While I wouldn’t trade my college experience for any other experience in the world, it wasn’t perfect by any means, and oftentimes the only thing that got in the way was myself. So, this post, which might read like a Buzzfeed article (without the gifs), is also an open note to my freshman year self back in 2010. It’s a culmination of things that, had I known, might have made the transition from high school to college a little less stressful and a little more simple.
01/ LEARN HOW TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOURSELF
Freshman year is probably the only time you’ll be able to trip and fall and blame it on a crack in the sidewalk, if you catch my meaning. Okay so in more applicable terms, freshman year is probably the only time you can get away with turning in a paper past the deadline and blame it on the library printer not working properly. People do feel bad for you freshman year because, well, you’re a freshman, and they literally look down upon you (seriously though, it’s kind of crazy how noticeably taller upperclassmen seem when you’re a freshman).
Instead of blaming the world for your problems, it’s time to start confronting them yourself. This isn’t an overnight transition—it takes a considerable amount of time, which is why sophomore year isn’t exactly all fun and games either. Holding yourself accountable isn’t just something you learn in college; it extends beyond those four years. But hey, I’m not trying to freak you out. Simply knowing and embracing that gets you one step closer to doing it.
02/ YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE FRIENDS WITH EVERYONE
Every single freshman who walks onto campus on move-in day thinks the same thing: “Who will be my new best friend?” All of a sudden, the first person who gives you an overly-friendly hello seems like a solid candidate, or maybe even your roommate seems promising after he or she allows you to take the bed by the window.
Stop, and take a deep breath.
Everyone is severely lacking in the friends department freshman year, which means everyone is (for the most part) super nice to each other solely because they want friends. Therefore, it’s hard to gauge who is actually being genuine when they invite you to a party or a study group. To be perfectly honest, I don’t have any real advice to give you about this. All I can tell you is good friends will come naturally. The people who want to spend time with you will make an effort to spend time with you. Let everyone else fall by the wayside; you won’t be a criminal for it.
03/ BACK UP EVERYTHING ON YOUR COMPUTER
And I mean everything. You can be lazy and not clean your room. You can be lazy and avoid doing laundry for months at a time. But please, please do not be lazy when it comes to backing up your files.
Here’s a classic example I will never forget: One semester, I was writing a paper for my psychology class, feeling really good about it—so good that I kept forgetting to press “Save” every so often. When I was done, I saved the document into a folder in my computer, submitted the saved file to my class’s online platform, and went off to celebrate. Three days later, I received an email from my professor asking me to please submit a completed essay. Confused and somewhat embarrassed, I hurriedly logged into my online account, looked at the file I had submitted for my essay, and realized that somehow my computer had saved the wrong version of the document. Wrong version meaning my computer had only saved the introduction of my entire essay. I searched in every folder on my computer for the completed version, but it was nowhere to be found. I ended up having to re-write the entire essay, knowing that my final score would be an entire letter grade lower, the penalty for late submission (remember when I mentioned you have to hold yourself accountable for everything?). To this day, I have no idea why my computer didn’t save the proper file, but I know that since then, I have never forgotten to back up each and every one of my documents somewhere else. Remember this: Google Drive is your friend. Dropbox is your friend. USB drives are your friends. Don’t be afraid to rely on them for everything.
04/ ON THAT NOTE, ALWAYS PRESS SAVE
Develop muscle memory for the keyboard shortcut “ctrl + s” or “command + s” (if you have a Mac). I honestly think I’ve hit Save at least 50 times while typing this post. Learn the shortcut, and always use it.
05/ PROFESSORS ARE NOT OUT TO GET YOU. THEY WANT TO HELP
This may seem a little odd, seeing as I just told you a story about a particularly nasty encounter with a professor, but funnily enough, he turned out to be my college advisor. Oh trust me, I held it against him for a long time, but I ended up realizing that he taught me an essential skill: being prepared for anything and making the best of it. In a way, that’s what college professors are there for. Sure, they’ll teach you important things about the subjects they teach, but they’re also mentors. The discussions I had with a few of my professors outside of class were far more valuable than anything I learned in the classroom. Plus, cut them some slack. It’s not easy teaching college students—do you think you could do it?
06/ WHEN IN DOUBT, WRITE IT DOWN ANYWAY
Admit it, you’ve uttered these exact words to yourself at some point during class: “I don’t need to write that down, I’ll remember it.” I’m almost positive that’s why I couldn’t find any notes from my freshman and sophomore years that might have actually helped while studying for exams. There is nothing wrong with overdoing your notes, as long as you can pinpoint the important stuff when it’s exam time. If your professors allow computers in class, take advantage of that. It’s much easier to type quickly than it is to write quickly (and legibly).
07/ STUDY ABROAD
9 out of 10 students end up loving their study abroad experience. Okay, that’s not a real statistic, but I’m sure it’s not far off. I really can’t say anything more than if your school offers it, do it. If I could go back in time, I would have forced myself to apply for study abroad, even if it meant giving up sports for a semester. I really do believe that the experiences I would have gained from immersing myself in a foreign country would have outweighed any experience back on campus. So grab a hold of the opportunity while you can!
08/ FLASH THAT CAMPUS CARD LIKE IT'S NOBODY'S BUSINESS
Local restaurants, stores, cafes, and movie theaters are bound to have some kind of student discount. Until you retire, I can assure you that you won’t get another chance to snag the awesome deals you get when you’re a college student.
09/ EASY CLASSES AREN'T ALWAYS THE BEST CLASSES
Freshman year, upperclassmen kept telling me “take this class, it’s an easy A” or “this professor is so chill, take his class” so I would foolishly do it only to find out that it wasn’t at all what I expected. Either the class would actually be pretty difficult, or it would be a waste of my time. While it’s a good idea to get feedback on classes before you sign up, beware of the “easy class” trap.
10/ PET THE DOGS ON CAMPUS
This is the college student version of “stop and smell the roses.” People love to walk their dogs on college campuses because it’s kind of like a huge park with nice architecture, lush green lawns and trees, and interesting people. I’m not encouraging you to run up to every dog you see and pet it without asking the owner first, but if both the owner and pet seem friendly, take a minute out of your day and play. My school had an annual tradition of bringing in puppies during finals week for students to de-stress. I’m pretty sure this small act of kindness from our administration worked miracles. Dogs are magical creatures, people. Stop to pet them, try to hide the jealousy you feel for their lifestyle, and let them put a smile on your face.