Things I learned from my first semester of college

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Author: Tanvi Varma

I vividly remember August 17: the day I officially moved into college. For months, I had been nonchalantly counting down the days until I would load my suitcases in the car and start my journey to my new home in Los Angeles. I would repeatedly tell my parents “this will be the last time I do this before I go to college” or “you will miss me when I am gone.” Yet, as the days grew closer, the anxiety and sense of dread grew. I became increasingly nervous and scared because I did not know what to expect. Every time I would try to visualize what college life would look like, I would always imagine my friends in college but not myself. On Facebook, it seemed as if everyone knew someone who was also attending the college. Then there was me, who did not know anyone. I did not know who my roommate was (I also could not find her on Facebook), or whether I would even like her. I did not know how I would adjust.

When I was initially deciding on a college, I thought Los Angeles would be too close to home. I never thought that adjustment would be an issue. However, it turned out that after the initial phase of excitement, which lasted about three weeks, I ended up missing my parents and friends more than anything. That was when I realized that adjusting would be much more difficult than I expected. I also vowed not to gain the Freshman 15, and thought that the only way that could ever happen is if I ate junk food all the time. That was another myth that I would realize after a semester of college.

If I had to describe my first semester in one sentence, it would be that it was the most eventful four months I have ever experienced. I realized that everyone’s idea of college is different. Some may have a tough time in their first semester because of homesickness or just difficulty balancing everything. Others may fit right in and have a blast. It is all dependent on the individual. This is probably why I could not picture what college life would look like. Nevertheless, here are some of the things that I learned during my first semester:

Adjustment/Studying: Even though I met some amazing people and got along well with my roommate, I still had a difficult time adjusting. Part of it was living away from home and learning to be independent. While it is exciting to live on your own, it is also very different. I did not realize how dependent I had become on my mom to remind me of things and help me out. Being in college meant learning how to balance everything in a healthy manner. It meant learning how to manage homework, eating, sleeping, exercising and keeping my dorm in a livable condition. It was not easy and took weeks of trial and error to figure it out.

Academics are also different in college — professors do not assign as much homework as they do reading. Even though some professors do not have a system of checking whether students have done the reading on a daily basis, students are still responsible to keep up. Sometimes professors give pop quizzes and other times, they take material straight from the reading. It is not easy to cram reading the night before an exam. In fact, it is nearly impossible. You cannot get by with just doing the basic minimum. I remember my first couple of weeks in college when I would meticulously read every word in a reading, and consequently go to sleep at one or two every morning. Sometimes, the readings would be sixty pages and I would become extremely frustrated because it would take me longer than my classmates to do the same reading. After talking to some upperclassmen, I realized that maybe this was because I was putting in too much effort. I started becoming smarter and more efficient with my strategies, and understanding which classes required a detailed reading and which ones required a basic understanding of the main concepts. This was one of the first changes I made, and I am glad that I learned it earlier on, rather than later in the semester.

Sleeping: College students are known to have irregular sleep patterns. In high school, the latest I would stay up was 11 or 12, which usually occurred if I had a major test or assignment due the next day. For the most part, I would try to go to sleep by 10 so that I would be able to function properly the following day. It was possible because my mom was there to help me out. When college classes first started, I would go to sleep at one or two in the morning because of the amount of reading/work in general. I would average five or six hours of sleep a night, and thought that that was normal because I would see many people in the library at those hours. However, as the weeks went by, I would become increasingly tired, to the extent that a majority of the weekend was spent sleeping. Something was not normal. I knew people who took classes with more work, and would go to bed before midnight. They were not tired, and were more productive during the week and on weekends. I realized that I needed to start planning out how to be more efficient with my time, and plan ahead for assignments (as cliche as that sounds). If I improved my time management skills, I would be able to sleep at a more reasonable hour. That is what I intended to do this semester, and so far it has been working. I have been able to go to sleep before eleven on most nights, and feel more confident about my academics.

The Freshman 15: One of my favorite books is Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). In one of the chapters, Mindy talks about gaining the Freshman 15. I always believed that the “Freshman 15” was an exaggeration, and could only happen if I snacked on junk food. Many of my friends at other colleges, said they gained weight because they did not like the campus food, and consequently, would eat takeout. When I came to college, I realized that you can gain weight without eating junk food. Because college was stressful and I had an irregular sleep pattern, I was constantly tired. Professors would assign a significant amount of work, and as a result, I was always stressed. During my free time, I would sleep or watch Netflix as a destresser. I was not motivated to be active and as a result, gained weight. With the changes I am currently making (sleeping at a reasonable time and improving my time management), I already see the difference in my energy level and how I feel overall.

The idea of college can seem scary and intimidating. While I will not say that you cannot be nervous, I can say that you will not be alone. Everyone is more or less in the same position. If you do not find your “crowd” right away, that is okay. College is all about trial and error, and individuals are constantly open to making new friends. The group of people that you initially bond with may not be the group you end up with at the end of the semester. If you initially feel like you do not have everything together, that is fine too. It may seem as if everyone around you has their lives together, but that is not necessarily true.

Being in college is a whole different ballgame. It will not be easy, and while there is a newfound sense of independence, there are also a set of responsibilities that come with the experience. It is very easy to be blind-sighted by the independence and make academics the backbencher. Socializing is great, but do not prioritize it before schoolwork. My suggestion is to find a schedule that works for you — not the one that works for your friends. Find time to socialize with your friends, but also incorporate time to get your work done and anything else that you may want to do. Lists and schedules will be lifesavers and will definitely keep you on track. Lastly, more than anything, do not be afraid to try new things, because these four years are the prime time to do it.

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