Congratulations on starting college! Looking back, there are some things I wish I’d known when I was a freshman. I want to share what I’ve learned so you can make the most of your college experience.
If you’re like me and didn’t stay local for college, you may not know anyone in your class. Not to worry. Keep in mind that you’re not alone — most of your fellow students are in the same situation, so reach out and get to know them.
This does require you to take the first step and say “hi” — you can’t expect other people to always do that — but in my experience being friendly and open pays off. Introduce yourself to the people sitting next to you in your lectures and, if you live in a residence hall, to the other people on your floor and in your building. If you’re interested in a particular activity, go to the first meeting of the semester and introduce yourself to the other members (most schools will have a tabling event where clubs and student groups invite you to sign up to be on their email list for events and get-togethers — a great way to meet people).
Ask someone where they’re from, what their interests are, why they’re taking a course. If they seem disinterested, don’t lose hope — try again with somebody else. If you try to find something in common with fellow students, it’s more likely you’ll make friends in the first few weeks.
You’ve got them, so ask them. And don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” There’s nothing shameful about asking an instructor for clarification on an assignment, starting up conversations with other students, or asking for support from your teachers and peers.
Take what other students say about their grades with a grain of salt, especially at the start of first semester when the first graded assignments are handed back. If you didn’t do so great on an assignment, don’t pretend you aced it. That will just prevent you from getting the support you need. Help foster a community of openness and encouragement!
If you need help finding a building, or want advice on a professor’s grading style, reach out to upperclassmen. In general, people are happy to lend a hand, plus it’s helpful to talk to students who’ve been where you were and made it through.
Make taking care of your health a priority. You only have one body. Treat it with love. You’ll do better, feel better and have more fun if you get a full night’s sleep, exercise regularly and eat healthy meals. I’ve definitely found that when I let any of these things go, it has a domino effect, causing me to get behind in schoolwork. My social life suffers, too.
So, how do you do this? Set tangible bedtime goals to ensure you get a full night’s sleep without missing your morning lectures. (Know your body and how much sleep you personally need; it’s probably more than you think.) Try to fit a half hour of exercise into your schedule each day. If you spend a lot of time scrolling the internet, consider using that time to go for a walk or visit the gym. If you can’t seem to find that half hour, take the stairs instead of the elevator, use standing desks when available, and go for shorter 10-minute walks a few times a day.
It’s also key to have an extracurricular outlet in place to counterbalance the demands of college. Whether it’s a sport or the debate team, doing plays or reading for fun with a campus book club, do something you enjoy just because you enjoy it. This circles back to my first point: it’s a chance to meet people with similar interests.
In my experience, the greatest resources have always been the people around me. If you need help finding a building, or want advice on a professor’s grading style, reach out to upperclassmen. In general, people are happy to lend a hand, plus it’s helpful to talk to students who’ve been where you were and made it through.
At the end of the day, college for me has been a place to learn as much as I can about myself and those around me, and to make the most of the four years given to me. Good luck! I hope you have a terrific first semester.
Evan Young is a senior at Amherst College double majoring in English and French. He studied in Paris last year and is living in the French House to keep his language skills sharp. Evan’s extracurricular involvements include working at the natural history museum, activism both on and off campus, choral society and dance.