(AUTHOR NOTE: Oops… this was supposed to be finished yesterday for the month of December! I promise that for 2011, I will do everything in my power to get my Freshman 15 posts up much earlier for your viewing pleasure. I hope you enjoy — happy new year!)
With the year of 2010 coming to a close, we compile our lists of resolutions — ways we would like to change in the upcoming year. In creating these lists, we often look back on the past year and reflect upon what we could have improved upon. Therefore, in the December edition of the Freshman 15, I will talk about the things I wish I had done in my freshman year of college that would have improved my college experience even more.
Although I enjoyed my freshman year and found it a successful one, I did make mistakes from time to time (as we all do!) and from them I learned how I would do things differently in the future. For all current freshmen and incoming college students, try and keep some of these in mind as you make your way through that first year!
The Freshman 15: Things I Wish I’d Done Differently
1. Make health a priority.
Living on-campus meant that pizza and other dining hall food quickly became staples of my diet, which once included fruits, vegetables and vitamins. Combining this with the fact that I lived in close proximity to hundreds of other people and attended classes with tens of thousands of them, I was bound to get sick sooner or later. During my first fall semester of college alone, I ended up with the flu, two ear infections and ultimately mono. Although this may have just been bad luck and could have happened to anyone, I honestly think that by disregarding my health entirely, I made myself a lot more vulnerable to illness. Moral of the story: take your Vitamin C, eat junk foods in moderation and carry hand sanitizer everywhere you go!
2. Pay attention to on-campus opportunities early on.
Yes, I managed to get involved in a few clubs by the end of my freshman year, but I also missed out on an entire semester during which I could have been meeting new people and becoming a greater part of my school. Although I spent a great deal of that semester in the Health Center and catching up on assignments, I avoided a lot of the socials until my spring semester. Having developed a group of friends early on, I was convinced that I didn’t need to get involved right away, and now, looking back, I wish I hadn’t taken that attitude. In the spring of my freshman year, I decided to try out some of the organizations, and quickly found my home in one of them. The earlier you get involved, the better — you’ll get to utilize some of the older students as mentors, and have a greater connection to the club when you’re an upperclassman and you want to obtain an officer position.
3. Connect with faculty.
As you begin to apply for internships, scholarships and various jobs, you will need to compile a reference list — and no, these references shouldn’t be limited to the people who knew you in high school. Go to your professors’ office hours and talk to them about assistantships and research opportunities. Connect with the ones you like and ask for help when you need it. This year, I finally became acquainted with the faculty in my honors college — the people who had always offered help but whom I was afraid I would burden — and they really were willing to answer my questions and point me in the right direction. One of them even connected me to a professor who offered me a job! If I had pursued these relationships a year ago, I can’t even imagine where I’d be today. The sooner you get to know your professors and advisers, the better!
4. Settle into a healthy sleep cycle.
No matter how old you are, sleep is the best way to let your mind and body recharge. However, because college presents so many new challenges and opportunities, you may start to feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to really get the rest you need. The old joke goes that if your options are good grades, a social life and a healthy sleep cycle, it is only possible for you to obtain two of those. During my freshman year, I definitely sacrificed those hours of sleep in favor of other things, and my body did not thank me for it. The point is, if you develop good sleep habits now, they are more likely to stick with you in the years to come, leading to greater productivity and success!
5. Attend more athletic events.
For a lot of college students, this one isn’t even remotely a problem — and tailgating on Saturday mornings is as routine as brushing one’s teeth. For someone like me, who doesn’t fully comprehend the rules of football and tends to get bored by halftime, athletic events aren’t quite as exciting. But while I’m not always enamored with every aspect of a game, I wish I did attend more of them, if only to show off my school spirit, cheer on my classmates and enjoy the overall atmosphere. Besides, they are a fun (and often free, depending on what school you attend) way to socialize with your friends and truly feel like a part of something.
6. Focus less on relationships.
Okay, we’re in our late teens and twenties, so naturally one of our first priorities is dating. We think about it all the time: who’s hooking up with whom, who broke up, who got back together, what that text from that boy meant, etc. Although dating and relationships can be fun and worthwhile, however, they shouldn’t take over our lives. I found that I spent entirely too much of my first year of college worrying about relationships and non-relationships, regardless of what my status was with whomever I liked at the time. I also learned that you cannot let anyone be the sole cause of your happiness — and by putting too much stock in the whole world of dating, you are not giving yourself enough credit. There’s a time and place for everything, and I’m not suggesting that you ignore a connection with someone when you feel it, but please don’t let those connections control your emotions entirely.
7. Find a way to present yourself well.
As a freshman, you may not have to apply for too many jobs or positions yet, but eventually you will want to become a leader on campus and you will need to know how to show people the very best you have to offer. Last year, I wanted to obtain a coveted position in one of the organizations on campus, and when the interview itself came around, I wasn’t prepared for the type of self-marketing I was expected to do, and I didn’t get the job. Over time, I’ve done a lot of self-discovery and reflected upon my strengths and weaknesses, and I think that really helped me in obtaining several internship offers for this upcoming semester. If only I had learned this sooner, I may have been another step ahead.
