Retroactive Advice for College Freshman Me

As my last undergraduate semester quickly approaches, I’m realizing that for the first time in a while, I’m able to look at my college experience with a lot of clarity. Winter break has given me a good pause to reflect on what went well, what went terribly, and what I wish I knew going into these last four years. I really believe that my reflections on that last category could help provide some insight and perspective for anyone who was as terrified as I was going into the whole experience. Take everything with a grain of salt — none of these lessons/warnings/takeaways/whatever you want to call them are universal, but I do think they provide a good balance to the plethora of the more “typical college experience” advice out there.

  1. You aren’t contractually bound to your freshman year friends. When we enter college, we are SUCH babies. Most of us don’t fully know what we want out of our college years or our friendships, but we’re simultaneously in a desperate need of connection. Consequently, freshman year friendships are usually primarily based on spatial proximity. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I legitimately don’t know how I would have survived freshman year without a lot of the people in my dorm. However, as we learn more about who we are through each year of college, the people we gravitate toward often become different. I’m lucky enough to have lived with many of my freshman year friends all throughout college, but we’ve all changed SO much and expanded our individual circles a ton over the years. I love our grocery runs, late night chats, and simply the feeling of coming home to them at the end of every day, but I’m also so thankful we’ve all made friends besides each other who satisfy our other social needs.
  2. There’s nothing wrong with going home for spring break instead of going on a huge trip with your friends. It’s easy to feel FOMO when it looks like everyone around you is having the adventure of a lifetime over break, but at the end of the day, you need to do what’s best for you. If you’ve spent the whole semester working a crappy job to save some money, maybe you don’t necessarily want to blow it all in one week. Also, you might just really need some time at home. I’m the kind of person who absolutely needs a recharge and some family time in the middle of the semester. If I didn’t take advantage of the chance to go home for break, I would be absolutely miserable for the remainder of the semester.
  3. Take advantage of the small self-care opportunities that your campus has to offer. If your school is anything like mine, it can’t provide individual therapy help to everyone who needs it. As frustrated as I’ve been with W&M about their lack of individual counseling spots, I do understand that there are a ton of barriers to providing free therapy to everyone who seeks it. However, my school is great at providing a lot of little self-care opportunities that can culminate in increased well-being when students take advantage of them. Surviving college often means seeking out these opportunities as best you can within the limits of your academic and social schedule. Get the little punch card that your school cafe offers and redeem it when you’re having a rough day and want a caffeine pick-me-up. Sit in the library’s massage chairs for an hour to get the built-up tension out of your back. Attend the counseling center’s pet therapy sessions and become best friends with the cute golden doodle that comes weekly. Join the free food Facebook groups to save a few bucks and make your tummy happy.
  4. Romanticize finals season. I sound like an absolute buffoon saying this, but I don’t hate finals season. I love being able to go to the gym in the mornings more often than I do when I have class to get to. I love finding a cozy spot to study for hours instead of having little breaks between classes in which I try to get shit done. I also love switching up my study spaces and finding new ones in the process. I even love the collective sense of stress I feel when I step into the library (I guess misery loves company?). Obviously, there’s a ton of pressure to cram an impossible amount of information into your head in a short amount of time, but if you romanticize the heck out of every other element of finals season, it can be a lot less dreadful.
  5. Habit stack (aka temptation bundle!). This basically just means combining a task you need to do with something you want to do. I never feel like I have time to just sit and watch The Bachelor during the semester. However, when I combine watching it with eating breakfast or folding laundry, getting my weekly fix of slightly scripted drama becomes much easier and almost feels productive. Same goes for listening to a podcast while on the treadmill, calling your mom on your walk to class, etc. It’s a pretty intuitive concept but something that I oddly enough don’t see a ton of people around me doing.
  6. Try everything once (within reason). If you fully, 100% know you’re not a sorority girlie, don’t waste your time rushing. However, if there’s even the smallest part of you that thinks it could be fun, give it a try. Worst comes to worst, you’ll drop it. People drop stuff ALL the time, and no one really takes it personally because we all have different and evolving interests. I run a club on campus that some people have tried and dropped, and I never get offended that someone gave my club a chance but realized it wasn’t for them. The same thing can be said for social events, like going out to local bars. If you know that being around alcohol is an unhealthy environment for you for whatever reason, that’s completely understandable and is not something you should compromise. On the other hand, if you’re simply unsure about the social scene in a bar and don’t know if it’s your vibe, just try it once. You might run into your friend from a class and have a blast getting to know each other outside of a classroom setting. You might feel a sense of freedom and social connectedness that provides a nice balance to your academically driven side. You also might absolutely hate it and never go back, but you’ll never know unless you put aside your preconceived notions and try it for yourself.
  7. Designate enough time to be by yourself. I am the definition of an outgoing introvert: I’m super social when I’m around people, but I recharge with alone time. This was an easy balance to achieve in high school. I socialized in my classes, lunch periods, and running practices, and then went home and didn’t talk to anyone all night. It was beautiful. That isn’t the way it works in college. You’ll most likely be surrounded by people for pretty much the entire day, whether it’s in the dorm lounges or the library. You’ll also most likely have a roommate, and even if you’re not talking to each other when you’re both in the room, you still don’t fully feel like you’re getting alone time. Halfway through first semester freshman year, I realized the only alone time I had was in the shower, and even though I adored all the friends I was making, I missed being with just ME. Slowly, I found ways to carve out that alone time — little runs in the morning, eating lunch by myself, walks to and from class, etc. I would highly encourage everyone, whether introverted or extroverted, to do the same. It might mean feeling like a bit of a fool sitting by yourself at the dining hall when you could have easily made plans with your hall mates, but it’s worth it.
  8. Don’t get into a relationship first semester. Don’t do it. If you’re anything like me, you’re doing it to feel a sense of safety and familiarity that you otherwise don’t have yet (even if this isn’t the complete case, it’s gotta be at least 5% the case). You want a human version of a security blanket in this brand new and scary place, but I promise that dating someone right away will only lead to trouble (and lots of therapy). These relationships are so tumultuous because you’re each trying to figure out who you are, your friend groups, your academic interests, your extracurriculars, etc. If they’re really the right person, they’ll still be around in a few months, but for now, focus on everything else you need to figure out.

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