First-Year Reflections

Dear Incoming Freshman,

Now that my first year of college has ended, I can officially confirm that it does indeed "fly by." This year has offered a smorgasbord of emotions, experiences, disappointments, discoveries, challenges, and achievements. Although I was given the cliché "college is the best time of your life" spiel countless times before coming to school, the truth is that no one can accurately predict the course of these formative years. This letter is not intended to add to the ever-increasing mountain of advice you must be receiving right now. It's simply a short collection of reflections on my first year of college (which will hopefully provide some useful insights along the way).

On expectations: When everyone seems to be pumping you up about how awesome college is going to be, they seem to forget one minor detail: that you've actually ordered awesomeness with a side of disappointment, homesickness, and confusion. The reality that you really do have the world at your fingertips could not be more true. But the other reality - that missing home can be painful; that college classes are intense; and that making friends (true friends) can be pretty exhausting - is just as true. I'm not telling you this to take away from the incredible excitement you must be feeling. I'm telling you this because going in with an optimistic attitude is great; but going in with an optimistic attitude and a badass I-can-handle-anything mentality is even better.

On comparisons: (Or, as I like to call them, the source of all internal mayhem.) I remember scrolling through my Facebook feed during my first semester. I was struck by the number of photos showing my high school friends having an amazing time at college. Why was I still having such a rough time when they seemed to be fully adjusted after only ten minutes on campus? Rather than celebrating my own crowning achievement (I only cried once that day!), I compared myself to my peers. Of course, I later learned that posts on Facebook and Instagram were not always authentic, and that some of my friends were also having a difficult time.

On trying new things: Here's another top contender for the most popular advice given to incoming freshmen: "Try everything." I don't know about you, but I've heard this one a lot. People tell you to try every club, class, and experience imaginable. While there's some value to welcoming new experiences, pushing yourself to "try everything" just adds to the intense pressure that college students experience. How is it even physically possible to try everything? And how can you succeed at even one thing when you're attempting to balance twenty others? I think that trying new things is fantastic, and necessary. But I also think it's important to give yourself some time to adjust. Trust me, you'll have plenty of time to try a lot of new things throughout the next four years. You don't have to squeeze it all in during your first week!

On self-discovery: College is perhaps most notable for encouraging self-discovery. After all, you're in an enclosed "bubble," primarily focusing on yourself. It really is the perfect environment for advancing, challenging, and improving yourself. Part of self-discovery is identifying what you like, what you don't like, what matters to you ... Somewhere in this mix, we often lose sight of who we really are. Just because you're discovering yourself, doesn't mean that you need to change yourself. Flexibility and open-mindedness are crucial. But so is listening to your gut and staying true to who you are.

On talking it out: One of the best ways to truly connect with people is to simply be your authentic self. Part of this authenticity comes from being open about the not-so-picture-perfect feelings you may experience. If you ever get homesick, guess what? Most people will. Sharing these emotions with others often helps to create meaningful personal connections. I'm not necessarily suggesting that you dwell on these feelings, but it's very powerful to acknowledge them, talk them through, and then let them go.

On making it count: Whether the clichés about college prove to be true for you or not, one thing remains true: it's a blessing to receive an education. College comes with its share of challenges, both internal and external. For most families (including mine) it also involves a great many sacrifices. But when we stop to consider what a tremendous gift it is to attend college, the challenges seem less overwhelming and more purposeful. This year (despite some difficult moments) was incredible. I challenged myself and grew exponentially in the process. I met amazing people. I came to appreciate learning in an entirely new way. I became far more independent and self-reliant. I tapped into resources I didn't even know I had. My hope is that you too can begin this next chapter of your life excited, informed, and ready to make it count!