For many of my friends, this was the first week of school — and for me, it was the first August since the early 90s that I wasn’t starting school! Since I first began blogging in 2010, I started sharing the lessons I had learned from each year of college, but my wonderful friends and readers have also shared their own advice and wisdom on my blog as well (here and here). In honor of the brand new semester, I bring you 15 helpful tips from 15 college students and alumni with diverse backgrounds and degree programs. Best of luck this school year!
The Freshman 15: Advice From Readers (Year 3)
1. Study what you love.
Picking a major can seem really daunting upon entering college, especially if you’re unsure of your post-undergraduate plans. However, the most important thing is to study something you are passionate about. Don’t let overbearing relatives and nosy strangers dissuade you when they sneer, “Oh, you’re a [blank] major? What are you going to do with that?” Doing homework and studying for tests will suck a little less if you actually enjoy what you’re learning. And at the end of your four years, you will find the perfect way to apply your passion to your “real world” pursuits.
- Jill Dutmers, University of Central Florida, English Literature (@straightupjill)
2. Be open and accepting to all kinds of people.
In life, but college especially, you will meet a wide array of personalities! Students come from all walks of life and they WILL have different opinions, perspectives and values than you. Stay true to your beliefs but also make sure to keep an open mind. Understand that many students work multiple jobs to pay their way through college, may be going through personal issues or have social disorders. It’s so important to take all these factors in to consideration before jumping to conclusions about different types of people. Learn something new from different people your age…in the long-term you will grow more accepting and appreciative of others.
- Carlie Craig, Florida State University, Theatre and Media Production (@carliecraig, Website: Carlie Craig)
3. Get familiar with your academic community.
Professors will be impressed if you stay informed about the current trends in your major field. Although some academic journals and monographs can be dry, make an effort to find a moderately accessible journal or a scholar that you like. Attend seminars and symposiums if you can, and submit papers to journals and local conferences (you’ve got nothing to lose!). Undergraduate publications and conference history will look great on a curriculum vitae.
- Brittan Wilkey, Wake Forest University, MA English (Blog: Discharmed)
4. Pay it forward.
As soon as you figure out what you plan on doing (whether picking a major, joining a club, or finding an internship) start passing along what you’ve learned and your experiences to anyone who asks or who may need it. Be a resource to people around you — you never know what difference you’re making in their lives by helping them out. On the flip side, never forget about the people who helped you out along the way and always remember to thank them and maybe even let them know what you’re up to especially if it’s been a while.
- Kaitlin Border, University of Central Florida, Accounting
5. You’ll meet your best friends in time.
Chances are, the first group of friends you get knit into won’t be the last. Don’t feel pressured to find all your best friends in the first semester. It takes a while to adjust to college and you actually transform into a new person as the months go on so don’t think any kind of group of friends needs to be there for the four years ahead. Be open to meeting new people and be mindful of when friendships naturally click. Those are the ones to tuck close to you. I didn’t find mine until my sophomore year but I still have them as best friends today.
- Hannah Brencher, Assumption College, English + Mass Communications/Sociology (Website: Hannah Brencher)
6. Get to know your RAs… for the RIGHT reasons.
Resident Assistants aren’t just there to get on your case if you are being too loud. RA’s are students, just like you, and they have been through it. They are there to talk to you and help you out. Their training is VERY extensive and know just about every resource available to you from free counseling services to listing off names of student organizations. You pay big bucks to live on campus, and a big part of that payment is living on the same floor as a walking/talking college life guru. If you have a problem, or even if you are doing well, tell your RA, they want you to succeed and do your best.
- Karina Garcia, University of Central Florida, Advertising and Public Relations (@karinacreative)
7. Never stop making friends.
I am very much an introvert, so once I had a small circle of friends I was more than happy to stop putting myself out there. In result, for my first semester of school I had a very small group of people I knew well, while I was surrounded by dozens more who would have loved to get to know me better. Not every friend you make will last, and you might not think you’d like hanging out with a certain kind of person, but you never know until you try.
- Gabrielle Upshur, Austin Peay State University, English (Blog: Of A Writerly Sort)
8. Go to class.
Don’t skip class, even if it’s early in the morning or boring. The great thing about college is you control your schedule, and there’s time for naps.
