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What I’ve Learned One Year After High School Graduation

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

It’s been exactly one year since I graduated high school, which is such a crazy statement. I’m almost done with my first year at UCLA, and I feel like there is so much I learned and wish I knew before I started my freshman year. If you’re a graduating senior or just another freshman reflecting on their first year in college, join me for a recap of the most important things I’ve learned one year after graduation!

How seriously important family is, and how being away can bring you together

Homesickness is no joke for a lot of college freshmen, which is something I honestly wasn’t quite expecting. With all the excitement and curiosity that comes with starting college, you forget how integrated and vital your family was to your life– and every year of your life up to this moment. While I knew I would miss my family a lot, I failed to appreciate how having a home and people who took care of me was such a privilege. Luckily, another aspect of college I did not expect was that I feel like it almost brought my family closer together in ways, as it has for other people I know. In my case, arguments and strife become much rarer occasions because everyone is often just happy to see each other again. When I do get to come home, I’m way more inclined to spend time with my parents, and honestly have spent more time with them on these trips home than on a regular basis in high school. On that note, don’t forget to be grateful for your family or your chosen family, and hopefully college will make you remember that if you do forget!

You’re really on your own, in a good and bad way 

The allure of independence in college is real, but perhaps realer than I expected. I feel like no one talks about how much free agency you have over your day to day because it’s just assumed, but it really is a crazy thought; if you wanted to spend college like it’s summer and not go to a single class or event, you completely could. I’ve since realized how important it is to create structure during the week so you don’t lose your sense of time and trajectory in academics and life itself. Work will catch up with you, and not attending classes that you should attend is a real problem (that has come back to haunt many people I know!). At the same time, if you’re only focused on academics, your social life can disappear in an instant. In reality, it’s all about balance. Take this newfound independence and truly learn how to BE fully functioning and independent– something I have certainly not mastered yet. While you really are on your own, everyone else is too, which makes it so in a way, you really aren’t alone either.

Losing contact with some friends really isn’t that deep, but value the ones that stay

It’s not that deep because you won’t lose contact with the important people. I remember at graduation how depressed I was to leave all of the friends I had made over high school and just throughout my life. Yet, I remember feeling the same thing after 8th grade graduation and ending up just fine. Despite it being undeniably sad that you’re going to lose contact with a lot of people even despite your best efforts, in the end, it’s not the end of the world. Unfortunately, in life you make new friends to replace the old ones, and the cycle continues from year to year. And alas, there’s always summer to reconnect with the few you really regret not keeping up with! However, I promise you won’t lose contact with the people who are most important to you, as long as you actively keep that relationship up. The friends you know you’ll be friends with no matter what are who you need to value no matter how far away they are.

College is going to make you start over whether you like it or not 

Senior year, I was incredibly confident in who I was as a person. I had forgotten what it means to be a freshman, and I felt basically on top of the world– I knew who I was and I was pretty happy with that. College humbled me from day one. Starting college is like starting a new life, because quite literally everything and everyone is new. I became a freshman again, and suddenly my confidence in myself was shattered. While this might not be the case for everyone, I think most college freshmen would agree that college wasn’t a breeze at the start, and certainly a very different experience from senior year. Honestly, despite the difficulty of becoming the new kid who didn’t know anyone again, I know I’ve learned and grown from the challenge, and it was a necessary part of starting this new chapter of my life. The good thing is, I know with time, I can get to the completely confident and pretty happy version of myself I was in senior year. For now, I already feel older, and changed– perhaps wiser too!

You don’t really know what you want to do with your life (and that’s okay)

One of the scariest things about going into college is that it seemed everyone around me, both in senior year and my first weeks as a college student, knew what they wanted to major in and had career paths mapped out. The good and bad news: these plans are going to change.  So so many people I know have switched their major freshman year or are deciding on completely new careers to think about. I know someone who switched from pre-med to econ– nothing is set in stone! We all don’t know what we want to do and honestly, that’s a comforting thought. I strongly believe that a big part of the college experience is spending time finding out what you want your future (professional) life to look like, and that freshman year especially should be about experimentation and curiosity.

You can and should be picky about your friends

As a senior in high school, I remember my #1 worry for college was not making good friends. Admittedly, it is not the easiest thing to do in college. To my surprise, it depended on tons of environmental and social factors like where you dorm in, who your roommates are, who you meet at orientation or in class, etc. When you get to college, you meet tons of people the first few weeks and as everyone says, don’t typically stick to those starter-pack friend groups. What I’ve learned is that you need to be picky about your friends. Past the first few weeks, don’t waste your time with people you know in your gut you don’t vibe with. Instead, stick with the few friends you really do vibe with, or go out of your way to grab a meal with someone you want to be friends with. While having lots of friends is of course a great thing, I’ve found it infinitely more valuable to be around people I am proud to call my friend and who I genuinely enjoy spending time with. Luckily, college is four years, which means you have time to meet more people that you will love and appreciate for the rest of your life! Don’t settle, not just for romantic relationships.

Whoever says they love everything about college is lying 

People looooove to say how much they love college. I get it– once graduating from college, we all want to go back and tell our former classmates that we’re living the good life, wherever we are. I’ve noticed that it’s almost always not the truth if someone says they are having the best time ever. College is never perfect, and that’s something we should just all accept as a fact! So, don’t feel bad about yourself if your first year in college didn’t sound as amazing as your classmate’s did, because I’m sure they also struggled more than you would know. Also, don’t feel pressure about having the best first year once you graduate high school. Take college at your own pace, because that’s the only way I think you can end up finding your true place and genuinely have a fulfilling experience.  

College is scary until it really isn’t. You’ll find your place, eventually!  

That’s it.

Maile Smith is a first-year Global Studies major from Palo Alto, California. She loves horseback riding, traveling the world, painting, reading on the beach, and her dogs!