That’s the word that describes my first year at university. In September 2022, I was barely sober from the simmering anticipation of the Covid-19 pandemic, so it wasn’t an ideal starting point for me. The person I was before the pandemic had dissolved and destabilized—never to be found again.
By the time classes started, I still hadn’t rebuilt myself into the new and mature version of me that I spent most of my high school days envisioning.
Following this post-Covid amnesia, I rolled into first year overestimating myself and underestimating the toll that the mundanity of everyday university life would have on me. So, after a year of failed friendships, a suffering GPA, and comparing my LinkedIn profile to those of my peers, here’s a list of tips that every freshman should know before the year starts:
- Join The Medium (and other student organizations).
University surrounds you with many people who are in the same situation as you are. It can make it seem like your voice doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Writing for The Medium can combat that feeling and connect you with your own voice, as well as peers with similar interests. In general, try joining some sort of student organization–not to put it on your resume but because it’s an opportunity for friendship and networking.
- Learn to learn.
Figure out the expectations each professor and subject have and how your learning styles align with those expectations. Personally, doing lots of practice questions and teaching others helps me absorb classroom material better, or simply just talking to my imaginary classroom that I teach every course I take. This is an experimental process, so be prepared for some initial frustration and failure.
- Don’t overestimate your uniqueness.
You’re in an environment with hundreds, if not thousands, of people. If you imagine yourself to be the only person struggling with a topic learned in class or having to relearn significant digits for your science courses, chances are, there are many others just like you! Additionally, you might have been a star in high school but prepare to be self-conscious about the truly exceptional students around you—followed by the sobering realization that they struggle with the same problems and insecurities as you do.
- Connect with upper-year students.
Networking and connecting with experienced students can help you elucidate and contextualize your own academic and professional aspirations. It can also be a humbling and dignifying experience.
- Understand professors versus courses.
Besides choosing your courses based on complete necessity, you should try enrolling in courses with professors that complement your learning style. Too often, students get a bad mark not because the class is particularly difficult, but because the professor and syllabus fail to serve their learning needs or curiosities.
- Go to office hours.
Attending office hours makes you realize that many of your professors and teaching assistants are not as unapproachable and intimidating as they seem. Going to office hours is a low-stakes environment to build connections, get individualized help, and expand your perspectives.
- Be a cautious explorer.
The first year of university is a time of academic and social exploration. I never expected to take an anthropology course in my first year, but I loved it. I encourage you to explore your interests and indulge in a variety of social opportunities, but beware—there is a difference between exploring and wasting your time. In other words, it doesn’t hurt to have a rough idea of what piques your interests and the type of people you want to have around you, but don’t let it veer you off track and forget your ambitions.
- Don’t make noisy friends.
Young people are too familiar with the discomfort and numbness of forcibly surrounding themselves with people they don’t enjoy the company of. Inevitably, your coursework will exhaust you at times, so don’t let your peers be a source of exhaustion and distraction too. When you’re with noisy people, it becomes harder to cultivate your authenticity and inner life amidst their noise. As a first-year student, you’ll be tempted to make friends as quickly as possible with people who sometimes don’t match your energy. Learn to say “no!”
As a final note, first year is a clean slate, so treat it like one. Throw away whatever expectations or ideals you may have, be willing to go with the flow, and try as often as you can to consider the “bigger picture” of whatever situation may be plaguing you. We are all on different timelines and paths, so, don’t be afraid to explore and refine yourself, no matter what that looks like. Hopefully, taking my tips into account will make you better equipped to deal with the challenges and joys that come with university life and adulthood!