5 Things Everyone Needs To Know Before Starting College

Success in college looks different for everybody.
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Just before I enrolled in my university, I devoured articles like “7 Things Freshmen Need to Survive,” and “3 Things I Wish I Knew Before College.” I wanted to feel prepared for the unpredictable adventure I was starting. However, these articles lacked real-life stories. So, to help you prepare, I asked five graduates from the class of 2016 what they wish someone had told them before they headed off to college.

1. Find simple ways to stay connected to family and friends.

Mariah Keith found herself at a school of 40,000 people – 10,000 more than the Illinois village she grew up in. The marketing and advertising major advises freshman to find simple ways to stay connected to the people they care most about. For her, that meant putting her family and close friends’ birthdays and accomplishments in her planner, and picking up a few cards every time she shopped. “I learned a deeper side to sincerity and how to take time to truly appreciate those people in my life that meant a lot to me,” she said. “This newfound hobby didn’t require me to go out of my way, but when my mom got her first card in the mail from me, she cried.”

2. College is full of uncomfortable experiences. Embrace them.

Discomfort can help you move closer to your authentic self. Nora Hastings, for example, found she was very uneasy in settings with strangers ― something she couldn’t avoid at a Big Ten school. “It wasn’t until college that I realized I’m actually an introvert,” said Hastings, a graphic design major. “Now I’m able to recognize the reasons why I’m uncomfortable in a situation, and can move forward to deal with it.” Hastings challenged herself to expand outside her comfort zone, joining a sorority, which helped her develop other parts of her personality. “Yes, I am introverted,” she said. “But that only accounts for a small piece of who I am: a passionate, ambitious, knowledge-driven, loyal and positive young woman ― who is so much more than a single personality trait.”

3. Don’t assume “Welcome Week” is for dorks.

Matt Joch, who grew up in a town of 10,000 people in Wisconsin, graduated in nutrition sciences at a large state university this past May. He knew few students coming in his freshman year and wanted to meet people right away. So he jumped on the opportunities offered during orientation week – even the ones that intimidated him. “Public speaking happened to be one of my biggest fears, [but] I decided to start working at the admissions office as a tour guide,” he said. “I was able to meet a lot of great people.”

4. If you feel alone freshman year, know that lots of other people do too. Don’t wait to reach out.

“Looking back at my time in college, there is one thought that distinctly sticks out in my mind during my freshman year: I’m alone,” said Frankie Szeto, who completed a degree in mathematics with an emphasis on actuarial science last May. When it came to homework assignments, studying for exams, and even group projects, Szeto felt he had to rely completely on himself. He felt no one understood what he was going through.

However, once his sophomore year rolled around, “I began to grow more as a person and truly come into my own identity,” he said. “I joined a fraternity, which provided me with a gigantic network of support. I started to realize that the reason I felt so alone was because I wasn’t allowing others into my life. I was not alone in feeling overwhelmed by different responsibilities. I was not alone in being scared of the future.”

Empowered by his relationships, Szeto became president of his fraternity. “The most important thing I learned during college was that I was not alone.”

5. Don’t compare yourself to others, unless it motivates you.

Success in college looks different for everybody. That can create insecurity and self-doubt, said Mary Kristen Craver, who graduated with a degree in strategic communications in 2016. “I’ve learned that you’re going to feel like somebody is getting better grades, staying more fit, getting more interviews and generally living life better than you are,” she said. “Although those feelings and emotions are real, they aren’t the ones you should be focusing on in college.”

Be confident in yourself and focus on your ability to improve instead of being envious. “Channeling negative energy toward yourself or your peers can turn very dark, very quickly, seeping into every crack in your self-esteem,” Craver said. “[Find] the joy, motivation and excitement in what makes you successful as a human being.”

Meghan Swanson Photography

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