To The Incoming College Freshman (From A Recent Graduate)

A woman with a black leather backpack standing back to camera near cherry blossom trees
Tim Gouw / Unsplash

You’re about to enter a phase of your life that you’re nowhere near prepared for, and that’s OK. College is equally horrifying and exciting all wrapped up into one large college-town quality burrito. The excess sour cream drips off the side of the tortilla and lands on cheap wax paper. And at the end of the night, that burrito sends your body into a million loops of cramps and headaches you don’t want to deal with. Your first year will define the rest of your college journey. It sounds cliché, I know, but it’s true. There is nothing more exciting than losing yourself in a new city with nothing to discover but new places and people. And as you begin this new chapter of your life, just remember that you’re not alone. You’re going to fuck up. You’re going to make mistakes and reach into some deep water that’ll be difficult to climb out of. But you won’t be alone in that.

It’s OK to cry. To call your mom every night for the first week you’re away. To get lost on your first couple days of classes. To accidentally sleep through an early class (it happens to all of us). College is a fantastic place to make mistakes and learn from them. We take classes we regret, and others that change the entire course of our lives. When your parents drop you off in your too-small dorm, it’s OK to sob on their shoulders and tell them to stay. Separation anxiety is a normal thing. You’ve spent the last eighteen years of your life in the nest and being thrown out of it and into a brand-new world is scary. I understand that. I was there too. We all were. I was thankful to have my entire family with me during freshman move-in, and when it came down for my dad and his wife to leave I pleaded for them to stay a little longer. Being left alone on a giant campus without anyone to turn to terrified me. But as they drove off back home to Cincinnati, I watched them leave and turned the page of my personal memoir. I was beginning a new phase, and I needed to be able to do it alone without a safety net hovering underneath me every step of the way.

My first couple days on the bricks in Athens, Ohio, were some of the scariest. A meek eighteen-year-old with the rest of her life in front of me, I feared how college would shape me. Friendless and ready to start over, I held my head up – after several bouts of tears, of course – and asked a girl from my biology class to dinner. Scariest moment of my life, but she said yes. For the next four years, we remained friends and graduated together. The people you meet your freshman year will be the friends you graduate with. They’ll be the people you can rely on during late night study sessions, and the ones you call to bring soup to you when you’re sick. They’re the friends who will have your back through thick and thin, the ones to catch you when you fall, and the ones who will walk through the shadows of finals week with you. But most importantly? Those friends you meet freshman year will be your closest friends; the Hermione and Ron to Harry. They’ll stay on the phone with you while you walk alone at night, and beg for a text knowing you got home alright.

The hardest part of freshman year, at least for me, was getting used to the absurd amount of freedom granted as soon as I stepped on campus. Between classes you’re on your own time, nobody else’s, and what you do with it is up to you. There won’t be a hall monitor watching you closely as you navigate the sidewalks, and for a while that amount of freedom will be foreign. Get coffee, food, take a nap, go shopping, or sit out on the green. The choice is yours, and for the first week or so you won’t have any idea what to do. You’ll aimlessly walk around campus, or sprint to your next class to get a good seat. Some advice? Get a cup of coffee, tea, or whatever you fancy, and sit on the green and watch students walk by. Revel in the fact that you’re in college, a freshman, nonetheless, and every experience you have from here on out for the next several months will be brand new. You have a hundred more freedoms in college than you did in high school, and that’ll be overwhelming for a while until you settle into a rhythm and get into the groove of campus life. Your feet will hurt for a couple weeks. The bricks, sidewalks, and paths you’ll walk on will be trodden with shoes like your own. But I promise, it will get easier.

This doesn’t pertain to freshmen specifically, but to anyone in college. You’re going to take a class, have a professor who will change your life. Another cliché fact, but true still. During my junior year, I had a professor who, if I hadn’t of taken the class she taught, I would have taken much longer to get help for my OCD and anxiety. By speaking with her privately I found the courage and strength to seek medication and therapy. She shared her own experience. Opened up to me in a way no professor had before. And for that, I’ll thank her for the rest of my life. If not for her I would’ve suffered much longer, and most likely wouldn’t have finished junior year. You’re going to find a professor who will say something, do something – it doesn’t matter which – that will change the course of your college career. They’ll inspire you to take risks and discover a side of yourself you didn’t know existed. Seek them out. Go to their office hours. Challenge them and they’ll do the same.

The biggest piece of advice? Be yourself. Your high school identity and college identity will be miles apart by the time you get your diploma. Be the person you’ve always wanted to be, the person you are inside and were too afraid to show off in high school. I went from being called ‘Katie’ for six years to deciding right before I moved into my freshman dorm that I wanted to be called ‘Kate’. This small change turned out to be one of the best decisions I made freshman year. By simply removing one letter from my name I transformed from the awkward and shy high school kid to the writer college freshman I knew I was meant to be. I impulse dyed my hair blood red, and learned how to apply eyeshadow without looking like a dead raccoon on the side of the road. I found my place in college. I had one of the most exciting experiences for four years of my life, and it’s time for me and the other college graduates to pass the torch onto the next incoming class. We had our time and now it’s yours. Embrace it. Live your best life and don’t be afraid to take a couple risks. It’s OK to mess up. It’s OK to fail. Because with every trip and fall, another path will open up and what you thought was the final line will broaden into something bigger. TC mark

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