A Reflection of My Freshman Year: 8 Lessons I Learned as a Freshman at UF

As the end of my freshman year at UF is slowly approaching, I wanted to reflect on what I’ve learned these past two semesters when I transitioned from being a high school student to a college student. 

1. Failure is not a reflection of my character or skill set

This lesson was the greatest one I’ve learned thus far, hence why I have it at the very top of the list.

For the longest time, I once believed that failure indicated inadequacy in my abilities and knowledge.

To me, failing meant I was not good enough, not smart enough, not working hard enough — I was just not enough compared to everyone else who, on the other hand, had succeeded in what I failed at.

This kind of toxic mentality was the largest contributor to a feeling I had which I later learned was called the imposter syndrome.

The day I dropped my general chemistry class was one of the worst days I’ve encountered.

I had a hard time keeping up with the class because I was not used to the fast pace and the heavy workload my professor imposed.

As a result, I dropped the class when I was on the edge between a D and an F.

Meanwhile, my friends who were also taking chemistry seemed to be thriving and getting A’s in the class.

I was devastated because I was also a pre-medical student; I spent days agonizing over what medical schools would think of me for withdrawing from a class that I was supposed to do well in if I wanted to become a doctor.

However, when I retook the class in the spring, my new chemistry professor taught at a pace I was comfortable with.

He gave us time to really learn the material by working through sample problems in class and only assigned homework once a week.

Because of that, I had the time to study without the worries of deadlines and assignments lingering in the back of my head.

As a result, I currently have an A in the class, a stark contrast to the grade I had last semester.

In addition to working harder, I realized I just worked best with a different teaching style, not because I wasn’t good enough before.

Nowadays I try not to let my failures define me; instead, I now let it be a lesson for me to work harder or to try a different approach for the next attempt.

2. Managing money is one of the most incredibly important skills you need to have down

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned during my freshman year involved managing my money.

In the fall semester, I was given a financial aid refund and ended up with more money than I've ever had in my life.

This got to my head and I, thinking I had the luxury of buying whatever I wanted, ended up blowing more than half of it.

While I did use part of my money for essential things such as purchasing textbooks and school supplies and paying off my car insurance, a lot of it also went into not-so-necessary things such as daily morning coffees from Dunkin’ and eating out nearly every day.

One day I realized that this kind of lifestyle was not the way to go so I started coming up with money-saving replacements.

For example, I was given a coffee machine for Christmas, which allowed me to save money on buying coffee every day.

I also started cooking from home more often and only ate out for special occasions.

These little habits ended up adding up over time, saving me so much money now.

TL;DR: every little penny counts! Save money whenever you can!

3. Friendships take much more effort to maintain now

This is one of the most common things I heard about college and I didn’t think it was going to apply to me until I was actually in college.

This applies to both my friends who go to UF and my friends who are attending a different college in another city or state.

When you’re in college, your friendships from high school will be tested.

In high school, you had the opportunity to see them every day during class, at after school extracurriculars, or during sports seasons, and socializing with them is much easier to do whereas, in college, you will most likely be not seeing them everyday anymore.

This will mean that you have to step up your game and make it a routine to reach out to them if you value your friendship with them and want to continue it.

4. I shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help

I was the kind of person who was big on self-reliance and often liked to do things by myself.

In theory, I knew that you should ask for help when you need it, but I wasn’t actively practicing it as much as I should’ve.

For example, there were times when I struggled with understanding the material in chemistry or statistics.

I could’ve found the help I needed by attending the free tutoring sessions we had on campus or going to my professor’s office hours but for some reason, I balked at the idea (mainly because of my social anxiety) and figured I could try to understand the material on my own.

Thinking back on it, I realize I could’ve had an easier time understanding the material if I simply took the time to seek the help I needed.

5. Public speaking and communication skills are so important to have

These skills are an absolute must if you want to step up for leadership positions or apply for job and internship interviews!

Growing up, I dealt with being shy and introverted, and social anxiety was a large part of my life.

Because of this, I haven’t had much practice with public speaking which I believe has hindered me from attaining more opportunities that often involve strong communication skills.

However, I have been better at overcoming my social anxiety as of late because I have been putting myself out there and doing things I normally wouldn’t have done before. Speaking of…

6. Going outside of my comfort zone is not as bad as I thought

Upon entering college, I knew that I wanted to grow as an individual and overcome my social anxiety, but I was surprised how much I actually enjoyed doing certain things after I did them for the first time.

One of the first ways I battled my anxiety was by joining the Vietnamese Student Organization during the fall and helped out in their annual show.

In addition to joining their decorations committee, I took one step further and decided to sign up as a model for their fashion show.

I took it upon myself to combine my love for clothing and my heritage by becoming one of their models; I would be lying if I said I wasn’t literally shaking from anxiety on the night of the show.

However, it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life and I had never felt more confident in myself than ever before.

On top of it, I made new friends that I cherish to this very day and I volunteered to model again for their spring show!

TL;DR: It never hurts to try something new! You might end up loving it!

7. Mental health days are so important and needed

College is tough. Like, much tougher than I initially thought at the beginning of the year.

In high school, we had a whole year to learn a single subject whereas, in college, we only had four months to go through all the important material.

This transition was especially tough on me when I was taking chemistry, which was hard enough as it is but to learn it in just four months took a toll on my mental (and sometimes physical) health.

I worked myself to the point I felt like I was brain dead, but I didn’t allow myself a break because I thought any time I spent doing anything else was lost time I could’ve spent studying.

Not too long ago, I spent 7-8 hours watching review videos on the day of my chemistry exam to prepare for it and I ended up becoming severely sick for the next four days because of the amount of stress and lack of sleep I imposed on myself.

Nowadays, I realize I need to treat myself with more kindness and take the breaks I deserve. My mind and body are a temple and I should treat them as such.

8. This is only the beginning

I thought I learned a lot in my freshman year, but this is really only the beginning of my undergrad journey.

My sophomore year is already around the corner, and I can only expect to encounter even more highs and lows and the life-changing lessons that come with it.

I am really looking forward to seeing what life will bring next for me.

As my first chapter of college is coming to a close, a new one is about to begin — and I can’t wait for it.