People are quick to call college “the best four years of our lives,” but that's not quite right. College is, in fact, the most wild, paradigm-shifting period of our lives.
Away from our homes, friends and basically everything we hold dear, our 17 and 18-year-old selves venture into the big, different world of higher education.
Things like boarding with a stranger or trying out (and quickly dismissing) cafeteria food are the delights of freshman year. You learn how to write a 10-page essay alongside absorbing the social ropes.
Believe me, you’ll make a lot of mistakes. But the funny thing about those errors is they’re building blocks for your later college years, as well as life after the cap and gown.
By senior year, you’ve become a wholly different person. You’ve had your beliefs challenged, your wild nights out and your lifelong support group established.
At the end of four years, it can seem as if your freshman self was a stranger. There are so many things you would’ve approached differently if you’d known how college would play out.
If I had the chance to counsel my freshman self as a senior, here’s what I would’ve liked to say:
1. All-you-can-eat doesn’t actually mean you should eat it all.
It’s scary to feel like everything about your world is changing, and so many of us turn to the dining hall as a place to find comfort and make friends. With an unending buffet of pancakes and frozen yogurt, overindulging doesn’t seem shameful.
Unfortunately, there’s a very real reason they call it “the freshman 15.” If you find your boyfriend jeans are turning into skinny ones, pick up an intramural sport on the side.
2. There are different kinds of attention.
It’s magical being an unsupervised 18-year-old who’s the hottest thing to walk into an off-campus party.
But just as the tiny gazelles in nature documentaries often find themselves the prey of lions, consider this: Not every potential interest is worth spending time on.
3. No one’s looking at you quite as much as you think they are.
You’ve got the charm and the stylish outfit paired with fancy makeup that took you three Svedka shots to do. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll be in the limelight.
Take a deep breath and remember everyone is new. You’re not being watching as closely as you are watching yourself.
4. Shots aren’t mandatory.
College party scenes are infamous for the pressure they place on getting wasted, acting wild and making some seriously questionable (sometimes fun) decisions.
But if you don’t want to get reckless, don’t give into the peer pressure. No one really cares if you are drunk or not, as long as you're having a good time. It's okay to have other priorities besides blacking out.
5. There is other alcohol out there besides Kool-Aid-flavored vodka.
Believe it or not, your university is not sponsored by Georgi vodka. Instead of guzzling down and getting sick, try out a new kind of beer, wine or bite the bullet and try whiskey (trust me, one day you will love it).
You’ll find it’s a little easier to get out of bed the next day.
6. If you feel sick, it’s okay to ask for help getting home.
Parties are the wildest nights of your freshman year, until you start to feel out of control. If you need help walking home or aren’t comfortable getting back to the dorm alone, don’t hesitate to ask.
Stumbling back to your building drunk just isn’t a good idea, and no one’s going to turn you down or think less of you. We've all been there and understand the need for a companion.
7. You don’t have to go out. Seriously.
There is, shockingly, life beyond the college party scene. Best friends are made with sushi ordered in and a horror movie to boot, all within the (relative) comfort of your own dorm room.
Take a chance and switch it up.
8. Don’t hit him up when he didn’t bother to respond to your text.
There are two types of crushes: the kind who's genuinely interested in you, and the one who's genuinely interested in using you. Your college campus is the largest dating pool of people you would actually consider having something real with, so don’t get stuck on some guy who doesn’t appreciate you. Because one day, you'll be living in Manhattan, wondering where all the eligible men have gone and missing how easy it was to meet people in college.
9. There’s a whole world off-campus.
College is an insular place, seeming to amplify every minor drama by a thousand percent. When drama gets you down, it’s important to remember there is still an entire world outside of campus.
Whether you join a volunteer group or take a stroll through the neighborhood, don’t lose perspective.
10. You don’t make friends or dates at bars.
A crucial lesson you’ll soon learn is drunk friends are buddies for when you’re intoxicated, not sober. The same goes for men.
11. You’ll almost always do better in classes where the professor knows your name.
It took eleven points, but we’ve finally addressed academics -- you know, the whole reason you went to college. Anonymity in the lecture hall can feel like a license to slack off.
If you introduce yourself to the professor, on the other hand, he or she is more inclined to hold you accountable while also supporting your success.
12. You’ll learn your best lessons about “making it work” from your freshman roommate.
Best case scenario: Your roommate becomes your soul sister. Worst case: Her values and lifestyle are like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Or, she locks you out of the room to have sex with randos.
Either way, you’ve got no choice but to keep things civil. Consider this a crash course in diplomacy.
13. Calling home isn't giving up.
Calling your mom during a quiet walk across campus before class just means you’re strengthening your adult bond with her, not using her as an emotional crutch.
Sometimes, a girl just needs her mother.
14. You’re definitely going to cry. Probably more than once.
Moving away from home is a little traumatic, no matter how ready you think you are. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you find tears rolling down your face. Crying in public is a major part of growing up.
15. Don’t be surprised if you come home to Thanksgiving with a whole new set of ideas about the world.
Being exposed to so many new people can change and challenge beliefs you’ve held your entire life. Be ready to break out a whole new set of ideas in front of your family.
After all, you’re an adult now.