How to Stay Afloat in College
By Adam Smith
December 20, 2012
Your first year of college will be one of the most memorable of your life, but it can also be fraught with peril. It’s important to find the balance between getting the most out of your freshman year and focusing on fun at the expense of your education. Here are a few tips to help you get through.
Get involved in campus life ... You’ll be amazed at all the available campus groups. Take a stroll through the quad of most universities and you’ll find a group dedicated to basically any interest you can think of. From intramural athletics to writing collectives to political and social activism to live-action role-playing, you can find like-minded groups based on almost any activity you enjoy (though the last one is likely to be populated by lonely, socially awkward grad students). On top of these groups, every campus in the country offers a plethora of social activities and ways to meet your peers. It’s paramount to the college experience to get involved with campus life. If all you do is go to class, go to work and go home, you’ve cheated yourself out of some potentially great memories.
... But don't overcommit yourself. With so many campus groups out there, it can be tempting to throw your hat in the ring with every event, group or cause that comes your way. This is particularly a pitfall for freshmen. Budget your time wisely, and understand the more activities and responsibilities you take on, the fewer you will do well. Plus, with the vibrancy of campus life, it can be easy to forget you’re there to get a degree and, you know, learn stuff. It sounds obvious, but people can overlook the fact that going to class should be their number-one priority. Do your best to sift through the opportunities for campus involvement, and pick only a few to which you can devote your energies while balancing— and excelling at—your studies.
Get involved in a good campus ministry. It’s imperative to find activities that help you grow in your faith. Odds are, whatever denominational background or style of worship you’re accustomed to, you can find an on-campus ministry that reflects it. Campus ministries are easily one of the best places to make lifelong friends, as well as deepen your faith. Your college years will shape your faith more than any other period of your life.
For many people who have grown up in a Christian home, college is the first time they will have to make up their own minds about what they believe and why. Add to this the abundance of opportunities to make bad decisions, and college can be a very difficult place to maintain your faith and values. A good campus ministry will walk with you, though, as you find out new things about yourself, solidify your beliefs and find your identity in your faith.
Who you were in high school no longer means anything. Many people bring their high school baggage with them to college. You need to realize something, though: Your social standing in high school has no bearing on your social standing here. For some of you, that thought is horrifying; for others, it’s liberating. College is the great social equalizer. Everyone starts here with a blank slate, and if you walk onto campus thinking your high school popularity is going to be an easy road to social success, you may be in for a rude awakening. Conversely, if high school was a bad experience for you, take heart: You’ve started college with a blank slate. Most major universities are so large there’s a social niche for almost everyone. You’re far more likely to find like-minded peers in college than you were in high school. College is an opportunity to start afresh, and whether you were prom king or frequent wedgie recipient, it’s an opportunity you should fully embrace.
Remember how much you have left to learn. University-level classes are going to open your mind in ways you’ve never imagined. An expanding worldview combined with being surrounded by passionate, activist students will inevitably ignite your passion for a variety of social issues and awaken you to ideas and philosophies you’d never before considered. All of this is fantastic, and it’s an indispensable aspect of the college experience. However, try to keep in mind the knowledge and fervor you’re gaining will eventually be tempered by an important factor called “maturity.”
Remember that many people before you have gone on the same voyage of self-discovery. There’s nothing quite as infuriating as a college freshman who comes home on break thinking he’s got all the answers, while everyone else is walking around in the dark. You mean humanity shouldn’t wantonly murder each other, the destruction of the environment is bad and unbridled capitalism hurts people? What a novel concept! No one’s ever thought of that before!
The concepts you’re learning will change your life, and you should never lose the idealism that convinces you, you can change the world. Just remember two semesters of college does not mean you have all the answers.