This year, I'm entering my senior year of college. It's hard to believe that time has moved so quickly, but looking back at the person I was as a new freshman, I can see how much I have changed and grown. If you are a freshman in college, the next year may be one of the most transforming of your life. If I could go back and give my 18-year-old self any advice about college, this is what I would say:
1.) Get involved right away. Having no friends can turn you into a lonely, homesick hermit for those first few weeks of college (speaking from experience). You will have a much better time if you join a Bible study or organization that first week and start working on new friendships from the very beginning.
2.) Friendships will accelerate. One of my biggest concerns going into college was, "I've been friends with the same people for years. How am I supposed to make good friends in just a few weeks?" Believe me, you do. All the other new freshmen want to make friends just as much as you do. Crises bring people together, and moving to a new place with a bunch of terrified strangers is definitely a form of crisis. By the end of this year, your college friendships will be deeper than you ever expected.
3.) Be prepared for your study habits to change. High school consists of 6 hours in class and maybe an hour of studying each day. College is backwards. You'll spend a few hours in class each day, if that, and then you are expected to spend your free time with your nose in a book. The adjustment can be difficult. Prepare to move into the library or a study corner, putting work into school outside of class. If you don't put hours into studying in college, you'll be surprised at how quickly your grades start to fall.
4.) Get enough sleep. I don't know why all-nighters are a thing, because they're horrible. Past about 2am, you lose all motivation to study and you end up spending most of the night on Facebook, staring with bleary eyes into space, or napping on the hard floor. The next morning when you take the test, you feel half-dead. All-nighters are a terrible idea. Instead, just study ahead of time, put in the work that you're supposed to (not just the day before), and then pull a late-nighter without having to sacrifice an entire night's sleep.
5.) Use a planner. I didn't learn this until my junior year, but a detailed planner is a life-saver. I mark down every single assignment from every single syllabus I receive. Then when I look over that week's schedule, I can think to myself, "Okay, today I need to read 2 chapters from this class, 1 chapter in this class, and I have a test on Thursday to study for." A planner may seem like a drag (and honestly, it kind of is), but it's worth the extra effort. When you are balancing several difficult classes at the same time, organization is essential.
6.) Don't skip class. Skipping class is a normal thing to do, at least at my university. By the middle of the semester, there might be only a handful of students sitting in a class that is registered as full. Lectures are boring, sleep is enticing, but skipping class is not worth the stress that you will feel when it's time for midterms and you don't understand what on earth your textbook is trying to say.
7.) Visit a few churches and then stick with one. Going to church by yourself, before you really have found a community of your own, is hard. If you loved your home church, then finding a new church alone is even harder. The more you visit new churches without settling down, the more discouraged you will become. So find a place where the people are kind, the doctrine matches your own, and you can worship freely, and stay there. In 4 months, if you are still not satisfied, you can look around some more.
8.) Your friendships will change. I think it's fairly typical to enter college with a mindset of, "Nobody here could ever match up with the amazing friends I had in high school." The truth is that you and your high school friends will likely grow up more in this year than you did in all of high school, and if you are living in different places, you will begin to grow apart. Now, whenever you're back in your hometown together, things will flood back to how they were. Being together will always be a blast. But it's okay to grow and change apart from your friends. The friendships you form at university may be the best you've ever had.
9.) Do not over-commit. While it's important to get involved right away, it's just as important not to pack your schedule with way more than you can handle. Don't join 5 organizations or Bible studies at once. You're at university for school, so be sure to reserve time for studying. Find one or two groups at your college where you fit and stick with those. Don't be afraid to take a few hours each week to relax and study by yourself.
10.) Take time for Jesus. Freshman year is crazy, busy, overwhelming, and chaotically fun. You are going to be busier than you have ever been. You are going to make more friends in a short amount of time than you ever have before. You are going to look back a year from now and think, "Wow, I have changed so much." As you're growing and changing and discovering more about yourself, be sure to take the time each day to spend with Jesus. Learn about Him with community and learn about Him in quiet, solitary times. When you are feeling lonely, overwhelmed, or discouraged, cling to Him. Use this year to be passionate and excited about your relationship with the Lord.
Are you a new freshman in college? Let me know, and I will be praying for you!
One year ago: Pranks on Pranks on Pranks
Three years ago: Letter to High School Freshmen