It’s OK if freshman year of college wasn’t perfect. Here’s how to make next year better.

Winding down from your first year of college can be stressful. You’re plunging into final exams, and you might also be reflecting on the year you are about to leave behind. This first year might not have been all that you expected it to be. It might not have been as incredible as everyone told you, it might have also been much more scary and awkward than you anticipated. The thing is, that’s A-OK.

Before you began your first year of college you might have been bombarded with a barrage of sentiments like, “College will be the best time of your life” and “You’ll make the best friends you’ve ever had while in college” or even “you are  destined to meet the love of your life.” In fact, people probably told you that you would make those bestest of friends in your first week of classes or even sooner, during welcome week. These sentiments are true for some people, sure, but not for everyone.

I am here to tell you that there is no such thing as the standard college experience. Some people do have amazing first years, and many people do make wonderful friends during college, but sometimes these friendships don’t come until later on, and sometimes it takes longer than a semester or two to feel at home at your university. Even the people that seem like they’ve achieved the perfect college experience (whatever that means) surely had some ups and downs. The undergrad experience can’t be four straight years of rainbows and butterflies, and I don’t think enough of us are prepped for what college really feels like.

College is one of the coolest times in your life, but not necessarily because you will be having fun every single day or having some crazy party whirlwind adventure. College is great because of the immense growth you will undergo within this short time frame. You probably grew in leaps and bounds within your very first year without even realizing it. Freshman year might have been your first time away from home, your first time managing your own finances, managing your own eating habits, managing your own time, and making all new friends with little to no supervision. It’s a lot to handle all at once and most students don’t give themselves enough credit for dealing with all the changes they face.

It’s important to remember that growth like this sometimes comes with growing pains. If this year wasn’t perfect, don’t fret. You’ve got three more years to experience, learn, and stretch even more Here are some things to do next year that might help make college feel a little better.

Realize that everyone experiences college differently, and that’s a great thing

The learning and growing that will occur in the next few years comes in many different forms and comes with some work. If you are struggling, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that college sucks for you. It just means you are undergoing change. Remind yourself to be realistic about college, because it isn’t a party for most people. More often than not, being a college student is challenging, and that’s part of what makes it so rewarding.

Trying new things can lead you to places you wouldn’t expect

You don’t make friends or develop new skills just by sitting in your dorm room. Get out there and figure out what your university has to offer. If you follow your passions, friends will come along the way. Start looking into different departments, clubs, activities, and organizations you find interesting, even if they aren’t exactly what you set out to do in college. You might be surprised at what you find fun. College gives you a chance to sample a variety of activities and courses of study and these next two years are prime time for giving all these quirky new opportunities a shot. Maybe ultimate frisbee is the one sport you’re meant to play, or maybe you are a killer event planner. You never know unless you try.

Universities have all kinds of student resources you can use

Resources are there for a reason. The Academic Support Center or tutoring lab isn’t just for students who are failing their chemistry class; they’re  for everyone. Sometimes achieving a good grade and a thorough understanding of course material isn’t just about doing your homework, it’s about maintaining your knowledge and using it in a variety of ways. Same goes for homesickness or physical illness. Go to the counseling center and the health center to take care of yourself. More students use these resources than you realize; and there’s no shame in it.

Shake off the stuff that doesn’t work out. 

A large part of having a successful time in college is being flexible and making the best out of your experiences. If you continue with the preconceived notion that college should look and feel a certain way, you will likely set yourself up for failure. Take the year as it comes. Avoid comparing your college times with anyone else’s. Find what works for you and what is best for you. Maybe a yoga class at 7 am will set you up for a very balanced week, or maybe you are more of a night owl ,and a late night improv class will put some pep in your step. Maybe the library is your favorite place to study, or maybe you work best off-campus, where your friends won’t be able to distract you. Learning to be honest about your wants and needs when it comes to the little things as well as the bigger decisions in college and beyond will make your life a whole lot easier.

Create a schedule for yourself

When you start college you go from a super structured high school schedule to basically three to five classes and a whole lot of extra time you aren’t accustomed to. This shift might require some organization on your part. Maybe you are the type who loves having the regiment you had in high school; the lack of busy-ness and structure might be throwing you off (I definitely had  a napping problem early on in my college career and used all my extra time to sleep). Create the structure you need to make sure you get all your school work done by setting a plan for yourself, i.e.: go to the coffee shop by 9 or 10 am to work on x,y, and z, grab lunch with a friend at 12:30, take a walk after lunch to help digest the food, then attend class. Sometimes too much free time can lead to a lack of productivity. This is where student activities can help not only complement your studies and get you excited for each day, but also help provide you with more structure in your day.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Whether you want to learn more about your university, or you have questions about academic regulations, or you are still feeling out of place at school, it’s important to reach out to someone. Never be afraid to open up about your questions, or be honest about how you are feeling. Maybe the help you need is as simple as meeting with an advisor or talking to a professor about a department that interests you. Maybe you need to open up to a friend because you still don’t feel like you fit in, or maybe what you are going through is a little more serious and you need to reach out to a counselor. Whatever the case, it is always important to seek the help and guidance you need.

It has taken me several years of college and a full year after to come to terms with my experience. College was far from what I expected it to be, but I am the person I am today as a result of the clubs I joined, the friends I made, and the classes I took. Though it was rocky at times, I developed my own way of seeing things and developed a much stronger sense of myself during the four years that comprised my education.  The more I open up about my college growing pains and adjustment issues, the more other people express similar struggles. If freshman year or college in general isn’t what you expect,  you’re not alone. But that doesn’t mean that college has to be a bummer all around either. You can find what makes you happy, healthy, and successful, whatever that may be.

Filed Under