Five Things I Wish I Knew As a First-Year Student

By Bella Cruz

Starting your first year of college can feel terrifying, exhilarating, and overwhelming. You are placed into a whole new environment of students, professors, parties, clubs, classes, and relationships. Starting out, it is normal to feel scared and unsure about all these changes; on the flip side, it’s also normal to want to experience everything all at once. In my first year of college, I lived, laughed, cried, got drunk, and questioned all my life choices. Now that I’m a junior and have learned how to navigate the joys and stressors that come with college life, here are 5 tips I have for you:

  • Friendships and relationships are never permanent, so enjoy all the connections you make with people while they last, and learn to roll with the punches. The beauty of college is that things will always be changing, and you as an individual transforming. Friendships and relationships that used to work may not work now, and you will meet people you never thought you could connect with. Learn how to relax in the uncertainty of this growth period, and don’t miss out on joy because you are holding onto the past.
  • Partying and going out all the time are awesome; that’s part of being an adult and having the freedom to do so. But remember why you are in college in the first place: to get a degree and ensure your future. The choices you make now will influence the degree you’re in, if you successfully get that degree, and potential internships/first job offers. Have fun and destress, but don’t get blinded by the lights, and remember why you are in college in the first place.
  • Sometimes, in the middle of the day, you just need a nap. Or a Netflix marathon. Or a break. It’s okay to not constantly be working. Don’t trap yourself into a never-ending cycle of working the whole day because it will burn you out. Instead, work when you feel prepared mentally and emotionally to do so (while still making sure that you meet your class assignment deadlines). There are times where I have found myself working at 11:30 at night because in the afternoon I just wanted to have a ranting session with a friend or walk around campus because the weather was gorgeous that day. When you are distracted, upset, and mentally unprepared to take on course challenges, comprehension and application will take a longer amount of time. By taking care of yourself and allowing breaks in your day, you can improve your productivity.
  • Find friends who are in the same classes as you (having friends in the same degree is also a beneficial thing). When you leave your comfort zone and befriend other students in your classes, you have the chance to connect with people you may not have connected with outside of the class and form a great study group. 2 heads (or more) are better than one, and oftentimes homework assignments and conceptual comprehension will be exponentially quicker with a group who is serious about learning the material like you are. I will be the first to admit that there are projects I know would’ve taken me 4 hours longer to finish without a study group at my side. With these friends, you have the power to bounce ideas off each other and build upon them, as well as learn how other people think and solve problems. This skill of communicating, collaborating, and community learning will be HUGE in your future career, no matter what job or career path you decide to pursue. I am still friends with people I have met through study groups and classes.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. I’ll tell you a secret: everyone is focused on themselves. That trip where you almost fell while walking to a desk in your discussion section? No one will care, so don’t be upset or embarrassed. The question you want to ask your professor, but you are scared will look stupid? Ask it, I guarantee you at least 10 other students have the same question. Don’t be embarrassed and sweat the small stuff because I promise you no one is going out of their way to focus on you because they are all worried about their own things. Just be yourself and learn when to laugh at a serious situation. It is a process to learn when to laugh and let things go, but I promise if you work on this every day, life will feel easier. You are working towards self-compassion and resiliency, not self-criticism and fear.

These are 5 things I wish I knew in my first year at college, and hopefully this advice will be beneficial for other students as well. Have a great rest of the day, Illini!