For Freshmen. By Freshmen.
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Apr 12 2016
by Beth Abbott

The 16 Most Surprising Things I Did And Realized During My Freshman Year of College

By Beth Abbott - Apr 12 2016
My freshman year was an enlightening experience to say the least. If you are a senior in high school, I recommend that you throw all preconceived notions about college out the window. The reality is, college will be nothing like you thought it would be. From the minute I stepped on campus, absolutely nothing went according to plan. Here are the 16 most surprising things that I did/realized during my freshman year of college:

1. Found that college is the polar opposite of high school.

The thing that I was most shocked by was how radically different college is than high school in one simple way: how you spend your time. In high school, you have 8 hours of class time and 3 hours of homework, and in college, it is the reverse. Talk about confusing.

Unsurprisingly, I felt like a fish out of water; having so much unstructured time outside of the classroom was a shock. However, I soon realized the benefits to the new time structure. In high school, there was never any flexibility; I had to go to school at 8AM, finish at 2:50PM, and do extracurricular activities/homework afterwards. Now, in college, it is up to me to find the order in which I want to accomplish the tasks at hand. For example, if you are a night owl, college is the time to take all afternoon and evening classes and sleep all morning. Once I realized that college is a time to experiment, I felt like I (somewhat) understood college itself.

2. Changed my major during orientation week.

I swear, this actually happened to me. During orientation week, each department had meetings with prospective majors and minors. Before coming to Barnard, I wanted to be an English major, because I love to read and I want to become a published fiction author. Also, both of my parents were English majors, and I knew from them that people who choose this major can work in just about any field. I was set on minoring in History, but during the department meeting, when I heard a senior talking about her senior thesis and travels to French archives, I had an epiphany: I needed to be a History major. 

This did not come out of nowhere; I have always had a passion for History, and it intensified during my junior year. However, I had been fighting off the idea of being a History major because I was worried that I would never get a job. Going to that meeting made me realize two things: one, history applies to practically every job field, and two, that I need to pursue a career as a historian, regardless of whether it works out in the end. Fortunately, writing will always be there for me, no matter what my major in college is. My number one goal is still to become a published fiction author, but when it comes to my professional job life, I want to pursue being a historian. Thanks to that meeting, I realized that I can and will have the best of both worlds. 

I am officially undeclared, but I will be both a History major and an English minor.

3. Became friends with some people right away...

Sometimes you just have that connection with someone. I have several friends whom I got along with right away. We were laughing at inside jokes by the end of the week.

4. And did not get along with others.

The good news is, you don't have to get along with every single person on campus. Unlike high school (I had 35 people in my grade), you have plenty of people to choose from, and if you don't like someone, you can simply avoid them.

5. Was unable to wake up for my 9AM dance class, or take any class before 10AM for that matter.

I am a very heavy sleeper, so college was a rude awakening for me. Case in point: I had to drop a dance class because I used the two allotted absences within three weeks due to oversleeping. Oops. 

Besides being a heavy sleeper, I am a night owl, so I try not to take a class before 10AM if possible. That way, I still get a healthy amount of sleep, and I pay more attention in class. Oddly enough, the night owl tendency does not extend to classroom work; I cannot take a class beginning after 5:30PM because otherwise I will not pay attention in class. While I will take classes early in the morning if need be, I cannot and will not budge about nighttime—that's when I do homework and relax.

*Of course, while I was writing this article, I had written that I had managed to avoid 8:40AM classes...well, I jinxed myself and I have to take a psych recitation at 8:40 next fall. Oh well, at least it's once a week and not on Monday.

6. Bought a planner and depended on it to keep my life in order.

Save yourself the trouble and buy a planner before move-in. I didn't have one for the first week of classes and I was tragically lost. You will need it to keep both your long term academic deadlines and social life in order. Also, buy a short term assignment planner while you're at it. 

7. Acquired very specific study area tastes.

In my first year of college, I have discovered the best work environments for me. For instance, I can never work in a completely silent room; I can hear the silence and it makes it even harder to focus. I can also never work in a completely crowded area; the distractions are too much for me to handle. So I aim for something in between. Generally, that is one of the spaces on the 4th floor of Butler Library, where it is quiet but not silent, and there is some structure but not too much of it. If I am stressed out and need to feel relaxed, I study in my dorm room (this is when I thank my lucky stars that I have a single). Basically, I've learned that I have very specific ideas of a perfect study space, and I learn best when those ideas are met.

