Congratulations! No, really, congrats. I know you’ve heard it a bajillion times by now, but graduating High School is a pretty big deal and you’re only just beginning a new stage in your life…seriously, you need all of the encouragement you can get.
So…now what? Wherever you are on your journey to a successful freshman year, there are a couple of things you need to know.
1. You Are Not Alone
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, there are so many people that are behind you wanting to be there for you every single step of the way. Right now you might not want that. Right now, all you might want is freedom, but trust me—when a big pile of laundry is lurking in the corner of your room, or you had a huge fight with your roommate, or you got an F on a quiz, you will want others. When that time comes, you will find that there are plenty of people to back you up.
But maybe you aren't like that. If you're like me, then you probably crave the encouragement and support that others give you, but don't want to sound desperate and needy. Trust me. Every time you ask for help, even in the little things you think don't matter, there is someone else that has either gone through what you are going through or is currently going through it. Don't hesitate to ask for the help that is so willingly given by others. You'll be pleasantly surprised what a simple smile, hug, or thumbs up can do for a sunken spirit.
2. It Will Be Hard
I'm not just talking about your work load, I'm talking about the transition from a comfortable life at home surrounded by family and friends you've known your whole life to a life at college where you may only know one person and that one person is some acquaintance of an acquaintance. I won't sugar-coat it--leaving all that is comfortable is hard. Everyone goes through the transition in different ways, so I can only speak from my experience, but the way I coped was to grieve. I grieved because I knew I would never have the same life I did just a few short weeks ago. I grieved because I wouldn't be there to hear all of my family member's jokes. I grieved because everyone at home was living their lives without me. I only grieved one day and that was enough for me. Whatever your way of coping with transitions is, please don't feel like you are weak, because you're not. Process the transition--cry, be angry, talk it out, or sit in silence--the possibilities are endless. The transition is hard, but once you get past it, you'll be stronger than you were before.
3. You Will Fail
Sorry to be a downer, but you will. Heck, I’ve failed multiple times in college…but you know what, I’m still here. One thing I’ve had to come to terms with is that I’m not perfect. I’m not going to get an A on all of my tests/assignments. I’m not going to play every piano piece the way it sounded when so and so played it. I’m not going to be thoughtful and kind all of the time. I’m not going to use my time wisely all of the time. WE ARE HUMAN AND WE ALL FAIL. I have no idea how many times I have to remind myself of this…but it’s a lot. If you are a Type A person (guilty!) this is a tough pill to swallow. It can be so easy to define yourself on how well you succeed. I’ve learned it doesn’t matter how well you succeed, but in how well you fail that defines you as a person. How do you react when you fail? Does it motivate you or discourage you? Do you seclude yourself from the world or do you surround yourself with others? Learning to fail is necessary because it will happen. The question is, when you do fail, how will you react?
4. You Need to Take Care of Yourself
Believe it or not, you can be successful in college and still get 8+ hours of sleep a night, eat three meals and day, and have time to exercise—it’s all about making priorities and sticking with those priorities. While you are at college, there is no one there to tell you to eat your veggies before you eat dessert, go on a walk instead of binging on Netflix, or making sure you go to bed before 3am every night. You are responsible for yourself and it’s important to care for yourself even when you don’t have anyone telling you differently. How do you even begin to make priorities? Well, for starters, think about the areas in your lifestyle right now you want to maintain in college. Even better, what are some areas in your lifestyle you want to improve? What are healthy habits you could add to your current lifestyle? What are some habits you’d like to discard? Write these out and from there make an action plan. If your goal is to get 7 hours of sleep a night, what are some areas you will need to compromise? If your goal is to eat breakfast every day, how will you make this work in your schedule? In the first month of freshman year, play around with your schedule and find out what works and what doesn’t. Don’t be discouraged if everything doesn’t work out the first time. As time goes on, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t—but stick to your priorities! Make those happen and everything else will work out. Trust me, your grades and friends will thank you for taking care of yourself.
