College Survival Guide: My Advice to College Freshmen

As I start my sophomore year at George Mason, I figured I’d take a moment to look back on my freshman year and the things that I learned, but wished someone would have told me about. 

Going to college is a big step and can be very scary. For me, it was an extremely different experience from what I had my entire life. As my first semester started, I found myself struggling a lot more than I imagined I would. That being said one of my biggest pieces of advice is to take a step back when you’re stressing out and assess what is making you feel that way. Talk to someone. Whether it’s a friend, family, the faculty at school (they really do care about you too), or one of the counselors at school, don’t bottle it in because it just makes things worse. 

Another thing that I learned (maybe a bit too late), is that going to office hours and asking as many questions as you can will really help you improve your grades. I’m not saying you have to go to every office hours session of every class or anything, but if you find yourself struggling in a class, your professor and/or TA are there to help you. It can be especially nice to meet with TA’s. Oftentimes, they were in your place not very long ago, stressing over an assignment they didn’t understand at all, and now they’re helping to lead the class. In one class I took my first semester, I didn’t go to any office hours in the beginning. I just tried to figure things out on my own, even though I knew I didn’t understand them. As a result, I totally bombed my first exam. After that, I started to go to office hours and on my next exam I improved immensely, imagine how well I would have done if I was going to office hours from the start! Going to office hours can also provide you with friends you otherwise wouldn’t have met, along with establishing a rapport with your professor that can lead to future opportunities. When professors see you take an actual interest in the class and in your education, you stand out to them. This is another reason not to be shy in class and just ask questions if you have them. 

I also want to bring up the subject of self-care, don’t be afraid to put down the book or essay for an hour or two and have a little fun! School is important but you come first. You can’t make good grades if you’re having a mental breakdown every 5 minutes. Learn to schedule your time and use it effectively. If you do that you’ll be able to have plenty of time for homework and to binge-watch “Friends” and “The Office” on Netflix. Don’t pass up opportunities to bond with your roommates, people on your floor, and people you just like to spend time with. Transitioning from having your family around you 24/7 to living with a bunch of strangers is tough, so you should make them your family away from home. Some of my best memories were from hanging out in the room of a hallmate and just being around my friends. 

One more piece of advice would be to not overwhelm yourself. While all the sororities, fraternities, clubs, groups, and organizations might be a bunch of fun, don’t overcommit to things. Remember that it’s okay to say no. Maybe you need the entire first semester just to get adjusted, or maybe you only need a week. Either way, you know better than some person running extracurricular activities whether or not you can fit it into your schedule. 

Finally, my last piece of advice would be to not be afraid. While it’s definitely daunting and can be scary, college is also a great opportunity in a lot of different ways. You have to find ways to make the most of it and not worry about what people will think, even if you’re asking too many questions or going to class wearing sweats. Sometimes life happens in strange ways. It’s not anyone’s job to judge you because of the person that you are. You do you, and you find people who love you for being yourself. When you do that college gets a whole lot easier.