Ah yes, May. Summer is around the corner, and high school seniors everywhere are revving up for college. Copious googling, skimming through a freshmen guidebook you got as a graduation gag-gift and watching YouTube videos is only a small part of your preparation for college.
Now, while videos from YouTube equipped me to design the aesthetic dorm of my dreams and absolutely terrified me at the possibility of having a “psycho roommate,” none of the advice I collected truly helped me with the real challenges I faced my first year. My roommates ended up being lovely people and my room probably would have looked fine regardless.
But aside from little inconveniences, there are some universal challenges that many freshmen face that are often ignored, mainly because they’re not pleasant or particularly fun to talk about. This avoidance leaves plenty of first-year students in a fog of panic, convinced that they’re alone in their experience.
So, in the hopes of reducing the number of panic-stricken freshmen breakdowns over these problems, here’s five things I wish I had actually known going into my first year of college.
1. It will feel weird.
Regardless of the level of independence you may have believed to have had at home, there is nothing as abrupt, freeing and even somewhat terrifying as moving into a space completely unsupervised. You will quite literally overnight go from having someone who is aware of your activities at all times to having to answer to no one at all.
Responses to the new “freedom” vary between students. There are some who decide to go all out and experience everything they haven’t before and fully fly off the rails for the first few weeks; others grow overwhelmingly homesick, opt for isolation and unsure of where to go from there.
No matter what your natural response may be, this is normal. You’ll find ways to deal with whatever you may be dealing with, just take it easy.
2. You might change your mind, and that’s okay.
According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, within three years of initial enrollment, about 30 percent of undergraduates in associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs who had declared a major had changed their major at least once.
Perhaps it’s because we live in a society hesitant to normalize instability and indecision, but for the sake of relieving the ever-common college-career crisis, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Realizing that you don’t like something you envisioned yourself loving at 18 is nothing to be ashamed of.
Many American teens enter higher education right out of high school with a blurry idea of the career that they want. This insecurity is further amplified by pressures placed by parents and societal constructs to pick a profitable and safe career. The good news is that as you move forth in your personal growth and gain experience, you’ll realize what you’re cut out for, and what is your passion.
Of course, switching majors, considering the added time and cost it can involve, is not a decision to be made lightly. However, as long as you think it through rationally, it’s better to realize your preferences early on, before you’ve sunk thousands into pursuing something that makes you miserable.
3. Your relationship with your parents is going to change.
A combination of the added distance, the chaos of college life and your newfound independence will all make it inevitable for your relationship with your parents to change. Some friction during this adjustment is common, be it because you don’t call often enough, or you spend all your food money on concert tickets. Hey, mistakes are made when you don’t have someone there to constantly reign you in.
The dynamic will eventually adjust, you’ll strike a balance between maintaining a healthy relationship with your parents and living up your new life, and all will be well. This is after all, the start of a new stage of life for all parties involved, especially if you’re the first — or in my case, the only — kid to leave the nest. While frustration is inevitable, the most important thing to remember is that your parents love you, they probably miss you, and both of you are just doing the best you can.
4. Making friends is hard and easy, all at the same time.
The number of people you will meet during your first few months at college is staggering between the social and academic circles that college entails, and there is no shortage of opportunities. What will be challenging, is keeping those acquaintances and nurturing them into lasting, bonded friendships.
While your inability to make friends may feel like a confirmation of your suspected deep social inadequacy, you should not forget the environment you are in. There are a number of factors working against you that are just embedded in the way that college is structured. People are far busier, and due to the semester-based schedule that most colleges adopt, there is less time to cement throughout academic pursuits alone. Depending on the vastness and layout of the campus you inhabit, it’s a common occurrence to see someone once, and then never again.
While all of these barriers make creating lasting relationships more difficult, if you put in the time and effort to grow close to those you truly care about, the reward is immeasurable. Overall, be patient, persistent and put yourself out there. Eventually you’ll find people with whom you can get through anything.
5. At the end of the day, it’s what you make of it.
There is no “right way” to do college, and the possibilities of who you can be are endless. As long as you actively pursue the things that you want for yourself and home in on what really matters, everything will turn out fine. Take the uncertainty in stride and cement it within yourself that every hour is filled with new opportunities.