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Life > Experiences

What I Learned From My First Semester at College

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Illinois State chapter.

Part of me still feels like I’m sixteen years old, and that I will be going back to high school once all of this is over. I don’t know if anyone ever grows up, honestly. As a kid, I thought that one day you just woke up and felt old. Old as in you knew what was going on in your life. As an ‘adult’ I know that is far from the truth. 

For me, college has been a good experience so far. I’ve struggled, made memories, picked myself up, had great days, had terrible days and learned a lot about myself. There are so many things I have learned at college this far in my journey (which has really just begun) that I wish someone would have told me. College is immensely different from the ideas I had in my head. It’s difficult to prepare yourself for being on your own because the truth is that everyone copes differently.

Here are 7 things I learned during my first semester at ISU:

1. My dorm sometimes drives me crazy

I know, I know. How could living in 800 square feet of space not drive someone crazy? Truthfully, your roommate may make or break your experience freshman year. I have heard countless horror stories of difficult, messy, or clashing roommates from friends, but I have lucked out in that department. To me, the part of the dorm that stresses me out is the sharing part. While the communal bathrooms can get messy, the worst part is people not respecting the fact that they live in a community. It is important to speak up when others are doing things that are not right (or allowed) or obnoxious. You have every right to a space you feel safe in!

2. Classes will seem to assign everything at once

While I will say I have maintained a good sense of time management in college, it always feels like certain weeks all my classes got together and made the due date the same for essays, projects, and exams. It sucks, honestly, and I really psych myself out into thinking I won’t get everything I need to complete. However, after my first semester and finals, I feel much more equipped to handle those extra stressful weeks. My best advice to my past self would be to plan out what you want to accomplish each day and check them off as you go. Working in little bits is far easier than doing everything the night before––so try to not procrastinate. 

3. you might feel like a failure compared to others

Oh yeah, as if the stress of simply getting through the day isn’t enough, you also will feel like everyone else has it figured out, except you. Honestly, this is something I have struggled with even in high school, so I’m not surprised it has followed me to college. The best way I have learned to combat this is to look at myself in the mirror and tell myself that I am good enough. My path is unlike anyone else’s, and if that means I need an extra nap today, that is okay. If I need to treat myself to Starbucks in order to get the paper done, that is okay. If my roommate had a super productive day and I didn’t––and that is okay. When people say that comparison is the thief of joy they mean it. Doing your best is always good enough, even if others appear to be doing better. 

4. It is hard to find *real* friends 

The whole “leave your door open!! You’ll make best friends with your floormates!!” bit is a lie. Hot take, I know. The way my dorm is set up makes it really awkward to leave my door open, so I didn’t make any real friends that way. The best girls on my floor are my neighbors who are the absolute sweetest. Despite that, I have really struggled to make friends. I am not ashamed to say that, either, because I know I am not the only one. As a first-semester freshman, it is easy for most friendships to feel surface level or even fake. I have to force myself to put myself out there and reach out to people, even if it seems scary at first. I have gotten lucky in meeting a few really great girls that are kind, funny and down to Earth. I wish people would talk about how it is okay if you don’t meet your best friend on day one. 

5. The best memories are the spontaneous ones 

I will be the first to admit I am not a spontaneous person. I don’t like to party, I don’t like to break rules, and I am arguably too paranoid at night. That being said, getting out of my comfort zone has proved to be the best way to make memories in college. From playing capture the flag at 10 p.m. to submitting my poetry to be voted on for ISU’s creative arts journal, I have done so many things that high school Emma would be too self-conscious to do. You can do well in school and still have fun, so join that club you have been eyeing, go to that event you think would be fun, and don’t let anyone tell you that your version of fun is lame. 

6. Learning to embrace how I feel 

I mean this mentally and physically. This correlates to point three in a way. Learning how to take care of yourself on your own is scary. There are so many nights I wish I could go downstairs to my mom and just give her a hug, or go rant to my sister just for her to tell me I am being dramatic. It is easy to get caught up in all you have to do for college and forget to listen to your mind and body. For me, creating a routine and sticking to it has brought me a lot of peace and relieved a lot of stress. Knowing when you want to clean, do laundry, eat meals, and study takes a lot of the mental effort out of the day-to-day. However, everyone has bad days or gets into moods where you just need to get away, and I say honor those feelings. Give yourself grace. Allow yourself to take the time to listen to how you feel, and refrain from pushing yourself to the point of burnout. Understand why you are feeling the way that you are, and focus on taking care of yourself to fix it. 

7. You will miss home, but going home is weird

I miss home at the most random moments, but the first time I did go home from college was… strange. Your home will always be your home, but your room will be different, and you’ll also feel like you have two homes now. Normal, IL is slowly becoming like a home to me, though home will always be where my family is. Embrace the break that is going home the best you can, I promise it gets less strange after that first time. No one warned me it was going to be so weird to feel like you live in two places at once, but I suppose advice TikTok videos and articles can’t cover everything. 

I could go on and on about all that I have had to navigate this first semester or get on a soapbox about how college was nothing like I imagined, but for now, those are the seven standout things I have learned this far. Even during the hard times, I still feel so grateful to be in college, and I am proud of all I have accomplished this far. Life is all about learning, and that learning doesn’t always come from a textbook––it might just be from yourself.

Emma Julian

Illinois State '25

Hi! My name is Emma and I am a Sophomore at Illinois State! I am majoring in Marketing, but have a huge love for writing and sharing experiences with others. I enjoy writing about mental health, fashion, lifestyle, and wellness. I love writing for Her Campus since, to me, life is all about learning and sharing. Feel free to follow my Instagram: emmarosee13 :)