Seniors vs. Freshmen: A College Reflection

As graduation approaches, I have found myself in reflection mode. I am worried about the future while trying to maintain some focus on the present for the purpose of my sanity. I realized I couldn’t be alone in this reflection whirlpool. Spring semester is concluding and a chapter is closing. This year I have talked to students younger than me and have offered advice and insights on things I wish I had realized sooner. After experiencing college for nearly four years, I am aware of the magnitude of tools I have learned about myself and what I want. Freshman year, I didn’t know who I was but I knew who I wanted to be and I strived every subsequent year to become that person, and today I am her. I asked seniors and freshmen what they have learned in college so far. I asked them to respond in under two hundred words but some responses exceeded that, you can't blame them. It is cathartic to realize how far you’ve come. Here are their responses:

For all the money it’s cost me, I’m happy to report that college has in fact been a learning experience. The academics aside — and forgive the cliché — I have learned a lot about myself. But what I’ve learned about myself is no use to anyone but me. So here’s what I’ve learned about college. I hope this helps.

Your four years of undergrad will be like the four elements:

Freshman year is all air. You’re floating and on a high that is equal parts scary and exciting. And you think from where you’re at you can see the whole picture; but I promise you it’s not. It will be hard, but don’t confuse your newfound freedom for wisdom.

Sophomore year is water. Comparatively more solid, but unsteady all the same. Most (not all) of the novelty has worn off just in time to make room for what is sometimes an all-consuming bout of doubt; about yourself, your major, your choice in school, everything. And like water, you will adjust—in spite of all the emotional displacement— by employing your own fluidity to make the necessary changes. To survive.

Junior year is earth. It’s solid and grounded (you hope).  It’s usually when people start to really get it together. And that’s different for everyone; remember that. For some it’s a host of internships and for others it’s just finally deciding that after all the sampling you’ve done, you’ve finally decided what it is you really like.

And then there’s senior year. It’s fire. You’d like it to be as certain and solid as earth, but it rarely is. It starts as a small spark subject to grow and change direction with every whim of the wind. And more than that, it’s terrifying; for everyone. Trust me, it is. The most important thing I can impart to you, that I even need reminding of myself, is that no matter how scary it seems, you can’t extinguish it. And that’s not to say it won’t burn you every now and then, because it will. But with every burn, newer, thicker skin will grow; which you’ll need for when you get out there in the “real world.” And for when you do make it out there, don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re not supposed to have it all together now or really ever. Just try your best, love yourself, respect yourself, and don’t forget to have fun. Good luck!

– Jessica Baskerville ‘18, Theater Studies


Now that I'm going to graduate in May there are a lot of things that I realized that I didn’t know when I was a freshman. I learned a lot about filmmaking for one. When I was a freshman I had a hard time adjusting to everything and after my first year, I thought maybe if I took a year off or stopped school all together that I could learn this [the same things I would learn in school] if I just tried to get jobs in the film industry. But even though people will teach you on set they want someone who knows what to do and I have learned so much from these past four years that I now feel confident in my abilities to be able to apply for a job. So I'm glad I didn't take that time off. I also learned a lot about myself. Even though I still have so much to learn, I know understand myself better and I can better make those choices in the future.

– Linette Frequenza  ‘18, Filmmaking


I’ve learned that the real world can be stressful but you will be happy as long as you surround yourself with supportive people and make the most of every experience. Hard work pays off! Also, this is a great time to get out of your comfort zone!

– Zoe Nolz ‘21, Fashion Studies


Coming to Montclair, I was looking forward to gaining skills through my theatre major and meeting new people. I found that making and keeping friends was now difficult, but it’s about the effort put in. Friends in college can be made out of convenience, like through classes, but taking that extra step to have lunch with someone makes a huge impact. I learned too, especially as a commuter, how important it is to get involved on campus. I auditioned for plenty of shows, and even if I wasn’t cast, I had gained connections. It was easy to get discouraged when life didn’t go my way fall semester. I found myself sitting in the library alone doing work after classes and then heading back home, but I knew this loneliness wouldn’t last forever. After spring break, I was working with people creatively through classes, a play I was in with F.A.S.T [Friday Afternoon Student Theater] and I joined a local sorority. I finally felt an importance through myself and a sense of confidence of continuing to work hard to gain experience for my dream career and having people at MSU I can trust. Life moves so fast, and it’s easy to compare yourself to how others are adjusting to college, but it’s better to get involved and see where it leads you.

