Everything I Wish I Had Known as a College Freshman

I am truly baffled to say that in two short weeks I will graduate from the University of Michigan. You see I always knew that I would graduate; it is no surprise to me that I must leave. My four years have come and gone, and it is time to open a new chapter. And while I am excited to close this chapter, to look toward the future, I am also petrified. I have sobbed at least a dozen times in the past week alone. The thought of being thousands of miles away from my best friends just about breaks my heart. And getting a job? Well, let’s not talk about it.

Because the University of Michigan has played an integral role in developing my sense of self. And the prospect of leaving Ann Arbor behind -- well -- it’s devastating.

I am a senior in college. Nothing will ever be exactly the same as it is in this very moment, and I am both thrilled and terrified by this fact.

As I reflect on what the University of Michigan has meant to me, I am sad to be graduating. But in spite of my sadness, I am so incredibly excited for the new students who will call Michigan hoMe this fall. And while I would not change a thing about my undergraduate experience, there are so many things that I wish I would have known during freshman year.

So future Wolverines, take note! Four amazing years lie ahead of you, and I suggest you take advantage of every opportunity they will present you.

  • Consider going Greek

This is probably the most cliche advice to begin with -- I apologize. But in all seriousness, joining Greek Life was one of the best decisions I’ve made in college. I rushed as a sophomore, actually, because I was so skeptical of Greek Life as a freshman. While I would not recommend rushing as a sophomore, the experience of joining a sorority was nevertheless very impactful for me. I met some of my best friends, gained leadership skills, lived in a beautiful house, and participated in countless philanthropic causes as a result of my involvement in my sorority, Alpha Delta Pi. The stereotypes aren’t always true -- the vast majority of people I know in Greek Life are dynamic, well-rounded, kind individuals with a myriad of interests that don’t involve drinking. What do you have to lose? Give rush a chance, and if it doesn’t work out, at least you met some cool people. No harm, no foul.

  • Double-major and pick a minor, too

You are now a student at one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world. In the world! Why wouldn’t you want to indulge in the greatest number of classes? As a German major and African studies minor, one of my biggest regrets in college is that I didn’t double-major. I explored my interests in a vast number of departments -- sociology, psychology, and history for example -- but did not take the plunge to make that extra declaration. In hindsight I should have double-majored with sociology or political science. Because I had the space in my schedule and the aptitude to thrive in those classes. The problem is I waited too long to get serious about my academic and professional goals. So here is your forewarning: don’t wait too long to declare! Explore different classes during freshman year and into sophomore year, but start thinking critically about your academic plan before you hit the midway point of college. And, extra tip, go see your academic adviser every semester (or at least every year) to ensure that you’re on track for your prospective programs.

 

  • Stay friends with your freshman hall

There is an inexplicable bond between freshman year hallmates -- particularly if you lived on Second Little in Markley fall 2013 - winter 2014 (the jury is still out on who threw up on the RA’s door…). While I remained friends with a handful of people who lived on and around my floor, I let a great deal of these friendships fade after freshman year. Sad! While it’s understandable that you won’t hit it off with every person on your floor, I advise you to maintain these friendships for as long as possible! Come senior year you’ll want to reminisce with the homies you went to your first frat party with during welcome week of freshman year. 

  • Go to the library (or a coffee shop)

This is pretty self-explanatory advice, but I cannot tell you how important it is. Sure, you could get some work done in your dorm or at your house, but let’s be honest, you’ll probably get distracted and watch two hours of Netflix and/or take a nap. The University of Michigan has an impressive selection of some of the most celebrated libraries in the world -- shout out to the law library -- so why would you study in your dingy box of a dorm in Bursley? (No offense meant to Bursley… but it’s ugly, if we’re being honest). My GPA for any given semester always reflects the frequency with which I went to the library and coffee shops that season. Seriously, winter semester sophomore year I got my best report-card of college, mostly because I was at the law library three times a week on a consistent basis (a little humble-brag action going on here, sorry). My personal favorite study spots include: the Law Library, the Ref. Room (in Hatcher), Starbucks on Main (Downtown), Starbucks on South U, and Mighty Good Coffee (South U and Washtenaw). You’ll thank me later.

