Before we jump into my first year experience, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- I grew up in Southern California and went to school in New England. Can we talk about having to experience winter and culture shock? Growing up, my family didn’t take summer vacations, so I had to learn quickly and with some trial and error, how to make travel arrangements and find a way to get to school using public transportation.
- I went from a public high school with a track system to a small private school in a little town. There were three track schedules where over the course of a year, you were in school for eight months and had four months of vacation. Having the fast pace of a quarter system in college was a definite test.
- In high school, most classes had 30 students. Whereas in college, I had many courses with less than 10. I had to learn to speak up and play an active role in class.
With that said, let’s dive in.
- Your habits don’t change overnight – Realize if you’re not a morning person, don’t expect yourself to change your habits overnight. You want to be alert and ready for your class and if that means getting out later in the day, then use the flexibility in your morning to get a good breakfast, study, and attend your club meetings.
- Review your notes before class – Complete your homework and review your notes right after class while it’s still fresh in your mind. Reviewing your notes right away will help you retain the information and make homework assignments much easier to complete. You can then enjoy your club activities, go to work or hang out with friends without stressing about what you’ve been putting off.
- Look for relevant programs and initiatives – Take advantage of mentoring programs with upper classmen or first gen initiatives. Especially students or professors with a similar background as you. They’re aware of the gap that needs to be bridged between the K-12 system and the rigor expected at the university level.
- Create a support network – Moving to a new state with no family or classmates nearby, it’s important to build a family on campus and have confidants that can help you decipher the emotional rollercoaster of the academic rigor. They can help with the stress and pressure you’re feeling academically while encouraging you to explore what the school can offer to nourish your interests and overall goals.
- Code switching is real – Filter comments about the way you speak and don’t let them impact you too deeply. You’ll speak with an accent for people at school and you’ll speak too “white” for people back home. The reality is that we always want to expand our vocabulary and speaking skills to better navigate internships and the work force. I had to learn to focus on becoming a better speaker and increase my communication skills to be a more effective leader.
- Managing growing distance between friends from high school who can’t identify with your college journey and stresses – You may grow distant or you may need to find a way to focus on the commonality if they feel like they can’t speak with you anymore. A lot of my friends stayed local and didn’t go to four-year universities and struggled to understand why I held certain interests so highly. They thought that when I spoke of wanting to study abroad, checking out the climbing gym, and going ice skating that I was showing off and must be getting all these thoughts from the privileged people at school.
- Use your academic resources – Go to office hours to build rapport with the professor and use the tutoring hours. If the professor knows you’re working hard to learn the material, it may make the difference between grades. You’ll also meet study buddies that can work on assignments with you and may even be in the same major. You can continue to support each other with career advise or graduate school info sessions.
- Stay flexible and experience as much as you can – Even though you don’t know what you want to do now or if you’d like to continue to grad school, make the most of this time to take different courses, learn new skills, and get good grades. These skills or grades could come in handy down the line when applying for certain jobs, internship programs or grad school. There’s also no pressure to lock in your major your first year. By exploring a wide range of topics your freshman year, you still have time to change your major and stay on track for your graduation date.
- Learn the art of networking – Get help with networking techniques and understand the importance. I still struggle with this. I was raised to not ask people for things because then I’m being a nuisance, and we should never put people in a difficult situation by asking for things. Let’s face it, everyone networks and this is how they find new career or internship opportunities. You may also make a good friend.
- Use your professional resources – Take full advantage of the career center and sign up for mock interviews. Request help with searching for internships and how to apply for school scholarships to fund your summer unpaid internship. Don’t be scared to apply for programs in a new state or country because you don’t have a way to pay for it. Schools often encourage professional development and if you have a good pitch, they may grant money to pay for your housing and living expenses.
Remember to stand tall and that life is like a roller-coaster. You can’t have the high’s without the low’s. We’re here to enjoy life and don’t get too wrapped up in being perfect that you miss out on having a good time. Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experience.