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So You're A College Freshman?!

With high school graduations coming up, and college graduations done, I'd like to give a bit of advice to those going into college this coming fall.

As with most anything you will do in your life, go into college with an open mind and confidence in yourself and your abilities. By now, you've been accepted and probably decided on a school for the fall. Know that whether or not you think you belong there, or you are unsure of if you will do well, the college has seen in you that you objectively CAN do well at that school. So, feel free to give yourself some props for that. :) For me, I think one of the hardest things was acknowledging that I belonged at my university. I went in as part of the 30% female population, and that made me question whether I was there because I deserved to be there, or if the school just needed help getting more women to come to this STEM school. Now going into my 5th and final year, I can see that my thought process prior to my freshman year was completely and solely based around my being brought up in a town where women are still considered less than men by some people. But the time spent at my university helped to show me that I was not accepted as just a statistic. Have pride in the work you have done, and know that you deserve everything and anything you want in life when you have the drive to make it happen.

When you start school in the fall, (and hopefully it won't be completely online), make sure to put yourself out there! I know that people always tell you that, but it's just because it's super helpful! Freshman year is the best time to make friends. Everyone in your class is in the same place as you: completely new and looking for friends. And don't be afraid of putting too much on your plate. The more you involve yourself in, the more you will need to schedule your time, which becomes super advantageous once you start having to plan homework and study sessions. It is much harder to procrastinate when you don't have as much free time to procrastinate with. And, if you are involved in clubs and activities that you enjoy, it won't feel like you need a "break" from it. The activity WILL BE your break. But if it happens that once classes start you feel totally overwhelmed, it's always possible to reduce the number of things you are involved in. I always like to start out my semesters with as many classes and clubs as I can, and then if it gets too hard to maintain all of them, I just drop out of one or two things. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. You do you honey.

A quick personal anecdote about club involvement...

I have been in an a cappella group since the fall of my freshman year, and we sometimes have gigs where we will perform and speak to high schoolers or college freshman at our own university. We often get asked how many hours per week we meet and rehearse. The answer always gets a lot of astonished responses. We meet for a minimum of 6 hours a week, and sometimes up to 12 hours a week during competition season. But besides being a fantastic outlet to relieve stress and for all of us to be with our friends, (because this group is literally my family now), we all are able to learn incredibly helpful skills in leadership, teamwork, and time management. And in a college environment where you live on campus, 6 hours a week really is not that much. Classes are spread out from 8 am to as late at 10 pm, with my group meeting sometimes until 11:30 pm. But during a single day, you might have only one 2-hour class. So, you have to fill the empty time in your day, and clubs are a really fun way to do that. Being in a club shouldn't be stressful. They exist as places to do things you love with people you love. So don't be afraid to join lots of them!

Finally, I think it is incredibly important to not be afraid to stick out and follow your own lead when you start school. Especially in my major, there is a strong stereotype that the students never sleep. Although I would consider myself to be a bit of an outlier in this realm as I have never once "pulled an all-nighter," I also will never condone telling upcoming freshman this narrative before they even have the ability to try it out for themselves. Time management is incredibly important, but there should be no reason to put your own physical and mental health on the back-burner in order to finish an assignment. Of course everyone has their own way of working that might not align with how you do things, (another important thing to remember), but if you want to prioritize your sleep schedule (as I recommend that you do), it is totally possible if you set yourself up correctly. Make yourself to-do lists, calendars, reminders, or whatever else helps you to plan out your day. You will benefit so much by spending even 10 minutes a week writing out your plan for the week, and then trying your best to stick to it. If you waver, don't be hard on yourself, just acknowledge what you need to do and move on. No one is perfect, but everyone has the ability to improve.

And as with anything, listen to yourself and your intuition. If something doesn't feel right, don't be afraid to ask yourself why you feel that way. Your college experience is YOUR experience, so do whatever you need to do to make it exactly how you want it. And never be afraid to ask questions: to yourself, to your peers and friends, and to your professors.

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