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11 Things I Wish I Knew Before Freshman Year

Going to college is exciting. It is a new chapter of your life, and it is a transitional period. You are becoming an independent adult, and that is an incredible thing. But it is also scary. You are in a new place with a lot of unfamiliar faces, and if you are living on campus, you have to adjust to a new home.
Last year when I was getting ready for college, I spent a lot of time finding articles (mainly from pinterest) with lists about things I should know before I go and what I should bring. No list is going to be able to cover everything you want to know before you head off, but I know they brought me a lot of comfort. So I want to share a few things I wish I would have considered before I moved in.
1. Befriend your RA. 
Your resident adviser–house fellow, floor adviser, community adviser, or whatever you call it at your school– is there to help you. Sure, they get paid to make sure that you are behaving and not harming yourself or floormates, but they are more than that. They are people, too–often people with a lot of experience on campus. These guys know the best restaurants, the best ice cream, and best discounted text books. If you need advice, they are a great resource just down the hall. Take the time to get to know your RA, because upperclassman friends can be the best kind.
2. Find out what makes you look like a freshman. 
But don’t be afraid to look like a freshman, because news flash: you are one. (Unless you’re not, and you’re just reading this for fun. In which case, I hope you realized this at one point, too.) As soon as I got on campus, I learned there are many indications that you are a freshman. Some of them include, having a lanyard for your keys and/or Student ID, not starting to walk into the crosswalk before the walk sign turned on (this one is not necessarily an indication, but it quickly became apparent that most people who had been around a while knew exactly when they could start walking), walking around with large groups of people at night (because no one knows what is going on yet and everyone wants other people to be lost with), and of course, the obvious one, asking for directions to any building. Like I said, it’s okay to look like a freshman; just know, it might be painfully obvious at first that you are a newbie.
3.You don’t need to be in a sorority or fraternity to find friends. 
You will make friends! This is the scary part: coming into college without your best friends that you have known since kindergarten. It doesn’t mean that you won’t keep your high school friends (I still love mine!), but you need a little time apart. “It’s not you–it’s college. And I think we should see other people.” Just kidding. I am telling you that you don’t have to break up with your old friends–just find new ones, too. And you don’t have to join a sorority or frat to do it. If that’s not the reason you want to join one, and you want that experience, by all means go be recruited! Personally, I found out quickly that sorority life was not in my future.
4. It’s okay to be “undecided”. Unless you are considering being an engineer. 
If you think you might want to become an engineer, you should start on that track right away. It is much easier to switch out of that program than to try to get into it once you start taking other classes. But if you don’t want to spend your time engineering anything, than you probably have time to get it figured out. Don’t feel like you need to know what you are going to do by the end of your first lecture freshman year.
5. Be Yourself. 
Everyone wants to “reinvent” themselves in college–to be someone different than they were in high school.  This desirable person is more mature, good-looking, suave (uses words like suave). It’s okay to want to present yourself differently, but make sure you are being true to yourself. You can still be a more mature version of yourself with doing a 180. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.
6. College is not, at all, like the show Greek.
When the show Greek came on ABC Family, I thought it had college spot on. All of the movies I had seen always involved endless wild parties and people standing up in lectures to profess their love for someone or tell their opinion on life. Maybe I am not taking the right classes, but usually when I go to class I can expect to listen to a professor drown on about whatever the subject is without any significant disruptions. With that being said, I did have a professor dance Gangnam Style last semester while we watched the music video–so I guess they are somewhat entertaining. But I remember watching an episode of Greek with my mom one time and saying that I hoped my college experience would be as exciting as that. My mom warned me not to expect it to be like that. College involves work–a lot of work, and that means sometimes saying no to fun because you have study or write a paper. Even on–gasp!–a Saturday night.
7. Don’t try to be an engineer just because all the cool kids are doing it.
That one is a bit specific, I know. But this can apply to any field that other people revere. Your major is a MAJOR decision. And it should be 100% your decision. You are here for yourself, and you know what makes you happy. At the end of the day, what you are the most passionate about is what you will be the most successful in, because you will enjoy doing it and put more work in. First semester I talked to a lot of people who were going for engineering, and I have heavily considered engineering in the past. So I thought, maybe this is it. Maybe it is worth staying in school longer to have a more successful career. But then I realized I don’t have to be in a STEM career to be successful. After talks with a fellow classmate, Nan (my wonderful floor-mate), my grandma, and best friends, I knew I should pursue my dreams. But it was so scary–but one of my favorite quotes is “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.” So do what you want to do, and don’t become an engineer, businesses person, medical professional, etc. unless it is 100% your dream.
8. Go to the Student Organization Fair, but don’t give everyone your email
My friends and I really enjoyed the Student Org Fair, and we even joined a couple Orgs. However, my roommate and I gave out our email to almost every stand that seemed interesting. And that was a big mistake. We received so many emails over the course of the year that I felt like I was a part of some of these organizations that I never attended. As a student you will already get a surplus of emails, and it is overwhelming. Don’t make the mistake of trying to join every organization on campus (don’t worry we didn’t try to join every org, but it was bad).
9. Be prepared for encountering situations that you don’t know how to handle.
Whether or not you want to admit it, you were at least somewhat dependent on your parents to help you deal with your problems until you went off to college. It’s not like you can’t call them to help you through certain dilemmas, but now is the time to start figuring things out for yourself. And there will be certain times that you don’t know what to do, but you won’t want to talk it through with Mom and Dad. You won’t have all the answers, and sometimes you will mess up. Learn from those times, and be really proud of yourself when it turns out well. Now you take all of the responsibility if it goes wrong, but you get all the credit if it is a success.

10. Find your friends, but don’t worry if you are not friends with everyone.
I found the majority of my college friends within the first couple weeks. Throughout the year I felt bad that I didn’t even know some of the people on my floor, and that I wasn’t very close with certain people. But you can’t be friends with everyone. If you were, you would be a crappy friend, because you would have limited time to dedicated to all of them. You have the opportunity to make a lot of great friends, so take this time to figure out who you click with, and work on time management so that you can spend time getting to know them. (Late night talks are the best! Who needs sleep anyway?)
11. Go to Welcome Week events.
I put this one last because it is the first thing you will encounter. At the beginning I remember we spent time considering what we should really go to, because some of the events sounded pretty pointless. But these events are created for you. They are to help make this new place seem a little less scary and more like home. One of my first experiences on campus was sitting on a bus for over an hour, because my roommate and I didn’t know which stop to get off on to find one of the unions. We completely missed the introductory event for our dorm. Later we learned, if we would have just walked there, we would have only been a couple minutes late. So I guess this one is two tips: wait to get to know the bus system until you have the time to get lost, and make sure to make the most out of welcome week. Plus, there is always tons of free stuff. Who doesn’t love that?
Taylor Shiff is a Senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, majoring in Communication Arts-Radio/TV/Film, with a Digital Studies certificate. She is a yogi, cupcake enthusiast and superfan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Taylor is also the writer behind the blog, "Life in the Lost and Found Bin", at http://www.lifeinthelostandfoundbin.com