Things I wish I knew: Follow this advice for freshman year


The Daily Illini File Photo

A student waits outside of Hopkins Hall with her family on Aug. 22, 2019 for move in day. College freshmen should utilize advice from current students before starting college in the fall.

By Vivian La, Assistant Daytime News Editor

Starting a new chapter of your life can be daunting, anxiety-inducing and generally terrifying. It’s not going to be easy and doing it during a period of global change can add to the stress. But take heart knowing that everyone else is likely experiencing the same emotions and anxieties. Freshman year flies by, and as someone who just finished their freshman year, I already know that my senior year will come in no time at all. A major takeaway I’ve only recently realized is how fast these four years will go, along with some other key tips below.

It’s OK to not be best friends with your roommate.

At the end of the day, you only need to be able to communicate with the person you share a small living space with. While I was fortunate enough to become really good friends with my roommate, it didn’t take long to realize how uncommon this can be. Stories from friends having boundary issues with their roommates or resorting to the silent treatment when a compromise couldn’t be reached were common conversation points throughout the year. In one instance I can recall, when a resident adviser couldn’t resolve an issue, a residence director had to step in and someone had to move to a different dorm. From hearing these accounts, it’s clear that constant communication is how you’ll survive living with someone you don’t start off knowing anything about, other than what they post in the class of 2025 Facebook group. You might need to get used to confrontation, rather than staying passive and hoping the problem goes away.

Know your transportation options.

On a campus as large as the University’s, learning to use the bus is necessary. The walk from the Ikenberry Dining Hall to ISR can be brutal in the winter and can be easily avoided with a quick Google Maps search or click on the Illini Bus app. When in doubt, take the 220 North and South which goes all around campus starting at the PAR/FAR dorms. Also, skateboards, scooters and even roller skates are great options. It was common for students to buy penny boards at the start of the semester as an affordable means of transportation. Finally, don’t count on using Uber or Lyft too much while on campus. Cars and drivers are often scarce in Champaign-Urbana.

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    Everyone else is looking for friends, too.

    There’s no doubt that everyone is trying to make friends during their first semester on campus, and this can make it easier to step out of your comfort zone. Walk up to that group of people sitting on the Main Quad, invite that person sitting alone in the dining hall to sit with you or reach out to your classmates via Zoom chat to form a study group. From personal experience, some of the people I’ve met unconventionally have become my closest friends. During those first few weeks, no one is going to say no to meeting new people.

    Pack a picnic blanket.

    College makes you appreciate nice weather days. You’ll find that on these days, the many quads across the campus are packed these days with students tanning, playing spikeball, having a picnic or taking a snooze in a hammock. A picnic blanket is an essential item for the college quad experience. It’s also a good way to get some friends together and study outside. Just be prepared to use a hotspot or sit near an academic building if strong Wi-Fi is needed. Connection can be spotty on the quads.

    Take a break and do something creative every now and then.

    It’s easy to get caught up in work and burn out as academic stress piles on throughout the semester. One thing I’ve learned is that breaks are necessary to be productive. Doing something creative, whether that’s writing, painting or playing a musical instrument can relieve stress. Bringing a small watercolor set or even a coloring book can do wonders for your mental health. There are also practice rooms with pianos in the Student Dining and Residential Programs Building, ISR and Allen Hall.

    There will be bad days and that’s OK.

    College will likely be more difficult than high school and you may find yourself in a bad place mentally throughout the year. Expectations are undoubtedly higher and the pressure can be a lot. It’s OK to take a step back when things get overwhelming. If you’re struggling academically, many professors can be accommodating especially given the circumstances of the past year. Homesickness can hit at these moments too, and I’ve found that talking to a sibling, parent or friend from home can ease these feelings. At the end of the day, no one knows what you’re going through unless you talk about it. In the past year, it’s become apparent that a lot of students are experiencing the same anxieties and it’s helpful to know that you’re not alone in these emotions.

    College doesn’t define you.

    People often say that college will be the best four years of your life. There’s a lot of pressure and expectation tied into that statement, but it’s important to know that for many, it’s not the best years. You’ll make mistakes and succeed all in the same week. College is a roller coaster experience both socially and academically but it ultimately doesn’t have to be your defining moment if you don’t want it to be. What really matters is what happens after college, where you decide who you want to be based on the world knowledge you’ve gained at college. 

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