Freshman year can be tough. Loneliness, challenging classes, homesickness, and a general feeling of being unmoored from your previous life plague many freshman to some degree, even as they enjoy success in establishing themselves on campus. While parents, friends and counselors warn us of the difficulties we may experience as we adjust to college life, an oft-repeated threat for freshman girls is the Freshman 15: the dire warning that college staples like beer and pizza will lead to extra pounds during your first year of school.
First of all, there is nothing wrong with gaining a little weight at school. You are beautiful, even with one more slice of pizza. So instead of fretting about those 15 pounds, here is a list of 15 things you should want to gain or experience during your freshman year at the University of Michigan. In other words, the things that actually matter.
While this may seem cliché and obvious…oh wait, it is cliché and obvious. But just because it is cliché doesn’t mean it isn’t true. For most kids, college is their first chance to be truly independent. Yes, we have club meetings to attend, reading to do, and papers to write (seemingly all simultaneously), but we also have the opportunity to determine so many elements of our lives that may not have been up to us before now. A strong sense of independence is crucial for success in life, so now is the time to start exploring your freedom. Use this year to take charge of your schedule, understand that it’s ok to do things on your own, and learn from the mistakes you never would have made had your parents been around to watch your back.
2. Learning to (proactively) ask for help
There is no one that can do everything by herself. Learning when and how to ask for help is incredibly important. You should take freshman year to develop a good sense of when it’s time to admit you need backup, and learn what resources are available to you. It may well be that you have to fail a midterm to learn that you really should be going to office hours, or have your GSI tear apart your English paper to understand that a trip to Sweetland is worth your time. College is not high school, and it’s ok to need more help than you have in the past. By the end of freshman year, you should be well practiced in asking for help before it’s too late. There is never any shame is being proactive and responsible, and there are so many resources available to students to help them always be at their best.
3. An appreciation of diversity
Whatever type of high school you came from, the U of M student body is likely to be far more diverse that your high school was, whether defined by race, nationality, economic background, interests, or life experience. It’s always easiest to make friends who are like you – it’s comfortable. But take advantage of the opportunity to meet and work with people who are unlike anyone you’ve ever known. It is an incredibly chance to learn, grow, and to become a true global citizen prepared to flourish in the diverse world in which we live.
4. New friends U of M is absolutely massive. It can feel a bit isolating and intimidating when arriving as a freshman to such a large and bustling campus, and finding your place can be difficult. In fact, there’s a chance students won’t feel truly at home until sophomore or junior year. And that’s ok. Use your freshman year to meet as many people as possible. Yes, it’s unlikely that your “best friend” during Welcome Week will be a bridesmaid at your wedding, but you never know. Even if you don’t meet your Forever Friends freshman year (and you very well might), aim to leave campus having made at least few solid friendships that you can continue to build upon in your next three years of school
5. At least one significant run-in with an Ann Arbor squirrel
The squirrels here are known for being fat, adorable, and entirely unafraid of people. It’s normal to see 20-year-old college students and the children of visiting alumni side by side on their bellies in the diag trying to feed a squirrel. However, the little creatures’ famous fearlessness can lead to some ridiculous situations, from nibbling on shoes to stealing snacks from backpacks. By the end of your freshman year, it’s likely you’ll have at least a few stories about our fuzzy friends.
6. The ability to deal with disappointment
Whether it’s not making it into the a cappella group you auditioned for or getting a C on your first college paper, there is some inevitable disappointment built into the freshman year experience. For students used to being the leaders and best, this can come as a bit of a shock to the system. But there is no path in life entirely void of the occasional disappointment. Use whatever setbacks you encounter this year as learning experiences. Come out of your freshman year better able to deal with whatever hindrances you may encounter in the future, and remember there is always an opportunity waiting just around the corner. It may be something totally unexpected but entirely wonderful.
7. Willingness to try new things
On that note, freshman year is the perfect time to try something new, or to reinvent yourself. It’s a fresh start in so many ways, and by putting yourself out there you’ll find passions and communities you never thought would be part of your life. Not every club or organization will be the one for you, but by trying something new you will open doors for yourself to new challenges and new friends. You’ll never know until you try.
