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Our Community Focus

Pearls of Wisdom

Aug 03, 2015 10:00AM ● By Elena Hutslar

As our recent high school graduates gear up for college, the Community Focus surveyed some of our community’s college students, home for summer break after completing their freshman year, about their first-year experiences and what suggestions they would give to our entering college freshman. We identify them by school and major, but withhold names.

Leaving for college means your parents no longer wield complete control over you, unless they provide financial support. Students are on their own when it comes to time-management, problem solving, and laundry sorting. The demands of midterms, finals, meeting new people, and fitting in were top responses when it came to questions about the anxiety of starting college. “Everything stressed me out my freshman year. I was either behind on a project, had a midterm coming up, or both of these, and my friends wanted to go to the beach. It was stressful knowing I was missing out on an experience because of my school work, but by studying and getting my work done I was able to feel a sense of accomplishment by the end of the day,” said a Cal Poly SLO statistics major.

When it came to stress management and staying healthy, our respondents turned to exercise and outdoor activities. “I stayed active. I joined the club rowing team, played intramural sports, and went on hikes on the weekends if I had time. I also made sure that I got as much sleep as possible,” said an undeclared University of Portland student. In fact, staying healthy and in shape was a top priority. Most joined a gym and everyone discovered the healthy dining options on and off campus.

When asked about the college party scene, our undergraduates clearly enjoyed themselves; some admitted to carousing every weekend while others only occasionally, and none said it affected their studies. One University of Arizona pre-business major revealed, “I partied a lot more in the beginning of the year than I did towards the end. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday are all pretty big nights to go out in college. I don't think it interfered with my studies that much. I was always pretty good about getting any assignments done I needed to before I went out. There are definitely going to be nights where your friends will go out but you have a ton of work to get done. Don't be afraid to skip going out a night to get work done. Chances are you'll be at a party and the cops will come after 30 minutes anyway.”

Regardless of how an incoming freshman believes he or she is “ready” for college, homesickness is likely.  All the students surveyed attend college at least 100 miles away from home and a majority did find it difficult to be apart from family at the outset.  “I definitely was homesick at first. There wasn't a whole lot to do besides try to calm down and get absorbed into the new experience. Calling home was nice, but too much just made me more homesick!” responded a Cal Poly SLO political science major.

Another college certainty is dorm life, and dorm roommates are like a box of assorted chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. Whether sweet or nutty, a roomie can be infuriating or a friend for life. It’s all in how you manage your roommate situation. As one UC Santa Barbara biology student explains, “I had two roommates that I selected before going to school, and we became very close. At first, it was difficult to adjust to sharing such a small space and we all had to learn to be more flexible and respectful of each other's living habits and boundaries. But they were my first two friends at college and we are very close now.”

There is an assortment of clubs and activities to try your freshman year.  For some, just trying to navigate the campus, keep up with schoolwork, and find time to sleep was challenging enough, but for others, the more involvement the better. “I rushed in the beginning of my freshman year, and I realized it was the best decision I made all year. I instantly had 220 new sisters; 220 girls I could say ‘hi’ to when walking to class, or ask for help while studying for a test, or offer me a home cooked meal when I was sick of the dorm food. I met some of my best friends through rushing,” said the Cal Poly SLO statistics major.

There is a tendency to romanticize college -- the endless opportunities and nonstop fun. Was the reality of college what they expected it to be?  As a Cal Poly SLO economics major observed, “It’s a lot less fun than in the movies, but a lot better than high school. College met my expectations of fun, higher learning, and meeting a bunch of new and, hopefully, lifelong friends.”

“My expectations for college were pretty different from the reality, but for the better. I expected the classes to be much more intimidating and difficult than they were. The reality of college is needing to keep a balance between study time and whatever sort of fun you like. Keeping yourself happy is so necessary for the first year,” said the UC Santa Barbara biology major.

All the respondents said they developed friendships early on, which enriched their first year experience. “It was a lot easier to make friends than I thought it would be and my classes weren't too hard,” said a Lewis & Clark College political science major. A UC Santa Cruz environmental studies major added, “I didn't expect to find so many people who shared my weird, random interests and were as passionate as I am about different subjects.”

Here, are some parting words of encouragement from our rising sophomores: 

“Getting to know people in your classes is important. It’s not like high school, where you know most people in your class and can text 10 different people for help if you're ever stuck. Especially in the beginning of the year, when the workload really starts to increase, its good to know people you can ask for help.” - University of Arizona pre-business major.

“You should expand your circle and try to meet people. Also, join some club or organization so you can make close friends that way too.” - UC Santa Barbara financial mathematics and statistics major. 

“Don't procrastinate on writing papers because they add up and it's a waste of money to fail a class.”  - Western Oregon University exercise science major.

And finally, a perceptive piece of advice from the UC Santa Cruz environmental studies student we could all learn from:  “Don't be lazy about thinking. Now is your chance to figure out your opinions on all kinds of things. Don't be afraid to question yourself. Be open and non-defensive about new ideas and other people's opinions.”