As I type this, I am alone in my dorm room, as my loving roommates went home for the extended three-day weekend. All is quiet within my residence hall, and I am left with the rare opportunity to reflect on the ways in which my life has changed upon entering my university. A year ago, I was frantically awaiting to hear the statuses of my applications, eagerly applying for scholarships, and left wondering what the college experience was like. Would my roommates like me? How hard would the classes be? Would I be as involved as I was in high school? As a result, I often resorted to sites such as College Confessional for some type of insider look on what college would be like, and left mortified by the testimonials. However, there’s only so much that prep books, websites, and older friends can teach. Here are the top 10 things nobody told me about college:
1. Your major does not matter as much in your first year of college. Nobody entering a university knows exactly what they want to study. If they tell you otherwise, they’re lying and will probably change (even a minor change) what they want to pursue within the first quarter of attendance. During my first quarter at UC Riverside, I thought that I wanted to study Political Science with an emphasis in International Affairs, so that’s what I applied as. However, once I worked with statewide and local government, I realized that a better fit for me would be Public Policy, and now am in the process of changing my major. If you are left on the brink of what you want to study, don’t be too worried. Your first year consists of taking mostly breadth courses, which are courses that are required for every student within the college to study. Though you should be advised: you will be asked “what major are you?” by peers and faculty alike upon immediately meeting you.
2. Pay attention to your mental health. I didn’t transition into college as easily as I thought I would, and often allowed my mental health to suffer as a result. Your mental health will be significantly impacted by your transition to college. You are away from your family and friends (unless you’re a commuter student). You’re left with bigger financial stresses such as the burdensome costs of housing and food. What’s more, the impending and often overwhelming focus on what you will do after college can cause many to stress out, worried about how they can possibly go to school full-time, volunteer with a local organization, intern at a company related to their major, and conduct undergraduate research while remaining sane and well-rested. Your mental health matters during this critical period, and if you feel overwhelmed, check out the counseling centers on campus. At my university, students are given eight free weekly counseling sessions during the quarter, a safe spot where students can talk with professionals about the stresses they face in a non-judgmental zone. Even if you don’t think counseling is for you, chances are, it is and can greatly benefit your academic success.
3. There is a significant increase of opportunities. Ever wanted to travel to Washington D.C. on a full expense paid trip to lobby with policymakers? Dream of conducting scientific research with an actual scientist? In college, there are so many opportunities for you to capitalize upon your passions, without breaking your bank. However, there is a very important difference between wanting to do something, and applying for something. In order for you to take full advantage of the conferences, research, internships, and fellowships that your university offers, apply! Step into your academic advisor’s office, introduce yourself, and begin making the valuable connections that are imperative to help during the rest of your college career. Great things happen when you step out of your comfort zone, and you would be surprised on how many opportunities exist if you just ask.
This quarter, I became a Student Advocate to the Regents – an incredible opportunity that the external office of my student government offered, through their membership with the UC Students Association.
4. Get involved. At my high school, there were about only four active clubs and organizations that students could be a part of. Imagine my surprise when I stepped foot onto UC Riverside’s campus, where over 400 organizations exist, ranging from freedom in North Korea to political organizations to karate club. While it is easy to use a number like 400 to feel like a small fish in a big pond, you have the potential to get involved regardless what year you have or the experience you have. Being involved with my student government, residence hall association and campus newspaper during my first year was what helped me make new friends, develop my interests and have a fun break in-between classes. You are not paying all of your tuition to merely go to class, study, pass tests and graduate. Make something worthy out of your experience. Create stories that you will want to tell your grandchildren one day. It all begins here, by signing up to join an organization.
Being involved with a club like Highlanders for Sanders helped me transition into college.
5. Freshman 15 exists. During the summer, I vowed I would not let the “freshman fifteen” myth become a reality. However, what I didn’t realize was how easy it was for myself and other students to completely abandon any sort of healthy diet. Most residence hall dining places are buffet style, and you’ll be tempted to want to eat everywhere. It also doesn’t help that at my university, there’s a soft-serve machine that is the best for the Riverside heat. Your schedule will get busier and you won’t always have time to workout, making it on you to implement workouts and healthy living practices. In college, you walk around a lot more (or bike, skateboard, rollerblade, etc) so you are still getting exercise. Most recreation centers offer fun workout classes such as outdoor excursions, swimming,yoga, Zumba (a favorite among my hallmates) and kickboxing, so there is something for you!
6. Your high school friendships will change. I got lucky with the university I chose, because it was also the university that my best friend since the 7th grade chose as well. In college, you will have less time to do things that you may be already used to doing, like calling your mom daily, texting back to your friends, or checking your email. What’s more, if your friends move to a different university, it is more difficult to stay in active communication with them since they also face the same schedule stresses. When you go to college, don’t forget your high school friends. Make time for once a month to Skype, grab lunch, or hang out together. If they loved freshman year of high school you and still stayed around, they shouldn’t be forgotten.
7. Your voice is actually super important. As a first-year, I was afraid to make any noise towards campus issues that I noticed. It was not until I became involved in student government that I gained the confidence to tackle projects that I created with the help of the ASUCR Office of the President. During my first quarter, I spoke directly to the Chancellor, asking him for support towards my initiatives, met with the Vice Chancellors, and collaborated with my TAs to begin my undergraduate research project. Nothing good will happen when you are silent. The worst thing that will happen when you speak your ideas will be the initial embarrassment, which pales in comparison to lifetime regret. You are an agent for change, and you are capable of doing incredible things. That’s why you were picked to attend their university, so use your voice and get to work!
8. Get smart about the people who you invest your time in. College is where you meet your bridesmaids, groomsmen, neighbors, and potential bosses. The relationships you cultivate now will probably be linked to the ones you value later, so be wise about the people who you invest yourself in. You are only one person, and you do not have time to waste on people who would rather cause drama or invalidate your purpose. Surround yourself with uplifting individuals who challenge you to be better while loving you for who you are, and be patient to the people who are the complete opposite of that description. You might have to work in a group with someone who could care less about your grade or feelings, but it’s up to you on whether or not you see value in continuing that relationship.
9. Always emphasize consent. The university life, especially if you live on campus, is one dramatically different from your high school life. You will be invited to be parties, and the rules about drinking and smoking tend to become more lax in the party scene. College culture prides itself in temporary joys that will cause a headache in the morning and regret for a lifetime, so be smart! Consent is enthusiastic. It is a clear and non-negotiable “yes”, and can be revoked at every stage of intimacy. It is constantly reinforced as the level of intimacy increases. It is not consent if you are coerced or pressured into doing something because you love that individual. Know what consent is, and respect boundaries for other people.
10. Remain an active learner. I find myself fortunate knowing I go to a university that emphasizes research as one of its core values. College is a time where you will be more curious than ever about areas that interest you, but don’t stop there. Be open to the differing cultures and perspectives that you are surrounded with. The world has too many close-minded individuals who could care less about learning, but don’t be one of them. Keep learning and seeing what doors an education can open for you. You won’t regret it.