30 Things My Freshman Year From Hell Taught Me

I’m probably the last person anyone would want to ask for advice on college. I left for college a 4.0 student with 15 AP credits under my belt, and about 20 grand in loans because I didn’t have a penny saved for my college education. I had just had my first kiss a couple weeks prior, could barely talk to strangers without having a panic attack, and, having been extremely depressed for about a year, was naively optimistic that this was when things were finally going to turn around for me.

I left my first year of college a sorority girl with a 2.3 GPA. I dropped almost all of my classes, failed or nearly failed the few I didn’t drop, got fired from my job when they found out I wasn’t a full-time student anymore, and consequently could barely afford to feed myself.

Now I’m enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves as a paralegal specialist, getting ready to go back to my adopted home in State College for a couple months before I leave for basic training in November, and, after a year from hell, am finally fine.

I barely recognize the person who started out at Penn State a year ago, and I’ve learned a lot throughout that year. College will change you a lot if you let it, in both good and bad ways. College will bring forth qualities you never knew you had, and it will introduce you to the best and worst people you’ll ever meet.

During my freshman year, I found myself making horrible decisions, knowing full well I was making horrible decisions but not caring enough about anything to stop making those horrible decisions, and wasting time I couldn’t afford to be wasting at a college I was supremely blessed to attend. Every day felt like drowning in cold water, and there were days where I put myself to sleep with NyQuil or Benadryl just so I wouldn’t have to listen to myself think.

But I made it through the year from hell, and I’m happy with the person I turned out to be because of it. Looking back, there are a lot of things I’d change about my freshman year if I could, but since I can’t, I’ll just think about all that I’ve learned and take that into account as I move forward.

So here are some tips for incoming freshmen based on what I learned my freshman year:

1. Forget about high school.

Nothing that came before this matters. It’s all about how you view yourself, and not at all about what anyone thought about you before now. No one gives a shit who you were or what you did in high school. The world is a whole lot bigger than the group of people you’ve been in classes with since grade school. People who cling to their high school glory days are pathetic.

2. Don’t be afraid to let go of people.

It sounds heartless, but when you go to college, everyone you knew in high school goes their separate ways, and you never have to see some of them again unless you want to. The good thing about this is you get to pick and choose who you stay in touch with. There are people you were friends with in high school who won’t make an effort to stay in touch with you, or maybe you won’t stay in touch with them. Who cares? Friends come and go, and there are a whole lot more people out there to meet.

In high school, you’re stuck with the same group of people for most of your life, and don’t have much choice but to associate with them. In college, you get to choose who you associate with. Luckily, if you’re super interested in what everyone is high school is up to, Facebook will let you know who is pregnant, engaged, or married.

3. Bring lots of shoes!

You’ll think to yourself, surely I won’t need this many shoes! You’re going to do a lot of walking and, depending on where you go to school, probably in a lot of different kinds of weather. If you’re a girl, the little nub on the end of your favorite pair of black suede heels might break off. WHO KNOWS?! Bring lots of shoes. Common sense, you’d think, but I actually needed to buy like six new pairs of shoes while I was at school last year.

4. Buy as few textbooks as possible.

My experience was that the only textbooks I really needed were the ones you needed to do assignments, or the ones you needed to buy brand new for some stupid online code thingy. Textbooks are a ripoff. Buy them used if you can. Even better? Don’t buy them at all. Wait a week or two into the course to find out if you’re actually going to need the book.

I don’t know if this is the case with all classes, but for my classes I discovered I didn’t even need to read the goddamn book. More often than not, all the information you need is in your professor’s lectures and the PowerPoints. Go to class, LISTEN attentively to the lectures, take notes, and, if you’re lucky enough for your professor to put notes/PowerPoints online, study off of those, because it’ll tell you what’s in the book.

Textbooks are a conspiracy.


The reason I failed so many classes last year was because I didn’t go to them. It’s harder than high school because you aren’t held responsible to the degree you used to be for missing class, and it’s easy to justify skipping to yourself. I used to tell things to myself like “it’s too cold,” “I’m too tired,” “I hate my life,” etc.

Not that skipping class isn’t okay sometimes (I got in A in a class that I went to probably four times total) but once it becomes a habit, it’s pretty much unbreakable, and it’ll fuck you over down the road. Go to class. Listen to the lectures because they have information that’ll be on your exams.

Don’t tweet the whole time (like me) or play Pokemon the whole time (like me). Going to your class and being on your phone the entire time is kind of like not going to class at all.

6. Learn from your mistakes and bad decisions but, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, don’t make dangerously bad decisions in the first place.

Just don’t, please. You’ll know when a decision is dangerously bad. You just get a feeling. I got the feeling a bunch of times and chose to ignore it. A bunch of times. And it never turned out well. I knew I was making bad decisions as I was making them, and I went ahead and did it anyway every single time. Do not be freshman me. Have self-control.

