The first year of college can be an emotional roller coaster: Excitement, trepidation, all-out terror — for students and parents alike.
To ease those jitters for the millions of high school graduates who will be starting college soon, NBC News asked 13 been-there-done-that students what they wish they had known before their freshman year.
For more tips, check out the Freshman Year Experience, which follows ten students from across the country through their first semester of college.
Save your money when you can.
“I wish I had put more money away over the summer. My campus' surrounding towns have plenty of great restaurants. My friends would go out to eat but since I wasn't wise with the money I made, I couldn't join. That and a lavish party life left my bank account rather light.”
—Dylan Cedrone, University of New Hampshire class of 2015
Not everyone will get you.
“As a woman of color coming from New York City, I was prepared to interact with my peers from various backgrounds with different beliefs and interests. I was naïve in assuming that this was true for everyone. I realized I had thought wrong when I was asked, "So, can you like, braid your braids?" Or when I read out loud a piece I had written and someone said, "Oh wow, Aja. You wrote that all by yourself?" I had no idea how to respond. I couldn't understand how they did not understand. Today, I would talk to my freshman self and let her know that everyone doesn't have the chance to know someone different from themselves. When people have questions about the way you do things and where you come from, those are great times to educate.”
—Aja Hopper, rising junior at Gettysburg College
Use your resources.
“Never take five heavy classes at once. Take four and the last credit should be light. Use the writing center. They are paid to help you get a better grade! And it helps you with time management because you have to set appointment times before the actual due date.”
—Nicole Katav, rising junior at Trinity College
Find your productive side.
“Time management is much harder in college than in high school. I wanted to do everything when I got to college: get good grades, do extracurriculars, and make new friends. Finding time for all of this requires you to be much more organized with the time you have and more productive with the time you devote to schoolwork. Don't study with friends. Don't work in the main campus library.”
—Miranda Roman, rising sophomore at Columbia University
Transferring is not that scary.
“Even though the number of students who transfer after their freshman year is quite high, I felt like a failure because I wanted to transfer, which definitely isn’t true. But a month after I had started college, I called my mom and said I wanted to look elsewhere. I wish more information was given to students in high school about what it's really like to transfer. Whether you change your mind about your major, don't like the social scene, or you just feel out of place, every reason is valid. I received a bunch of information, some of which was kind of scary (I was told I would be graded more harshly! Not true!), but no one, administration or student, really cares that you transferred. Once a student, it's like you've always been there.”
—Megan Nelson, rising senior at SUNY Purchase (Fashion Institute of Technology transfer)
Calm down. All is well!
“Going into my freshman year of college, I was super nervous. High school made it seem like college was this scary place where if you made one mistake, you were out! I wish someone had told me to calm down. Freshman year is super fun and super life-changing. I discovered so much about myself. There were a lot of ups and downs, so be prepared to have a good time, and also be prepared to face difficult situations. But it's nothing you won't be able to handle.”
—Christina Butan, rising junior at SUNY Purchase
Seriously: Calm down!
“I came into RPI as a scared freshman. I was terrified because in my crystal ball I saw sleepless caffeine-fueled nights, confusion and a flood of tears. I guess if I can go through some weird time portal, I’d go and shake freshman Daisy and tell her to calm the crap down (that is after I tell her some winning lotto numbers to pay off her current crippling student debt). I was never alone, and if freshman me knew that, freshman me would have not been so scared.”
—Daisy Rojas, rising junior at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Class is no time for dress-up.
“You are not going to fall in love in class. Put on sweatpants and relax.”
—Amy Wheeler, Wright State University class of 2014
You won't be BFFs with the first people you meet.
“The friends you make first semester will not necessarily be your friends for all of college. And that’s OK. I think when everyone first got to school, we were so nervous that we kind of latched on to the first people we had any kind of connection to. And that was fine, because we had people to hang out with and get meals with, but then we didn’t branch out as much as we could have. I felt so weird and guilty when I found myself wanting to make other friends, but I was so much happier when I did. It’s totally OK to open up your world and let new people in, even though navigating that isn’t always the easiest thing.”
—Hallie Waletzko, rising sophomore at Hampshire College
Don't be afraid to experiment.
“Freshman year is the first time you can truly make your own choices: No parents breathing over your shoulder, no reputation you have to uphold, no set group of friends to impress. Take whatever classes most interest you; don’t worry about choosing a major or meeting requirements quite yet. I have changed my major at least four times and I’m still on track to graduate on time, so trust me; take the most random and exciting classes you can.”
—Jessica Thea, rising junior at Washington University in St. Louis
Stay on top of your grades (literally).
“Keep every grade that is handed back during the year. At the end of the semester, one teacher will often mix up a grade and you have to be able to catch that and prove your actual grade.”
—Chris Creighton, rising senior at the Stevens Institute of Technology
Don't fear the faculty.
“Get to know your professors and go to them regularly, from the beginning! Whether you’re at a small school where the teachers all know your name personally or you’re in a big lecture, going to the teaching assistants or professors and asking questions or going over homework is so important and helpful, whether you’re doing well or really need help. Making these connections from the beginning is so valuable.”
—Caroline Guttridge, rising junior at Bucknell University
Your parents will get over it if you rebel.
“If you are ever lost in choosing a college major, my best piece of advice for you is to figure out what you love and to explore your options from there. Your parents may push you into the field of medicine, as mine did, and I am here to tell you that it is okay to disappoint them if it means pursuing your own dreams. You learn that pleasing others at the cost of your own happiness just isn’t going to cut it anymore.”
—Stephanie Chan, rising junior at Stony Brook University