College is a rollercoaster: you have several highs and lows, unexpected drops, twists, and turns, and it’s definitely a wild ride that you’ll never forget. It’s also a huge learning experience, and not just in an academic sense. My college years have brought a lot of “firsts” into my life so far, such as my first time living in another state other than New Jersey, living without my family, making my own meals, doing my own laundry, dating, and ultimately being completely on my own. I have learned so much about life, people, myself, and what truly matters to me throughout these past three years. As I approach my senior year at the University of Maryland, College Park, here are five crucial lessons that I would have told my younger self before starting my freshman year.
You Are Your Own Representative
I went to very small schools my entire life before college. My high school class of 2018 had 87 students, including me. While my experiences were great, the atmospheres of these small schools did not prepare me at all for a large university like UMD, where my graduating class has over 4,000 students alone. In high school, my peers and I had very close relationships with our teachers; a lot of them became close family friends after graduation. Meanwhile, my college professors don’t know my name unless I consistently attend office hours or ask questions in class.
While attending a large university can be overwhelming and challenging, especially after graduating from small schools, it encouraged me to be proactive in getting to know my professors and advisors throughout the years. Since no one is managing you but YOU, making it a habit to reach out to your college advisors, introduce yourself to your professors, ask questions, attend office hours, and making your name/face a familiar one is one of the most beneficial ways to ensure your academic success and make useful connections during your four years.
You Don’t Have To Be Friends With Everyone
When I first started my freshman year at UMD, I was so excited to meet new people, make new friends, and have a fresh start in a new place. Since I went to a small high school, I was used to being in limited environments with the same people all the time. This made me want to be friends with literally everyone I met that year, both from excitement and from familiarity. I’ve always been an extrovert and love talking to people, whether they’re friends or strangers, so I had no problem introducing myself to people in classes, at parties and bars, through mutual friends, from Greek life, and more. I’m very thankful for the many wonderful friendships that I’ve made and maintained throughout the past three years, and for the ones I will make during my senior year.
However, there have been a few times where friendships I made didn’t work out. While I was initially disappointed, I’ve gained enough perspective to be happy that they ended and that those people aren’t in my life anymore. While I love going to a huge college, I haven’t loved everyone I’ve met along the way. It took me a long time to realize that it was okay for me to not like certain people, especially if they’re mean or don’t treat me well as a friend. It’s a fact of life that people have different personalities and view friendships differently based because of it. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s why it’s important to choose your friends wisely, especially at school when you’re away from your family; your college friends become your family during the school year. It’s key to know that not everyone deserves to be a part of your life, so it’s okay to set boundaries, end bad friendships, and not want to be friends with someone in the first place if you know it won’t make you happy.
Choose Your Romantic Relationships Wisely
When I was a freshman, I was excited to make new friends, but I was also excited to start dating. I hardly dated in high school and didn’t have my first official “relationship” until that year. Since I never had a boyfriend in high school unlike most people, I was worried that others would judge me, assume something was wrong with me, or label me as “un-dateable” because of it. This has caused me to settle and date guys that I didn’t really like throughout my past three years because I wanted to get that pressure off my back or felt obligated to date because they were “nice.”
My past dating experiences have taught me valuable lessons about others and myself, mainly how important it is that the people I date are healthy, positive influences and aren’t a distraction from my responsibilities. Just like with friendships, not everyone deserves to be a part of your life or date you. While it’s completely normal (and expected) to date multiple people during your college years/early 20s, it is so important to make sure your partner is a positive addition to your life. College is challenging enough from all of the life adjustments, classes, studying, internships, jobs, clubs, sports, and other social aspects that come with it. Having to juggle a relationship, in addition to an already busy schedule, can be a big challenge, unless your partner is a truly special, positive aspect of your life. Just like with friendships, be selective about who you date. If your relationship is adding more stress to your life than relief/happiness, it may be time to focus on yourself and your studies, friends, etc. until a better fit comes along.
Being Selfish Is Sometimes Necessary
Throughout my college experience so far, I’ve been involved in numerous clubs and organizations. I’ve held multiple leadership positions in them, which have been overall great experiences that taught me a lot of new skills, improved skills I already have, and are currently looking great on my resume. However, I often struggled to draw boundaries between my positions’ responsibilities and obligations I had to myself because of it. There were numerous times where my positions’ advisors or my own peers would expect me to drop everything and handle a situation, even if it meant I had to miss class, turn in assignments late (or not at all), or lose sleep, without so much as a “thank you.”
When you’re in college, your main responsibility is to take classes, study, and work for the degree that you and/or your family is paying for. Joining clubs, social organizations, sports teams, and other activities are super fun, beneficial ways to make friends, build your network, explore your passions, try new things, and get leadership experience. However, knowing how to properly manage your time and set boundaries is key to balancing these aspects of your college life successfully, especially if you’re elected to a leadership/executive position. If you end up spreading yourself too thin with your tasks or you’re falling behind in your academics because of it, don’t be afraid to reach out to your advisor/another team member to work out a solution or ask for help.
Don’t Put All Of Your Eggs In One Basket
College is filled with a great variety of clubs, people, and experiences. No matter what school you attend, your classes will be filled with people with all different backgrounds, passions, experiences, and opinions. Most colleges have clubs for practically every interest that could ever exist. For example, the University of Maryland has a Quidditch club team based on the Harry Potter franchise, a Spike Ball club, and a hammock club, to name a few.
While a huge university is more likely to have several, unique clubs like these, it’s worth joining more than one organization if you have the time, especially as a freshman. I rushed a social sorority during the spring of my freshman year. While I’m happy that I did, I had no idea how time-consuming joining one would be, and didn’t have a chance to join another club, the Student Entertainment Events club, until this past year as a junior with an all-virtual school year. If I had explored my options more before rushing, or even made the time commitment to explore other organizations, I would have gotten more in-person experiences before COVID-19 happened.
I hope each and every one of you can take some piece of my experience and let it help you in your college journey. College is a time of growth, discovery, and trying NEW experiences, but through it all you MUST remember to prioritize yourself and YOUR goals.
About the Author:
Shannon Gorman is going into her senior year at the University of Maryland.
You can connect with her on LinkedIn here:https://www.linkedin.com/in/shannongorman416.
AND follow her on Instagram: @shan.gorman