8. Relied on my two closest friends from high school.

Image Credit: Peter Stolt

Julia and Peter are my closest friends whom I met in high school, and they are sophomores in college. I never thought that I would rely on our group text chat as much as I have. Since they are a year ahead, they have passed on invaluable wisdom, and have been able to reassure me in times where my parents and other adults could not, because they are college students too. They have been a huge steadying force in my life, and I'm not sure whether I would've gotten through the first year of college without them. 

9. Learned so much in one semester.

First semester was a battle, but when I got through it, I realized just how much I didn't know before college. The real world is so much better than I thought it would be. I was so excited to start the second semester knowing the ropes.

10. Found that the second semester is just as hard as the first.

I thought that after the first semester, college would be smooth sailing from there. I was so wrong. While it's true that there aren't quite as many mental breakdowns the second time around, second semester is just as hard as the first. Unfortunately, it takes the entire first year to get completely acclimated to college life.

11. Took a Women & Gender Studies class and had it change the way I look at the world.

I was very much a feminist before, but now I am much more educated on the subject. Before, I thought of feminism as simply believing in equal rights for women, and that is still a good definition, but there are so many different components within that umbrella statement. I also learned how to get my points across when it comes to social issues. It is not uncommon for me to rant about the patriarchy; just a year ago, that was not the case.

But this is not just a class on feminism. It is amazing how many different social subjects we covered in this class, from intersectionality to hatred towards the Muslim faith to gender identity. Now, whenever I see something on the news about these subjects, I don't just vaguely know what they mean; I know what problems can arise from them, and what we could gain. While it is true that this class has a criminal amount of reading and difficult writing assignments that make it imperative to read all of the readings carefully, I feel like I really learned something, and I don't regret taking this class at all.

12. Skipped a class to study for another class.

I thought that I would skip classes to sleep in, or simply out of laziness. Instead, I have skipped class either due to legitimate sickness or, more often, to study for another class. Sad, but true. It is especially necessary to do this when essays and tests are due/take place within several days of each other. I swear, professors either don't realize that we have social lives to keep up with, or simply don't care.

13. Never worked out outside of Phys.

Before going to college, I thought I would go to the gym at least once a week. What a joke. I still haven't been to Dodge Fitness Center yet. Between writing essays, studying, and maintaining a social life, I don't have time to go to the gym, and if I happen to have a free moment, I don't want to spend it working out. At least I have to take yoga and dance for my physical education requirement—I'd be way more out of shape if I did not take those classes.

14. Gained a newfound love of art, particularly portraits, through Art History class.

I was having trouble finding a class to fulfill a particular general education requirement, and Art History was the only class that I was remotely interested in that qualified. I was initially reluctant to enroll in this class because I took (and hated) an Art History class in 8th grade. However, I am a completely different person now, and I have learned so much since then, so I decided to give it another try. 

I definitely don't regret that decision now. I have gained a healthy respect for the field, and I discovered that I actually love art museums. Also, the class has added a new dimension to the way I think about history, specifically the role of portraits in historical studies. I never would have realized these things if I didn't take Art History. My advice to you—take classes that you never thought you would take, and give a field that you've written off another chance; what you find out about the subject and yourself just might surprise you.

15. Became resilient...

After my first year of college, I am confident that I can get through just about anything life throws at me. I have dealt with everything from academic issues to social dilemmas to life in general, but I always managed to pick myself up and keep going. 

16. And realized that my first year actually wasn't that bad.

I learned so much academically, and I know myself even more than I did before. I am a different person than I was when I graduated high school, and I am really thankful for that. Besides, everyone changes during college and it is supposed to be that way for a reason. We can't learn and become better people if we don't make mistakes and grow from them. Overall, I had a good freshman year, and I am ready to take on sophomore year.

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Beth Abbott - Barnard College

Beth Abbott is a freshman at Barnard College majoring in History. She writes historical/science fiction, and enjoys traveling, reading, photography, and watching ice hockey in her free time. You can check her out on Facebook.

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