Freshman Focus: 9 things I learned in my first year of college

1. It’s okay to voluntarily change.

I made a conscious effort to be more outgoing and easygoing when I came to college. I introduced myself as Cat, started wearing lots of cat shirts, and let myself laugh when I typically would have suppressed my emotions in the past.

It’s okay to want to be more vibrant, to dye your hair, change your style, or go by a different name. College is a checkpoint. It’s a stepping stone, like high school can also be.

There are two other people from my old high school in college with me, and I can tell that I’ve changed drastically in their eyes. shrug Whatever? I am my own person. I’ll do what I want! Sue me.

We rush to label people as fake and hypocritical for wanting to improve themselves.

The most important thing to realize, however, is that you can’t abandon your old self. You gotta take the old with the new, the good with the bad.

2. College kids are more accepting.

Realize that I’m speaking from the perspective of an Asian American female who went to a Christian private school in the South. Comparatively, attending a liberal arts college in the Midwest was a drastic change that, for the most part, made me feel more accepted and myself.

Here, there’s far greater diversity than I’ve ever known, in terms of race, socioeconomic background, geographical location, contributing to wider learned experiences that yields a more accepting community.

Also, there’s just more people overall, which means that I’ll be able to find a lot more people like myself, who I feel comfortable around.

That being said, college is far from perfect. I’ve met many ignorant people here, and have myself been ignorant plenty of times. My friends and I were going to a Holi celebration, and I came into our dorm lounge ready to go, in a white shirt begging to be splattered in colored powder. One of my Indian friends was wearing a traditional pajama set, and my immediate reaction was to snicker and ask him what the hell he was wearing. Needless to say, I felt awful for saying this, thinking ignorantly, and being culturally insensitive.

3. It’s important to make time for yourself.

In a culture that encourages people to study with friends, party with friends, eat with friends, and do stuff with friends, it can be difficult to find time for yourself, and that can be debilitating if you lose your sense of individuality. Don’t forget that you came into this world alone, and that you’re leaving it alone, so you should try to find solace in being alone.

Journal, read and let your own voice in your mind narrate a story, eat in a restaurant and entertain yourself, and go at your own overall pace. Don’t let others’ opinions and desire come to dictate your actions.

4. Be spontaneous. Be adventurous.

Don’t resort to going to the same types of parties weekend after weekend. Make a bucket list. Go out to the city. I’m proud to say that I’ve done more than some seniors at this university have done. And I have no intentions of slowing down. My goal is to never have similar weekends.

5. Take care of yourself.

It’s become so difficult to watch over your health habits. It’s hard to keep yourself in line when there’s so much to do, so much to worry about. You fall behind on your health, you never have time to clean your room, and these sort of bad habits really end up getting to you. When you wake up among filth and clutter, you become filth and clutter. It isn’t until you put on a playlist and start to pick up your belongings off the floor that you feel your nerves unwind a bit.

It’s an important lesson of maintenance. To always keep things in check. To never let anything – your health, your habits – get out of control.

6. Your first year in college is a time of discovery and experimentation.

Find out what sort of classes you like, what kind of people you mingle best with, what study schedule works for you, what interests you really have…Find balance with your life.

And there is no one saying that this discovery and experimentation has to stop at the end of your first year.

7. There really are some great opportunities here.

Your only excuse is being lazy. There are grants, scholarships, free food, and free opportunities to meet amazing people and treat yourself to amazing experiences, all in the name of improving your undergraduate experience.

Every college will have these sort of opportunities – group trips, free tickets to concerts and shows, guest speakers, free movie screenings, etc.

8. Don’t let yourself get streamlined by college.

You came onto this campus unique, and you should leave that way – unique. I still watch food videos because I want to, and I’m not gonna let the fact that I’m sitting in a cafe with my screen in other people’s peripheral vision take that away from me.

“Let your guilty pleasure go viral.” – me

Embrace your differences, because the college environment tends to homogenize and squash them. There are clubs

9. Get to know your campus.

Though I live at the very tip of North Campus, I manage to visit downtown Evanston at least twice a week – I love Trader Joe’s! I take regular trips to Chicago, and walk instead of take the shuttles whenever I can.

But it hasn’t always been this way. When I first arrived on campus, I stuck with a few choice hang-out areas that I discovered in the initial weeks of college: a lounge in my dorm, a library corner…While I was comfortable, I started to fall into a rut. I became unsatisfied settling for a handful of spots on campus, knowing that I had not even walked on most of its 200 or so acres.

One warm and pleasant day after I had finished a round of midterms, I set out in search for a new hang-out spot. This started out simply, with me sitting among complete strangers in Unicorn Café, a coffee place in downtown Evanston. Being in a different setting, surrounded by different people, influenced my mood positively and provided me with a fresh setting.

Eventually, I started to explore other places on campus, a decision that has improved my experience here ten-fold. I have experimented with studying on every floor of the library, socialized in different lounges in other dorms, and enjoyed relaxing at the lakefill by myself.

Learning to be adventurous and open-minded through voluntary changes of scenery has led me to meet one of my closest friends here at NU, discover secret spots that older students have never heard of, and keep my eyes open and searching, not just focused on select destinations on campus. It’s the reason why these days, I’m not afraid to walk from one end of campus to another, even in the snow.


  1. Sabina

    I wish there was more going on (event-wise) at my college–we don’t have a lot of shows and things that are actually interesting. I’ve learned a LOT in my first two years, though, about myself and what I want and how to get those things. It’s a transformative time.


  2. Annon

    I can relate to most, except probably the exploring part. Well, that’s the downside of being in a small, relatively crowded campus–there’s not much to explore in the first place.
    Definitely feel number one. Most people call me “Shan” prior to college, and now they call me “Non” or “Anon”. (being nameless is my nickname, kinda cool and weird and sad at the same time.)
    Let’s prep for a greater second year, yay! :D


    • catdiggedydog

      Haha I love that nickname! So unconventional. I come up with weird ones for my friends bc I don’t like to call them the names that other people do. And even though your campus is small, I’m sure you’ll find lots to do. Just refuse to settle for places you know and keep looking for cool things and people in the most unexpected of places :) thanks for reading!


  3. stormblue12

    This post made me really excited to start. I’ll be flying the nest in about 3 weeks which might be the most terrifying thing I’ve been through so far in my life. This post made me realize how many opportunities I will have this coming year. Thanks for sharing!


    • catdiggedydog

      You are welcome! Glad you read and enjoyed. College has the potential to be the greatest time of your life if you have the right mindset. You can check out my other freshman year posts under Freshman Focus in my Life Chapters if you’d like! Thanks a lot for reading! :)

      Liked by 1 person

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