The only thing you can know for sure before starting college is that there will be surprises. One of the biggest ones for me and many others is this: college is not an all-inclusive dream package. It is an immensely transformative time to make deep friendships, cultivate knowledge, and gain independence (yup, you know, all that stuff you put on your college applications). But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take great adjustments and great shortcomings. That’s what I’m going to write about here.
I’m Miranda, a first-year college student attending Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. I will be blogging on this platform to pass on the many surprises, big and small, that I have encountered and will encounter as I navigate the transition from high school to college. Of course, my experience by no means speaks for all college freshman, but I think it’s important to open up a discussion about a life changing transition, one that no one prepared me for before I embarked on it. Hopefully this discussion can be a two-way street because honest discourse spreads through many avenues and voices.
Starting college is a very vulnerable yet exciting time. One of the most important lessons for me so far has been to be extremely gracious and patient with myself. Growing pains and lonely strolls around the dining hall are sometimes necessary (and character building) and once I stopped putting the pressure on myself to have the picturesque experience, I was able to map out solutions (ask a friend to lunch BEFORE arriving to lunch) and self-soothe when things go awry (I’m getting a glass of the endless supply of dining hall soda and rocking this solo-lunch.)
I will dish on making friends, academics, putting together a schedule, and the cold hard truth of FOMO. I will share strategies, mindsets, and support systems that have helped, and draw on peers on other paths to share their insights.
If you couldn’t tell by now: I am imperfect! And so has been my first year! But I think it’s worth speaking candidly and giving the advice I can for future college newbies, as well as current college students, parents, or my aunt who loves my Facebook activity.
I write with the risk of naivety, but much like the start of college: let’s just shake a stick at it. Thanks for being here with me.
January is the month of new beginnings and fresh starts. Most years I have used this time to review what went well, what could be improved. In the past, I’ve redesigned my website or refined my business philosophy. I’ve hired new people to support my business or sought out collaborations.
This year I’ve taken a new route. I’ve decided to extend my introspection by reaching out in a more substantial way to students I’ve worked with in the past. Together with my social media wizard, Miranda Smith--a former Gunn High School student now in her first year at Pitzer College--we polled students to give them an opportunity to reflect and assess. We asked them about their first semester at school, their feelings about their college, and the experience of being on their own for the first time.
The results of my inquiry met and surpassed my expectations. As we would hope, everyone is pretty thrilled to be at college. Most stated that they felt academically and socially prepared for college. Still, with greater probing we discovered that many students are experiencing difficult and painful moments as they navigate a new schedule, dorm life, a different teaching style, and the challenges of creating new friendships. Standing alone without the scaffolding of home is scary and sources of support vary: some students are enrolled in courses focused on the freshman experience while others have advisors to guide them. One half of those polled felt that they had someone to go to during the social and academic tumult of this new beginning.
This one comment has sparked my determination to create a forum here in my blog about the freshman year. It has defined my new beginning for 2017. How might a blog about the freshman year help students in college feel less alone? How might it prepare high school students emotionally, academically, and culturally for the college year to come? How might I use my blog to help students feel supported and find their way?
The forthcoming blogs of 2017 will be composed by Miranda and me. We'll invite students we know to answer our questions about their lives in college and to blog with us. We’ll reach out to students who have taken a gap year or transferred, to students in engineering and arts programs. We’ll get the skinny on students’ experience in community colleges. We’ll review useful articles and information that might aid students in college and those planning to attend in the next year. Most of all we’ll work to dispel the mystery of the first year and the stigma that life should be perfect once you arrive on campus. We’ll shed light on different routes and opportunities for facing challenges and finding happiness in college.
We look forward to seeing where all this goes. Hopefully our research and writing will help college students feel connected and prepare high school students for the upcoming challenges of going off to college. This will be the beginning of a conversation and we hope you will join in. Looking forward to meeting you here.
Next Up: How colleges support freshmen
Felicia Fahey PhD
Felicia is a comprehensive educational consultant. She works with college bound students of all ages close to home, across the country and around the globe.