A snapshot of my daily schedule in high school: Wake up a little after six, shower and eat breakfast, head to the bus stop before seven, six classes everyday with an hour of lunch in between, followed by a couple hours of studying at home before dinner and then maybe hit the sack around eleven or midnight. Rinse and repeat for five days a week across nine and a half months. After just two years of college, I can hardly believe I lived like this for four years. To contrast, my schedule during freshman year involved sleeping until nine or ten in the morning, going to class for about two hours (most of which were online), followed by free time for the rest of my day, which usually ended at around midnight. I found my new schedule quite preferable. Now as a new college student, finally away from the rigid schedules of high school and the control of your parents, you may wonder, “What do I do with all this freedom?”
To see how real college students adjusted to their newer, freer life in college, read on.
Before we can talk about the best way to adjust to the freedoms of college, let us begin by looking at the restrictions high school imposes and how it compares. For one, the end of high school means an explosion in choices you can make. Now, you must make the decision of what classes you’ll take, when they’ll transpire and how you’ll get to them. You must consider what college clubs and organizations to reach out to and join. Any perceived reputation or friend group you maintained in high school blows away like dust in this new environment, for better or for worse.
“I’d say [high school] definitely [has] a lot less freedom than there is in college. My schedule, and I’m sure for many other high schoolers, was just blocked out six-plus classes a day plus clubs after school. Not much time to hang out with friends. I wouldn’t say I necessarily had too many restrictions. Maybe there was a curfew [at] like 12 [a.m.] to sleep,” Penn State University Sophomore Richard Lu said.
What limits do you currently face in high school? Do your parents impose a curfew for you to come home at night? Do you need to wake up before the sun rises to get to your bus stop? Do you find the curriculum of high school completely unrelated to any of your actual interests? Fortunately, these particular restrictions also disappear once you move into your dorm.
Before cannonballing into the deep end of college-life, consider talking to other students or alumni at your college of choice. Nobody knows campus living better than actual students, and each one can tell you about their personal experiences. When living away from home, you need to learn how to adjust to making decisions for yourself, especially with the new challenges college throws at you. How will you dress as the seasons change? How much free time should you dedicate to studying during finals? How should you spend the money you don’t use on tuition and supplies?
“The thing [students] told me that stuck with me is to make a routine and stick with it. So, make sure that you have things planned out and that you’re not just going with whatever happens, going with the flow. Just try to find a little bit of organization as you transition into college, because it’s going to be really helpful in building those kinds of skills further down the line,” Penn State Freshman Zander Zheng said.
To better get in touch with students at your college, keep an eye out for new student events. Most colleges offer a chance for incoming freshmen to meet current students before the school year begins. Additionally, some colleges offer mentorship programs for first years seeking the advice of more experienced students. These programs can help you better prepare for the responsibility that comes with freedom in college, and to better predict the challenges you may face during your first year.
Those of you reading this article perhaps see your freshman year of college on the horizon, either as a senior in high school or an incoming first year. Freshman year tends to contain the largest amount of change for students, including those attending universities close to their homes. Your first fall semester includes the actual execution of your chosen schedule. Whether you chose to attend most of your classes in the evening or morning (or some combination of the two), now you will truly FEEL your schedule. This includes walking to your buildings, the classes themselves and how you feel after finishing them. In addition, this period allows you to explore more about yourself than ever before.
“[Freshman year was] really, really enjoyable. I got to meet some amazing people, really smart friends, incredible mentors and professors. I had a blast just going around exploring everything I could on campus and finding things that I didn’t even know I’d like. I’d say my first year was a lot about discovering the foundation to my identity. [It was] definitely really enjoyable to enter a new world with so much freedom and to realize, “I don’t actually know that much about myself,” and to have that time and freedom to go figure out who I am,” Lu said.
Indeed, college creates an environment where exploration of any interest becomes extremely possible. I myself felt quite tied down to who my peers thought I was in high school, as I knew them for such a long time (and vice versa). College creates a much larger and entirely new world where you can and should feel free to venture into unknown paths, liberated of social pressure. Join an art club if you always wanted to. Make friends with everyone you meet, or just a select few. Endless opportunities abound and, for better or worse, most students won’t judge you for the roads you take.
The Surprise in Freedom
The lack of parental guidance and school-mandated hours carries surprises for many students. Personally, I adjusted well to making my own schedule and studying as needed, yet I struggled with reaching out to others when I faced my own issues. To my surprise, many friends and faculty cared about how I felt; I simply needed to take responsibility in talking to them about my concerns. While you can prepare for many aspects of this new chapter, you’ll need an ability to take a step back and look at the big picture of your life. Are you living on campus the way you want to live, or how you expected to live when you arrived? Can you take steps to mitigate and resolve any negative surprises?
“I feel like people tell you, “College is so difficult, blah, blah, blah,” but if you challenged yourself a lot in high school, [the curriculum is] not that much different. Everything else that comes with college, that’s difficult. It’s being able to not only manage your own time but manage when you see your friends because you are so isolated in all your classes. I’m [in] computer science; I’m taking a lot of huge lecture classes with two to 300 kids at a time in a room. You don’t really get to make these close connections with people. It’s very hard to take care of yourself, especially if you’re living in a dorm. You gotta be able to figure out when to eat, or if you’re living in apartment, what to feed yourself with. It is so astronomically difficult whenever you’re putting that all together, and that’s where that learning curve really comes into play,” Penn State Junior Alsou Umarova said.
For many, the ability to adjust and reorient comes in handy during this time frame. Scheduling out your day may bring notions of what you can do, only for your transportation times or workload to ambush you and throw you off. How do you recoup the lost time? Perhaps just the opposite occurs, and an expectedly busy day suddenly clears up. Do you study and catch up on work, or would you feel better hanging out with some friends? Each choice contains positives and negatives, yet only you can pull the trigger on what to prioritize.
By the admission of my sources (and myself), several years of higher education does not mean complete mastery over college’s occasionally rocky terrain. Even fifth years find themselves struggling to maintain their schedules, keep up their friendships and prepare for the next year. Additionally, the challenges of one year, even one semester, can vary widely from one to another. To this end, I would advise setting your expectations to a reasonable degree regarding the difficulty one year to the next.
“It’s just trial and error. You can try and plan everything out the best you can, but not everything goes to plan, not everything works out the way you want [it] to. Life is life; life is irregular, sporadic and it’s never consistent. The way you feel day to day will never be the same. So, you have to be malleable around that. I would say I personally had a pretty rough fall and spring semester [last year]. I wasn’t juggling my work time really well; I was relying on others for support more than I should have. Now that I’m in a better mental state and [feeling] better, I’m more capable of realizing that “Okay, wow, I was not the best person at this time. I need to make some changes.” That’s what’s important, seeing something [and] if it’s not working, why keep it? Why keep trying to make things work when they don’t want to, especially when it comes to school? That’s my thing, trial and error. If you don’t try you don’t know how it’s gonna turn out,” Umarova said.
In high school, I maintained some notion of who I would become in college. In my head there appeared to exist an entirely separate “college Ayden” from myself. This future college Ayden kept his studies completely under control, maintained a social life he felt entirely secure in and held a self confidence that not only glowed on the outside, but warmed him from the inside as well. While in some respects I approach this notion, in many more I can’t say that I do. Every curveball college seems to throw at me forces me to reassess my situation and come up with a solution, regardless of whether or not I am sure it will work. To sum it up: problems plague us all throughout high school, and they continue to do so in college. Most importantly, you must use your new freedom in college to help you make the most of it.