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Preparing to Return After a Difficult SemesterJennifer Sullivan
This fall will look a little different. First-year students will need to adapt to both the normal changes in lifestyle and new adjustments because of the pandemic. Here are the things I wish I knew before my first year in college.
College is a hugely idealized time of life. Before move-in day, my expectations were loosely based on things my older friends and siblings said, Instagram posts and movies. I expected non-stop adventures with a fun group of friends. In reality, it took a while for me to find people I truly connected with.
I didn’t have something happening every night, and I didn’t always feel like myself, so I assumed I was doing something wrong. I wish I’d known that I wasn’t. I wish I’d given myself the freedom to live in the moment without dwelling on pre-conceived notions of the “college experience.”
“It’s okay if you feel like you don’t relate to your peers instantly even when it seems like everyone else is. It takes time to adjust.” UC Berkeley sophomore
At the beginning of my first semester, I was worried that if I took time to myself I’d miss out on something. I loved meeting new people and exploring St. Louis, but there were definitely times when I probably should’ve said no to things but went anyway. I got sick the minute I arrived home for fall break and slept a ton. That’s when I realized I was getting burnt out.
I started choosing to stay in when I felt tired instead of pushing myself to be involved 24/7. Whether it’s watching Netflix, reading a book or drawing, it’s important to check in with yourself and do the things that keep you relaxed. When I took a little time each week to be alone, I had more energy and the social events I attended became more enjoyable.
“Nothing is make or break. If you’re rundown, take a night off.” Washington University sophomore
Summer before freshman year, I worried that I wasn’t smart enough for college. This fear grew stronger as I sat through my first classes and leafed through syllabi, overwhelmed by the number of things I’d be responsible for throughout the semester.
I didn’t remind myself that I got into the school for a reason. I did however write every assignment in a planner, noted the extra busy weeks, and attended all my classes. It turned out there was more than enough time to do everything I needed to. I stayed on top of things and, slowly, college stopped feeling so drastically different from high school. I still took late nights to study for exams and finish papers, but I stopped believing I was out of place.
“Getting a calendar will help with time management because your college schedule gets busy and takes time to adjust to.” Miami of Ohio sophomore
In high school, if a group of my friends got together without me, I’d take it personally. This changed completely in college. People tend to make plans based on who happens to be somewhere in the moment. You might grab lunch with someone who has the same break between classes that you do, and go to dinner with residence hall floormates because you were already in the common room studying together.
In high school, lunch is a major time to socialize. Friends sit together and people look at you if you sit alone. This, too, changes in college. Everyone has different schedules, and oftentimes you won’t run into someone you know. It felt so freeing when I realized that no one notices or thinks anything less of someone sitting alone.
“Going to a smaller high school, it felt like eyes were on me all the time... The unabashed freedom of college is liberating.” Montana State sophomore
While it’s perfectly normal to eat alone, it’s important to get to know people, and meals can be a great way to do that. Some of the best advice I got before my first year is, when you meet someone you connect with, ask for their number and make meal plans.
I knew no one at my college before move-in day. As nervous as I was, I made sure to introduce myself to the other people moving in on my floor, and I’m so happy I did — it’s the easiest ways to make your dorm start to feel like home. If you don’t click with anyone on your floor, don’t worry. Clubs and classes are another great way to find people you have something in common with.
“Spend time in the common room in your dorm instead of your room because it’s a good way to meet friends.” Miami of Ohio sophomore
“I wish I knew that it’s okay to be nervous because everyone feels the same way. Put yourself out there and try something new.” University of San Francisco sophomore
If classes are held on campus this fall (fingers crossed!), returning students will be so excited to be back and you should be, too! Even with a shortened freshman year, my school now feels like a second home.
Begin the year ready to meet a ton of new people and excited about what comes next. It takes time for things to fall into place, but once you find a new routine and people you connect with, you’ll never want to leave.
College move-in is approaching! Help your student prepare by making sure they have everything they need for a successful freshman year.