How to Not Turn Your Freshman Year of College Into a Total Trainwreck

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It’s that time of the year where once again, high school seniors see their four years of studying and clubs and applications finally pay off. Starting your freshman year of college will feel scary. Whether you’re heading across the country or just across town, a whole new collegiate world awaits you. Luckily for you, I’ve been around the block.

Check out my tips on how to make the most of your freshman year of college.

1. Less is more

This applies to a lot of things. You don’t need as many clothes as you think you do. You don’t need as many shoes as you think you do. Coming from a former clothing hoarder, trust me on this one. You’ll be able to get by on much less than you think. Take it from me—it seems like I packed everything and the kitchen sink. But In retrospect, I could have easily done without a third of the stuff I brought. So pack everything you think you need, and then remove a third of it.

This rule can also be applied to the party scene. While doing shots and staying out until 3 a.m. may be some people’s definition of fun, it definitely sucks when you have an 8 a.m. class the next day, or find your drunken self posted all over Instagram. Moral of the story? Less is more. Have fun, but be responsible. You never know who will find those photos or what kind of impression you will make after a few too many drinks or a few too many parties.

2. Take time to join lots of clubs

I was so pumped to join everything I could but it seemed like time slipped right through my fingers. Before I knew it, applications were due and the clubs were closed for the year. I barely had any time to sit down and write out these essays, so I ended up quite uninvolved my first quarter. It’s important to take the time and bust through as many applications as you can. What I didn’t realize about a lot of the clubs is that it isn’t just a matter of saying “I want to join this club.” You will most likely have to fill in an application and possibly go for an interview. So while it can be stressful trying to assimilate into college and get involved around campus, those extra hours you put into joining clubs early on will be worth it.

3. Be BOLD

I can guarantee you that everyone you meet is just as nervous as you are. Embrace this experience and just go for it. It’s amazing what can happen when you put yourself out there. Introduce yourself and don’t shy away from new experiences. Join a club you would have never joined in high school or learn a new skill. Who knows? It might just be your calling.

4. Pinterest is life

As if it wasn’t addicting enough, college Pinterest boards are on a whole other level. Once I was committed to UCLA, I went pin-crazy and found amazing DIYs and storage tips for dorm living. I also found dozens of lists claiming to know exactly what to bring to college (take this with a grain of salt, folks). While some of these were helpful, others included some stuff that to this day, I don’t see the use of.

Nonetheless, Pinterest is a beautiful thing. It’s a great way to organize your thoughts and get some inspiration for all of you college needs—dorm, fitness, study tips, etc. Pinning all of these things not only gave me an idea of life at a university, but it also helped me to feel more confident in what I was heading into, and generally excited to come to UCLA.

5. It’s never too early

I’m talking about the ‘I’ word—the inevitable and most feared—internships. You may say to yourself, “But I’m just a freshman what would I need with internships I’m just going to start looking in a couple years.” Wrong. Internships are for everyone. (YOU get an internship, YOU get an internship, EVERYONE gets an internship!)

While it can be a bit harder to do this as a first year, showing interest and initiative in your field is a great way to show employers that you are serious about your career. If you look in the right places, you’re bound to find something to your liking. It’s also a good idea to ask older peers about how they acquired their own internships and see what resources you school provides in this area.

6. Get a blazer

Or a suit, whatever you prefer. You may only need it a handful of times, but that handful of times is going to be really important. Having a go-to business professional outfit is critical even as a freshman. Networking nights and career workshops will often have a formal dress code, and you don’t want to be the only one at the event in jeans and Converse. Big name companies are actively seeking out capable college students, and you want to make a good impression. A lot of my friends had to scramble to find something in their size at the nearest Macy’s or Nordstrom. Don’t let that be you.

7. Beware the dining hall food

You’re going to eat at a buffet everyday, but you don’t want to look like you eat at a buffet everyday. Just because you have unlimited swipes doesn’t mean pizza twice a day is a good thing. The freshman 15 can easily turn into the freshman 50, and nobody wants that.

8. Seek out resources

You’re paying thousands of dollars to attend this university, so get your money’s worth. So many of the resources that your school provides are a Google search away. You’ll find everything from tutoring to therapy to resume workshops. Whatever it is, chances are, your school’s got it. For instance, one of my personal favorites here at UCLA is the stress puppies. Every quarter before finals, our school brings in puppies to play with and pet right before exams. Would you like to miss out on cute puppies? Didn’t think so.

9. Office Hours are there for a reason

Your professors genuinely want to talk to you. Imagine how awkward it’d be if you were in their situation and nobody showed up (*cringe). Office hours are a great way to get to know your professors (might be useful for future letters of recommendation) and get a better understanding of the material. And sometimes, they’re just a great way to have a nice chat. I’ve been to some sessions where we didn’t even discuss the material.

Your TAs will also likely hold office hours. I’ve found that these are truly the people that make or break a class. They are often the ones grading your work, and you’re probably better off directing more specific questions at them

10. Create balance

It’s awfully easy to get caught up in classes and drown in homework. Especially when there’s no escape from the constant reminder of school (you’re literally living on campus). You’ll have days where the library doubles as your home and a double shot espresso suddenly becomes the elixir of life. But make sure that’s not everyday. Sometimes, you need to stop what you’re doing, forget the work and appreciate the moment. That’s why you’re here, after all.

11. Leave your door open

You never know which friendly faces will pop by. Especially in the beginning, leaving your door open is an automatic invite to hangout and get to know each other. Living in a residence hall is like having one giant, never-ending sleepover. Even more appealing? Once you’re all comfortable with each other, it becomes a lot easier to walk out in no makeup or hangout in your pajamas. At some point, the niceties all fall away and everyone kind of just stops caring about what they look like. There will be people in the common rooms wearing boxers and a leopard Snuggie with absolutely no shame. Does that sound great or what?

12. Don’t be pressured by the “best four years of your life”

Everyone you meet will tell you that these are the greatest years of your life. While these remarks are often good hearted, they can start to set you up for some pretty unrealistic expectations. Yes, they will be great. But no, they will not always be great.

Don’t think just because you’ve made it here that it’s all a walk in the park. The stress will still remain and will oftentimes greatly intensify. But on the flip side, don’t let yourself think that just because you’re not having a great day, you’re doing college wrong. Instead, you do you.

My name is Makenna Sampolinski and I am a sophomore at the University of California, Los Angeles. I am studying Communications with a minor in Global Studies.

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