8. Feta Bread
The feta bread from Pizza House is an Ann Arbor staple that should not to be missed by any U of M student. Whether it’s a Saturday night and you’re in desperate need of drunk food, or a tough day of studying that necessitates some cheesy relief, feta bread is the way to go (and may I recommend the chipati sauce that comes with).
9. A budding familiarity with Ann Arbor
From quirky shops to incredible food, Ann Arbor’s charms everyone, be they U of M seniors or high school juniors touring campus for the first time. Ann Arbor is not just a town—it’s part of the Michigan experience. No one can expect to know the place like the back of their hand after only one year on campus, but use freshman year to start getting familiar. Don’t let yourself get stuck in your dorm or eating in the dining halls every day. Take advantage of everything this wonderful little town has to offer outside of campus. Go to a poetry reading at Literati, see a concert at the Michigan Theater, or go eat at any of the myriad amazing restaurants you’ll find around every corner. There will always be more to discover, but don’t let a year go to waste where you don’t take advantage of all the fun and food waiting at your doorstep.
10. At least a million MoJo cookies
Okay, so maybe not actually a million (especially if you’re aiming to keep the other freshman 15 at bay), but MoJo cookies are the best. It just isn’t even an argument. If you haven’t yet made the journey over to the Hill and eaten dessert in the Mosher Jordan dining hall, you are missing out on a little bit of sugary heaven. They have a perfect, crispy edge and a near-underdone molten center. They’re baked fresh then served hot and oeey gooey. A freshman year meal plan simply isn’t complete without having experienced the otherworldly goodness of the freshly baked MoJo cookie.
Coming to college means leaving behind your comfort zone, including many of the support systems you’re accustomed to. You’re in a new environment without immediate access to the help you had back home, whether through parents, friends, or teachers. While there is never anything wrong with getting help when you need it, freshman year is a great time to start learning to really rely on yourself, but to also tap into the swaggering self-confidence that lies within every collegiette. It may be nerve wracking to go to office hours with a professor you don’t yet know or to show up to a club meeting on your own, but by the end of your freshman year you’ll likely have done things like this a lot, and can leave campus feeling stronger and more poised than when you came.
12. A flirtationship with that scary thing called adulthood
While freshman year is certainly not necessarily the time to start making the Big Girl decisions you know you would have to make some day (a career path, for example), it’s likely you’ll start at least thinking about the big picture. You’re living away from home, likely for the first time, and you suddenly have to start making steps towards being an active and functioning member of society. Be this voting for the first time, signing a lease for a sophomore year apartment, or handling financial aid, by the end of freshman year you should certainly feel more comfortable with that big scary Adulthood that you always knew would catch up with you someday.
13. A sense of community
It can be very tough to arrive on such a large campus, especially for freshman coming from smaller high schools. While communities take time and effort to build, freshman year is the perfect opportunity to begin the process. Social solidity may not arrive until later in your college career, but be it through classes or your hall, you should be actively seeking out and building communities your freshman year to help a big campus feel a little smaller.
14. (Even better) time management skills
It’s highly improbable that you managed to be accepted to the University of Michigan without at least some existing time management strategies. But college time is different that high school time. Most of your waking hours are spent outside of class as opposed to in it, you don’t see the same teachers every day to be reminded over and over again about that lab due Friday, and not everyone finishes up class at 3:15 and immediately heads to their after-school rehearsal or soccer game. Between clubs, intramural sports, classes, homework, office hours, lunch dates, and Netflix, by the end of freshman year you will have gained some pretty wicked time management skills that just didn’t have to exist in high school.
15. A game at the Big House
Sports certainly aren’t for everyone, and that’s perfectly okay. However, U of M does boast the largest football stadium in the country with one of the most spirited fan sections. It is an understatement to say that cheering for the Wolverines in the Michigan student section is an unforgettable experience. Even if football isn’t your thing, attending at least one game in the Big House (or perhaps a hockey game in Yost Arena or a Basketball game at the Crisler Center) is an important part of Michigan culture that is not only incredibly fun, but also a great way to feel part of a community. Because who’s got it better than us?
Images courtesy of Giphy, InternationalChampionsCup, Bouma, and Erica Pinto.