8. Know your school’s limitations, especially on holiday weekends.
I began college in the middle of the summer, and wound up spending the 4th of July Weekend up at school. While most of my friends had gone home for the holiday, I was not about to chicken out on my first weekend of college. Instead, I stayed at school with two other friends and a ghost town for a campus. Without a car at the time (this was before I got my trusty car, Carlos), we were basically stranded — no restaurants at school were open, and our dorm rooms were not well-equipped for cooking our own food. Eventually we befriended someone who was willing to take us to Publix and the local sub shop, but the weekend was extremely boring and the school was not prepared for the students who had stayed behind. Although I wouldn’t suggest going home at every chance you get, I would strongly recommend finding out the school’s accommodations before sticking around on a holiday weekend, especially if you don’t have a convenient means of transportation.
9. Utilize the resources on campus.
Chances are, your school has lots of these… and many of them will go unused. When I needed advice on a major after switching from Journalism, I visited Career Services, and later on, I returned for assistance with my resume. However, there were plenty of other places on campus I should have become acquainted with at one point or another: the Writing Center and the Math Lab, for example. Whether you need help with a paper or one-on-one tutoring, there’s usually some resource available to help you, and you’d be crazy not to take advantage of it!
10. Don’t rush into relationships or trust too much too soon.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, college relationships (both romantic AND platonic) are notorious for moving quickly. Because you’re getting to know so many people in a much closer capacity in a shorter period of time than ever before, bonding with those people you meet is inevitable. The trouble is, not only does this put too much pressure on a friendship or relationship that is still very new, but it also causes us to trust people with our darkest secrets before they’ve proven themselves trustworthy. Although several of the people I met early on are some of my closest friends today, there have been some surprises over the past year and at times I wish I hadn’t rushed into certain friendships so quickly. Be open to meeting new people and sharing your experiences, but don’t share everything right away — some things should be reserved for the people who have earned them.
11. Write down your goals.
Having an active list of what you want to accomplish throughout the year (much like New Year’s Resolutions) helps you to track your growth and progress over time. I came into college with a lot of expectations, and looking back, I wish I had kept track of those to see what I actually achieved and what values changed. Before I began my sophomore year, I posted my goals for the year to my Facebook Notes, and over the past several months, I have gone in and crossed off each goal as I’ve met it (and added the date next to it for added organization). Your list doesn’t have to be so public — I keep mine that way in order to share my dreams with others — but you should definitely make one and then refer back to it often.
12. Find an outlet.
In just one week of college, you will find yourself juggling a full course load, club meetings and a social life — and sometimes it may feel like you don’t have time to breathe. To avoid total insanity, try finding a way to relax from it all. Go to the gym, take a walk outside, paint something… the world is yours. In April, I found one release that allowed me to relax while doing what I loved, and that release was blogging! Throughout my freshman year, I found that some of my passions had been ignored, especially writing and reading (more on how I plan to change the latter in my next blog post!). Don’t ignore what makes you happy – instead, make it a priority to do those things at least once each week.
13. Make yourself a bigger priority in your own life.
This is YOUR life! It may be admirable to help your friends and neighbors out from time to time, but you do need to find ways to do things for yourself. For much of my first semester, I assumed it was my responsibility to take care of some of the others, even if that took away from time I could have spent studying or relaxing on my own. While I am still learning about becoming assertive and learning to do what is best for myself, I have begun making time for me. This is probably one of the most valuable lessons I could learn in college.
14. Keep in touch with the people you want in your life.
Don’t feel obligated to maintain relationships with people you didn’t mesh well with in high school or college, but make sure you don’t ignore the ones you do want to remain friends with. I met so many people in the first two weeks of my fall semester of freshman year and was so busy with them that I was too exhausted to really keep up with a lot of them once things began to settle down. Although I wound up with a close-knit group of friends that I loved, I knew there were others I still wanted to see, and ultimately I learned to make those get-togethers happen for themselves. Don’t lose touch with someone you really like simply due to laziness!
15. Don’t expect perfection.
As an eternal perfectionist, this is something I struggle with constantly, and it is both my strength and my downfall. At times I forget how much I have accomplished, even if I am not perfect, and have to remind myself that I am human. As you begin your college career, don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go as smoothly as you think they should. You are in a brand new environment that is constantly changing, and you are adjusting to a completely different way of life. Allow yourself to be the best you can be, and don’t expect yourself to be a superhero every single day.
I hope these tips are helpful as you make your way into the new year! Some questions to consider:
- For my older readers, what do you wish you could have changed about your freshman year/college experience as a whole?
- How did college help you grow as a person?
- What topics are you hoping to learn more about in The Freshman 15 series? Anything you would like me to address in the upcoming months?