Picture this… you move away from home for the first time of your life to live in a dorm on a college campus with some person that you met on Facebook. You’re on your own, going to college is something you’ve never done before, and you are surrounded by people you’ve never seen before. You’re in a completely unfamiliar place, experiencing something completely new. You’re thrown into this new chapter of life, you have no choice but to simply learn how things work as you go.
Looking back on my first semester, I’m so amazed and encouraged by the countless little lessons I had to learn. Some the easy way, and some the hard way. Here’s a list of a handful of things I learned so that you don’t have to! Maybe this list will answer a question you didn’t know you had, or make you even more excited to come and start your college adventure at Iowa!
1. Everyone is in the same boat.
- Making new friends is intimidating! I was so worried that I was going to be alone, that people weren’t going to want to talk to me, etc. However, what I came to realize was that I was not AT ALL alone. Actually, the complete opposite. All of those things that I was worried about and going through, a countless amount of other people were going through it too. Everyone is trying to meet their people, so you will actually be almost overwhelmed by the number of people you begin to connect with. It all starts out with your name, major, and hometown but then certain friendships will go deeper than that and it is a super exciting and beautiful thing!
2. Academically… you need to apply yourself to a whole new level.
- To be honest, I never truly had to try in high school. The college workload hit me like. a. garbage. truck. I had to teach myself how to take notes in different classes and simply how to study. Outside of class, I needed to really discipline myself in a way I never had to in high school. You need to do MORE than the bare minimum & watch your lectures 🙂
3. Prioritize your meals.
- In the business of life and day-to-day tasks, it’s easy to literally forget to eat! Look at your schedule & make time for food, we have meal plans for a reason! And we kind of need food for like, life. I know it may sometimes seem like getting work done is worth skipping meals. But trust me, your work will still get done & you can be even more productive when you’ve had some food to sustain you. Yes, classes are important and taxing, but when it comes down to it, your wellbeing is worth so much more!
4. Say YES to last-minute plans!
- Okay, there are exceptions to this… if you NEED to do your homework, or if you NEED a night to chill by yourself, it is OKAY to say no to plans if it is better for your mental health. BUT personally, I am an extrovert and love being spontaneous and most of my favorite memories were unplanned. If you want to really get to know people, go do things with them! Go to coffee shops, get insomnia cookies, have game nights, get off campus, etc. Contrary to some beliefs, college is not all about school. I think the college experience and the friends and the memories you make are what make college worth it.
5. Get out of your dorm, go sit somewhere pretty.
- It is difficult to be productive when you’re sitting right next to your bed, or your tv. Also, the dorms are great and all, but it feels soooo good to get out of that shoebox. Especially if you live on the west side, having some go-to study spots on the east side is a must. Voxman Music Building, BizHub in the PapaJohn Business Building, the library, and the IMU are all great places to explore on campus. You could also find a coffee shop downtown if busy environments are more your style. Java House is a really popular one! Other places I’ve tried are High Ground Café, Tru Coffee, and Fix! I have to say though, my absolute favorite place to be is the Encounter Café.
6. Clarity is kindness.
- In the past, I have had such a hard time being straightforward with people because I was worried about what they would think or say. But living with a roommate has taught me extremely valuable lessons about communication and honesty. Be honest with your roommate if you have a need or desire. Be honest with yourself about what you want in life at college. Everybody is learning and growing in different ways, so if there is something on your mind, don’t shove it down, just talk about it! Hard conversations almost always end with relief. I am so thankful for my roommate and the conversations we have had that ultimately brought us closer!
7. Time management.
- In college, time management is more difficult than ever because nobody is keeping you accountable except yourself. I would’ve been completely lost this semester if it wasn’t for my planner. Each week I wrote down when I had classes and student organizations. Then I had a checklist of assignments I had to complete that week and their due date, and a separate checklist for regular to-do items. This system worked for me, so I suggest that you find a system that works for YOU! It is okay if things don’t always go as planned, because let me tell you, they won’t! But having it all organized made even changing plans less stressful.
8. Your feelings are valid.
- Yes, college is super fun and exciting and all, but it has its moments. Though it looks different for everyone… homesickness, sadness, and loneliness are all completely normal and valid feelings. These feelings hit you at the most random times, there is no reason to feel ashamed when they do. It helped me to find a friend to talk about it, chances are they truly understand and you guys can work together through it! Sometimes it really helped to call someone from home that I may be missing at that moment. If you feel like what you go through is more serious, campus has countless mental health resources that you can reach out to. No matter what, you never know what someone is going through so be kind. Smiling and saying hi can really make someone feel appreciated and change the course of their day. <3
9. 3 words. The bus system.
- Learning how to navigate the bus system is important especially if you live on the west side. However, it is quite the complicated adventure when you are first figuring it out. There are so many different routes, and the estimated arrival times are not always accurate and it is confusing! Download the Transit app, and remember this phrase “Blue to Burge, Red to Rienow.” That’s honestly the only advice I can give you, practice makes perfect. GOOD LUCK!
10. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself!
- I would get SO frustrated with myself if I didn’t do something right. I would act as if I should’ve known better! If you find yourself in the same position as me, won’t you just give yourself some grace?!? It’s okay to mess up, it’s okay to get things wrong, it’s okay to make mistakes. You’ve never been to college before, so you are in no way supposed to know everything. In the end, those mistakes are how I’ve come to learn all of these sweet lessons. If you are frustrated with yourself, take a deep breath, learn from it, and move on. It really is as simple as that, and it is going to be okay.
I feel confident when I say that I am not the same person now compared to when I first entered college. My first semester has stretched me and forced me to grow in all aspects of life. Even with all of the mishaps and roadblocks, I honestly would not change a single thing about the way things went. Over the last few months, I’ve met people and made memories that I can’t imagine my life without. It has been the craziest, best 4 months of my life!
My roommate and I were reflecting before we came home for Christmas break and she said, “Your first semester is everything you want it to be and more, but also nothing like you thought it was going to be at the same time. And it’s outstanding.”