With only a few days left of my first year in college, I have learned a lot about what the college experience is like (and how it is not really what I expected it to be). For your entertainment and, perhaps, education, I have compiled here a list of the things that I have learned, mainly through trial and error.
The first few days are not indicative of how the rest of your year will be.
For about a week or so of my college experience, I was wondering if I was going to make it the whole year. The transition is definitely a big one: not seeing your parents, generally living with a roommate in a closet-sized room, making all new friends. My college had a lot of activities for incoming freshmen the first week, but that didn’t stop me from feeling a bit lost and wondering if I would ever actually fit in. Still, I have come to find out that the you that comes in to college for your first day is not the same you that will leave on the last day, and that’s a good thing. I think scared-first-day me would have a lot to learn from present-day me.
2. It’s a LOT of work.
I didn’t believe people when they told me that college would be a lot of work (I marvel at my own naivety). I took a lot of AP classes in high school and figured that a college course load couldn’t be that much more than the workload of 4 APs in one year, but I was dead wrong. I was actually excited for classes to start, and it is exciting to be able to pick classes that you are interested in, but it’s definitely a different ball game from high school work. If you lack time management skills or focus, you’ve got a big storm coming in college.
3. Joining clubs is important.
Everyone says this on college advice sites, but I made the mistake of overlooking it my first semester. Making new friends is difficult, but clubs make it easier. Meeting like-minded peers will be essential to contribute to your college experience. There are also so many more clubs and activities available than there were in high school, at least for me, coming from a high school with a graduating class of under 60 kids.
4. Your room will not be nice.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting for the dorm rooms. I’ll tell you what I wasn’t expecting: bugs (LOTS of bugs), leaking windows, and failing heating (in the dead of winter). It’s possible that not all colleges have rooms with so many problems, but be aware that your room will not be a hotel suite. My little closet-room and I have quite the love-hate relationship.
5. Communal bathrooms aren’t all that bad.
I was worried about the bathrooms. Everyone was worried about the bathrooms. Bathroom activities are supposed to be private, not shared with all of the people on your floor. However, now I don’t really mind it. I brush my teeth at night with my friends at the sink and we can shower simultaneously with the music blasting! Maybe bathroom activities can be shared activities.
6. You will miss home-cooked food.
Good food in the dining halls was one of my main requirements when I was looking at colleges, and I thought that I picked accordingly, but even the best dining hall food will get old quickly. You definitely learn hacks to work around the dining hall, and start to remember your favorites, but nothing compares to the food from home. Nothing. I could weep at the thought of food from home right now.
I’m not sure if this is unique to me, but I have gotten sick during both finals times, likely as a result of the mountain-like workload I was struggling under. Finals are an interesting time on campus, because everyone is struggling equally, so it is simultaneously an amazing place of no judgement and a tremendously stressful time period. All those memes that you’ve seen about college finals are so much more accurate than I ever thought they would be.
8. Sleep is so important.
I thought I loved sleep in high school. I also thought that I was tired in high school. High- school-level tired, though, is nowhere near college-level tired. It literally does not matter how much I sleep; I am still tired. The good news? I have gained more napping skills. The bad news? I am yawning as I write this.
9. Don’t take more than a full course load if you don’t have to.
I recognize that some people have to take more classes to fit in a certain amount of majors and minors, but if you don’t have to, DON’T. I tried to take five classes this semester instead of four and dropped the fifth one within a week. With how much work I have had this semester, I literally can’t imagine having that course as well. Not taking that class also allowed me to actually enjoy my college experience and go to all the events that I wanted to without having not-doing-my-homework guilt.
10. SERIOUSLY. NO 8:30S.
I can’t tell you how many times I saw a tip like this, and yet I ignored it. I wanted to take the Forensic Biology class so badly that I figured it would be worth it, and it was, for the most part, but, oh my gosh, waking up in the seven o’ clock hour is insanely difficult. Please. Don’t be like me. I drink two coffees a day now. Unless the class is a requirement for your major, find a way around it.
11. When one person is sick, everyone is sick.
If you thought high school was a hotbed for sickness, just wait until college. Because you are always sharing space with others, if someone near you has a germ, you’re likely to catch it. There are some periods where it seems like literally everyone on campus is sick, so you just have to sit and accept your fate. While misery loves company, having a class where there is more coughing and sneezing than participation is certainly not the best company. (I write this as it is one of those periods—and I am sick).
12. College professors are not like what your high school teachers told you they would be like.
“You won’t be able to get away with this in college," your high school teachers say. The truth is, you probably will. While professors have strict rules like any other teacher, they also can be very lenient and personable—sometimes more than high school teachers. Last week my first year seminar professor kissed a pig as a result of a fundraiser, and things like that are hardly unusual here.
13. College actually will feel more like home than your actual home.
I never believed college freshmen when they said this, but it’s true. The first time going home after a while away at college is so weird, because while it is your home and feels like home, it also feels like you have another home. When I’m at college, I miss home; when I’m at home, I miss college (how many times I just said home is indicative of how it feels to have two.)
14. College is (actually) fun.
In high school, I would be disappointed every time I had to go back, and was always wishing for a day off. Now, I actually get excited to go back to school. I missed my friends and the activities and the independence! I even enjoy the schoolwork for the most part, as nerdy as it is to say (don’t shame me too much).
15. It goes by so fast.
Even in my first semester, I kept finding myself in wonder about how quickly the weeks were flying by in comparison to high school. Now, I have had my last days of classes and only have finals left, and I can’t believe that it’s already over when I remember my first days like they were yesterday. Now I understand why you should make the most out of your experience—time is precious.
The transition to becoming a college student wasn’t all easy, but the learning curve is an important part of the process. If you are preparing for your first year of college, know that it won’t be simple, but it will be worth it (even with the bugs and the sleep-deprivation).