Adjusting To College Life Essay

This past week back at the U of A, I've been noticing how college freshmen are so obviously college freshmen. They wear lanyards, spend hours picking out their first day of school outfit, and cheer out wrong names of players at football games. While I find all this amusing, I also totally remember the excitement, anxiousness and remarkable amount of cluelessness that comes with being a brand spankin' new college freshman.

My first semester of college was certainly an experience. And I use the word "experience" in the way that Randy Pausch used it in his famous Last Lecture, where he said that "Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted." The first semester of my freshman year of college was a whole bunch of not getting what I wanted. Not getting things that I applied for. Not fitting into the group of people that I wanted to be friends with. Not having any of the guys that I was interested in be interested back. Not achieving the grades I wanted (and kind of assumed I would get). That's just a whole lot of experience right there. But as Randy Pausch also said about experience in his Last Lecture, "experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer." I was able to learn from my first semester of frosh year, and have a very successful and enjoyable second semester -- and I'm hoping to keep using my experiences to improve and grow as a student and person.

And since experience is probably the most valuable thing to offer college freshmen (except for free food because free food always wins), here are some things I learned/wished I would have realized during my first semester of college.

Just stop with this whole lanyard business.

Lanyards aren't even that convenient when it comes down to it. There are actually wallets with little key holders and clasps on them, which are infinitely more convenient than lanyards will ever be.

Stop trying so hard to be part of a group that you don't even truly fit in with.

Yeah, that group of people that you met at orientation just seems super awesome and cool! But give it a couple of weeks, and you'll see that you don't have much to relate to them over. Yet you still try so hard to be a part of the group. You feel left out when you see Facebook photos of events that they had that you weren't invited to. You try to make conversation with them, but you realize that you don't have too much in common except for loving One Direction. And as impossible as it seems, talking about Zayn's hair or Harry's tattoos all day every day gets old. Instead of being hell-bent on being BFFs with the first people you meet, try to branch out to new people, or remember to keep in contact with friends you had in high school.

Get self-motivated.

During my first semester of college, I spent a lot time trying to get myself motivated, listening to inspirational music and reading articles on study tips. But I actually spent very little time being motivated and working hard. I didn't want to start studying or doing homework until I felt fully inspired. Which meant that very little work actually got done. During my second semester, I learned that you just have to dive right into working hard. You can't wait till you feel fully ready. Because when do you ever feel fully ready for anything? Like basically never. I'm pretty sure I leave my apartment every morning rushing and feeling like I must have forgotten something.

Second semester, you'll come to love doing work in coffee shops and libraries. You'll learn to love working hard. You don't need any outside sources to convince you to want to work hard; you'll want to work hard for yourself.

It'll get better.

The campus won't feel so unfamiliar. Your homework will feel much doable and even possibly enjoyable. Your time management skills will get better. It just takes some time. You want to just be able to hit the ground running. But you'll first have to learn to walk. Yeah, the first semester is a struggle, but a worthwhile one that teaches you a whole lot about yourself.

During the first semester, it feels like you should be excited to be in college, but you're just not. You're constantly confused by people who say "I love college" and "College is the best time of your life." But give it a few months. You'll come to really love where you're at. You'll believe that your campus is beautiful, and you'll constantly refer to the University of Arizona as the best university EVER. You'll find a group of friends who you can really talk to and not stress about fitting in with. And you'll hate the thought of being away from college and its endless opportunities and freedom.

So, even though my first semester of my frosh year was just four months straight of not getting what I wanted, it was an experience I wouldn't trade. And it's an experience that I offer to current college freshmen to learn from. But, even more valuable than my lessons learned, is your own experience. Everyone has a different adjustment to college. Maybe you're the one who can and will hit the ground running. Or maybe you're like me, and you just need to learn to be patient. So, even if you feel like you're not getting what you want out of college, just realize that it is an experience for you to learn and grow from. Because this is just the beginning.

Adjusting to college life isn’t the easiest thing for a freshman to do. Anyone who’s ever attempted that four-year run at a degree is aware of this, and even though we know it’s tough, many of these things catch us off-guard year after year. With that in mind, 4Tests has put together a quick reference guide for the 12 greatest difficulties or challenges that you’re likely to experience when tackling this next phase of life. Let’s get started!

1. Your roommate.

This particular difficulty can be cleared up if you have a friend from high school that you plan on rooming with, but it’s not always possible to get the assignments that you desire depending on which school you’re going to and whether you plan to stay on- or off-campus. Furthermore, even friends that you think you know and like can become the worst possible people to live with. They may be a bad influence on your studies, or they may be incredibly annoying when they’re always there under the same roof. Living with someone definitely exacerbates their bad qualities, and if you do find you can’t live with them, it could be a damaging thing to your overall friendship, thus adding to the stress of this new chapter of life.

2. Making it to class on time, zero help

Many high school students are used to a certain degree of independence by the time they start college. Even so, there is Mom or Dad to fall back on when it comes to getting up on time and making it to class. The simple knowledge that you are their responsibility means they are going to make sure you make it even if you can’t be trusted with the alarm clock. When college starts, however, that all goes out the window. You’re an adult, and your truancy does not hold them legally liable for anything. That means you don’t have any failsafes. Many students make the adjustment, while others — like yours truly his freshman year — end up missing 12 8 a.m. classes in a single semester.