7. Don’t waste your time on anyone who is anything less than genuine.

Fuck fake friends. Fuck fake people in general. Like I said, you get to pick and choose who you associate with now, and don’t bother with people who are fake nice, fake whatever. Fake people are lame. Be real. And don’t bother with people who don’t know how to be genuine. I really don’t even feel like writing more about this because fake people are a waste of time.

8. Surround yourself with people you genuinely like. Tolerate the people you don’t like, but don’t bother making enemies or actively hating anyone, because it takes more energy than it’s worth.

It’s wise to always treat everyone with the kindness and respect they deserve as a fellow inhabitant of your planet. Doesn’t matter if they’re into different things, if they’re from a faraway place you know nothing about, if you don’t like they way they talk or look or dress or whatever. You don’t have

to like everyone. I don’t like most people but I enjoy talking to almost anyone, unless they’re supremely unpleasant. I’ve known a lot of supremely unpleasant people, too, but it’s best just to tolerate them and let them continue being unpleasant without being unnecessarily unpleasant back.

Holding grudges and hating people is pretty much not worth the energy. There are only two people in the world I have legitimate reasons for genuinely hating, and even then I try not to waste time thinking about it. Actively disliking people is exhausting.

Making enemies is for the weak. It’s okay if people don’t like you. I knew some people who didn’t like me. But it didn’t really bother me, because it’s not worth worrying about.

9. Don’t feel awkward about stuff. Things are only as awkward as you make them.

As soon as you hook up with someone, you become 500% more likely to see them EVERYWHERE YOU GO. Like everywhere. Probably on the day you didn’t brush your hair or do your makeup, too. Even if you go to a school of 40,000 kids like I do, it’ll happen.

Just accept that you will have awkward encounters for the rest of your life, and they’re only awkward if you feel awkward and make them awkward. Some people will go out of the way to make things uncomfortable whether they mean to do it or not. But as soon as you accept that life is awkward and weird shit happens, things will be less awkward. Once I started being completely unfazed by how unlucky I tend to be on a daily basis (I always see the people I really don’t want to), I stopped feeling awkward about it. And I’m a pretty awkward person, but if you don’t care it doesn’t matter too much.

10. Don’t want to talk to people? Put your headphones on.

People generally will leave you alone if you have your earbuds in, whether you’re blaring “Pretty Girl Rock” or just pretending to listen to music so you don’t have to talk to people in the elevator.

11. Form healthy sleep habits.

This is so so so so important and probably the #1 thing that brought me down last year. Pretty self-explanatory. Get enough sleep but not too much sleep, and though naps are essential to life, try not to take too many naps, or nap for too long, because you’ll end up more tired.

12. Drink lots of water and stay away from caffeine as much as possible. Stay healthy and try not to get strep throat three times.

I got sick a lot last year and it only made me miserable. You’re in close quarters with people so you’re more likely to be sick. Really try to be healthy and not get sick because being sick when you have to go to class/work/get shit done really sucks.

I was hooked on caffeine pills for awhile last year and it made me absolutely fucking crazy. Don’t rely on caffeine as a crutch. For me, it only made me jittery and more anxious and really fucked with my sleep and general well-being. Also, buying energy drinks every day absolutely drained the dining dollars from my meal plan.

Also, before you go out, fill up a water bottle and put it beside your bed ad make sure you drink it when you get back. A lot of times I’ve just been too lazy to get a big ole glass of water, or I just forgot, and it’s a mistake you’ll pay for later

13. Go out with the right group of people.

Go out with people who are going to watch you and make sure you are safe. Go out in a group of people you feel safe with and trust. One of the times I went out in a group of people I didn’t know very well, I ended up disappearing and no one even noticed or texted me to make sure I was alright, and bad things happened. So yeah, go out with people you trust, and make sure everyone leaves together, unless someone is definitely sober enough to make a decision to leave with someone else. But never leave anyone alone, and make sure you keep tabs on everyone throughout the night. Do unto others as you would have done to you, and look out for the people in your posse.

14. Have Netflix.

…. Have Netflix. Or a roommate who has Netflix. Especially because pirating stuff on your school’s Ethernet might get your Internet suspended. This happened to me.

15. Save all the snapchats you send during your nights out so you can look at them the next day.

I never remember the snapchats I send, and I’m always glad when I save them to my camera roll before I send them. This is the reason why I have far too many pictures of me licking people’s faces, or posing with a piece of pizza.

16. Take advantage of the resources your school offers.

Colleges offer so many resources to their students. If you’re feeling really down or at the end of your rope, there are always counseling and psychological services there to help you. Don’t be ashamed to take help if you need it. There’s nothing shameful in recognizing you’re in a bad situation and trying to get out of it.

17. Get a gym membership.

I can’t think of any scenario where having a gym membership could be a bad thing. Also, after you buy the gym membership, use it.

18. It is okay to wear yoga pants every day.

I wore yoga pants every day. Every goddamn day. And I don’t regret a thing.

19. Don’t look to other people for validation.

You’re the only one whose approval matters.

