal story, I knew plenty of people that took five years to finish school and not four. Jobs, deaths, illness, changing your major, taking time off and more can get in the way of that idealistic four-year graduation. The point is to finish. You may take longer to get there but don’t let that deter you from the goal.

10. You can start over as yourself.

High school might have been hell. High school might have been a lot of pressure. Whatever it was that no longer matters. The high school class president and the bullied awkward duck can all start over in college. You will change so much in just one semester because you are faced with many more challenges socially and academically.

College is the time you will truly grow into who you are. Explore things you never considered. Don’t let anyone box you in anymore to their expectations. You can decide your path. Change your hair, get in shape, experiment with your look. Do it all. Start over as yourself.

You’ll make mistakes your first year of college, learn a lot, have a good time and grow so much as a person. Be sure to keep these few tips in mind as you pack your bags and head off to your next chapter. If you’ve already done your first year, what are your other tips for students heading off to college this fall?

Photo: Shutterstock

Dee Rene is a connoisseur of snacks and brunch. Her focus is holding onto faith in all the things that make us laugh, cry and cuss. Follow me her on Twitter: @deerene_.

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