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Reflections of a First-Year College Student

I am currently in the middle of my first semester at Mount Holyoke College. I want to reflect on my feelings and experiences and analyze the actions I wish I hadn’t taken and things I hope to incorporate in the future. For those awaiting your freshman year, here are some guidelines on what to avoid and what to embrace to make the most out of your first year at college. 

Stay away from those bogus “college packing lists” 

I honestly don’t use half of the stuff I bought. It was a complete waste of money. You will not have time to read any inspirational books, trust me. Also, half of your decorative pillows will be on the ground every night. There just isn’t enough space for you both in the twin-sized dorm bed, so don’t splurge.

High school study habits will not work.

I keep thinking I can procrastinate and still get things done like in high school. I took AP classes, so I’m accustomed to doing a lot of work. But it’s just physically impossible to read a 20-page paper the night before.

Enjoy being with your parents and siblings (if you have any)

I miss my mom and my cute little sister. When the fact that I was completely on my own dawned on me, it wasn’t the fun, freeing experience I thought it would be. I wish I had absorbed my last moments with them into my memory.

Engage in self-care. 

I’m not talking about facial creams, even though those are very important. Listen, college stress will have your body shooting out acne like the spikes on a porcupine so use facial washes judiciously. But anyway, I’m talking more about being kind to myself and accepting my imperfections because I’m human. I set really high expectations for myself — especially since I got accepted to a really reputable college and  I was still floating on the dopamine rush. But I’ve come to learn that college isn’t just about academics. I have to juggle new friendships, new living situations, and extracurricular activities in addition to schoolwork. So the idea of pushing myself to the brink as I did in high school would just lead me to an early burnout here.

Journal your experiences

When I say journal, I don’t really mean just writing. It can be in any form. Coming to Mount Holyoke, people are really big on taking pictures here and it really helped with my anxiety. I would be casually walking with my friends and one of them would see a mushroom and take a picture of it. It’s hilarious, but it’s so refreshing to see people posting about nature, the sky, group photos, etc. I’m taking more pictures and I’m also writing about my experience. It’s the only time I’m going to experience it so I don’t want to lose all these feelings.

Don’t join too many clubs

I made the fatal mistake of putting myself on every club’s mailing list because they seemed interesting and I wanted to try them. Now I’m grappling with conflicting schedules. I’ll be here for four years; there’s no need to rush. 

Drop classes you don’t like

I’m currently stuck in a calculus class that I will probably fail gracefully. I had the option to drop it, but I felt like I needed to get it done. Now I have to allocate more time to do the homework, readings, and self-study.

Become active in a way that makes you happy

The word “exercise” has such a limited scope because people always think about the gym or painful pushups. If that’s your vibe, go for it. But as long as you move your body, preferably in ways that bring you joy —like dancing, playing frisbee, taking a walk in a beautiful trail, etc. — you’re exercising. Stay active, folks!

Have fun

I have participated in many enjoyable Mount Holyoke traditions. On Mountain Day, I climbed the mountain, had ice cream, and took pictures with friends. For fall break, I went to Six Flags and went on crazy rides. We were terrified and dizzy at the end of it, but we had fun. I’m taking time out to still enjoy college. Of course, I still get punished by the debilitating homework, but my mental health blossoms. What can I say? I’ve got my priorities in check.

Put Everything on Google Calendar

No, I’m not joking. Schedule everything there; right down to when you eat or take a shower. I made my schedule for the weekdays and I have to squeeze in time for meals to make it to all these commitments I made. Even if you are busy like me, make sure to eat enough food and take care of yourself.

So far, these are the reflections I’ve come to an understanding of. I’m still learning and it’s only my first semester so I expect more realizations to pop up. But for now, I’m working on these.

If you would like to write for Her Campus Mount Holyoke, or if you have any questions or comments for us, please email hc.mtholyoke@hercampus.com.

Cynthia Akanaga

Mt Holyoke '25

Cynthia Akanaga is a first-year at Mount Holyoke College. Coming from a diverse country, Nigeria in West Africa, she's excited to experience a new culture, food, and people in the United States! She is excited to write about her personal experiences and share her knowledge of self-love/mental health. When not writing or in class, Cynthia can be found feeding her adrenaline/fitness addiction by hiking, running, rock climbing, and of course rollercoasters.
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