Passing Freshman Year: In and Out of The Classroom

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Every high school senior transitioning into college fantasizes about the new friends they’ll make, the epic blowout parties they’ll attend and maybe even the awesome fraternity or sorority they’ll rush. I was no exception to the rule, and as the mysteries of the unknown college experience became my reality, I spent almost everyday taking advantage of my newly found independence to have the best freshman year possible. I was so wrapped up in fitting in and attending the right parties, I lost sight of the well-rounded student I had been in high school. Ultimately, my academic performance was put low on my list of priorities and my self-confidence began to suffer.

Freshman year, I took a 200-level GenEd course entitled “Social Forces that Shaped America.” Initially, the topic seemed interesting, but the professor assigned an absurd amount of reading, consisting of dense, biographical text regarding the state of the country during the late nineteenth century. Needless to say, this historical niche did not necessarily speak to me and I let myself fall behind on tons of coursework. Actually, I cared so little about the class that I didn’t even bother to check the syllabus to find out about a due date for one of our final essays.

One Thursday afternoon, I slunk into the back of the lecture hall only to notice that my classmates were walking to the front of the room to hand in their assignments. I decided to take some made-up excuse to my professor after class. With just the right amount of sad, confused puppy dog face, I was granted an extension until Monday. Unfortunately, my weekend plans did not consist of rewriting an essay but instead binge watching Netflix.

I ended up putting off the paper until late on Sunday evening. Because I was pressed for time, I cut corners by slacking off on my source citations and even paraphrasing without indication that I was borrowing ideas from other scholars. The next Monday, I turned in my paper hoping that my professor wouldn’t notice the sloppy citations. However, when we reconvened again on Thursday, she asked me to stay after class.

Sweating worse than I ever had at any frat party, I knew my worst fear was about to be realized. I was going to be called out for cheating and would have to face the repercussions of my actions. Obviously my professor saw through my not-so-sneaky façade, and she informed me that this offense could be classified as academic dishonesty.

She could have easily written me an infraction that might have gotten me kicked out of school. However, the conversation quickly took a turn and my professor began asking me about my tardies, absences and the occasional class period I had mistaken for naptime. She wondered if things were going well in my personal life, as she knew that many freshmen experience a rough transitional period. Up until this moment, I myself hadn’t realized I was having a hard time adjusting to the college lifestyle – but I was.

I expressed to my professor that I hadn’t quite been myself in recent months. I explained that the move away from my family and friends in California had been much harder than expected. I opened up about the challenges in figuring out who was a true friend and trying to find a place to fit in (while leaving out the part about Thirsty Thursdays at the Rugby House). I rationalized my out-of-character behavior by believing I was just acting like a “typical freshman,” when in reality, I was caught up in a world that revolved around partying with artificial friends who could barely remember my first name.

In the end, she was gracious enough to give me one last chance. After the necessary kick in the butt, I buckled down and got to work. I ended up getting decent grades both on the paper and in the class.

Not only did this scare remind me the importance of quality academic performance, it helped to show me there is much more to college than what’s presented on the surface. Sure, I still liked going to the occasional party, hanging out with friends, and watching all seven seasons of 30 Rock in less than three days; but I also knew that I wanted to make more meaningful memories during my four years at AU. Eventually I got involved on campus by joining a few different clubs, found closer friendships through those common interests and gained a sense of confidence about the person I was becoming – a fun-loving freshman aspiring to take advantage of everything college has to offer.

Maddi is a junior at American University, majoring in print journalism and minoring in international studies. Born and raised in Southern CA, she'd like to think she's found harmony between her chill, laid back nature and the fast-paced lifestyle of The District. East meets West. Biggie meets Tupac. An avid reader and travel enthusiast, Maddi aspires to be one of the great storytellers.

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