5. You Will Need to Say No and That’s Ok
In college, you will find there are many things vying for your attention. There are friends, family, academics, extra curricular activities, sleeping, eating, ect. All of these things are important, but you will need to decide which things are more important. It’s incredibly easy to look at your college schedule and become excited because you’re only taking four or five classes and you have SOOOO much free time! And because you have so much free time, that means you can be a part of orchestra, choir, athletics, AND have a full time job on campus! Now, there are certainly people at college that accomplish all of these things, and let me tell you something…I am in awe. However, I also think you should not have to feel like you have to do everything you’ve always wanted to do just because you can. Remember earlier when I talked about priorities? Really, really think about those priorities again if you find yourself filling your schedule with miscellaneous activities. Most of the time, something (or somethings) will have to be let go to make time for all of these activities. And you’ll have to say no. To something. To everything, maybe, to stick with your priorities--AND THAT IS COMPLETELY OK.
6. You NEED to Balance Academics and Socialization
I’ve come to realize there are two types of people in college. The Studiers and the Socializers.
Studiers (shockingly) focus too much on studying and often decline social outings because they go too late and take up time they could be studying. Studiers tend to have outstanding grades, but can seem cold and distant to others if they are not careful. Socializers (again, shockingly) are constantly on the lookout for an opportunity to spend time with others. They are good students and pass their classes, however, they will sometimes seek out social opportunities to escape having to finish an assignment or important deadline and can become negligent in other things if they aren’t careful.
Just like with personality types, these college types are more of a guideline. If you realize you are a Socializer, own it! Be a Socializer. But, if you realize you do have the tendency to put things off, maybe take on some habits of a Studier. Mix and choose the qualities you want from each type and become the best student you can be. However you mix and choose your qualities, please, please, please, understand you need to balance both. College is mostly about academics (because you’re freaking paying thousands upon thousands to attend), but college is also about finding new best friends, and (if you’re lucky) your spouse (and yes, I got lucky).
7. You Need to Make Friends and Be a Friend
Kind of an obvious bit of advice, but it's true. You will not make friends if you are not a friend to others. Take time to listen to others' stories and tell others your story. You'll be pleasantly surprised how much people actually want to listen to you if you take the time to listen to them. When I came to college, I was asked questions I hadn't answered in FOREVER. Even the classic ones like: What's your name? How old are you? What's your favorite color? I realized when I started meeting people that no one knew my past. They didn't know what I looked like in middle school. They didn't know my dad was a Children's Minister or that I was homeschooled. Heck. They didn't even know I could sing or do Taekwondo. They didn't know anything. It was strange, but also fun, because through answering questions about myself, I got to know myself better. It was both exciting and scary to ask others the same questions that they asked me. Exciting because I hadn't asked those questions in a long time, and scary because I hadn't made a solid friend in over ten years. Truthfully, I thought I had forgotten how to make friends. Weird, I know, but true. When you get to college, making friends seems like this huge cliff that you have to get over. All of these insecurities arise and you keep thinking to yourself, Oh no...was that an awkward question? Do they think I'm being too nosey? Oh my word...did I just say that? AHHH I'M BEING SO AWKWARD I'M NEVER GOING TO MAKE FRIENDS!!!First off, calm down. Second, you are awkward but so is everyone else. As long as you take your time with friendships and really invest in them, you'll be the most awesomest friend ever in the history of friends (maybe).
8. Find a Church
Here’s the scenario—you’ve been a Christian your whole life. Your parents have brought you to church since you were born and once you hit high school you attended church because..well…your friends were there and you love Jesus, so why would you not? Suddenly, you’re ripped from the safeness of your church community and dropped in the middle of a college campus and now YOU (yes, you) have to figure out what the heck you’re going to do about church. Who knows what kind of teachings and worship and people are going to be in the churches surrounding campus. They’re probably all bad and not worth your time. And worse of all, you’ll be a…a…guest. *gasp*
To be honest, this was my first thought when I came into college freshman year. I was terrified of attending another church because I thought it would (in a weird, warped sense) be “cheating” on my home church. I was spending time with God on my own, so why did I need to go to church? Luckily, there was a church right on campus and I decided to go. And you know what? It was great. I left with a different mindset. These people weren’t weird and I didn’t feel like a guest. I felt like a member. SHOCKING, RIGHT? College is not meant to be approached with fear, but with the thought of, “This is a place to join in the community of believers and worship alongside those who love Jesus.” It’s really as simple as that.
