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6 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Freshman Year

After just a few months at college, I felt like I had become a different person. As cliché as this notion is, there is weight to it—independence and rigorous coursework will force you to become a version of yourself that you never thought achievable. At the end of my freshman year, I was a more articulate communicator, a more attentive student, a better friend.


But this growth, this maturation, was not without difficulty. While I certainly don’t look back on my year with regret, there are plenty of things I just wish I’d known prior to arriving on campus. Read on to find out what you should and shouldn’t be stressing over—it might save you a lot of tears, headaches, and time.


I wish I’d known that it’s okay to fail.


If you spent high school as a high-achieving student, your first college failure may feel like a slap in the face—but it’s not indicative of your self-worth. I once cried for hours over a bad test grade because I was convinced that it would ruin my GPA and render me unqualified for any internships or jobs. This, obviously, is far from true. You are meant to make mistakes. And no matter how big of a deal they feel, mistakes made during your first year of college will almost never jeopardize your future the way you think they might.


I wish I’d known that it doesn’t matter how you decorate your room because you won’t be spending that much time in there.


When I wasn’t in class, I was doing most of my studying at the library or in designated workspaces across campus. When I wanted to socialize, I’d lounge in common areas or the student center. Decorating your room can make the space feel more like home, but if you’re looking to save some money, it’s not necessary. Rarely did I ever just sit in my room—the only thing I really did in there was sleep, and I definitely wasn’t looking at my decorations while I was doing that.


I wish I’d known that it’s okay to ask for help.


I remember meeting peers who seemed to know exactly what they wanted from life and how they planned to achieve it—as first-year students, they already had their undergraduate coursework and graduate school dreams all mapped out. And everyone seemed happy, too. No one complained of homesickness or depression or imposter syndrome.


I mistakenly believed that it made me weak or stupid-looking to seek help when I needed it. I didn’t want to ask questions because I was ashamed of not already knowing things. But no one comes to college having all the answers, academic or emotional. My year improved immensely after I spoke candidly with an advisor about my classes and career plans, and I felt more supported in my mental health struggles when I visited Counseling and Psychological Services. 

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I wish I’d known not to bring all of my favorite books from home.


I did not have nearly as much “downtime to read” as I thought I would—schoolwork and extracurricular activities kept me plenty busy. Plus, books are heavy. Make moving easier on yourself and pass.


I wish I’d known that it’s okay to be alone.


The college experience is often depicted as 24/7 socialization, replete with loud parties and crowded events.


But it’s not necessary to be constantly surrounded by people (nor is it advised during a global pandemic). Meeting new friends is so exciting that you often forget how tiring it can be until after you’re already irritated—even as an extrovert, I often left social functions feeling drained. So take breaks from your new best friends and recharge—it’s important to take time for yourself, and it doesn’t make you a loser.


I wish I’d known that it’s okay to do things differently.


You don’t have to be doing what everyone else is. Everyone approaches their college experience in different ways, and you’re not wrong for your way. Meaning: it’s okay to join Greek life or not join Greek life. It’s okay to study biology without wanting to become a doctor. It’s okay to study with music on (as long as you’re not bothering others!), and it’s okay to need the total silence of the library. Whatever fits you is what’s best—don’t let anyone else tell you differently.

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Author: Julianna Chen

Julianna Chen is currently in her first year at Emory University, where she studies creative writing and Chinese. She is the managing editor of Lithium Magazine and a contributing writer for When not writing, she is watching a movie or eating a stroopwafel, sometimes both at the same time.