I’ve been home for three days. Over the past few weeks, as freshman year has drawn to close, I started thinking about what I’ve learned this year. (Check out my first semester list here.) If a new freshman were to ask me what they should know, what would I tell him or her?
Without further ado, here are 11 things I learned and they (you) should know!
- You will miss home more than you think.
I’ll start honestly, right off the bat. I learned too late in the year that it’s all right to mourn being away from home. The first month or so (at least for me), I got swept up in the novelty of college life and didn’t take time to realize how life was changing. And so, when it finally hit me, it hit me hard. I was ashamed of how I felt, because everyone around me seemed relatively fine and excited about being away from home. And all I wanted was to be back with my family. Everything around you is changing, life is not normal, and you are going to miss home. I struggled with homesickness for a large portion of my second semester. You somehow have to process the change that you are going through. What I know now, and what I wish someone would have told me, is that missing your family is not a sign of weakness, but it’s a sign that you have something beautiful. Being an adult is hard, but we all learn, we all go through it, and (most of us) come out just fine.
- Go to office hours.
The classes that I enjoyed the most were the ones where I had a good relationship with my professor. Go to office hours and find out who your TA is (if you have one). Usually they will be intelligent, interesting, and helpful. Personal example: During the last review session, I found out that my Macroeconomics TA was super friendly and helpful. She looked at Macro from a Micro perspective because she preferred Micro (as do I), and taking the time to attend her sessions earlier may have saved me from suffering. Moral of the story: go to office hours early. You don’t have to go back if they turn out to be unhelpful or rude, but most of the time your professors and TAs will be good allies, and it’s great to have a professor/upperclassman know your name.
- Give people grace. We’re all trying to figure out how to do life.
Somebody borrows a cooking pot and leaves it dirty in the kitchen? Won’t ruin your day. Hall mates decide to throw a party when you are sick in bed and want to sleep? You will survive. When a friend seems to be ignoring you or not communicating, there is often more to the story. Everyone at college is trying to figure out how to balance homework, family issues, social events, club commitments, etc. You will be a lot happier if you just treat everyone with respect and love upfront.
- You do you. (Don’t play the comparison game.)
One of the most unnerving things is looking around and thinking everybody else has it all together. Let me tell you a secret: they don’t… and they probably feel like you do. We compare our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel. It’s a sad fact of human nature and a social-media obsessed world. As we say on Brown Hall 2nd floor, you do you. You are unique. You are beautiful. You are talented. At college (and especially at a school like William & Mary), you are one in a pool of very impressive people. And you too have something to offer! Keep doing what you love. Keep up with the study habits that work for you. Try new things. But don’t feel the need to be anyone else… but you!
- Give yourself room to change.
At the same time, give yourself room to find out who you really are. What makes you happy? What do you want to achieve? Who do you want to be? College is a chance to recreate yourself. And it’s one of the last opportunities you have to freely and honestly explore your identity. Don’t try to be the same person you were in high school. Some things are going to change by circumstance (I’ve become more socially outgoing), but others you get to decide (I’ve become more passionate about environmental issues). Figure out what you like about yourself and what you would like to do differently. And then, go do!
- Write down your first impressions.
This is definitely something I wish I had done! Take the time to write down what you think of your roommate, the person across the hall, your RA, your bathroom, and the dining hall. You will thank me later. You’ll want to remember what you first thought as a baby freshman. And first impressions make for pretty great conversation later on…
- Invest in people who make your life more wonderful. And let the others go.
This applies to both high school friends and college ones. You get to choose who you keep in touch with from high school. College is a busy, go-go-go time and the truth is that you will have limited time to spend with people. So choose wisely. Invest in people who challenge you, inspire you, and make you laugh. Invest in people who will encourage you. But also invest in the people who you can be there for and who you can minister Jesus’s love to. Choose an inner circle of friends and confidants. As far as the rest… be polite, smile, say hello, ask how they are doing, but let them go.
- Your morning devotion time may be the only moment of peace you get.
College is all about running the race well. As I said above, life is busy. Some days you won’t even have a chance to slow down. So intentionally use your morning devotion time. Most mornings you will be tempted to read quickly and move on to your impending homework (or you will be tempted to hit snooze 10 times). Yet that quiet half hour, or however long, may be the only time you have to center your thoughts and breathe. So take advantage of it. You will never regret spending some extra God-time. And He will reward the time you take for Him.
- Leave your door open.
One of my most favorite things in the world is a spontaneous conversation that goes deep real fast. This won’t happen if you seclude yourself from the world in your tiny dorm room. Yes, homework is important, but so are people. You will miss out on the spontaneous: the laughter, jokes, dance parties, political debates, religious discussions, and opportunities to help. Keep that door open and the best will happen. (And do your serious studying outside the dorm.) This is how you build those lasting friendships…. and find quality tweets…
- Being in over your head is a good place to be.
A summary of this semester would be “in over my head.” I knew at the beginning of the year that this would be a semester to persist. Taking 17 credits of difficult classes was a lot. Add cold weather, dark days, sickness, busy weekends, homesickness, a packed schedule, and competitive academics. I was overwhelmed and exhausted by the first few weeks. But I learned to humble myself, allow people to support me, and rely on God for my strength. Being in over your head is a beautiful place to be, because when you can’t do it on your own, God’s glory is demonstrated more fully in your life. You will have more than you can bear sometimes, but Jesus holds you and strengthens you the whole way.
- This year will (most likely) be the hardest and best year of your life so hard.
If someone were to ask me how my freshman year was, that’s how I would simply describe it. This year was the hardest. I made mistakes, I was lonely and homesick, I experienced frequent illness, I had to learn how to be independent, I had to deal with tragedy away from my family, I was mentally exhausted, I was pushed academically, etc, etc. Yet it was also the best. I made wonderful friends, I tried new things, I achieved many small (and big) victories, I went on adventures, I was independent, I grew spiritually, and I fell in love with a college and a town. I realized this year just how hard life is and how messed up our world is. Yet through it, I also learned more about myself and became happier in who I am.
That’s freshman year in 11 sentences (well, quite a bit more than that). For all you who are about to graduate high school and head into this grand new adventure, that’s what I wished someone would have told me. Now you know. Go and do college grandly!