9. Make Time for Family
Before I go any further with this one, please, please, please know I do not know your current relationship with your family. This section is coming from a place in which you are in good standing with your family, and your family life is healthy.
With that being said, in the midst of your crazy busy schedule, make time for your family. Call home. Send a quick text message to your parents. See how your siblings are doing. BE PRESENT. It’s easy to believe that once you’re gone they somehow don’t care what you’re doing every single second of the day…well…guess what, they do. Honestly, this is something I constantly have to remind myself. When I’m school I go into complete “college mode” and sometimes go a week or two without calling my family if I can’t make it home on the weekend. Personally, I make a point to try and come home as often as I can. I realize this is not always ideal for everyone and sometimes impossible, but coming home often works for me, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. If coming home often is not feasible, think of ways to stay connected with your family. Maybe it’s making a point to Skype every Thursday, calling them once a week, or texting them every day. I truly believe keeping up a healthy relationship with your family is a key part in being successful in college. When you have the support and love from your family backing you up every single step of the way, you feel empowered and capable of tackling the “nitty gritty” aspects of college.
10. Make Time for God
Regardless of whether you go to a Christian of Public University, there will be challenges in regards to making time for your own personal relationship with God.
If you are going to a Christian University, it becomes easy to become lax in your daily devos and prayer life you kept up in high school. Every day begins to feel like a church service (between chapel and your professors spontaneous sermons during class), and you begin to feel like you’ve had your “fix” of God. Well…yes…and no. There is nothing wrong with being filled up by a great chapel service or a spontaneous sermon, but those only cover the surface of your relationship with God.
If you are going to a Public University, it may become easy to put off devos or your prayer life because you are not continually surrounded by others who share your beliefs.
Whatever boat you about to be in, make time for your own growth and relationship with God. Freshman year is full of what-ifs and too many to count “HOLY CRAP WHAT IS GOING ON???” moments. In this midst of both of those and so many other moments of anxiety, fear, hurt, resentment, jealousy, anger, ect. the only constant may be God’s peace, love, and comfort. Find what works best for you—if it’s meeting God first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee, great! If it’s ending your day sitting still on your bed, great! What’s so wonderful about God, is that He meets us any where, any time, any place, any moment—regardless of our circumstances.
11. Have Fun
Seriously, relax. Do your homework, go to class, do the “adulty” things (like doing your laundry and cleaning), but once those things are done kick back and waste time on Netflix. Spend time with friends. Play a pick-up game of volleyball or soccer. Laugh your head off at stupid Youtube videos. Go and get donuts at 1am in the morning. Get extra sprinkles on your ice cream. Cook real food with your roomies. Whatever brings you joy in the midst of your anxieties, do it…you definitely won’t regret it. This took me forever to realize because it’s very difficult for me to let go of tasks I need to accomplish. This past year, my roommates taught me so much about kicking back and having fun. There was hardly a night that went by that we didn’t have a good laugh/talk/Netflix watching party…and it was GREAT.
As you head into your freshman year, there will be days when you question yourself and your decision to do this whole college thing (and if not, you're one of the few lucky ones and I am so incredibly happy for you!) and may want to go home, snuggle your pet, and forget about the rest of your life.
Please, don't do that (even though snuggling your pet really does make life better). Just know you are not the only one who has ever felt like that and everyone struggles. EVERYONE. But, you're strong. You are capable. You are smart. YOU ARE A COLLEGE STUDENT.