What I Wish I Knew My Freshmen Year

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By Carolyn Shields

I hated high school. I was so unhip, very much apologetically myself, and picked on. A lot. Looking back, I was actually freaking cool if only I owned it! I was writing novels and athletic and had a deep faith! But I couldn’t wait to leave behind those four years in preparation for the next four. Everyone was saying college was your chance to start over, that no one knows who you are and you can start from scratch. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to simply be okay (and be with people who were okay) with who I was.

My college experience was overall incredible, but it took me a while to get to the point that I dreamed about. Here’s what I wish I knew in those first weeks:

1) Own Who You Are

From the very beginning. Even if you’re totally different (or seemingly so) than your classmates. Even if it feels uncool or like you stick out, because if you aren’t honest with yourself first, if you aren’t okay with who you are, how can others be too? Because

2) Authenticity Is Key When It Comes To Friendships

Honesty is a mark of maturity because it can take a lot of courage. Thankfully, I had four years of building up that courage in high school! And people notice it. I have such a distinct memory of when I realized why I was attracted to certain people, and it was because they were authentic. They were goofy but weren’t embarrassed about it. They were serious about their studies and weren’t ashamed of it. They had quirks and weird ticks and particular humor, and they owned it.

3) Remember People’s Names And Acknowledge Them

Gosh! I wish 18 year old me already knew this etiquette, but I could have avoided SO MUCH awkward moments if I just said “Hey Joe!” to the guy in freshmen sem as he passed me on the sidewalk instead of us both whipping out our phones to avoid that moment. If you’re after the cool factor, I swear being kind to people is the way to go. No one hates a nice person, no one picks on someone who smiles at them and remembers their name.

4) It’s Okay If You Don’t Find Your Friends For A While

The first 72 hours on campus is the time when most people find the friends they stick with throughout the next four years. That’s a proven stat and why you get bombarded with clubs and missionaries reaching out to you, usually with free food. But that stat is true for some people, maybe most, but possibly not you. I went on the Catholic retreat right before classes started, but I didn’t hit it off with any of the people on it. I ended up hanging out with a group of people whose company I really didn’t like, and it wasn’t until the January of my freshmen year that I finally found my group.

5) Invite Yourself Over

I was a commuter student my first year and a half, and I’ve always struggled with that whole casual hanging out thing. My freshmen year, I especially struggled with asking to hang out in other’s dorms. I felt like I was being invasive, or that I would have been invited if I was wanted…those were all lies. Don’t give things more weight than they’re worth. A simple text, “Hey, mind if I study at your place tonight?” helps to build those friendships.

6) Professors Are Freaking Cool

GAH! I will always remember this biggest regret of mine when it comes to college! Talk to your professors after class, tell them what you enjoyed in their lesson, visit them during office hours with your out-there ideas and theories. And dare I say it, become friends with them!

7) Study And Present On Stuff You Actually Care About

Sigh, literally the last presentation I had in college was amazing because I was so passionate about it. I almost presented on Symbolism In The Rise of Silas Lapham…sounds pretty boring, right? But then I had an idea and ended up giving an awesome presentation on how there was a masculinity crises after the Civil War and it was depicted in that book. If only I knew that I could actually have fun with all of those projects and papers and presentations years before!

8) Your Assumptions Are Likely Wrong

Humbling, but true and really freeing. My biggest assumption going into college was thinking I was the only woman there who probably never dated nor kissed a guy before, and I remember when a ton of my fellow classmates openly admitted it as well. My biggest embarrassment was suddenly nothing!

9) Take Less Selfies, Take More Photos

I cringe looking at the amount of selfies I had, each probably the best one out of fifteen, but I laugh and awe and get all sentimental at the photos of my friends eating diner pancakes at midnight.

That’s what I wish I knew. Of course, there’s a ton of stuff I want you to know! Like try new things! Go to stuff alone! Make friends with upperclassmen! Try and make it to daily Mass! But I’m sure there’s other people shouting all of these things as well, and in the end, you have to just have to do your best and give the rest to God!