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What I Wish I Knew Before Coming to College

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

The guide to prepare you for your freshman year

When I was younger, I would watch movies about college students. They would be filled with parties and friends having the best time. I remember being in awe that one day I would be able to go to such a magical place. What my family told me about college reinforced these ideas in my head. Throughout my entire life, my parents told me stories about their college experience. These stories were filled with funny nights and memories they still remembered 20 years later. What I wasn’t prepared for was the harsh reality of starting college. But since then, I have adjusted and have some advice for anyone starting college soon.

1. Learning to enjoy your own company is a valuable skill

When you get to college, your schedule isn’t packed with classes all day long and you end up spending a good amount of time on your own. This is a good thing! You have the time to take yourself out on dates. Studying in cozy coffee shops or going shopping can be really enjoyable on your own. You’ll gain so much confidence knowing you can be so independent. It will also make you realize what makes you happy compared to the activities you may do with your friends only because they enjoy them.

2. Say yes more

Now is one of the first times in your life where you can have access to so many great opportunities. Take advantage of the various clubs, activities and events in the community. No one is judging you if you end up being terrible at something. I am not great at volleyball, but during my first semester of college, I played many volleyball games at the courts near my dorm. It was a great way for me to get to know people in my dorm, and it was empowering to know I could learn a new skill. Playing volleyball with my dorm friends are now some of my favorite memories from the first semester of college. 

3. Stay connected with your friends from back home

Even though my best friend now lives over 1,000 miles away from me, we still facetime at least once a week. Hearing about her experience in college has put my own experience into perspective. Also, talking to my friend who has known me for years and who I can be completely myself with is refreshing. It has been so nice to know that we are both here to support one another even if we don’t see each other every day.

4. Understand there are going to be ups and downs at college

The first week of college was the best of times for me. There were planned activities for freshmen and I was meeting new people constantly. It was really exciting to explore the city of Madison and spend time with all my new friends. Then, school started and suddenly most of my time was being taken up with school. It was difficult for me to adjust to the rigorous course load, especially when I was trying to balance that with my social life and activities. At times, I was stressed and at other times I was having so much fun. Know that many other people are feeling the same way as you and that is normal.

5. Find little of pieces of home in your new city

Being away at college can make people really homesick. It helps if you find places that are similar to what you would see in your own neighborhood. For me, that has been the forest near Picnic Point. I live near a hiking path in the forest back home, and hiking around Lake Monona really reminds me of home. Restaurants have also reminded me that although I may be living in a new city, I can still find food that is similar to what I eat back home. Eating Portillos reminds me of so many memories from my childhood in Illinois. 

While some people may disagree with my advice, I hope it is helpful to some. In my first semester of college, I have certainly learned a lot. Yes, my experience has been completely different than what I was prepared for, but I think that’s ok. Regardless of the stories you’ve been told about college, your experience is going to be uniquely yours. 

Ella Mahaney

Wisconsin '26

My name is Ella Mahaney and I am a freshman at the University of Wisconsin.