Semester Wrap Up: Reflections of my Freshman Year at UMass Amherst

I'm not going to lie, I was extremely excited to go to college because it allowed me a fresh start, a blank slate — and I know many other people felt the same way because you're kind of given the chance to be someone that you aspire to be. And this was really important to me. I came out of high school wanting so badly to become a more carefree, open, adventurous person, but I had always felt that if I tried to pursue something that was so different I would get judged. 

Additionally, high school did not provide me with the environment to explore, change, and understand that growing and maturing are very normal and amazing things to do.

I actually had one of the best semesters academically that I've had in a very long time and I do think that it's because I took a lot of my mistakes from high school and told myself, “Okay, this is your chance to fall in love with learning again, redefine your dreams and passions, and really chase them.”

I had come into college with the experience of teachers being the enemy — holding grades captive, not providing me with a lot of support, and not creating conducive learning environments. 

One of my main goals that I have is to come out of college with an education. What I mean by this is that there are SO many people who go to college and simply come out with a degree. They haven't matured, learned, or fully utilized the resources that higher education institutions provide for their students to adapt, grow, and really find who they want to be. I want to be able to critically think, analyze, and choose the path that really interests me, but I could only do this if I really understood how to learn in the first place. This semester, most of my classes provided me with that knowledge.

Everyone tells you that going to office hours is extremely useful and a good way for professors to get to know you (especially if you're in a big class) but I seldom see my peers go. I went to almost all of my professors' office hours multiple times throughout the semester, and not only was I able to understand the material better and get to know my professors one-on-one, I was able to let them get to know me, and I truly became a friend to some of my professors (or at least, that's how I feel). I do think this was one of the most important aspects of this semester, considering that we were online; going to office hours provided me with some sanity, ya know, just talking to people one-on-one when you are in your house 24/7 can make your day so much better. I truly can’t put into words what office hours did for me this year, but here are a few things that I took away from them:

  1. You learn A LOT from some of your professors. One of my professors has written a book, graduated from Cornell, AND gotten a PhD. But my favorite part about her is that she's the most down-to-earth person and really cares about students learning. She provided me with so much information, and so many movies, and I was able to just be myself with her which was really important to me because I came into college with the notion that all professors are very strict and scary. 

  2. Some of your teachers, especially if they're grad students, can talk for HOURS on what they're writing their dissertation on, and this is extremely useful for students who are confused or questioning what they want to study because you can learn a lot about what kind of person you have to be, how much time you have to put in, and what kind of work you will be doing within a specific field of study from a grad student in real time.

  3. Professors are people too. A lot of them have their own interests outside of class, and are ready and willing to share that with you if you make the effort. I cannot even count the amount of times I have just talked about what I was interested in, what I was thinking about, and what was going on in my life, and got similar responses. Many times, going to office hours was more like a chat, and it really helped me get through this semester because I knew that I could trust and count on all of my professors and TAs to really help me, regardless of what I was dealing with.

girl reading on train Photo by Will Tarpey from Unsplash

As a political science major, I rarely took any tests or quizzes this semester. And you might be thinking, “Wow she's so lucky, she probably had a great time because she didn't have to take any tests or quizzes.” Wellll, yes and no. 

I have written over 23 papers. Yes, you heard that right, 23 papers over 13 weeks. At first, I was a little frustrated with my professors, grumbling around my house about how much I had to write in such little time. But of course, I had signed up for this — what else is a political science major going to do? And I can't lie, I love writing and being able to insert my voice into conversations. My favorite part about writing these papers, especially towards the end of the semester, was the amount of freedom I was given regarding a certain topic. I began to challenge eurocentric, male-centric perspectives on political theory, as well as acknowledge the lack of diversity within this field.

open books laid out Photo by Patrick Tomasso from Unsplash

Socially, I was extremely nervous going into this semester. And sure, I did get pretty close to some of my professors, but that's not really the same thing as making friends in college. I was lucky enough to find a group of people in my Residential Academic Program (RAP) class that I really vibed with. My professor left the Zoom call open after class, and sometimes we would stay on and chat for over an hour. We have since set up Zooms and safe, in-person hang out sessions to create a sense of community. I definitely think that I am one of the luckier freshmen because I was able to meet such a great group of people. Even though the semester is over, there is still an active effort to FaceTime, meet safely when possible, etc. I think this was one of the things that kept me going, and continues to keep me going, as I finish up my finals. I HIGHLY recommend being uncomfortable, taking the extra effort, and doing anything you can to really find a friend or a group of friends if you can because it takes such a toll on your mental health if you feel alone in college. Whether it's trading Instagram handles via Zoom private chat or being the first person to speak in a breakout room, it's worth it, I promise… it's worth it.

So overall, I've had a really good semester. I've definitely been stressed, and I've definitely had my fair share of days going “What the heck am I doing?” And one thing that I'm conscious about is keeping in touch with friends from high school. Not all of them, necessarily, but being online this semester was super fatiguing, and it was doubly fatiguing to keep up with messages on different platforms. But I want to work on that because I really care about my friends from high school and want to be able to sustain those relationships.

Well, that was just a quick overview of some highlights of my semester. How was yours? 

P.S. It's always good to reflect and understand what went right and what went wrong so that next semester, you can do better — and you can always do better. So take some time out of your day to think about your semester (the good and the bad), write it down, and look at them at the end of this year.

Good Luck! 

The College Board