 

  • Write a thesis

This ranks alongside not double-majoring as one of my biggest regrets -- I did not write a thesis, and I feel as though I did myself a great disservice by not doing so. I have always loved writing, and my major -- German -- has captivated me for more than 9 years in my personal and academic life. Why didn’t I write a thesis? Well, I presume it was because nobody had really presented the option to me until the end of junior year. I went to see the thesis advisor for my department, and she seemed -- well -- scary. And the idea of writing one paper for over a year? Also scary. So I just dropped the idea and never gave it another thought. Until, that is, all my friends were writing their theses. And then I was mad at myself. So here’s the moral of the story: entertain the idea of writing a thesis, and give it some serious thought before you actually have to commit to writing one.

 

  • Read books for fun

School is overwhelming -- I get that. But the wonders of reading for pleasure are truly indescribable, even if it means procrastinating your schoolwork for a night. As a self-proclaimed bookworm, this may perhaps only speak to me, but I find that reading for pleasure has enriched my college experience by expanding my learning beyond the classroom. Furthermore, it has allowed me some much-needed respite from the stresses of my day-to-day life. Ann Arbor makes reading for fun especially easy, as it provides ample access to good literature -- whether that be from the public libraries or Literati (the most amazing bookstore in the world) downtown. Open a book! Get lost in another world!

 

  • Don’t be afraid to spend your money

Perhaps I’m just an extreme worry-wart, but I get major anxiety about my finances while at school. I’m very lucky to have my parents paying for my tuition and room & board (shout out to Brigitte and Jeff, you’re amazing), so the necessities are always covered. But everything else -- all the fun and nonsense that college entails -- is up to me, and I tend to stress major about my money. After a long hard summer of saving up for the school year, I have a potent sense of what my money is really worth. And thus, I tend to avoid spending money at all costs. My advice: Don’t do this. Instead, evaluate what makes you happy. Getting pizza from NYPD with sorority sisters after a night at Skeep’s? Playing trivia over some Fishbowls with your roommates on a Wednesday night? Brunching in Detroit and exploring Eastern Market with your artsy friends? Identify the people you enjoy spending time with and the activities you enjoy doing together, and spend your money accordingly!! You’ve saved all summer for a reason, and that’s to be able to live the lifestyle you would like to from September to April in Ann Arbor. Sure, it would be nice to have a little cushion money in the bank. But at the end of the day, if you’re spending your money in a way that makes you happy -- well -- there’s no better situation than that. So treat yo self… but do it wisely.

 

  • Go on spring break with your friends

This goes along with spending money. Perhaps you are apprehensive to drop some major change on a spring break trip with your college friends. Sure, the price tag can be pretty steep depending where you go. I get that. But let me play devil’s advocate here: you will never have this kind of opportunity again in your life. During your college career there will be a mere four opportunities to travel anywhere in the world with some of your best friends and have the adventure of a lifetime. Think about it… when will this sort of opportunity ever present itself again? The odds are slim, and thus, I urge you to consider vacationing with your friends. In my time at Michigan I spent three of four spring breaks on vacation with friends… I went on a cruise in the Caribbean as a sophomore, rented a house in Destin, Florida with sorority sisters as a junior, and spent a week exploring Aruba with two of my best friends as a senior. While every vacation was not perfect (or cheap), it was well worth every penny to make memories with some of my closest friends. So pick a destination and start saving! You won’t regret it.

 

 

  • Invest in your friendships

Before you know it, you’ll be a senior, and your friends will be moving across the country -- maybe even across the world. And I promise that as the final days of college loom nearer, you will cling tighter to the people you’ve come to love during college -- not your A in biology or the University Honors you received. And that’s not to say that academic pursuits are not valuable -- quite the contrary, your classes are the most important aspect of your college experience. But I urge you to recognize the amazing people you are surrounded with right now. Cherish them! When your friends invite you to a birthday party, to the bar, to get coffee, to go shopping… say yes! Spend time with the people who matter most to you -- your friendships will be some of the most valuable take-aways from the University of Michigan, apart from the diploma you’ll receive as you walk across the stage at graduation.

 

  • Be a part of something bigger than yourself

It’s easy to become disillusioned with the patterns of college. As with high school, there are mundane aspects of your time here that will bore you: doing laundry, completing trivial assignments, answering emails, dealing with drama… the list goes on. And though your socializing will be fun, it may come to bore you as well. Every weekend tends to have the same theme which is something along the lines of “this week was so hard, let’s get trashed!” While drinking with your friends is fun (and in some ways cathartic), it’s really not all that inspirational. My advice to you is this: find a student group that benefits a cause you truly care about and give it your all.

