When the time came for me to pack up my life in suburbia and make the big drive in the family mini van down to Los Angeles, I had very few apprehensions about my new life in sunny Southern California. After all, I worked so hard in high school to be attending my dream school, where everything would be absolutely perfect and nothing could ever impede my success. It was college; nothing could go wrong.
Well, week three rolled around, along with my first set of midterms and papers. I didn’t have my bridesmaids yet, I still got lost on my way to class most days, and my dream school was not looking so dreamy anymore. I found myself completely isolated and alone, crying on the phone with my mom at least 3 times per day and begging her to let me transfer after my first year because I was that miserable. Quite frankly, freshman year was awful.
I am proud to say that I am now a rising third year at the same school I thought was so terrible the first time around. It was not easy to fall in love with this place that hurt me so badly, in fact it took another year to do so, but it was done. And now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Here are a few things I wish I had known throughout my first year.
1. Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
Remember that everyone is more or less in the same position as you–trying to find his/her/their place in this new environment, while also adjusting to a college level course load and probably living independently for the first time ever. Please do not show up thinking you’re hot shit, do not judge and categorize people based on your first interaction with them, and do not “forget” to clean up your hair in the communal showers. This isn’t high school, there’s no need to be catty and mean. Instead, spread some kindness, smile at strangers when walking on campus, and introduce yourself to people in your classes. And, please do your part in keeping the bathrooms clean.
2. Take responsibility for yourself and your actions.
This covers a lot of different areas, but ultimately remember that you are responsible for you. So, act in ways that are safe, productive, healthy, and smart. Your physical, mental, and emotional well-beings will thank you.
3. Be present in class.
This seems so obvious, but in a lecture hall of 200+ people, it’s too easy to sit in the back row, open your laptop, and completely check out for two hours while you’re stalking your best friend’s brother’s ex-girlfriend’s cousin’s ex-boyfriend on various social media platforms. Or online shopping. I’ve done both.
I recommend turning your computer on “Do Not Disturb”, turn off the “Badge App Icons” in the Notification Center, and simply try to have some self control. The world outside can wait for a little bit.
When you’re in class, be in class. Truly, you might as well not show up if you’re going to sit there and plan your Coachella 2021 outfits.
Which leads me into number 4.
4. Go into office hours.
Bonus points if you can’t make them and schedule a meeting out of regular office hours.
The fall quarter of my freshman year, I really didn’t want a B in my Sociology 1 class. It was supposed to be an easy GE class, and I took the first five weeks as such. But, I went into my TA’s office hours, asked a few questions about the material, asked her a few questions about herself, and kissed up only a little bit. Sure enough, she liked me enough to grant me an A- when I should have probably ended with a B+ at most.
If you are concerned about your grade in a class for whatever reason–it’s an 8 am and you haven’t been to class in a minute, you failed the first midterm, the professor sucks, you’re not interested in or just don’t understand the material–go in and talk to your professor or TA. If you’re like me and are too afraid to talk to the professor most of the time, your TA is just as good if not better; he/she/they is/are usually the one grading your work anyways.
Not only is meeting your teaching staff good for your GPA, it’s also an amazing way to get recommendations, jobs, and positions in a field you’re interested in. They probably know someone that you’d like to know too.
5. If you’re not sure, ask.
It’s okay to get help; you’re not expected to have all of the answers right away.
6. You don’t need to bring that one top you wear with that one pair of pants only on special occasions.
I lived in what’s called a “classic triple” during my freshman year, meaning I lived in a room not much bigger than a broom closet with two other girls. I am not exaggerating when I say I could hold hands with the roommate that lived on the other top bunk when we were both in bed. Needless to say, storage space was very limited.
Chances are, you’re not going to need a romper in the middle of January. My advice is to rotate out the wardrobe you bring to not only save space in your closet, but also leave room for fun things you might order online after you get home from a party. Besides, all of those late night purchases are probably really cute and you just don’t want to go through the hassle of returning it.
7. Do not compare yourself to others.
That one girl from that one club you’re in got an internship with some big, super competitive company, this other guy is out here giving vaccinations in Honduras, and your acquaintance from high school literally has the best body ever and just posted a bikini pic on Instagram.
While these are all great things for these great people, comparing yourself and your journey to theirs probably doesn’t feel too hot. Instead, try to focus on and confidently go towards the things you want, even if it’s 8 hours of sleep tonight. Do what you need to do in this moment to be the best version of yourself there is. The rest will fall into place. Oh, and delete your social media apps. Those things are toxic.
8. You will probably not have your best friends within your first week of being there.
I showed up to school fully confident that I would meet “my people” in the first few days, be invited to all of the parties and socials, and have no problems at all making friends.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
While I did indeed meet some of the people who would eventually become my best friends in the first week, it took a majority of the school year to cultivate these friendships and lots of “Do you want to grab dinner tonight?” texts. As much as I wish college was a place where everyone is included in everything, it is not. To combat this, be open and engaged with as many new people, places, and experiences where you could see yourself fitting in. Seek out spaces and communities that feel good to you. Again, everyone is more or less in the same position as you.
9. It’s not what happens, it’s how you handle it.
There will be days, weeks, sometimes months where things will feel like they’re spiraling out of control and you have no idea what’s going on. This is 100% okay.
In these moments, it is so important to keep fighting through things to the best of your ability. When I was struggling, the last thing I wanted to hear was that things would get better, but I promise they eventually do. Keep showing up, lean on your support system of friends and family, and do things that make you feel good about yourself. You’ll figure it out and be stronger and smarter because of it.
10. College is not always glamorous.
Yes, there are so many wonderful things about college: new people and friends, getting involved in things truly interesting to you, all of the freedom, parties, picking your own schedule, exploring the new place you’re in, sporting events, etc.
But, there’s also the 2:00 am crying sessions in the library, feeling left out because someone forgot to invite you to that kickback, the person you’re into leading you on just to say “I really like you, and it’s not you, it’s me, but I just don’t think we should keep doing this,” in the middle of midterm season, and forgetting that you had red lipstick in the pocket of your favorite jeans, putting them in the dryer, and therefore ruining both the jeans and the rest of your laundry.
In case you were wondering, all of these not-so-great things did happen to me in my first year.
College is a time for change and growth, two things that can be so uncomfortable and ugly and strange. There are going to be moments that don’t feel like something to post on Facebook for your Mom’s friends from high school back in Ohio to see. And, again, this is 100% okay.
However, even though not all of it is going to be absolutely amazing, a lot of it actually is. I mean, when else can you dress up for a Hot Cheetos and Canadian Tuxedos themed party on a Thursday night?
Even though I had a particularly difficult freshman experience, I know so many people who had one of the best years ever. I also know several people who decided the school they were at just wasn’t for them, transferred, and are now happier than they’ve ever been. This new chapter looks so different for everyone.