As a freshman, it may seem like everyone has college life figured out — except you. But you’re not alone.
Now that I have entered my final year of college, I suppose I am expected to look at the thousands of bright-eyed freshmen who have moved into their dorm rooms for the first time with a certain degree of nostalgia and envy.
I’m supposed to tell them, “This will be the best year of your life” and “You have nothing to worry about” and “You are so lucky. I wish I could go back.”
The August before I moved away to college, which seems both like yesterday and eons ago, those were the things everyone told me.
No one ever said my first year would be difficult to adjust to, or that sometimes I would feel lost or anxious or lonely or homesick.
So, when I did inevitably feel all of those emotions, I kept them locked up inside of me like deep, dark secrets I was terrified of letting out. I felt guilty and defected.
I watched the sea of other freshmen students scream in Beaver Stadium with all the happiness in the world. I scrolled through the Facebook profiles of my friends from home, who suddenly had hundreds of pictures with their new college friends and statuses like, “Loving College!!” I walked through the Welcome Week fair where hundreds of smiling students stood behind booths for every club imaginable.
So, I too, plastered on a smile during that first month of college. When friends or family from home would ask how I was doing, I’d tell them, “I love it!” I went out to parties and laughed and pretended I was having the time of my life.
In reality, I felt like everyone around me somehow knew each other, and I would never find a close group of friends. I achingly missed my boyfriend who was three hours away. I was unsure about my major, and it caused a great amount of anxiety. And the feelings only intensified because I felt like I was walking around acting like a false, giddy version of myself. I didn’t know who I was anymore, and I wouldn’t let anyone else find out either.
But I didn’t dare let anyone see me that way, because I was sure that no one else felt like me.
Then one morning after returning back to school from a weekend at home, I finally told one of my roommates, “I’m really unhappy here.” I felt like a giant weight had been lifted from my chest.
She lay in bed while everyone else was asleep. “Me too,” she whispered.
And just like that, I suddenly wasn’t alone.
Over the next few weeks we had long talks about how we had been feeling. She felt lonely and lost too in our big university. Later, I found myself in my dorm hallway while another friend cried in front of me about how homesick she was. Little by little I realized it was egotistical of me to think that my feelings were entirely my own. A lot of people felt a little bit like I was feeling.
Even the people I knew who seemed so well adjusted had days when they missed the comfort of old familiarities.
I finally stopped worrying that my peers would look at me strangely if I was having a bad day. I didn’t mope around in bed, but I also was honest with the people around me and was able to make stronger, more genuine friendships.
Looking back now, I can sigh with relief that things did get better. I hardly recognize the scared, anxious girl who sat in her first college class three years ago. But I also didn’t suddenly get “happy” overnight. It was a slow process of learning to be who I was when I was away from everything I knew, and learning to make choices and be content with them.
Freshmen, I’m not trying to scare you. For many, if not most of you, this will indeed be a great, worry-free year. But if you are like me and you hit some hurdles along the way, please know: You are not alone. Don’t expect everything to be shiny and picture perfect the second you walk on to campus. It takes time. And if you end up feeling sad, don’t feel guilty.
Things are going to go wrong. You’re going to run out of money. You’re going to break up with your significant other. You’re going to fail a test. You’re going to reassess your major and your goals. You’re going to miss your safety net from home. You’re not going to be able to juggle 20 activities at once. You’re going to make bad decisions. Everyone will. And no one is watching you with a judgmental eye.
That’s what I wish I could have told my 18-year-old self. And finally, everything, eventually, will be OK.
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