During my junior year I joined Camp Kesem which is a student-run nonprofit that puts on camp for kids whose parents have cancer; this has been one of the most impactful and inspirational decision of my college career! Through Kesem I’ve found a group of kind, hilarious people who are passionate about making a difference in the community. These people have become not just my friends, but my family -- they support me through everything. Furthermore, Camp Kesem puts the trials of my life into perspective, reminding me that there are more important things in life than a high GPA and a good social life. Some organizations on campus that do incredible charity work include Dance Marathon, A Lot Stronger Together (ALS), Adaptive Gymnastics, and Be The Match. I encourage you to do your research and get involved! Maize Pages is a great place to get started: https://maizepages.umich.edu/.

 

 

  • Make a resume (but have someone help you)

This one is pretty obvious. Like duh, of course you’re going to need a resume. I say this, however, because the thought of making a resume literally did not crossed my mind until sophomore year when everyone had a resume and I didn’t (whoops). But, lucky for me, I had a mentorship program within my sorority set up for problems like this! Another sister met with me for coffee and helped me write my very first resume. It was a magical experience, I felt like the professionalism was just dripping off of me! Okay but in all seriousness, enlist the help of an older friend or classmate and start putting your resume together! It’s never too early to start thinking about your career, and creating a resume is the very first step to stepping into the professional world.

 

  • Make time to study abroad

During the summer before my junior year I studied abroad in Tanzania for a month; the topic of study for my program was disability, and our team spent the majority of our time studying and volunteering at several academic institutions. I cannot begin to explain the impact of this experience on my undergraduate career. On the surface level, the trip gave me a dozen new friends that I otherwise would have never met. But beyond that, participating in this trip allowed me to expand my foreign language speaking skills (Swahili), gave me valuable insight into cultural differences between east Africa and the United States, allowed me to interact with students in a foreign country, and increased my appreciation for natural beauty. But that’s merely a fly-by synopsis of my trip -- it was truly so much more than that. If you weren’t already planning to study abroad, I urge you to reconsider. Go in the summer if you must! Cross-cultural learning is a crucial aspect of developing a sense of self and thinking critically about your professional aspirations. Looking for a program? Check out the Center for Global and Intercultural Study (CGIS), located in the basement of Angell Hall.

 

  • Reach out to older, more experienced students

I cannot stress this enough -- utilize your peers! Talk to that sophomore in your English class and find out how he got his summer internship. Get to know the juniors and seniors in your sorority and ask them what their favorite classes were. The people all around you are experts in how to “make it” at Michigan -- don’t let their expertise go to waste! Most students are more than happy to talk about their major, minor, internship, or study abroad program. Campus org leaders are especially eager to talk about their organizations because they’re always looking for young, enthusiastic underclassmen to take over their leadership positions or apply for their old internship after they graduate. So reach out, ask for contacts and connections because they will be extremely helpful in navigating all that Michigan has to offer.

 

  • Get to know your professors!

Similarly, I advise you to get to know your professors -- especially those who teach in the department(s) of your major/minor. At some point this year it dawned on me that the professors I’ve been learning from for four years are, oftentimes, world-renowned for their research, literature, or theory… and then I wanted to hit myself over the head for not going to office hours more frequently. It is an immense honor to learn from some of the world’s most celebrated intellectuals, and I urge you to take advantage of these incredible professors’ vast intellect. Stop into their office hours, introduce yourself, and ask about their work (or the course, perhaps). I’m sure they would be thrilled (and flattered!) to field your inquiries.

 

  • Stop to appreciate how lucky you really are

I cannot recall the number of times I have complained, whined, or cried about the most mundane things during my time as a college student. I complain when I’m tired, when I’m hungry, when I don’t like my professor/GSI, when I can’t find a date for formal, when I have exams, when I have papers, when I have meetings, when I have a lot of emails, when people don’t respond to my emails… the list is truly endless. And when I think about how much I have complained at this university, I am ashamed. Because it is truly an honor just to be a student at the University of Michigan, let alone one who has had all the opportunities that I have had. So when you’re hard-pressed on all sides with papers, exams, interviews, and who knows what else to do, take a deep breath and remember this: you’re a student at the University of Michigan. You are among the Leaders & Best. That alone shows that you are an absolute rockstar. With due diligence and hard work, I have no doubt that you will succeed in your endeavors.

To the class of 2021: Welcome to the University of Michigan! I can assure you, your four years here will be an experience you won’t soon forget.

Photos courtesy of Britt Boyle.