- Kayley Tool, University of Central Florida, Nursing
9. You don’t have to be friends with your roommate.
Many people enter college with the expectation that they’ll click instantly with their roommate and become best friends. This isn’t always the case. Unless you pre-selected a roommate, you will be moving into a tiny dorm room with a complete stranger. You may enjoy baking and crafting while your roommate is interested in video games and cosplaying. It’s okay if you have nothing in common! Don’t try to force a friendship just because you live together. The most important thing is that the two of you cultivate an environment of mutual respect. Respect your roommate’s space and belongings and he/she should do the same for you. However, some people are just too different to get along. If you and your roommate can’t make things work, don’t hesitate to talk to your RA about the process of changing rooms. Classes and work are taxing enough and you shouldn’t have to come home to a stressful living environment every day. Moving in the middle of the semester can be inconvenient, but it’s better than being miserable for an entire school year.- Tori Twine, Elon University, Cinema (@toritwine, Blog: I May Be Mildly Obsessed)
10. Remember your passions.
I was miserable with my major for a while, until I remembered that I loved robotics. It basically reinvigorated me, and I’ve been doing a lot better since. Sometimes you lose sight of your passions, but it’s great when you remember them.
- Peter Cheng, University of Central Florida, Computer Engineering
11. Be open to all types of Greek life.
During my first two years of college, a lot of my friends joined social sororities and fraternities. While this looked like a lot of fun, I just didn’t think that Greek Life was right for me. In my junior year, I heard about an honor fraternity on campus and decided to check out one of their Rush events. Two years later, I consider it to be one of the best decisions I made in my college career. I experienced many leadership, academic and social opportunities and made some of my best friends. The point is social Greek Life is not for everyone, but there are so many Greek organizations on every campus that there is bound to be a place you’ll fit in! Try looking for sororities or fraternities related to your major or other special interests and don’t be afraid to go and meet new people!
- Jessica Faith Meyer, University of Central Florida, Political Science (@jfaithmeyer)
12. Get internships.
I know they pay less than waitressing or bartending – maybe they’re even unpaid! But the skills you learn and the connections you make are worth so, so, SO much more than money. If you’ve got a great resume filled with internships related to your field, it’s about a million times easier to land a job. If you only work in restaurants during college, you’ll be a super well-educated and experienced server when you enter the workplace.
- Sarah Von Bargen, BA University of Minnesota – Morris (English), MA Victoria University of Wellington (Applied Linguistics) (Blog: Yes & Yes)
13. The easiest way to their hearts is through their stomachs.
When it comes down to making friends in college, It’s important to cater to your strengths. In my case, I’m a third generation, nearly full blooded Italian girl. Cooking a hearty italian meal is embedded in my DNA. Thankfully, our college dorm had a well equipped kitchen at my disposal, so cooking, despite our sensitive fire alarms, was encouraged amongst us all. First night at the dorms, I gathered my utensils and went to work in the kitchen. My new roomies, now my best friends, caught a whiff, literally, of what I was up to and decided to lend a helping hand. Within an hour we had whipped up a huge bowl of pasta and meatballs and made sure to prop open our door so the sweet aroma or marinara sauce could flood through the hallways – and into the nostrils of several hungry college kids. What a success! In seconds, our floor mates were lingering in our doorway, mouths watering and stomachs growling. We invited them in, gave them a plate and conversed. As simple as that. It was history in the making. Many of our hungry floor mates from that first night became some of my lifelong friends, even now after college. If you cook it, they will come. That, I’ll assure you is a fact.
- Lauren Durando, University of Central Florida, Advertising and Public Relations (@dran34)
14. Stop and smell the roses.
Stop and smell the roses. –Yes, you could do this literally, but more figuratively, you should definitely take the chance to stop every now and then and appreciate the amazing opportunity that is attending college in the 21st century. The world is literally at your fingertips at any given moment via the internet. Opportunities abound around every corner. You are currently living and experiencing history being made on a day-to-day basis. Take the time to sit back every now and then and appreciate the epicness. Then go out and make your contribution to it in whatever form makes you happiest!
- Melissa Smith, George Mason University, PhD Human Factors (@mabsmith)
15. Find yourself in a new place.
It may sound lame but friends, boyfriends, girlfriends and coworkers will come and go but you will always have yourself with you. This took me a while to learn but I have been able to slowly build a better relationship with myself through studying abroad. In immersing myself in other places and cultures around the world, there are things I learned that can’t be learned from in a classroom. The main lessons in life that I will look back on when I graduate will be things that I learned from being abroad. In fact what you learn from museums, old ruins, or double decker bus tours doesn’t nearly compare to what you learn about yourself. About how you work with others, how you can navigate through a strange place, and the stress of being in the big open world. So study abroad and set forth on a journey to a new place to find your new self.
- Arielle Poliner, University of Central Florida, Event Management
A great big thank you to everyone who contributed this year! Readers, what is the biggest piece of advice you have for incoming college students?