I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: college is an adjustment. A massive, overwhelming, terrifying adjustment. Over the course of my freshman year, I have learned more than I ever thought possible, both academically and socially. I was pushed to grow in thousands of different ways and my journey is far from over. However, I didn’t write this article to discuss how much of a change college is, or how much I matured during my first year. Nor did I write it to assure you that you’ll instantly fall in love with being at your college. This is a chance to tell incoming freshmen what I wish someone had told me before my first year at Syracuse.
“College is the best four years of your life!” How many times has that mantra been chanted at us by adults, older friends and relatives and the media? Almost every film ever made about college circulates the idea that you’ll never experience a better time in your life. University ambassadors ensure you that you’ll love your chosen school on every tour, and smiling faces greet you in every pamphlet. The expectation placed upon college is raised high enough that if your experience isn’t immediately picture perfect, you can end up feeling like you’re to blame.
Enter, me. A year ago, when I began school at Syracuse, I didn’t feel that sense of rightness promised to me. I missed my friends and communities from high school tremendously, and had a hard time exerting myself as much as it seemed was necessary to make completely new connections. Being away from home was, frankly, difficult and exhausting. It was exactly the opposite of what I had been led to believe college would be like. I found myself longing for friends who already knew me, and had known me, for years. I wanted to be able to go back to my old, comfortable life. To top it off, every new club or activity I wanted to join on campus required an audition or interview. I quickly grew discouraged by rejections from organizations I had once hoped would become “my people.” College honestly sucked for the first six weeks or so.
And therein lies the problem.
Nobody ever tells you that the first few weeks or months of school might be lonely, or difficult, or discouraging. Nobody fills freshmen in on the nitty-gritty details of how uncomfortable you might be trying to constantly impress new people. Nobody ever says, “College is a new start, and new starts might not be the best at first.” As a brand-new freshman in her first weeks of school, I simply hadn’t had the time to make Syracuse into my second home yet. However, I didn’t know that. In my head, I was doing something wrong. I was too much, or not enough. I was too shy, too awkward, too eager, too distant. I wasn’t talented enough, or cool enough, or funny enough.
The truth was, that what I had been led to expect out of college takes loads of time and effort to make happen.
Your friends at school cannot be expected to be your best friends right away. Your best friends from home have years of knowledge about you tucked away, and they won't be matched by those who have known you for three weeks. That’s fine! Your friends from school will get to be that close eventually.
Your activities at school follow the same principle. My chorale and drama department in high school were literally my second family by my senior year. It’s hard to remember a time I didn’t feel 100 percent at home in the black box or chorus room, but I do know that time existed. The same is true for any sports team, club or organization in college — eventually, you’ll reach the level of leadership and satisfaction you felt in your high school activities. That comfort didn’t happen overnight in high school, and shouldn’t be expected within the first few months of college either.
Freshmen all put on an air of confidence; we pretend we know exactly what we're doing. But I’ll let you in on a secret: more people are feeling the same insecurities as you freshman year than you would ever believe. It’s OK to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. Most freshmen (and upperclassmen too) have no idea either. Let yourself get used to freshman year at your own pace, and don’t worry about how other people portray themselves. Remember that you are going to get to where you want to be, but it will take time, perseverance and newfound strength. Heck, most seniors are still working on it.
Finally, I’d like to reassure any incoming freshmen who find themselves feeling how I did at the start of my college journey. As Broadway actress Sierra Boggess likes to say,
“You are enough. You are so enough. It is unbelievable how enough you are.”
I'm not anywhere close to having it all figured out, but internalizing that seems like a good place to start.