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Tips From a Student on Making It Through the First Year

Kate Gallop

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We are all hoping this fall on campus will be more normal than last year, but new college students will still need to be flexible and ready to adapt to changes in lifestyle because of the pandemic.

Here are the things I wish I knew before my first year in college.

1. Manage Your Expectations

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 preconceived 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

2. Make Time to Relax

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

3. Plan Out Your Time

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

4. Leave Some High School Attitudes at the Door

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

5. Put Yourself Out There

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 way 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

6. Get Excited!

Classes are being held in person this fall and returning students are excited to be back on campus — you should be, too! Even with a shortened freshman year, and a pandemic-restricted sophomore experience, 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.

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Kate Gallop is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, where she majored in English and minors in psychology and WGSS (women's, gender and sexuality studies). Kate's work has appeared on Creating Cultures of Dignity’s blog and in Canvas, a teen literary journal.

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