20. If you’re a loser like me, embrace it.

I have a shtick that I didn’t really intend to become a shtick but kind of just happened: I’m a sad loser and I really like pizza. I’m the pizza queen. I did not bestow that title upon myself, either. Embrace the weird things about yourself because honestly sometimes people will think you’re cool even if you’re a huge loser.

21. Do things you never thought you’d do.

For me it was pledging a sorority. Completely out of left field to everyone who knew me, but it was by far the best thing I ever did while I was at Penn State, and I met so many wonderful people. I came to college completely writing off Greek life. Don’t write off anything. Keep an open mind. I literally said “I will never join a sorority” and then I joined a sorority and it’s still one of the best things I’ve ever done besides joining the Army (another thing I never in a million years thought I’d do).

22. Know what you want and don’t compromise.

I could write an entire separate article about relationships in college, because, for the most part, they’re completely fucked up. I’ve been a victim of this countless times. I used to look at articles that were giving advice to people in college and I always saw a bullet on the list that was like, “Don’t expect a hook up situation to turn into a relationship”, and I always said “pffff but it’s different for me this is going somewhere good I can feel it.”

Don’t let anyone lead you on, don’t get sucked into a fucked up situation where someone isn’t willing to give up fucking other people, be clear about what you want, don’t believe bullshit even if it’s exactly what you want to hear. Listen to what your friends say because when you get sucked into something it’s hard to see as clearly as the people around you. I seriously went seven whole months thinking that any day the relationship part was going to start, and guess what? It never did. I’m over it now, but I felt like shit for months and months. If you know what you want, don’t make compromises, and don’t let anyone trick you into thinking something is going somewhere when it isn’t. Players only love you when they’re playing.

The sad truth that I refused to accept when I went to school is that most people just wanna fuck. There are people out there who aren’t like that, and it may take some patience, but you’ll find them if that’s really what you want. But NEVER EVER compromise your values.

I’ve been on both sides of this, admittedly, and the truth is that things would be a lot easier if people would not play games, be up front with one another, and not bother getting attached to a situation that is unstable and makes one or both of the people involved feel sad more than happy.

23. Don’t play games.

If you want to text someone, fucking text them. Who gives a shit? Don’t play games with anyone. Anyone who plays games and messes with your head is not worth your time.
Anyone who makes you feel doubt, worry, and insecurity is not the kind of person you want to be with anyway. Anyone who makes you feel shitty more often than they make you feel like you’re perfect is not worth your time.

24. People who make you feel like shit or treat you like shit are NOT worth your time.

Be better than that. Don’t let those type of people rent space in your head. Don’t even give them a second thought. You’re worth so much more than that. People who have to bring other people down to feel good about themselves are pathetic.

25. You’re too young for someone to promise you forever.

If you’re like me and you are stupid you will believe this when it’s what you want to hear. Truth is, people can’t really promise forever at twenty years old. Don’t hinge your entire existence and all your happiness on a false promise. Sometimes “forever” really just means until they get bored.

26. Don’t waste this precious experience. You only get to do it once.

I don’t really want to say “don’t take the school part too seriously” but like… don’t take it too seriously. Almost everything is good in moderation and it’s nice to have a balance. You’ll never get to do this again.

27. But don’t forget about the school part.

Either you’re paying to be there or your parents are paying for it. For me, I never had a college fund my entire life, so my college education is 100% on loans, and it really pisses me off when I see people going to a great school their parents told them to go to and they end up fucking around and doing coke in frat basements and shit. Fuck, man. I enlisted in the Army to pay for college.

28. NEVER EVER put your happiness in someone else’s hands.

NEVER EVER EVER EVER. I’ve made this mistake so many goddamn times and it’s always been my downfall. The only person who can make you happy is you.

29. Take your time.

If you really feel like you have to take time off, take time off. College isn’t a race. Take summer classes or whatever if you have to. When it comes to your education, slow and steady wins the race. Do it right.

I’m missing up to a year of college to enlist and I’m not too worried about it. I love Penn State and I’ll miss it, but it will still be there when I get back. Paying for it and not failing out are more important to me than missing out on parties for a semester.

Since I first decided to enlist, there hasn’t been a single moment when I regretted my decision or felt like maybe I should just go back to school. If it’s not where you should be at this particular moment, don’t be there. College will always be there to give you a warm, welcoming hug while reaching deeply into your pockets.

30. It’s what you make of it.

No one’s experience is the same. It’s really what you make of it.

Be you. And be open to change. Don’t hold onto the person you used to be. Humans are made to change and adapt. If you’re just starting college, you’ve barely experienced a fraction of life. I’ve still barely experienced a fraction of life. But I had a lot of fun growing and changing throughout my first year, eating lots of Dominos and falling in love with State College and pledging a sorority and doing tons of other stuff I never thought I’d do. College is a lot of fun, and it’s completely different than anything that comes before it. Don’t waste it. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

featured image – Glee

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