Three weeks into my freshman year, I was in a friend’s room, hanging out while two of her hallmates played beer pong in the narrow alley between their twin XLs. I spent a considerable amount of time listening to Hallmate #1 as he droned on about how he had better pong technique after playing varsity basketball for all of high school (he didn’t want to brag, but he was a four-year letter winner) and how he wasn’t really worried about rush because he was pretty tight with a ton of brothers. He talked for about 15 minutes about how he felt like midterms were going to go super well for him, based on how classes had been going so far, while I vigorously slammed my head against the wall in the hopes of killing enough brain cells to be able to successfully forget the conversation had ever happened.
Despite me wanting to shove him into an alleyway every time he opened the orifice he called a mouth, I didn’t forget the conversation or tune him out, and I didn’t leave. I did not like him, but I wanted to impress my friend and her hallmates, seem fun, and make a circle of friends as quickly as possible so that I could escape the almost constant feeling of anxiety and stress that I had felt since stepping onto campus—so I stayed. I continued to hang out with this greasy-haired, tar-hearted, generally displeasing person for far too long, believing that if my friend liked him, I should too; if I didn’t, it was probably just something about me.
It was only when I mentioned him and his utter distastefulness to an older friend that she looked at me with a look of healthy pity and said, “You know you don’t HAVE to like him, right?”
The beginning of college is this bizarre time where the instincts that have gotten you thus far in life are upended the moment you get off the plane, replaced by fear, discomfort, and a lack of trust in what you know you can do. It doesn’t even matter how much confidence you’ve carried over from senior year of high school; college hits you hard. The first week alone is a barrage of meeting new people, pretending you know where you’re going at night, and attempting to convince yourself the thing you are eating at Commons is chicken, and not a slimy animal byproduct marinated in dirt and grilled in the smoky depths of Satan’s least favorite restaurant in Hell.
During freshman year you are making a countless number of decisions—housing, classes, dining plans, roommates, parties, clubs, friends, rush, which kind of cereal to take in mass quantities from McClelland (answer: Froot Loops, Apple Jacks as a backup, off-brand Frosted Flakes if it’s a desperate situation).
And so it can be hard to keep your own personal compass intact as you transition to a new world, new place, and a new life. I know that I spent far too long hanging on to the words of those I thought would make my life easier, better, or smoother; girls who knew which frats were the most fun, upperclassmen who told me what classes I should take to fulfill a requirement, friends who told me who was fun and who wasn’t (spoiler alert: most of them weren’t fun and that friend wasn’t really a friend).
It took me a long time to trust myself. I was kind of embarrassed in realizing the way I’d been acting, because for so long the thing I trusted most about myself was my ability to know what I wanted, and to do that and nothing else. I was frustrated, mad that I was playing other people’s games, and sad that I couldn’t seem to make the same headway in feeling at home in college that those around me were making. I didn’t trust my own judgment over others who I thought had more expertise.
And so it took a while for me to unearth my personal compass from the hole of self-doubt I had buried it in, dust it off, and use it to guide myself away from overly competitive Political Science majors and people who refused to drink the tap water (“I just don’t trust it,” they said, to my abject horror, as they sipped from a giant Evian water bottle.) It took me a long time to preserve and nurture my own instincts, to trust my own mind to know what was best for myself, and to override those who said IF I DIDN’T TAKE MY WRITING SEMINAR freshman fall all would be lost.
So, my actual advice:
Keep your own compass intact as you transition to this new world; it is one of the only things that will help you stay you while everything else around you changes.
When you find yourself not really sure about how things are going, pause and take a look around at the decisions you’re making. When you find yourself drifting, floundering, even drowning, hone in on what you know and what you feel, and trust that over everything else.
Don’t shove your feelings aside in the name of accelerating your college life as quickly as possible. Don’t ignore fundamental truths about yourself as you look to make new friends. Listen to yourself. Adjust.
Give things and people a chance, but don’t have a panic attack when you get put in a recitation that’s not the one your junior friend recommended, don’t listen to that girl in your seminar who tells you seven thousand absolutes about Greek life, and don’t listen to anyone who says going abroad makes you irrelevant (I heard this during my freshman year and I kept a smile on my face while internally repeating “I BEG your pardon” and turning into a silently raging pile of dissent).
And do not listen to anyone who says you should like someone. FYI: a lot of people are terrible—and sometimes your friends don’t realize that, or you don’t realize that, or no one realizes that until that person lists their SAT II scores to you at a late night study break.
If this sounds dumb, don’t listen to me! Do whatever you want! It’s your life, your college experience, and it will be all the better if you listen to yourself rather than a proselytizing upperclassman writing an "Advice to Freshmen" piece.