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35 Things I’ve Learned During my Freshman Year of College

My, oh my, I cannot believe I have successfully completed one year of college! Believe me, it has been a roller coaster, and frankly, there is no other way to describe it. I have had a few hard and fast dips and plenty of highs, where I could see for miles. I have discovered parts of myself I never knew existed, and yet I feel like the same, old me. I have found a community and solidarity all in one place. I have traveled a path I never saw coming nor knew I would enjoy so much. I have found my curiosity again, and my hope for my future that has never been stronger in a mental place I’ve sometimes felt more beaten down than ever. I have had to find coping mechanisms that actually work; I have had to redefine what I thought it meant to be organized and “on top of things”; I have rediscovered the power and peace in growth.

My first year has been a whirlwind of challenge and adjustment. I lived away from home for the first time and found the independence I have always craved, yet found myself home much more often than I dreamed I would. I also found myself lonelier than I thought in my single-dorm. I do not mind being alone, in fact, I cherish time to myself to reflect and reconnect with myself, but I am afraid I got a little too much of that time and it ended up hurting a little more than it should have. Overall, the silver lining is that these concentrated doses of alone time, motivated me to go out more and enjoy my college experience. I was able to grow and find joy by pushing my limits and expanding my horizons.

When I entered college, I thought I had a plan. I thought I knew myself. I thought I understood what it meant to be an adult. I thought I understood just how naïve I was. The joke was on me –most of the time. But there were moments when that old me really shined and when the new me simply smiled at her with an “Oh honey, bless your heart,” kind of attitude and determination to stay on the path of enlightenment. And in the spirit of that journey, here are some key things I learned:

1. It is more than okay to take a mental health day and make sure others know you are taking it. In fact, it is necessary.

2. You are worth taking a healthy minute for yourself.

3. A late assignment will not kill you. Neither will skipping a class to make a memory with your friends (as long as it does not become a habit!).

4. Dating is difficult, especially for us “old-fashioned” romantics. That is okay. We will come back into fashion for someone special. Hold out because you are worth it.

5. That does not mean you cannot or should not have fun. Go! Make some memories!

6. Daily rituals set in self-care are a MUST. This looks different for everyone.

Some suggestions may be taking the time to do your hair or makeup or meditating or journaling. It could be going for a walk or working out. It could be repeating a mantra or drinking more water. Whatever it is, continue it. Make it happen every day because YOU are worth it. 

7. Your professors notice more than you think, and they truly want you to succeed.

College is less hands-on than high school is, but they are still educators dedicating their time, thoughts, and energy into their students.

8. Moving out is scary. And exhilarating. And challenging. And stressful. And so worth it.

9. Stress can be healthy. Manifest more positivity and motivation while developing good coping mechanisms to help you work through negative stress.

10. You do NOT need all your clothes, accessories, decorations, etc. because you will spend most of your time outside anyway. Bring enough to make you feel at home and confident as all get out, but do not become a home-body in your dorm.

11. Dorms are not as bad as you imagine, but certainly not as glamorous or as spacious as the movies.

12. You learn to get creative with your food, and popcorn and ramen are your new best friends.

13. Everyone has their own life, and they are living it whether you do or not. It is up to you to initiate conversations and smile at people and to put down your phone and engage with others.

You will be better off if you do, and it breaks you out of your shell, which is so healthy! Get out there and talk to a stranger. Enjoy it.

14. Laptops are a MUST. I literally use mine every single day.

15. It is hard to watch movies with friends when your laptop is 15” wide on a bed that is about as wide as a normal human.

16. It is not much easier on a beanbag chair (even if it is massive).

17. The struggle is real with roommates/suitemates, but the key is communication and respecting one another’s boundaries.

18. There really are scholarships out there, but they are mighty hard to find and even harder to get. Keep trying.

19. Emphasize your strengths in everything you do.

This will help open up opportunities like internships, scholarships, jobs, and so much more.

20. Get involved. Get involved! GET INVOLVED!

Especially if you identify as an introvert. I know it is scary, but it will make your experience that much better.

21. Getting involved looks different for everyone.

Not everyone has to join a sorority or student government to be a part of something. These are great choices, but they are not for everyone. There are hundreds of clubs at each university. Hundreds! Find a great fit for you.

22. Some of your weaknesses are your greatest strengths.

Even my procrastination can be a strength when I push myself to the brink of a deadline and then not only complete the task but with flying colors. 

23. Emotions and vulnerability are strengths. Every. Single. Time.

24. Be patient with yourself.

25. Celebrate the little things AND the huge ones.

26. Be present as much as you can.

27. It is okay to explore other career fields.

28. You can do this AND that.

29. The only limits are the ones you place on yourself.

30. Dance like no one is watching and smile whenever you can.

31. Find a way to stay organized and stick to it.

32. It is okay to let people go who no longer grow you or make you happy.

33. The future will be here soon enough, live for today.

34. Today, like every day is a chance for growth, for passion, for achievement, for discovery, for gratitude, for you.

35. You are so worth it.

Some of these lessons may be cliché, but even those I have had to relearn to become a better me. A me that is self-supportive, self-caring, self-improving and so much more. I am a me that the old one would be proud of –that I am proud of –and who is fine with the fact that she still has a ways to go because my life is just beginning, and I am going to relearn some of these lessons time and time again until I get them right. It is okay to fall back. It is okay to take a hit. It is okay to admit defeat, and it is a strength to do so when you grow from it and become better, stronger, and braver because of it.

I have fallen so many times this year. I am still stumbling, but I am getting better at letting my loved ones support me and seeing the strength in each footstep, no matter how shaky. I hope you do the same and you take good care of yourself each day, no matter what that looks like. We are worth it.

Photo 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Kayla Lee

Utah '22

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