– Melody Appel  ‘21, Theater Studies


As a senior in college, I have learned a lot about myself and the world around me. I know who I am and what I want out of life. I have learned who my true friends are and that it is important to surround yourself with supportive, good people. Another thing I have learned is more about my school, community and country. I have tried to become more informed on important things going on around me. I know that I have a purpose and a voice and I have the confidence to achieve my goals. These four years have shaped me into the person I am now. Freshmen year I definitely did not know as much about myself or my surroundings as I do now. Good luck.

– Kat Flanagan  ‘18, Public Health


Part 1: Everyone is thinking so much more about themselves than they are about me so why worry if my eyeliner is just slightly uneven?

My body is the only vessel I have to get through this life. I need to treat it with respect.

If I’m judging anyone for anything, I need to clean up whatever is going on with me that makes me think that way.

Part 2: Gender is a social construct and I don’t need to wear makeup and wear “fashionable” clothing every day because I’d much rather be purely me and focus on how to move forward in my life that spend time thinking about that—while also not judging anyone else for doing what they want to do to feel comfortable.

Part 3: Financial security is more important than that one night at the bar. But at the same time, that one night at the bar gives me the kinds of memories and life experience that I cherish.

Frat parties are not my kind of fun. My kind of fun is margaritas and nachos at home with the Lizzie McGuire movie in the background.

You are molded by your experiences. Make those experiences something worth molding into.

– Eden Tayar ‘18, Theater Production/Design


I’ve learned that managing your time and trying your best will lead you to success. Trying new things helps you understand what you do and don’t like, and experience college to the fullest.

– Sonia Anand  ‘21, Business Management


College helped me understand how to work with and around my feelings/emotions. I learned that what I felt was validated. If I had a disagreement with a friend, we worked around it and talked it out. I came to a professor if I had a problem or misunderstood a lesson. In doing this, it decreased my stress and left me feeling confident and well, validated. People can't read my mind, and you shouldn't let others assume what you feel or think. I was already outgoing before going to college, but it helped solidify that part of me. I also learned that being alone is okay. I spend time with my friends but also make sure to make time for myself, because that's important and some people to don't realize that. Overworking yourself socially, physically, etc. can do damage to your energy and cause a lot of stress. Even doing something as mundane as a face mask, or listening to your favorite song can help. But of course, setting time aside to sleep in a bit or meditate works as well. Everyone should have their own self-care routine.

As a 'creative major', I learned my own process so to create more efficiently. I don't criticize my work as harshly anymore. I've become more aware of what I need in order to work well, whether it's under pressure or ahead of schedule. I've learned that even doing a few small things is worth something. And I've made some memorable friends that I hope to keep after I graduate, as well. Being a transfer, it took awhile at first, but I didn't let that stop me. Being away from college really helped me understand myself a lot more.

– Talisa Velez ‘18, Filmmaking


Through four years of independence I have learned that I am capable of anything I desire. I am graduating in five weeks and I have already secured a great job, related to my major, that is only the beginning of my future. With everything I have accomplished at Montclair, I was told that I am "extremely qualified" for the job and that really validated my hard work and effort. This step will only propel me into the exciting, successful life that I am looking forward to and will continue to create. I have also learned that planning and preparation will make a big difference in your level of success. Thank you Montclair State University.

– Cathy Ayala ‘18, Fine Arts - Jewelry

When I was in high school, I thought I knew everything about what to expect from college since I participated in an upward bound program. It allowed me to stay on campus at Kean University three years in a row for six weeks. I soon found out that nothing can FULLY prepare you for the ups and downs of college. However, this isn't always a bad thing. The summer before freshman year, I was in Montclair's Red Hawk Advantage program that allowed me to take a few classes in the summer while staying on campus. At the end of the six weeks, I had experienced my first, second, third, and probably fourth all nighter, been late for class, struggled with an essay (which was so unlike me), stressed out about money, and ate my first late night cup of noodles. It was a rollercoaster and actual college hadn’t even begun. When my freshman year started in the fall, I was sort of worried. I was going to have new roommates, harder classes, be in a new building, and I was only really comfortable with two people. Thankfully, one was my roommate and the other was on my floor. In dealing with these new experiences I learned a few key things about college overall, In no specific order.

It is okay to ask for help. One thing I always had a hard time with is admitting when I needed help and asking for it. Whether it was academically, physically, or even emotionally and mentally. I ended up very stressed and overworked about things that could be easily resolved by just asking someone for some help. When in college, there are so many resources that you can utilize to help you. Advisors, tutors, even therapists. If you ever feel as though you need help, don’t hesitate! Ask for help.

