So you’ve seen The Social Network — that’s what college life is all about, right? Studying hard, inventing online social media platforms, evading the Winklevii. But wait, you’ve also seen Good Will Hunting, where those Harvard students are portrayed as living in an ivory tower, separate from the real world.
Perhaps you’ve talked with an uncle who claims college was “the best time of my life,” while a cynical older cousin described it as feeling like a “holding ground before real life begins.” No one would blame you at this point for being confused about what exactly the college experience is supposed to be — or for desperately wondering how to make the most of it.
The truth of the matter is that everyone’s experience is different. You might be on a sports team, getting up at 6 a.m. several times a week. Or you might be into theater, spending long weeks before opening night on stage in tights and full makeup. Some schools have campuses, others are more urban — and still others have mainly students who commute to class. Each school has its own personality and vibe.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t some general similarities across the board. College is a time to make lifelong friends, expand and deepen your knowledge, discover new interests and become independent. You will be going through this experience with thousands of other students across the country (and world!), but at the same time you’ll also be defining your own unique college experience. Keeping that dichotomy in mind, here are 10 of our most helpful tips to have the best experience possible.
1. Keep in touch with high school friends. Meeting new people is exciting. However, if you’ve got great friends, put in the effort to maintain regular contact. It’ll come in handy when you realize you’re 1,000 miles away from home, and it can keep you grounded while you’re trying new experiences. Plus, you can visit another campus when you want to get away for a bit and gain some perspective. You may just find one of your childhood friends is interested in the same career after college, and will make a great roommate (or connection) after graduation.
2. Remind yourself: It’s OK to be homesick. It happens to everyone. Maybe the first three days of school are all excitement, and then it hits you, or maybe it doesn’t sink in until you visit your family over Thanksgiving. Everyone’s got his or her own timetable for this, but remember: Everyone’s going through it! Reach out both to high school friends at other colleges and people you meet at school. You’ll find someone who understands.
3. Try something new. Always wanted to learn the drums? Do it. Or get involved in politics? Check out student government. While all schools are different, the one thing that is true for every college big and small is that there are opportunities there for everyone and everything. This is your chance to dabble in just about anything, so take advantage while you can.
4. Keep doing what you love. Sometimes the message “try new things” can get overblown — don’t forget that it’s OK to also stick with what you love. The new people surrounding you will have different strengths and backgrounds and are going to expand your relationship with that old activity you’ve been doing since you were 5.
5. Look for a mentor. Start by building up your courage and talking to your professors outside of class. Your mentor is someone who will write you a killer job recommendation in four years. They will also take a vested interest in who you are as a person, as well as a student. They’ll give you insight beyond school and influence your development. Ultimately, they’re someone who’s been in your shoes and has come out the other end. They know generally what you are going through and can give you that perspective that those your age can’t.
7. Form a study group. This is a great way to make friends, plus you learn more by pooling knowledge. Win win!
8. Do the work. Even if you go to lecture and get the teacher’s interpretation, don’t fail to do actually read Freud’s The Ego and the Id for yourself and form your own opinion. College is a time when your biggest job is to learn; unless you go on to graduate school, you’re not going to find that again!
9. Get off campus. You’ll quickly realize there’s a big world out there outside of campus. So get out there. It’s a great way to maintain perspective and immerse yourself in a different vibe than the one on campus.
10. Trust your instincts. You can’t take all of this advice at once! Try something new or do something old? Get sleep or go off campus? Ultimately, this is a time to listen to and trust yourself.
And perhaps most of all, don’t be too hard on yourself. Given that college is a time to explore, there will likely be points where you are feeling lost. Perhaps everyone around you might seem like they are doing just fine. Remember: You’re not alone. Chances are, if you reach out about your feelings, someone will respond.
As J.R.R. Tolkien said: “Not all who wander are lost.” College is just the time to begin wandering. Good luck on your journey!
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