3. The Professors vs. Teachers dilemma

Professors and teachers both know a lot of stuff and work hard to make sure that you know what they know about the course material by the time school is out. However, they each have a different way of handling their concerns. With teachers, it’s very important that you pass because it helps the school’s graduation rates and improves the chances of you doing well on a standardized test. And a lot of them care about you, too — let’s not forget that! Professors, on the other hand, are under no obligation to hold your hand or make you do the work. They can even dislike you personally as long as they don’t let it show in how they treat their assessments. They treat you like full-fledged adults and your success is not a direct reflection on their own. In less than a year’s time, you have to adjust from the more permissive mindset to the couldn’t-possibly-care-less mindset. That’s not an easy leap.

4. Financial freedom

Financial freedom can be a good thing if you’re out of debt and not dependent on anyone. That’s not the kind of financial freedom I’m talking about here. No, with this particular financial freedom, you can get yourself into a LOT of trouble. That’s because you’re free to apply for high-interest credit cards, go on shopping sprees, then forget about all of it until the bill comes. If you charge anything that you can’t pay off at the end of the month, then things can get out of control pretty quickly. There are a number of financial institutions that prey on people in your position. Make sure that you see them coming, and that if you can’t pay cash for it upfront, or you can’t pay it off at the end of the month, you stay away from it. Credit cards are conduits of doom for college freshmen. Use responsibly or don’t apply for one in the first place.

5. Balancing work/social/school with no assistance

When you’re adjusting to college life, there is so much on the line. You’re getting acquainted up close and personal with the high cost of education. You’re meeting new people, getting into your first serious relationships, and trying to balance the wealth of knowledge and expectations hurled at your head. That’s a lot to take in, and it’s difficult to balance all of it, especially when you add a part-time (or even full-time) job to the mix.

6. Parties

Every college has a party night. For some it’s Friday; others Thursday. When in Party Mode, students don’t make the best of decisions, and that’s why a large number of the people who enroll as freshmen go home before the end of their first year. Don’t be one of them. Partying is going to happen — I would even argue it SHOULD happen — but you need to be responsible about it. Don’t put party time ahead of study time, especially if you have a pending deadline with which you know any sort of fun will interfere.

7. Loans

Tuition is going up. Books are going up. Scholarship and grant money is available, but more exclusive in their availability. At some point, most college students are going to have to borrow a sizable sum of money to keep their educational dreams alive. That’s why it is important to take picking a major seriously and to work hard and do your best in every class. You don’t want to take a class multiple times or change majors over and over again. Every time you do, it adds to the interest and the probability that you will turn 50 before you ever pay that monster off.

8. Group study dynamics

In high school, groups are easier to handle. Some of you are legitimately good at working within one while others can just latch on to one or two people and copy what they’re doing to get the same grade. In college, you’re more likely to work with people, who are unwilling to operate by the same dynamics. That takes getting used to and generally evens out the responsibilities of everyone involved.

9. Long treks across campus

At some point when adjusting to college life, you’re probably going to have two 50-minute classes back-to-back, leaving you only 10 minutes to move from one side of the campus to the other. Many of you will even have this happen multiple times on the same day (if you stack all your classes into a MWF or TR plan). Wear your best running shoes on those days and try to work out in your head the exact amount of time it takes to make that journey. Then, make sure you travel as light as possible. Maybe consider parking between the two buildings and only carrying one set of books with you, making a pit stop at your car between classes. Bottom line: use your imagination and find shortcuts.

10. Finding work

Unfair though it may be, many employers have been burned by college students, so when you’re responsible, you have to fight the stigma of that when looking for a part-time job for extra cash. The first thing you need to do to overcome this obstacle is know the negative stereotypes associated with your peers. Then, when applying for work and filling out applications, work as hard as you possibly can to defy those expectations.

11. Choosing a major

It’s the rest of your life! Of course, it’s going to be a tough decision. That means you may not get it right the first time. But don’t get trapped in a vicious circle where you’re constantly picking the wrong major. Have an idea about where your interests lie and do research into the types of jobs available. Also, consider the possibilities. The job you end up doing may not even exist yet. Can you use your passion and interest to carve a new path and innovate?

12. The Freshman 15

Seriously, don’t let your diet get away from you. Countless studies have shown that people in your position have a tendency to gain bad weight when moving away for college, decreasing physical activity, and engaging in less than healthy food options. Metabolisms don’t last forever, and college doesn’t often afford you the same level of activity that you had built in to your high school day.

In Summary

Adjusting to college is a challenge for any student. Always has been. But by knowing what the challenges are ahead of time, you can develop a plan that helps you tackle each one and maintain control of your life. What are some difficulties that you’ve had adjusting to college? Sound off in the comments section!

Written by Aric Mitchell

Aric Mitchell's work appears regularly here at and across the web for sites, such as The Inquisitr and Life'd. A former high school teacher, his passion for education has only intensified since leaving the classroom. At 4tests, he hopes to continue passing along words of encouragement and study tips to ensure you leave school ready to face an ever-changing world.


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