When I began applying to colleges my senior year of high school, I knew I wanted to go to a big university, but I was nervous about finding my place. I ended up at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a large public university in Western Massachusetts. Over the past four years, I’ve been able to make a campus of over 25,000 students feel like home. Becoming involved in any capacity I could has been so important to me and has completely changed my college experience. For any of you who are trying to make a large campus a little smaller and feel like home, here are a few things that helped me.
1. Make friends in your classes
I’ve always made a conscious effort to make friends in my classes. While it can be overwhelming to walk into a 300+ person lecture and not know a single person, I’ve made it a point to introduce myself to whoever is sitting near me, give them my phone number (even if it feels awkward), and start to form connections with them. It is so helpful to have someone to reach out to about what’s going on in the class, and beyond that, sometimes you end up with new close friends!
2. Make connections with professors
My high school teachers were an incredible help to me, and I was anxious going into college that I would lose those bonds that had meant so much to me both academically and personally. Making an effort to introduce myself and getting to know my professors beyond just participating in class has helped me tremendously. Getting to know my professors, visiting their office hours, and showing genuine interest in their classes has made my college experience so much more rewarding. Not only am I more engaged in my classes, but I’ve formed connections that I know will last long beyond my years in undergrad. These connections with my professors have helped me in the long run and prepared me for my future plans. The professors that I’ve gotten close with have ended up writing my graduate school recommendation letters. Without them, I wouldn’t have gotten accepted into my dream grad program!
3. Stay in touch with friends from home
A lot of graduating high school seniors go into college thinking, “I’m so ready to get out of my hometown” and hope to never see their high school classmates again. Although I was definitely ready to make a new group of friends, I made sure to stay in touch with the friends I had from high school who were also going to UMass. When I ended up in a really rough place during my freshman year, I had these hometown friends to support me. It was comforting to have friends who already knew me so well. It’s possible to both look forward to making new friends and stay connected with past friends from high school.
4. Participate in Greek Life
Greek life can get a bad reputation, but the truth is that no blanket statement can represent the entirety of such a widespread organization. If you find the right fit, joining Greek life can be a defining and life-changing decision. I went through formal sorority recruitment during my sophomore year and received a bid from Alpha Chi Omega. Over the past three years, I’ve fallen in love with my sorority. As cliche as it sounds, I met my best friends and everything has changed — I’ve shared so many memories that have defined a lot of what I’ll remember from my college years. Alpha Chi has given me so much more than just friends. I will always be a part of a lifelong network of Alpha Chi alumnae across the country. I’ve heard stories of women who have been out of college for decades and still remain connected with Alpha Chi. I know that my sorority will be a part of my life long after I graduate, and honestly, I cannot imagine what my college experience would have been like without Alpha Chi.
5. Join Clubs & RSO’s
I remember attending activities expos freshman year and feeling extremely overwhelmed. I didn’t know how I was supposed to choose what communities to join. This was a big decision, after all: it could alter the path of my college experience. After I ended up joining a sorority, I was able to learn about clubs and groups that other Alpha Chi’s were a part of. Multiple friends of mine had joined CHAARG (Changing Health, Attitudes, + Actions To Recreate Girls), a collegiate women’s fitness organization aimed at empowering girls to recreate what fitness means to them. CHAARG is the nation’s largest health and wellness community on college campuses. Through my years in CHAARG, I’ve met so many new people who have a passion for fitness and wellbeing. I’ve taught yoga classes for 70+ CHAARG girls at a time, which has built my confidence and belief in myself as a yoga teacher. CHAARG has been such a positive environment for me to try new workouts and expand my understanding of fitness.
6. Join Her Campus!
One of my best friends (who I met in an English class sophomore year) has been involved with Her Campus since her freshman year. When I became close friends with Ashley, I learned more about this organization and eventually applied to become a content writer. Within the past two years, I’ve written dozens of articles, met so many incredible writers, and have made so many new friends. Her Campus has been an amazing addition to my college experience, and writing articles each week is so gratifying and rewarding and helps me grow as a writer. I still can’t believe I publish articles for a network of hundreds of Her Campus chapters across the country!
7. Attend On-Campus Group Fit Classes
Attending group fitness classes at the Recreation Center during my freshman year was an awesome way to get to know students that I never would have known otherwise. I went to several yoga classes taught by different upperclassmen and couldn’t have guessed that two years later, I would be teaching yoga classes alongside these instructors who are now my friends.
8. Work on-campus
During the spring of my sophomore year, I applied for a position as a group fitness instructor at the UMass Recreation Center as I finished my 200-hour yoga teacher training. I auditioned by teaching a short yoga class, and I walked out of the Rec Center that day with a new job. Teaching yoga classes at the Rec Center has not only been an incredible teaching experience for me, but it’s also given me an amazing platform to meet so many new people. The group fitness instructor who helped me set up to teach my first yoga class ended up becoming my best friend. The students who come to my classes each week are from all different years at UMass, all different majors, and all different athletic experiences and abilities — it’s definitely a great place to make new friends.
Being involved in so many different organizations in so many different capacities has been a huge time commitment. It’s been difficult at times, but the fact that I care so deeply about each individual obligation I am involved in has made it all worth it. Beginning college is an exciting, new, and scary experience. Know that you have so many different opportunities to push yourself and meet new people. I never could have imagined how connected I would feel to UMass in four short years, and I can’t begin to describe how hard it will be for me to say goodbye to it all in a few short weeks.