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How to make it through freshman year

Looking back at my freshman year of college, I’m amazed at how far I have come four years later. Like most first year students, I walked in believing because I had no problems in high school, college was going to be the same. Within an hour of my first day of class, I came to realize that college was a completely new experience. From walking in late to class, getting lost in the huge campus of Michigan State, eating in the cafeteria, and learning the meaning of how to study, my freshman year became an ongoing learning experience of what to do and not do the rest of my college career. 

The first day of Freshman year

The first day, it was quite easy to spot freshman walking around campus. Most of them had their maps spread open as they stood in the middle of the sidewalk frantically trying to find their first class, and, yes I was one of them. I soon found myself lying across the grass sprawling my map out trying for the life of me to find my class that started in five minutes. As I sat there on the verge of tears, eventually someone stopped and pointed me in the right direction and I took off hyper speed in hopes I could spot the correct building.  Of course I was late and required to sit in the way back of the lecture hall forced to squint to see anything the professor wrote on the board. Word of advice: try to sit near the front of the classroom. 

It was a lovely start to my first day, but as the weeks went on, I was able to memorize where the buildings were. Important advice for the first day of college: walk to each of your classes the day before, that way you somewhat know where you’re going and aren’t crying in the grass wishing your mom was there to help. As the day went on I managed to make it to all of my classes and cram my head with massive amounts of homework, future assignments, group partners and required textbooks, I was so ready to go home. 

For some reason, I decided that taking the bus was a good idea; I mean how hard can it be? Apparently for me, it was impossible. I started on one bus, ended up going the opposite direction of home, took the advice from someone to take a different bus and wound up back at my original starting spot. I then gave up and just walked back to my dorm. That day I learned to look up the bus schedules online and their routes, and if worse comes to worse, ask the bus driver, because even though some look like they might bite, they won’t.  

That night I found myself overloading on homework, crying to my best friend about taking on too much, already feeling homesick, and then shoving all my stuff under the bed and going to dinner. If my problems hid under my bed, I didn’t have to think about it. 

The first time eating in a cafeteria can be quite intimidating. How do I get in, what do I eat, where do I sit, why did the entire day make me feel so lost? I found myself eating a turkey sandwich alone in the back of the cafeteria. Word of advice, go with your roommate to eat. Or better yet, join a group of people who are already eating, that way you can meet new people and won’t be forced to sit alone.  

Before going to bed that night, I learned the meaning of community bathrooms in an all women hall. I battled for a shower, a bathroom stall and a sink. It felt like I was waiting for an amusement park ride or a seat at the circus. All I know is that night, I told myself from then on I would shower and brush my teeth much earlier in the day in order to beat the bathroom rush.  

When my head hit the pillow that night, a bomb could have gone off and I wouldn’t have heard it. 

Understanding How to Keep Your Workload Under Control

What really began to hit me by the middle of the semester was my workload. I wasn’t happy with my classes and felt like I was drowning in physics problems and lab reports. On top of that, my grades were nothing like I had in high school.  I felt like a failure. I took on all these classes because I thought it was something I could handle. I struggled tremendously which overall had a huge impact on my self-esteem.  I had found another reason freshman year of college felt like I was lost in a sea of chaos. 

After I took a second to breath, broke down to my counselor and really thought about dropping out, I realized it was all on me to feel happy. For those of us first entering into college its important to understand that college is a totally different experience. So the day you’re picking out classes, remember that as a freshman, you may want to start off with a few simpler classes. That way you aren’t panicking about failing all your classes and feeling lost.   Luckily for me, I had amazing support from my family, friends and boyfriend and I ended up changing my major, which you never should be afraid to do.  

Kevin Sydnor, the assistant director of Office of Supportive Services, works with students everyday helping them to have the best experience possible their first year of college. He believes the biggest transition freshman have is understanding their new workload and how to balance everything in-between. When it comes to mastering your workload as a freshman, Sydnor advises students to follow three main goals: stay organized, work hard, and find your desire to succeed. The most effective way to do to this is to have a student planner and to build your schedule. Begin by making a schedule of your year, and then break it down to semester, week and finally a day-by-day plan. Then write in all your due dates such as papers, exams and projects. 

Sydnor also advises students to understand their sense of self. That way they can begin to discover how to be an independent learner, how to be an active listener and the time needed to set aside to study. 

Students have to be willing to adjust, read in-depth, maintain discipline and make adjustments in areas that may be new,” Sydnor said.

Even the Small Experiences Create Large Impacts

As the semester went on, some things got easier while others got harder. I learned small things for example carrying an umbrella at all times is a must, cereal in the cafeterias will become your favorite meal and yoga pants will be the most important piece of clothing in your closet. 

Sydnor believes a small but important problem freshman have is sleep. Although we all get caught up in the new lifestyle of college, it’s necessary to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night in order to preform our best in class. 

Studies say sleep affects memory, Sydnor said. 

Emily Bassman, a resident assistant at Michigan State University has had lots of experience helping freshman, as well as personal experiences that have helped her give advice. Looking back at all of the different questions first year students bring up, roommates have become one of the hardest things to deal with. 

Bassman points out that freshman lack the desire to communicate with their roommates if they are unhappy. It’s hard to live with a completely new person in a room the size of a closet. In order to keep things civil, Bassman encourages her residents to talk about things that irritate them, such as bedtime, sharing of food, having friends over and quiet time to study.

Another factor that freshman run into is working. Sydnor encourages students to work no more than 15 hours a week, and that’s pushing it. If your working too much, your taking away time from your studies. 

Sydnor believes working can be very beneficial if done with the right goals in mind and understanding of how to balance work and study. 

“Busy people tend to get things done,” he said. 

Don’t Ever Lose your Motivation to Succeed 

By the end of the semester, I was ready to be done. I found myself skimming my readings instead of focusing no them, finishing up homework quickly the morning it’s due and debating on sleeping in instead of going to that dreaded 8 a.m. class. Why get lazy at the end of the semester wasting all your hard work you have done? Sydnor believes the best way to keep motivated is by reminding yourself of your future goals. You came to college for a reason with an overall goal of a degree, don’t let yourself get lazy at the end just because you’re ready to start summer vacation. 

A good way to stay motivated and focused is getting involved with academic engagement centers, talking to upperclassman and forming relationships with faculty connected to the campus.  Sydnor believes it’s important for students to have a strong support system and a trust in someone who is connected to campus. That way, you will continue to have someone pushing you to do your personal best. 

“I think it’s important for students to be confident but realistic, tap into their resources, and take responsibility for working hard,” Sydnor said.

Remember to Stay Positive

Emily Bassman easily remembers her freshman year simply because of the many experiences, good and bad, she learned from. Although her first year wasn’t easy, some days she wishes she could go back to the year that helped define her college career.

Bassman believes the best piece of advice for first year students is to enjoy your freshman year because yes, it is hard, but it does get better. 

“Theres some novelty about being a freshman and having everything new and just doing dumb stuff,” Bassman said. 

Although some points of college will seem impossible, by keeping your goals in mind, you will find the light at the end of the tunnel. Remember to have fun, stay focused make friends, get involved, study hard and never be afraid to move out of your comfort zone. 

My freshman year of college wasn’t as easy as I imagined, but it was everything I made it into. Nothing in life comes easy and college is just the beginning. As I battled through not just my first year, but also the remainder of my college career, my new lifestyle got easier, classes got harder, but my determination never faltered. Out of everything I learned my freshman year, my biggest piece of advice sounds simple enough: never forget who you are. 

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