Image from Ron Chapple, DigitalVision.

Image from Ron Chapple, DigitalVision for USA TODAY.

As someone who has completed two years of her college education and runs a college admissions website, I spend a lot of time talking about college life. And as a rising junior, I of course find myself enthralled when I talk to incoming college freshmen about starting their first year in the fall. Why? They just have a completely different idea of what college is like than someone who’s already been there for a while.

Looking back on my own freshman year, there are a ton of thing I wish I’d known; they would’ve saved me a lot of anxiety and confusion. So, college freshmen, here are five things you need to know about college before you head here in three months.

1. The things you love about your college are going to change.

One of my favorite things to do is read tweets from incoming Wesleyan freshmen. “OMG, the president of Wesleyan wrote a book, he’s so cool!” (Cue every current Wesleyan student rolling their eyes.) And while I love Wesleyan and would choose it all over again in a heartbeat, the things I appreciate about it now definitely weren’t the things I was excited about as a freshman.

This isn’t necessarily because I found out the things I loved now suck; it’s just that as I learned more about Wes, my views changed. For example, when I came to Wesleyan, I had no way of knowing how awesome and tight-knit the Wesleyan twitterati and journalism circles would be. 99% of incoming frosh don’t know that. I’ve also come to appreciate how beautiful Wesleyan is in the spring (something you can only understand if you’re in central Connecticut in the winter) and how awesome it is that we have two to three concerts going on every week.

2. You are naive. But you won’t be for long.

Go into college assuming you know nothing. High school doesn’t really teach you much about the real world, so there’s no need to pretend you know everything as a college freshman. Besides, nothing is more awkward than sitting in class with a first semester frosh who pretends he/she knows so much about how the school (and the world) works.

An example of what I mean: Two years ago, Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees voted to end the school’s need-blind admissions policies, and students fight every semester to try and get it back. Every single year, freshmen come into Wes and declare, “I’m going to march into President Michael Roth’s office and demand that he bring back need-blind! That’ll fix it!” Yes, little frosh, we all say sarcastically, how did we not think of that despite the years we’ve put into this fight?

All I’m saying is this: There’s something great about not knowing everything. Ask questions, think about things, and never assume anything. Then, when you open your mouth later on, people will actually listen instead of brushing you off with the “Oh, that’s just an ignorant freshman” excuse.

3. College doesn’t really start until sophomore year.

Freshman year of college is almost like a bizarre extension of high school. You change locations and friends and what not, but you yourself haven’t really changed, and a lot of people just generally still act like they’re fifteen. That’s more of a warning than anything else.

A lot of people I know (myself included) didn’t really feel totally comfortable at college until sophomore year. By then, you’ve made some close friends, know what’s happening on campus, and just feel more situated. That’s not to say you won’t have a great time during your freshman year; it’s just that sophomore year can definitely be very, very different in the best possible way.

4. You will not magically change overnight; that takes a lot of time and lot more learning.

When I came back for winter break during freshman year, so many of my high school friends claimed they’d changed a lot in just 13 weeks of college. I remember how impressed this one guy from my friend group was at the fact that he’d shaved a tiny portion of his head. “Yeah, I’m, like, totally a different person now,” he kept saying.

So here’s the honest truth: You’re not really that different. Not yet, anyway. Real change takes a lot more time, so you can cut your hair off and dye it purple, get a piercing somewhere weird and painful, and wear bizarre hipster clothing, but you are still the same person you were four months ago. Sorry, soul-altering change doesn’t happen that fast.

However, do not get discouraged that you are stuck in your ways forever; you do in fact change…eventually. It’s just such a slow process that it takes a while to notice. But now, as I sit here going into my junior year of college, I realize the things that occupy my mind now versus what occupied my mind when I was an incoming freshman are infinitely different. That is where the change lies.

5. You will still feel lonely, angry, upset, and a slew of other emotions in college, and it’s not your school’s fault.

I know a lot of people who’ve transferred to different colleges. Some have very legitimate reasons (academics at the new school are way better, someone got a financial aid package he/she couldn’t refuse, etc.). And then there are some who don’t understand the difference between something being wrong with the college and just dealing with the ups and downs of life. These people blame their personal problems on the college, which is of course foolish; as Seneca said, “You take yourself with you wherever you go.”

One of my favorite examples: There’s a certain guy I met during my freshman year (we’ll call him Gus) who was just a total jerk. Gus was rude, said wildly inappropriate things to everyone, and would weirdly try to flaunt his money around as if that alone was supposed to make everyone like him.

One night, Gus happened to be in the same study room as me and a friend and launched into a tirade about how everyone as Wesleyan was standoffish and stuck up and rude to him; because of it, he was applying to transfer. The friend (who is very, very outspoken) looked at him and said, “Gus, has it ever occurred to you that people act that way not because Wesleyan sucks but because you’re a complete a**hole?”

Moral of the story? Instead of blaming all of your problems on your college, be completely honest with yourself about if it is in fact the school or just you. We all have things we can improve about ourselves, and sometimes it’s hard to see those issues when you’re at home in your comfort zone. College is a sort of upheaval that makes you reconsider how you think and act, and that’s a good thing. And just remember: Transferring to a different school won’t magically change you. Seneca’s right; you’ll take yourself with you wherever, and that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly.

If you take away anything from my truths about college, take away this: If you’re doing college right, you should be uncomfortable at some point, so embrace the discomfort. Yes, you will have your moments of sadness, confusion, anger, and fear, but that’s part of the journey of growth. And college is an awesome place to do it.



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the author

Lily Herman is a junior at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Besides bopping around on The Prospect, Lily is a columnist for USA TODAY College (read the Quad Report, yo); an editorial intern for The Daily Muse; a contributing editor for the campus blog Wesleying; a national contributing editor for Her Campus; and an editorial/marketing intern at HelloFlo. When she is not studying or awkwardly waving at people around campus, Lily enjoys eating Sour Patch Kids and re-watching the Friday Night Lights series finale (she's Team Saracen, by the way). Also (shameless plug alert), feel free to follow her on Twitter, or email her at lherman(at)theprospect(dot)net.

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