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What I Wish I’d Known: A Love Letter to First Years

I found my first year of college to be really hard. This wasn’t a shock to me as I knew the adjustment to a new living situation, new friends, and entirely different lifestyle wouldn’t come naturally (and frankly, it’s not supposed to). The thing that shocked me the most is that no one talked about their struggles. Everyone looked so happy and recounted amazing stories, and I fell into this trap too. But after a while of thinking everyone else has it figured out, and pretending you do too, you start to feel really lonely.

Only after I moved out of dorms and into an apartment with my best friends my second year did I realize that I really wasn’t alone. Nobody knew what they were doing, and no one was as happy as they made you believe. I wish someone would’ve sat me down and explained this was the case. Since no one was there to tell me, I want to give it to you all. Here are the nine things I wish someone would have really let me know about the true first year experience.

1.Social Media is a Lie

Like so many others, I followed as many people in my grade as I could manage. The downside to this is that I saw all the social media posts starting at move-in day. From the get-go, it looked like everybody had 20 friends and a social life that was better than mine. This is where self-comparison becomes your worst enemy. Once the beginning-of-the-year excitement died down, people found out who their real friends are, and so did I. I realized I was comparing myself to an image on social media, but I had absolutely no idea what went on behind the scenes. People always put their happiest face on Instagram, but that almost never the full picture.

2. You’re not going to be the same person you were in high school – and that’s a good thing.

In high school, I was an overachiever. I joined and ran a bunch of clubs. I had an internship, a job, and was on the track team. To cut to the chase, I was exhausted all the time. I thought I was on the top of the world then, but looking back, I was probably one step short of having a mental break. When I got to college, I reigned back the pressure I put on myself and only did things I wanted to. I noticed immediately my mind felt calmer, and I did a better job of taking on challenges when I wasn’t splitting my energy in 30 different ways. When I came home, my relatives said I was different. I think that was for the best.

3. Call your relatives

I, and a lot of my friends, lost track of calling their family at school. I believe this to be one of the biggest mistakes. If there’s one thing I learned at school it’s that my relatives are my biggest cheerleaders. If you need a quick happiness booster or a reminder of how awesome you are, your relatives will be the first ones to jump and tell you.

4. Energy is a limited recourse

This was my most crucial lesson at college. No one can do it all, and almost everything we do takes energy, even simple things, like bumping into a friend at the dining hall. I had to learn quickly that I did not have the mental capacity to talk to people all day, get all my homework done, sit in class, exercise, and then party all night without taking time to rejuvenate myself. Once I started doing things for me (like reading books, calling my mom, taking a hot shower), I noticed my body was a lot more ready to take on the next hurdle.

5. Nobody talks about their struggles at first

However cliché it might sound, I promise you are not alone. I cannot tell you the number of times I felt like I was on my own. I would later find out that all my best friends felt the same way but didn’t speak about it. I actually formed my closest relationships by telling my friends how I felt about first year and bonding over how hard we thought it was.

However many darker sports there were during my first year, I stand by the fact that my first year of college really taught me who I am. And I continue to tell people that my university is my happy place, because it truly is. No one is 100% happy all the time, and even the best things take adjusting too. Someone told me that doing hard things is like swimming out into the ocean. The waves come hard and fast at first, but if you keep swimming through them, at a certain point, they just don’t come anymore.

Madeleine McCollum is from Bethesda, Maryland, and is thrilled about continuing her career at Her Campus UVA. She is a member of UVA's Student Entrepreneurs for Economic Development (SEED) club where she volunteers as a consultant for non-profits in Charlottesville. She has also interned for Lerch, Early & Brewer Law firm and Compass realty, assisting with their marketing operations. As a second year at UVA, she is very excited to keep writing for Her Campus and reading her peers' articles. In her free time, Madeleine loves to get out into nature, travel, curl up with a book, and go for runs.
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