Outside Old Main

UA students walk across campus April 8 near Old Main and Bell Engineering Center.

Dorms and dining halls, parties and new people, roommates and rigorous courses and a hefty serving of real independence: these are universal experiences of the college freshman.

Freshman year is a period of significant change in any student’s life. Planners fill up quickly with a range of obligations, many of which are fun: meeting new people, attending athletic events, joining student organizations and taking interesting classes. However, the excitement of these opportunities is often dampened by an unspoken pressure to have the perfect, quintessential “college experience” — whatever that actually means.

Movies, TV shows, social media and older friends can often influence first-year students’ perspectives and make them think college is all fun, all the time. This is understandable. Few people want to tell others that they are in for a difficult year or talk about the challenges that come with being a college student. It is more pleasant to preach that they will make so many new friends, that they will find their groove and have a great time.

The truth, though, is that being a freshman is very difficult. Freshman year was the most challenging of my college years so far. I thought everyone else had it all figured out; it seemed that making friends, doing well in school, going to social events and being involved on campus came naturally to everyone but me. If other students had discussed their freshman year experiences with me honestly, I might not have felt like I was doing something wrong.

One of the first things people talk about in regard to starting college is making new friends. Strangely, I rarely hear people explain that it might be difficult to find the right friends, and that it might take longer than a year to do so. When I was a freshman, I looked around at peers who seemed to have huge, solidified friend groups after the first few weeks, and I thought I was deficient in some way. But comparing myself to those people wasn’t useful. Chances are, they were struggling with the same things I was, and who knows if those friendships stuck?

Another aspect of college I did not understand when I arrived on campus three years ago was party culture. As a freshman, I thought partying was required. I expected to be on the receiving end of peer pressure on the evenings I opted out of night life. I thought there would be nothing to do on the weekends if I didn’t feel like going out. Yet, as I eventually realized, this was not and is not the case. No one pressured me to party if I didn’t want to, plenty of my friends stayed in on the weekends and there was always something fun to do if I felt like it. Although parties can be a good time, there are certainly other aspects to being a freshman — and a student in general — that are just as worthwhile.

Abrupt academic changes also catch a lot of freshmen off guard. You are no longer in school all day — you have classes at varying times, often with strange gaps in between, and you have to figure out how to manage your time well. College coursework is usually more challenging than high school coursework, and some students might not have established good study habits yet. Plus, there’s the stress of declaring a major and planning which classes to take. Most students change their major at least once, but some feel pressure to have their life planned out from the moment they step on campus. This is not necessary. I know people who have changed their major three times, people who have failed classes and people who have no idea what they are doing after graduation. And it all turned out completely fine for each of them.

Being a freshman is one of the scariest things in the world. You feel lonely and sad one second and then on top of the world another. It seems like everyone knows what’s going on except for you — like you’re struggling to keep up with something you don’t even understand. So if you are a freshman still feeling this way even as your first year of college draws to a close, don’t be ashamed, and don’t think you are alone. Being clueless is simply another part of the universal freshman experience. Chances are, you are doing just fine, so give yourself some grace. Take it day by day. And if you haven't already, try to memorize your student ID number.

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