Be as social as possible. You will meet so many freshmen who may seem like they have their friend groups all together. But in all actuality, we are all thinking the same thing, “I want to meet new people and make new friends but I’m scared.” We are all worried about making a fool of ourselves but when you are being yourself, people will gravitate towards you naturally! In my senior year of high school, I unfortunately cut ties with my best friend because I was in love with someone she didn’t hate. I thought I would never meet anyone quite like her again. There were times where I just sat in my room and cried because I felt alone. Then, I opened myself up to people and began trying new things. Soon, I met a girl who treats me better than any friend I ever had. Go to games! Go to parties and gatherings! Go to open mic nights and game nights! You may run into people you will really click with!

Its okay to be unsure. There are many times where you come into college not knowing what you want to do and feel discouraged. What you may not know is that sooo many people, especially freshman and sophomores are still deciding on what they want to focus on too. It is 100% okay to try different things. It is also okay to go into a university thinking you want to do one thing but don’t take an interest in it. It happens! People change their minds all of the time! It doesn’t mean you won’t find something. Try new things and really dive into your gen ed’s. You may find a new passion.

If you can, talk to your parents! It may seem weird. You may be thinking, “I’m here to get away from them.” But no matter what you do in college, no one will unconditionally have you back more than your parents. You may not always agree, but they will always want the best for you. For the first time, I opened up to my mom about my love and sex life. I was ready for the scolding and disappointment but she was more accepting than I ever thought she’d be. Your parents only want to be there for you. If you feel okay with it, open up to them so they can be there.

College has already taught me so much from who to talk to and who not to, how to look up professors, when to do certain things and in what way. But most of all it has taught me to trust myself. At the end of the day, when all's done, you have yourself. You need to learn and find ways to be true to yourself so you can be true to others. Be there for yourself and put yourself first. It is okay to still be working on yourself. We are all always working; improving and healing. You must go through some struggles to become the best version of yourself. You really begin to figure out what kind of person you are and how it affects you. No matter what you may be going through, don’t give up on you. That's what college is all about; Evolution. It is the beauty of it all.

– Ciara Chanel Allen, BFA Acting ‘21


I started in community college, where I found my love for television production, and especially, in sports. I spent 2 years there, and as much as I hated being home and seeing people from high school, financially and mentally it was the best choice I made.

Graduating from high school, I had just recently accepted that I have high anxiety and depression, and my mom was scared for me mostly if I went away, being on my own and a completely new environment and struggling with these mental illnesses. After a bit of arguing, I agreed to start in community college and try adapting to the college life along with finding out about myself.

I never partied in community college and really just focused on working and specifics on my career. After year two, I had gone through 4 therapists and several medications that would never settle down my anxiety. By May 2016, after being accepted and committed to Montclair, I had finally found a medication that worked for me and would have to take daily.

I moved to Montclair with one of my good friends from high school and MCCC, and could not have asked for a better roommate. Not only is she caring and kind as a person, but she respected my mental health and what I had to go through day-to-day, and is incredibly supportive.

College has taught me to live on my own, manage my anxiety, find my career path, and shaped me into a strong woman who is entering a male-dominated field, struggling with anxiety, and just wants to have a good, healthy life. I wouldn't change my experience for anything.

– Liz Clifford ‘18, Television and Digital Media-Sports Media and Journalism 


At eighteen, the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” sounded ridiculous to me. You can do it alone, I thought. I was wrong.

Close your laptop. Come out of your room. Netflix will still be there. Be present when you are around new people so you can find your tribe of honest, supportive people. The faster you realize college isn’t high school, the happier you’ll be. When people show you who they are, believe them. Don’t try to change them into the version you’ve created in your head. Your future friends and lovers are out there, waiting to meet you as you are. That being said, when you know who you are, believe it. Even if it isn’t who sixteen-year-old you or your parents thought you would be. You have a better understanding of yourself now. Put yourself in situations where your comfort zone is a million miles away (I don’t mean dropping acid in the woods), you’ll thank yourself for it. Love comes in many forms, know how to recognize it and find it within yourself. You are worthy of your dreams. Power through the lonely moments where you are sitting alone eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for the sixth Saturday night in a row. Every night will not be like this, I promise. Some days you’ll have to fight to be happy. Learn how to be alone and learn how that’s different than being lonely. Don’t be scared to go to New York by yourself or do anything by yourself, for that matter. Get Google Maps on your phone and go explore or strut in heels to that job interview. Basically, every day you should push yourself to become the person you’re meant to be. And if you don’t know who that is right now, you will. Because that’s how life works.

– Christl Stringer, Theater Studies ‘18

*Some responses have been edited for clarity.

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